January 8/9, 2014
I was hoping that I’d have something interesting to talk about this week, but I’m not sure that I do. The most attention-getting part of the week was the “Polar vortex”. Yeah, it’s been cold. (Ya think? It’s January!) As usual, our hi-low thermometer being in the south-facing door well has inflated ideas of how warm it gets during the day. It sometimes thinks it’s achieved the 70ºs when I don’t think it’s really been above 40º but that’s what a door well is for isn’t it? At night it admits to 20º below, and I have to remind myself that there must be heat loss out the door, if I can feel cold seeping in around the edges. I’ve just reset it, and it’s reading 20º (above) now, says it went up to 52º today and only zero last night. Well, it has felt a bit warmer.
The internet is full of talk about the cold and ‘stupid people tricks’. I want to try the trick of throwing a pot of boiling water out into sub-zero air and have it turn to snow, but I want to use beet water so the “snow” it creates is red. I also want to try the one where you blow bubbles and they freeze. The problem with these plans is that they require going out into the cold to do them. I like it inside. We keep the house warm enough so that the pipes don’t freeze, we wear sweaters (how did cardigans go out of style?), and if one gets chilled, it’s probably around 80º near the woodstove, where the dragon puffs steam to keep the air humidified, and we keep re-filling our tea pots. (Each of us keeps one nearby.)
It’s probably because the vent nearest the woodstove goes into my room, but I haven’t yet felt the need to close my bedroom windows all the way. I love listening to the windchimes, and the thermometer rarely goes below 38º, besides, I sleep in my cozy nest of featherbeds and furs. In the morning the kitchen is full of light. While I’ve put away my Christmas pyramids, I’ve put the non-Christmasy ones on the window sill, and air currents from the difference between the window sill and the kitchen make them spin without candles, sending light spots dancing around the kitchen until the afternoon (when the barn blocks the sun). Just because it’s not holiday season doesn’t mean we can’t have fun, pretty stuff.
I have taken the kitchen tree out- the birds can now enjoy the popcorn, cranberries, cookies, and marshmallows with which we decorated it. Kat no longer has to scootch over to keep from having the branches grab her hair during dinner. We’ve put away all the holly decorated dishes, and brought out the ones with the snowflakes and deer. I was sad to discover we are down to only three each of our snowflake designed mugs and cocoa mugs left. Willow said “You knew they break”, but somehow I keep forgetting that, and expecting to have them “forever”. These lovely things that I think I spent a buck each for, are now unavailable, or I can replace them on ebay for 8 to 28 dollars each. Like that’s going to happen.
I haven’t yet gotten to packing up the big tree. This caused a bit of a complication yesterday when a bird flew in while John was re-filling the wood closet. We’re not quite sure what kind it was. After it was clear that my help was pointless, I tried to take a picture of it, but it was too small and fast. The big problem was that the cats were also interested in it as it flew around, and I was afraid they’d leap at it an knock down some of our glass ornaments. We first spotted it in the wood closet, but it flew all over the first floor, to the living room and back, into the bathroom. (We closed the door, but it got out under the door- the house is crooked enough that the door won’t work if the sill meets the door all the way across.) It flew around, and perched on the baskets on the kitchen ceiling, on the tree, and on the curtain rods. Eventually John managed to herd it outside again. I have no idea how. That was probably the most exciting thing that happened all week.There IS a bird in this picture, really.
The most “newsworthy” event this week was probably Kat and me going out to the Stonemarche Curia. This month it was at the Radisson in Manchester where Birka is going to be held in a few weeks. Kat had to report because doing Gold Key at Birka is a very big deal indeed. We also gave our contact information to the herald because Willow, Kat and I have meant to help provide art for scrolls as part of our artistic practice. Today we got a call from Harold so we are actually doing some. Willow has gotten herself a few practice pens to start improving her calligraphy. I have a fair Carolingian hand, but of course, if I compare myself to Harold, it’s not that good. Still, one shouldn’t compare oneself to the best, it’s kind of pointless. I took over half of what was left of our yule cookies and left them there for the Curia attendees to share. I love cooking and baking, but we shouldn’t eat all of what’s left ourselves.
We also spoke to the autocrat of Birka about the program cover. For the last several years, one of us has done the cover for the Birka program booklet, I did it last year and Willow and Kat did Rock-paper-scissors for it and Kat won. I feel a little funny that our family is “hogging” it, but the Birka autocrats don’t seem to mind. They’re thrilled with having someone do it. This is going to be the Silver Anniversary- the 25th Market Day at Birka. They think there may be over 2000 people! There was a little discussion about enforcing the “some attempt at period garb” rule on Friday night. The whole reason Kat’s job is bigger than any other Gold Key in the Knowne World, is Birka. We let anyone in (to shop, and gawk), but they must wear garb, and since so many people come to Birka to see if they’d like the SCA, she needs to have a LOT of garb to loan. The issue is that because the merchants load in Friday afternoon and evening, and often they don’t change until they are done, they haven’t wanted to go around reminding people to get into their garb. And how are you going to tell whether someone wandering around is a modern person who’s come in off the street, or someone who’s going to get something from their van? My feeling is- it’s an SCA event, everyone is supposed to be wearing garb. If you are still loading in after 3 (or 5, pick a time) you have to wear your garb TO load in. “This is not rocket surgery!” We do it at every other event. But we haven’t at previous Birkas, and change is hard. I hope they work it out soon.
The wii (electronic game) informs me that I have regained eight pounds over the last month or so, of what I’d lost by dropping carbs. Oh well, back to “banting”. It’s kind of hard to do at this time of year, especially when it’s so cold. This is the time of year that’s natural to get into comfort foods- I even used that for my last blog post on Tchipakkan.com. Tonight we had chili, yesterday meatloaf, the other day we had scalloped potatoes with ham, and then I added cheese. Cheese for me is like Bacon is for the internet, it’s hard to find something it doesn’t improve. (I put cheese on my chili tonight!) I have been poring over my cookbooks looking for recipes that will both satisfy my comfort food cravings and still be low-carb. I am making a lot of soup, and drinking gallons of tea. We are finally out of the “leftovers season” that follows the holiday season as evening follows day. It’s rather nice to actually decide what to make for dinner rather than look and see what MUST be eaten next.
I am also thrilled to have a working washing machine again. Monday the gentleman from the appliance store came over and plugged in a new electronic board. As we’d expected, when the water hit it (when the pipes burst), it shorted out. He was surprised that there was still about a half inch of standing water in there, but since there was probably an inch three weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised that there was still some left. I WAS surprised that apparently during the “shorting” process there seems to have been an actual fire inside the back of the machine. The inside was full of soot. We must not have noticed when it happened, and perhaps the cold and standing water kept it small and brief. Still, it’s scary to think a fire happened and went unremarked. I remember once at the old house we smelled smoke and traced it to an oily rag hanging from my easel where I’d been painting. Having been well regaled with stories of the dangers of oily rags combusting in cans, I’ve always hung mine out in the air- but this one was smoking where it hung. I suppose that may be why people took to putting them into cans, figuring that if they did start to burn, they’d be in a fireproof container. There is no perfect solution.
I have continued to watch old episodes of Zorro. I remembered seeing it a lot when I was a kid, but didn’t realize that it was a separate TV show. I thought it was one of those things where Disney showed something special on the Sunday night show. To be honest, while we always watched Disney Show, I really didn’t like it when once a month the show was about nature. I bet as an adult I’d love those shows, but when I was a kid I wanted the fun stuff, adventures like the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, Swamp Fox, Johnny Tremaine, Davy Crockett, and Zorro. I think those shows probably shaped my generation, and I like looking at them again to see what the messages are that they were programming into us. I keep encountering people who say that they are full of racism, sexism etc. but while they certainly reflect some of that aspect of the times they were made, often you see that they are pointing out that, for example, the Indians were being forced by unscrupulous whites into defending themselves with violence, or that women were forced to work within the system in which they found themselves to accomplish what they needed to do.
When one reads books that were written in different periods, (Shakespere, Chaucer, Mallory, Dickens, Austin, etc.), one acknowledges that the authors and works are products of a different time and culture. Swift’s Modest Proposal and Gulliver’s Travels were responses to the same social issues he was trying to address. Although it’s “a kids book”, I re-read Swiss Family Robinson almost every year until I went to college, because it was a great story. Lots of people told me that the boys in it were “too good to be real”, something I didn’t see. Just as I knew that the animals on the fictitious island were far too varied for a real place, I understood that the book was fiction, written in 1812, and I didn’t expect kids from back then to behave like modern kids. (All you had to do was look at how grandparents and other old people complained about how young people behaved to know that!)
I enjoyed the books my grandmother bought for my mother because she’d enjoyed them as a child (like the Little Colonel series 1895), the original Pinocchio (1883), Heidi (1880), Wind in the Willows (1908), and the My Bookhouse series (1920-32). (yes, I AM looking up the dates- because now I’m curious about whether each of my old favorites were from my mother or my grandmother’s childhood.) Grandmother was born in 1898, so she’d have been a kid during the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. Mother was a kid during the depression, but a kid of a millionaire, so she still had beautiful books. The best were always fairy tales- Mother only had the Red Andrew Lang Fairy Tale book, but I got the rest when I was in college. I devoured all fairy tale, folk tale and mythology books. The illustrators from that period were totally incredible from Rackham to N.C. Wyeth, to Howard Pyle, and now I’m collecting their work in facimiles. I remember being so disappointed by illustrations of fairy tale books being sold in the 60s; they were exploring modern art. Feh! I’d rather have the old books- even if I’d colored in them when I was too young to know better!
It was about beauty, and honour, and romance, and adventure! And don’t tell me that’s not what we still crave! Heck, Tarzan and the John Carter of Mars books go back to 1912. Another favorite series I loved when I was little was the Twins series by Lucy Fitch Perkins (Dutch Twins, Eskimo Twins, Cave Twins, Spartan Twins). I don’t know if I was getting a helping of mysogeny with the adventures, but gosh, I loved them. I know that if there’d been an Anglo-Saxon or Viking Twins book, almost all the history would probably require correcting at this point, but it was the best they had at the time. (OMG, I just discovered that an annotated collection is available on Kindle, and I’ve just gotten it! I wonder what the annotations will say!?) Have to say that I’m just thinking about the books of my childhood: The Princess and the Goblin, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan (1902), Alice in Wonderland 1865), the Wizard of Oz (1900). These books made up the inner landscape of my childhood! I much preferred a book with a fantasy element to Little Women or Tom Sawyer, although a sufficient amount of historical/ cultural difference as in the Little House books could make up some of the difference. (I’m not entirely sure that Treasure Island and the White Company aren’t as fantastic as Sherlock Holmes).
OK- I’ve rambled on too long, but wallowing in a sea of nostalgia is just as appropriate to this weather and time of year as hot tea and cookies. I did finish the book bashing Disney, (and have started one bashing food: Salt, sugar, fat : how the food giants hooked us, at least that should help me diet). I was right, the author just doesn’t trust any entity with that much power, and I can respect that, I just don’t think that what we were being shown was that bad. Sure, you can tell me “Check your White Privilege” (or middle class, or non-handicapped), but I’m sure that each of us has problems in our lives, and they are just different. One of Diana’s friends was a Miss New Hampshire, she was beautiful, smart, talented- and insecure. She didn’t know if people who said they liked her were only interested in the beautiful, smart, etc. part. Just because someone else has a different problem, doesn’t make other peoples invalid. We need to respect that fat people have trouble losing weight, and skinny people would like to gain it. They don’t have to put each other down. I think the Rowlings and Riordan books are also going to become favorites, just as Anderson, Perrault, and Wilde’s “made up” fairy tales have been added to the traditional stories collected from folklore and myth. I’m not sure that books like The Babysitters Club, or the Animorphs series, which were a huge part of my kids childhoods will stand the test of time as well. But I am reading the American Girls stories with great enjoyment. Like the Twins series, they are formulaic (as were the Brother Cadfael and Tarzan books), and chances are that the research will have to bend to new discoveries. But that doesn’t change their basic value. Perhaps “Juvenile Fiction” was a fairly recent development, but good writing is good writing. I’ve found I enjoy everything from mysteries to Science Fiction to romances. (I’m not sure who suggested it, but I’m reading Dragonwyk, an historical romance by Seaton, and enjoying it more than I’d expected.)
Food and books, not very exciting, but that’s what my life is about right now. I’m still trying to reclaim the house (the library is a disaster!), and my big goal for this year is to get to doing more art. I have two commissions, a book cover and a portrait, and would like to do more sculpting, as well as doing scrolls for the SCA. And I guarantee you, that if I ever get under 200 pounds again, I’m going to be excited about making new garb!
My goodness, I am SO domestic!
Thaes ofereode, thisses swa maeg! (That was overcome, so may this be!) –Deor (an old English song- that is the refrain)
I went through my pictures, looking for me as a kid with books, but apparently Mother didn’t take those.