29 November 2012

if only i were in Little Women: thoughts on cross-stitching

"I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship."

Amy says that in Little Women, and perhaps because I've been re-reading that here and there, I've had a hankering to cross-stitch. {Meg would probably admonish me for saying "hankering," since it sounds so slangish and colloquial.}

This cross-stitch desire has only been intensified by how I'm also re-reading Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet, when staying for several days at Netherfield while Jane is recovering from a severe cold—
Sidenote: Do you ever wish you lived in the time where you came down with a cold and it was perfectly acceptable to lay in your bed all day, maybe even for several days? A person got a headache and down in the drawing room, everyone else was all, "Oh my, shall she ever recover? Shall we take her tea? Have the pillows been fluffed? Can she have a clear broth?"

And then they rang the bell and somebody would take it up to them.

I'm suspecting what is most appealing in this scenario is the part where someone brings me stuff in bed.

I don't actually want to live in the time when medical knowledge involved leeches and bleeding out the sickness; I'd rather just have a lady's maid who brings me stuff. Maybe somebody from Downton Abbey could pop over.

So back to my point: While Elizabeth is staying at Netherfield, she, at times, takes up her needlework. She then has very witty conversations with Mr. Darcy that make him smile as he turns away {lest he betray his true feelings by, gasp, smiling at her}.

You can see the obvious link between Mr. Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth and her doing needlework, and with an example like that, who wouldn't want to go buy embroidery floss right now?

No, seriously, who wants to go? Get in the car, and we'll meet at Hobby Lobby. I'm sure that's exactly like the store where Elizabeth went in Meryton to buy her thread to do her Darcy-attracting needlework at Netherfield.

Before we go, I'll research Little Women and Jane Austen cross-stitch patterns so that we know what we're buying. I'm sure that somewhere on Etsy, someone has made a pattern for that storm quote, and maybe it's on special today since it is Louisa May Alcott's birthday.

But wait.

{I'm going to Internet shout; prepare yourself.}


I may love Pride and Prejudice and I may love the BBC production of the story, but never, under any circumstances, do I want something like this in my home.

Also, it would take me approximately 17 years to complete, and don't you think there's something accusatory in Darcy's eyes? It's like he's saying to you, "I'm a classic character from British literature and this is what you turn me into? Why couldn't you have gone for the much more mundane and obvious choice like the one below?"

I bet those eyes of Darcy follow you wherever you go in the room, and that has made up my mind: a Little Women cross-stitch project is the only way to go.

28 November 2012

how to avoid tripping over Nativity sets

I left on my Christmas tree lights overnight, and I can hear in my head a paraphrase of that line from A Christmas Story: "Careful, kid, you'll burn your house down."

Will I? Well, that's a risk I'm willing to take it it means that I can emerge from my bedroom at 5:15, slippers scuffling on the floor, and immediately be in the glow of the Christmas tree.

When you live alone, as I do, you get used to doing things your own way—you get used to certain routines and having total control of your space.

This has its advantages, of course, this having rooms of one's own, including this: I haven't quite finished with my Christmas decorating yet {perhaps I should just let my pug have more mulled wine and see if she can finish up the decorating}, so the storage bins are still out in the living room.

Martha Stewart would be appalled, and Real Simple would look away in embarrassment.
Didn't we show you how simple it was to make your own decorations using nothing but shoeboxes, twine, and berries?

And didn't we say you could decorate every nook and cranny in an afternoon, filling your home with whimsical surprises of Christmas, all while following our time-saving tips?

A small wreath made from spray-painted foam balls on the bedroom door, Mason jars filled with peppermints on the bookshelf, etc.: These were the decorations we inspired you with.

How did you not learn that a real Real Simple devotee would've done all this, had the storage bins {labelled, of course!} put away, and moved on to packaging hostess gifts for those inevitable holiday parties?

If we haven't turned you into the kind of woman that makes other people say, "I don't know how she does it" by now, then that's not our fault.

Um, I may have some misplaced rage toward Real Simple. I'll work on that later.

Right now, I will say: my Christmas storage bins are still out, and I'm all right with that.

Leaving the Christmas tree lights on all night was actually part of my master plan to avoid tripping over them this morning.

Coming out into a Christmas glow of a morning is one thing; the fact that that glow keeps me from tripping over a Nativity set is a bonus I'll pretend I planned for.

27 November 2012

never give a pug mulled wine

Last night, I decorated my Christmas tree while drinking mulled wine. The Mary Tyler Moore Show Christmas episode was on in the background. It's from Season 1—"Christmas and the Hard-luck Kid II"—and a couple of years ago, I decided to make watching it while decorating a tradition. {You can read about that and my other Christmas traditions here, should you be interested / want to follow-up with me to see if I actually did these this year.} Mary gets just as excited about Christmas as I do: the lights! the tree! the wrapping paper! the tradition!

Mary Richards is always prone to talking in exclamation points, but that's especailly evident in the Christmas episode. Her desk at the WJM Newsroom has a Santa and eight tiny reindeer on it; she loves Christmas and all its trappings. As she dances along to "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" in the Christmas episode, I swayed, too, as I twisted red ribbon around the tree and hung ornaments on every branch {practically}.

Who wouldn't want to work here?

My little pug stared warily at me last night. She had done her 12 very tight circles on top of a pillow before laying down and made sure she was facing the tree and me when she finally settled down.

She let out a pug sigh—those squished in noses make for delightfully emphatic-sounding sighs. It sounds a bit like she's simultaneously snoring and letting go of all the world's cares, as if she's been carrying the burden of the Middle East and credit downgrades and the effects of global warming and now finally, finally, she can relax and just be herself.

As I sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with Mary, Little Pug looked concerned that I was either going to decorate her next or replace her with the tree. It's a charmingly enticing thought—a pug with twinkle lights on her—but I took another sip of mulled wine and sat down with her in the chair.

Even though she's a very compact pug, she took up approximately 90% of the chair, and I was forced to sort of contort my body around her.

"Little Pug, it's just a little Christmas cheer. A few extra lights, a tree in the house, a wreath on the door so it smells like we live in a forest." I scratched her behind her ears. "Look how happy Mary is for Christmas! I know it's chaotic right now"—I looked at the storage bins scattered around the living room with lights and Nativity figures climbing out of them—"but it'll all be worth it, just you wait."

I idly petted her {reassurance through touch works for so many things} as I considered where to hang the Advent calendar. By the entry? Replace the K hanging in the dining room? {Another not-so-subtle homage to Mary Tyler Moore} Where would it be best?

And then into my Christmas reverie came the strangest of noises: very sloppy slurping. I looked down and the pug was practically up to her neck in my mug. Her flat face was pressed as far as she could get it into the mulled wine, and she was making her own Christmas cheer.

Photo op of a pug in a mug re-created this morning. She was rather disappointed when she figured out that there wasn't more mulled wine in that mug and that I'd tricked her for my blogging pleasure. But really, who wants to drink mulled wine at 7:30am, even when you're competing with Mary Richards for Person Most in Love with Christmas?

"Little Pug, no! You can't drink! You can't be a drunk pug during Christmas decorating—at the office holiday party, sure, but not in front of Mary and the Christmas tree!"

She pulled her face out, and I'm pretty sure she smiled. The whole sad pug sighing about the Middle East had been an elaborate ruse, I think, to get mulled wine.

I laughed as she licked her nose, trying to get every last drop, and I decided then to adapt my Christmas decorating tradition: Mary, mulled wine, and a drunk pug.

What could be more festive?

20 November 2012

i've got plenty to be thankful for

If I could, I would make a quilt out of tradition and sit under it all winter.

This plan is dependent on me being able to quilt, which I can't do, and it's also dependent on being able to take intangible but comforting things and make them into fabric, which sounds like something Rumpelstiltskin would be peddling.

Of course I'm thinking about tradition as we approach Thanksgiving, that very traditional holiday where most of us eat the same thing at the same time, a feat that doesn't happen on many other days.

With other holidays, there's leeway in the menu: some people eat ham at Christmas, for example, while others might go for Christmas goose. My family has never done that, but doesn't it sound like something that would happen in Little Women—if, I guess, they hadn't been so poor and given away their scant Christmas dinner to an even-poorer family so that the girls {and their readers for generations to come} could learn generosity?

The Fourth of July might involve hot dogs or hamburgers or, if you're in Morning Sun, Iowa, with me, pulled pork sandwiches and a lot of potato salad.

Thanksgiving, though: it's hard to mess with Thanksgiving, as evidenced by this conversation with my mom.

Me, the Ever-helpful Daughter: Hey, do you want me to make anything for Thanksgiving this year? I could bring home my recipe book.

Mama, She Who Has Hosted Thanksgiving Forever: No, I think we're all set. Just so you know, though, we aren't having the creamed corn this year.

Me, the Rooted-in-Tradition Daughter: [Long, long pause] What do you mean? I don't understand. We're from Iowa. Isn't there a law that says we have to eat corn?

Mama, Who Probably Should've Mentioned This to Me Earlier: Your aunt wants to bring cauliflower gratin.

Me, the Doubter: Is this because of the drought affecting the corn crop? I just watched that new Ken Burns documentary on PBS about the Dust Bowl, and so I'm in tune with these agricultural disasters. Is there not enough corn to feed us all?

Mama, Who, After Almost 31 Years Should've Figured Out I'm Not Good with Last Minute Change: Of course there's enough corn. We just thought we'd try something new.

Me, Trying to Change the Subject: Speaking of things that are new, FDR's New Deal brought in a lot of change that helped mitigate the effects of the Dust Bowl. Can we talk about major government programs now instead of how you want to step on the face of Thanksgiving tradition? That's like stepping on the face of a pilgrim, fyi.

Oh, I do like my tradition, but the thing is, I also like cauliflower gratin. The Barefoot Contessa has a very good recipe for it that I've made several times, and hey, it involves cheese. Most things are better with either cheese, bacon, or chocolate added to it—sometimes all three {but certainly not in the case of cauliflower}.

This corn-less Thanksgiving will still be Thanksgiving, I know, and I do have plenty to be thankful for—a phrase that makes me think of Bing Crosby and Holiday Inn and another Thanksgiving tradition.

When I was in high school, my friends and I would march {oh, yes, we were band nerds} in the Lighted Holiday Parade on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I have many pictures of me in a band uniform {with very square shoulders: the shoulder pads in that thing were impressive}, wearing a Santa Claus hat, holding my flugle, and getting ready to step off down Jefferson Street playing a jazzy {yet marchable} version of "The Little Drummer Boy."

{And no, I don't plan on going to the work of scanning any of those pictures and then posting them. No need for that to be seen.}

Afterwards, we'd all eat Christmas cookies and watch Holiday Inn at my friend Sara's house. It was the beginning of Christmas, as we'd warm up with hot cocoa and sing along with Bing. It was normal and cozy and the kind of Saturday night activity that band nerds are prone to do.

Perhaps to get over the lack of corn, I should watch Holiday Inn this year. At the very least, I should watch the "I've Got Plenty to Be Thanksful For" clip from the Thanksgiving part of the movie.

You should watch it, too: here's a link.


And bonus connection to talking about FDR and the New Deal earlier in an attempt to change the subject with my mother {it's below the line so you're not required to read this history fact if you don't want to learn something awesome}: You'll see at the beginning of this clip, there's a little cartoon turkey who moves back and forth between two Thursdays in November.

That's because in 1939, FDR moved Thanksgiving to the second-to-last Thursday in November—not the last Thursday as it had been since Abraham Lincoln set it. And as we all know, you do not mess with anything Abraham Lincoln did.

He did it to give more shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas—the country was still pulling out of the Depression, you know, and the more time for shopping, the better. Incidentally, that phrase was also in the running to replace the E Pluribus Unum slogan for America: The more time for shopping, the better.

People got upset. Really upset. That FDR, he thought he could do anything, even change holidays. What was next? Christmas in July?

Since the states also have some power in these United States of ours, some states decided to reject FDR's Thanksgiving Proclamation and can you imagine the confusion? When do you get off work? What if your family was in a different state? What would the pilgrims think?

Seriously, this was a serious issue, and it went on for a couple of years—until Congress passed a law that Thanksgiving would always be the fourth Thursday in November.

I know that our current Congress has really important things to be doing {STOP holding press conferences about how you're looking forward to a bipartisan solution to the fiscal cliff and fix the dang cliff}, but I would appreciate it if they would, at some point soon, pass a law saying that creamed corn will always be served at Iowa Thanksgivings.

19 November 2012

i saw the light

And now here we are, a couple of weeks after the time change, and every year, it feels like I will never get used to leaving work in the dark.

The sun was sinking down at 4:15 when I looked up from my computer. Across the way—across the busy road—the sun was highlighting the big brick buildings that make up the county complex. The court's in there, as is the place you can go for early voting. A friend who's since moved away used to work in the county complex, helping low-income people pay for their utilities {and oh, how I wish she were still here and still working there, just across the busy road from my office}.

It's a useful place, the county complex, but it's not a beautiful place. It's where you go to get things done.

But at 4:15 this afternoon when I looked up from my computer, those buildings were blazing softly in the sunset, if things can be said to blaze softly.

When I close my eyes, I can so easily conjure up other "blazing softly" moments:

the Mississippi on a summer's night

sunflower fields out the window of a French bed and breakfast, one that my friend Amie and I stumbled upon as we drove through southern France

the old stone church I used to walk past on my way home from class in Kingston-upon-Thames

In all of those, what I was seeing was already beautiful, but it was made more beautiful by the gently fading light. The light going out in a blaze of glory.

But this afternoon, I was looking at the very dull county buildings, and I was seeing them in a new way.

I think we all, from time to time, need to see the old and the known in a new way. We need to not feel so engrained in our patterns and dug into what we know.

We need, in a way, the time change to show us our world in a different light—and to show us that change and transition comes with perks, too, even if it seems frightening and unknown and depressing at first.

Friends move away.

Relationships ebb and flow.

Your job grows.

You get a dog.

You get married.

You have a baby.

You move.

All these changes can come at us so fast, it feels like, but there will come a time, when you're in the midst of change, that you'll look up from just trying to get through the day—and you'll see the world in a new light.

You will.

07 November 2012

a non-political post {mostly}

Campaign signs the day after an election are like pumpkins the day after Thanksgiving: they look out of place.

The season has past, but there they remain, reminders of what came before, even as the world pushes on to the Next Big Thing.

In the case of Thanksgiving, it's Christmas, although let's face it, stores start putting out their Christmas decorations in what, October? I was at Hobby Lobby over the weekend, and all of their fall decorations were 50% off, as if the crispness was already out of the air and all the leaves were but distant memories of raking.

Heck, even some of their Christmas decorations were 50% off, and I half-expected to turn a corner and run into Valentine's Day.

So Thanksgiving already has become a bit of a jump-over holiday anyway, but by the day after Thanksgiving, we're all just over it. We're ready for candy canes and eggnog lattes and little elves. {I feel this so strongly that I even wrote about it before, this belief that by the day after Thanksgiving, the world should be all Christmas-y.}

Sidenote of a business plan: Invent multi-holiday decorations. Like a pumpkin in a parka. Or a scarecrow dressed like Santa. Then someone could decorate for Hallow-thanks-mas in early October and be good until after Christmas.

Sidenote on the sidenote: That's a horrendous idea, especially coming from someone who gets so excited by the thrill of each season. But don't you bet that somewhere, in a SkyMall most likely high above us on a cross-country flight, someone has already marketed this?

It's the same thing with campaign signs: up until Tuesday, they were bold declarations.

Statements in the yard, along with the pumpkins and scarecrows.

They were the hope of victory and a fervent wish for a better tomorrow {or at the very least, a tomorrow that didn't involve so many political ads and flyer and blood-pressure-raising debates}.

And then the election happened and now, the day after, those campaign signs are reminders that we're still a very divided nation.

It's not that I expected the election to sew us all together—oh no, I don't imagine that we are some literal version of Betsy Ross' first American flag that can be put together stitch by stitch {or swing state by swing state?}.

But this morning on NPR, there was talk of President Obama's victory speech and of Governor Romney's concession speech. There were interviews with elated people in Chicago and bewildered people in Boston.

The country took a moment to breathe—and then, we moved on the Next Big Thing: the fiscal cliff.

And I was reminded that we still don't agree on how to fix that looming problem. {I like how I say "we," as if I had an important role to play in this. I did my part when I stood in line at 6:10 on Tuesday morning to vote, surrounded by my neighbors in the lobby of the library—and accepted an "I Voted" sticker from a very enthusiastic poll worker. She was quite obviously a morning person.}

That Republican versus Democrat bickering so represented by the bold campaign signs in people's yard: that's what made me feel that the signs were out of place this morning.

The bickering must be done and we must move on, lest we all tumble together over the cliff.

Oh, sure, there's plenty of talk of bipartisanship, but have you noticed that a lot of it—from both sides—comes with a twinge of, "We're certainly ready to do this, so long as those other guys are. We've always been willing to meet in the middle."

Oh, really?

I want to say that to all politicians and then make them sit down and watch news reels {do news reels still exist?} of their speeches during the debt ceiling crisis and the Super Committee silliness.

I want to say to them, "Didn't your mother teach you to not lie? Don't say always when you know it's not true."

I was thinking all these things while on a walk this morning, and then I came upon this sign that did not look out of place:

The flag.

A little hope that God will be with us.

And you probably can't see this very well, but there's an "I Voted" sticker on that sign: a tangible reminder that we can all take part in this democracy.

This sign calmed me this morning and reminded me that even as we face the Next Big Thing, we can take comfort knowing that we'll face it together.

05 November 2012

to peel an apple

A challenge on a Saturday afternoon: to peel six apples for an apple crisp.

Somewhere, I'm sure, there is a machine or even a little tool for making apple peeling easier {dare I say "more appealing"?}.

We live in an age of specialized kitchen gadgets, some of them with no particular name, even. There's that plastic thing to help you poach an egg—what is that called?

Or there's an avocado slicer or an asparagus peeler or a thingamajig to make it easier to peel garlic.

To step into a kitchen store now is to step into a world where even your unknown needs are taken care of, if only you could find space for all these things in your cupboards.

But when you get down to it, what you need for cooking is what we've always had: heat, water, your hands, a spoon, and a knife. The rest is just bonus, a way to make the task easier, or, in the case of some kitchen gadgets of today, a way to make even an easy task more expensive.

I have to apple peeler, but I have a small, sharp knife and a competitive spirit.

Both of these are essential: the knife, of course, but the competitive spirit to keep this repetitive task interesting. Can I get all the skin off in one long, twirling peel?

Is this something I should be aspiring to?

I say: but of course. In practicing this skill, I get to make many apple crisps and apple crumbles and apple pies and apple tarts. To eat well of the fall's harvest—now that is an aspiration.

01 November 2012

the stars, a pipe, and the election

The first thing to notice was, of course, the stars.

At 5:30am, they were crystal clear against the black sky, even out here in the suburbs where you would think we would produce enough light pollution to block out such clarity.

But there they were, and as I walked to my car, I couldn't help but think of George HW Bush with his thousand points of light.

I did not want to be thinking of former Bush Presidents—Bush 1 or Bush 2—at 5:30 in the morning, although if I'm honest, I don't want to think about any Presidents at this time right now.

Mostly, at this time right now, I want the election to be over. I want it to be November 7th, and I want these campaign stops and swing states and accusations to be over. It all seems to have been going on for years, as if we've been trapped in a surrealist painting and the world is not what we think it is.

Like this famous one by Magritte, which boldly declares that this image of a pipe is not, in fact, a pipe:

We're told every day, "When I said this, what I actually meant was that."

This is not a pipe.

"And it may seem like the economy is recovering, but not if you look at this report from a different angle."

This is not a pipe.

"The polls may show him in the lead, but not if you take into account people who took two years of French at the high school level but then in college, decided to pick up German."

This is not a pipe.

And on and on it goes, and I want, yes, it to be November 7th, but then I might miss more early mornings like this when I saw the stars, the thousand points of light, and felt that anything is possible, anything, in a world that has a view like that one.


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