Randomly, On a Summer’s Day

I am — once again — reading the Harry Potter series aloud to my youngest son.

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This is his second read-aloud, and although I’m thinking this must be my fourth complete-series read-aloud, I may be mistaken; my older son claims I did not actually read the entire series aloud to him. Said older son is, in fact, extremely irritated with the fact that I am STILL reading books aloud to his 11 year-old brother: WHY are you reading to him?! He can read on his own! He’s like TWENTY! 

Um … because my 11 year-old asked? Because I LOVE Harry Potter and am more than happy to re-visit the story?

I think the thing I love most about Harry Potter is the richness of the story. I’m one of those easily fascinated people, someone who positively craves details, and — curmudgeonly irritation over comma splices aside — Rowling’s vividly imagined and deeply nuanced world absolutely bewitched me 😉 when I first read Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone* years ago, before my kids were old enough for the books. As a knitter, one of the details which utterly charms me is the role knitting plays in the series: Hagrid knitting a large yellow something; Mrs. Weasley presenting knit jumpers* for Christmas; Fred and George fighting off hand-knit mittens; Hermione knitting hats for house-elves; Dumbledore wanting — above all else — thick woollen socks, and confessing a fascination with Muggle knitting patterns.

On the subject of knitting (and coincidentally continuing with the Harry Potter theme), I’m knitting yet another set of Hermione’s Everyday Socks (in what is not quite, but hints at, Gryffindor scarlet).

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That would be my daughter’s Gryffindor scarf underneath my knitting. The Sorting Hat would definitely place her in Gryffindor; it would be Hufflepuff for her mother.

In January, I had set a goal of one pair of socks per month, and although swimming lessons and soccer practices have afforded me some extra knitting time this summer, and although I continue to slot in knitting whenever I’m able (in between pancake flips, for example) I’m still finding that goal to be a bit too ambitious. I am continually torn: how best to spend my free evening hours, when my youngest has gone to bed. Although I’d like to be reading more (I’m almost halfway through Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca), the fact is, I love making things. I cannot imagine a life in which I am NOT making things.

On the subject of making things, my sewing continues, albeit very slowly now that the kids are out of school. My 17 year-old son has cleared his schoolwork out of the dining room and I’ve moved my sewing machine and serger to the window end of the table and set up the ironing board in front of the window. The light is MUCH better and I love looking out, snatching glimpses of green and growing things as I work at sewing or ironing or mending.

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Details, details … the two boxes at the forefront are Dutch biscuit tins (which I have had *forever*); they house my spools of thread.

And lastly, I deliberately used the term work in my last sentence, even though the flow would have been better had I just said, “…as I sew or iron or mend.” I’ve just hit a how-the-heck-did-this-happen anniversary: twenty years ago, mid-July 1996, I went on maternity leave from my job as a pharmacist. The very day I started my maternity leave was the day my husband told me he had gotten the position he had been hoping for — the one in another province which would necessitate a move; the one he had assured his pregnant wife he would *never* get — setting in motion a chain of events which resulted in me not returning to my career. Twenty years of stay-at-home-motherhood is a long time to ponder the meaning of work, and — cough*whatasurprise*cough — I have a LOT of thoughts on this subject. I could do a whole (meandering, semantical, over-thinking) post on work … you know, if I were actually brave enough to wade into this quagmire on the internet …


*Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone and sweaters (and a myriad of other changes) in the U.S. editions…  The Americanization of these stories so got my detail-loving-goat that — even though we were living in the U.S. at the time — I bought our books on trips back to Canada.

What I’ve Been Sewing…

So … as promised in my last post, I’m going to share with you what I’ve been sewing. First though, I’d like to talk about what I’ve learned over the last several weeks:

Sewing seems to have a muscular use-it-or-lose-it quality: I used to be a fairly fearless seamstress. I’d take in, let out, alter necklines — and all without hours of angst —- but my decade-and-a-half hiatus (during which I only sewed Halloween costumes and home decor) has cost me dearly in the confidence department. The mechanics of sewing seem to be the equivalent of riding a bicycle, but the leap-of-faith straying from what the pattern instructs is a whole ‘nuther ball game. (Am I allowed to mix that many metaphors?)

If I’m the sewer, I’m also the designer:  Perhaps this is a no-brainer, but I still feel it’s worth pointing out that there are NO pattern police! Who’s to say how a piece is supposed to look? I’ve done a lot of googling these last few months, pulling up countless images of various clothing items. Noticing the endless “anything goes” variation in style has been incredibly freeing.

I need to keep my expectations reasonable:  I’m a bit of a perfectionist, which can be problematic in the creativity department. But I’ve been taking a close look at manufactured garments and they’re not perfect either. The fact is, no one but me will ever scrutinize my lines of stitching for evenness. (Well, my seamstress mother might, but she lives clear across the country.) My new mental measuring guide is now the question, Is this better than an Aéropostale t-shirt? (Which is, admittedly, not an extremely high bar; however, this too has been incredibly freeing.)

The internet is a dream-come-true for this particular sewer:  The fact that the internet is chockablock with techniques and inspiration is a given; however, there are other ways in which it’s a godsend, especially for those of us who are sartorially-challenged. Part way into this sewing adventure I did something I should have done right at the outset. I googled clothing to suit [insert problematic body parts] … and Oh. My. Gosh. the things I have learned … !

For instance, I now know that raglan or dolman sleeves are a good choice to minimize my broad shoulders. I also learned that boatneck styles will only further emphasize my shoulders, as will horizontal stripes. And, because dark colours recede, if I’m going to be doing colour blocking, I should choose a darker tone for the sleeves than for the body of the shirt.

Shoulders aside, I’ve learned that for my particular body type — small-busted and too slim — I should be wearing dark bottoms paired with lighter or patterned tops. Additionally, I should look for tops which have details around the bust, such as pleats or pockets or gathers. Shirts that are belted or which have an empire waistline are also on my “flattering list”.

What’s really interesting to me is that much of this advice jives with what I have intuitively felt about particular items of clothing in the past. The light-washed denim jeans of the 90s always felt wrong, as have khakis. More recently, one of my special occasion outfits — a light blue top paired with a black skirt — felt “right”, whereas another very similar outfit, but which had the tones in reverse — a black top and sweater with a light grey skirt — felt “wrong”.

And now — finally — onto the clothing I’ve been sewing …

As I discussed previously, last year I tried to sew a couple of blouses, neither of which turned out well. Reflecting that what I wear most often, and really needed, was t-shirts, I decided to turn to knit fabric. I do have a serger, which is ideal for stretchy fabric, but it is entirely possible to sew knits using only a sewing machine, and the internet is full of techniques for doing just this.

I used this pattern:

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… and bought several pieces of knit fabric from our city’s ONE fabric store (in other words, I cannot be overly choosey…).

I began with the piece I liked the least, one which had only enough fabric for the body of the shirt, and I cut up an existing t-shirt (one with a stretched-out neckline) for the sleeves. Being a Very Bad Blogger, I didn’t take a photo of this first t-shirt in its initial stage of hmm-Well Crap!-this-is-too-tight-around-the-bust-and-shoulders-and-doesn’t-look-very-good. Nope! Nothing to see here, folks; move along!

Because this was a trial piece, I proceeded with trying to see if I could salvage it by slitting the front partway down the middle and inserting a strip of fabric in order to add some ease in the bust and shoulder areas. I then proceeded to finish the neckline, using a self-bias binding technique (which had been my favourite neckline technique for woven fabrics when I sewed clothing for my kiddos, although I always do mine* in reverse of this tutorial, which I think results in a neater finish).

This is what it looked like at this stage:

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Yes … I know … this is just WEIRD.

I didn’t like how this neckline binding technique worked on the knit fabric, so I removed it and inserted a banded neckline, and then used a double needle, along with my walking foot, to topstitch the seam. This looked much better …

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… and by better, I mean the neckline looked better, not the shirt in general.

I had hoped, during this process, that I would end up with a top I actually liked. Unfortunately, after all that work, I didn’t. The less-than-expert insertion down the middle was just wonky and weird, and the white sleeves seemed to emphasize my wide shoulders, making me feel self-conscious.

(And here, of course, is where the internet came to the rescue — those white sleeves were, in fact, the equivalent of a neon billboard shouting out, Hey, look at these broad shoulders!)

This exercise did prove to be useful, however. I had figured out the fit of this particular pattern (and I now know that for those of us with wide shoulders a bust measurement isn’t necessarily going to be sufficient to ensure a proper fit when it comes to a raglan sleeve pattern). So, making a mental note to stay away from white sleeves, I sewed these three t-shirts:

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The neckband for the pink shirt came from the white t-shirt I had cut up for the trial shirt. The middle shirt is an amalgam of the original pink fabric I bought (I had just enough for another front piece) and a purged golf shirt that had belonged to my husband. The neckband on the mottled blue shirt is self-fabric, but wrong side out, and I turned the hem on the sleeves to the outside, rather than to the inside, to mirror what I had done with the neck. The neckbands all look a bit wavy, but they do lay flat when I wear them.

I made them in a longer length than the pattern indicated, and I’m quite happy with how they turned out; however, there is one problem with them: except for the navy fabric harvested from my husband’s golf shirt (which was cotton), they’re all either polyester or an unknown “mixed fibre” blend. Ideally I would want cotton t-shirts, but cotton knit seems to be a rare beast at my local fabric store. Knowing I was going to require something cool for the summer (and quite frankly determined that my wardrobe should be more than just all-tees-all-the-time), I decided to re-visit the woven fabric blouse conundrum. I decided that this pattern —

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— which I had purchased last year to make this trial shirt —

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— was not necessarily a complete dud. I had chosen this pattern partly because raglan sleeves are easy to sew, but I now knew that they should be a good style to complement my square shoulders. Reasoning that the blouse might be flattering if there were some pleats or gathers around the neckline to soften the front, I simply moved the front pattern piece 4 cm away from the folded edge of my fabric, thus adding 8 cm to the width of the front of the shirt. (This 8 cm number was arrived at by pure guesswork.)

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This is actually blouse #2. Being a Very Bad Blogger, I forgot to take a photo when I was cutting out blouse #1. (And just in case you’re confused about what’s going on in this photo, I layered the back pattern piece on top of the front simply to have a guide for the sides. This pattern has a front which is made from three vertical sections, but I wanted my front to be a single piece instead.)

The first shirt required quite a lot of experimentation. I played around with pleats at the neckline, but didn’t like how they were looking, so then moved on to trying gathers … happy with that, but deciding that the extra volume through the front was causing the shirt to look slightly maternity-like, and knowing that an empire waist was supposed to be flattering for me, I proceeded to add some gathers part-way between the waist and the bust, covering up and securing my lines of gathered basting with a strip of fabric …

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I was very happy with how this turned out, so I made another two tops from the same pattern, although with slight variations.

For top #2, I added ties to the sides which gather the front at the waist in a similar manner to the stitched-in gathers of the first top. I made this one in an even longer tunic length and left slits in the side seams:

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And for the third top, I cut the front horizontally at an empire waist height, added gathers to the lower edge of the top part, and then removed the “excess” 8 cm from the bottom piece (by trimming 4 cm from each side). This is also tunic-length, with slits in the side seams.

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So … I have to say I have LOVED wearing these tops, which is all fine and dandy … EXCEPT … I now have another problem: I don’t even want to THINK about wearing any of my old and ratty tops … meaning I’m now scrambling to whip up a few more blouses to round out my wardrobe.

I have yet another iteration of this same pattern on the go, and one would think, that by the FOURTH rendition, I would no longer need my seam ripper … but no … I’m not sure what’s going on with this one … maybe it’s the sleeves, maybe I didn’t get the position of the gathering correct, maybe it’s the wild floral pattern … but there’s just something about this top that isn’t yet working …

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While I’m mulling over top #4, I’m also trying out something entirely different. This next one is inspired by this top, and I was hoping to use the fabric from this skirt, which has been in my wardrobe for at least 22 years:

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I have always LOVED the fabric of this skirt, but haven’t worn it very often. It’s a bit shorter than I would like a skirt to be (mid-calf versus ankle), and whenever I did wear it — paired with either a navy tee or a white blouse — it never quite felt “right”. Now that I know I “should be” wearing patterned tops and dark bottoms, this makes sense — it’s the reverse of what I should be wearing.

I’m thinking that a bit of navy at the top, with the skirt fabric gathered just above the bust might work …

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… but indecisiveness is causing me to hesitate: perhaps this isn’t the best use of this fabric (is the pattern too wild for a top?), and perhaps this style isn’t even going to suit me (in which case I will have wasted some perfectly good fabric which I love. Gasp!).

I am, now, in the process of making a trial piece of this style from some scrap fabric, and perhaps once I’ve finished I’ll have a clearer idea of what to do. Any thoughts or suggestions you might have would be most welcome!

:)

 


*I wasn’t sure how much detail to put into this post … because I’m not a “sewing blog” I felt I should spare you from all of the nitty-gritty intricacies of construction, but if anyone does want clarification on anything I did (or would like to see my technique for self-bias binding), I’ll be glad to share.

On Clothing and Sewing

Five years ago, during our first summer living in Ontario, my husband said something that sent my mind spinning in a near panic: Marian, this year we’re going to the office Christmas party. No ifs, ands, or buts!

Now, perhaps this has you rolling your eyes and thinking, Panic? Puh-leaze!

Sadly, this is not an exaggeration.

Are you familiar with the saying, You can dress her up, but you can’t take her out? This is (was) me … in spades … except for the unfortunate fact that you couldn’t actually dress me up … because I had nothing to wear … and pessimistically believed I would never EVER be able to find something appropriate, because nothing EVER seems to fit me well …

When I voiced this lowly self-estimation to my husband, he (ever-supportive) vehemently disagreed that the taking-her-out part was a problem; however, he did recognize that the dressing-her-up part posed a bit of a conundrum. Alas, he wasn’t going to let me off the hook. Proverbially donning the pants in the relationship, he informed me that he was going to the Christmas party — with or without me — and that he sincerely hoped that by giving me enough lead time I would be able to find something appropriate to wear.

So, despite the fact that the prospect of a fitting room filled with “evening wear” inspires more dread than a root canal, I put on my big girl pants and went to the mall. And miracle of miracles, I DID manage to find something to wear for that first Christmas party.

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I paired this with a just-above-the-knee black skirt, and it was a very middle-of-the-road outfit … I was neither the fanciest nor the plainest, which is a good spot for me.

Furthermore, reflecting that it felt really, really nice to be (for once in my life!) appropriately dressed, I’ve since made the effort to find other outfits, suitable for other special occasions.

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From left to right, these tops were worn to a fall wedding, another Christmas party, a high school awards ceremony, and yet another Christmas party, all with either a long black skirt or a shorter black skirt, and all paired with a scarf.

But while I do now feel covered (pun intended) for dressier events, I’ve allowed my everyday wardrobe to sink to dismal levels of shabbiness, with nearly all my casual clothing hovering in some state of shrunken-ness, stretched-outed-ness, holey-ness, or — sigh — complete inappropriateness.

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This is a mere drop in the bucket in my closet of shame…

I was going to tell you a long-winded story about how wearing the Green Eggs and Ham t-shirt outside the house caused one of my children to have words with me, but I’ve decided to skirt that and keep it short. Suffice to say a nice little grey cardigan worn overtop didn’t fix the egregious faux pas, nor did the fact that I happened to end up at the library on the day in question.

(The LIBRARY! Surely that would have made it all—

No. Just No.)

Sigh.

Now, if it were only my children’s opinions of my wardrobe that had me worried, I’d perhaps not be writing this post.

The fact is, I (me, myself, completely independently) am tired of looking shabby. And not only that, but I am also tired of being the idealist who rails against the fact that appearances shouldn’t matter, that that’s all superficial trappings and that it’s what’s on the inside, and the inside only, dammit, that counts.

(Appearances SHOULDN’T matter. But I am raising the proverbial white flag and ceding the battle:  Society 1: Marian 0)

Mixed up in all this though, is the acknowledgement that clothing possesses powers far beyond what “other people” think. I am just now coming to realize that my lack of effort in the clothing department has been affecting my state of well-being. If I am self-consciously tugging down a shrunken t-shirt, if I am wearing ill-fitting pants, if I look around and perceive that I am the least-well-dressed person in the room, this does nothing but erode my already shaky sense of self-confidence.

I’ve just turned 49. And I’ve set myself a goal: in this, the year before I turn 50, I would like to transform my wardrobe. I don’t need quantity, and I don’t need “perceived quality” (in other words, I don’t need designer labels). The only thing I want is to have a small range of well-fitting and flattering clothing, in a style that will go with my un-dyed and Egads!-it’s-positively-silvery-in-the-sunshine coif, something that fits with and says, I’m very close to 50 and I’m totally okay with that!

So what am I doing to further this goal?

I’m trying to get back to sewing.

You see, dear reader, I used to sew. I used to sew a LOT.

My mother was a seamstress extraordinaire, and although our relationship was such that I didn’t actually allow her to teach me much, I nevertheless grew up marinating in a can-do world of needles and pins and fabric and thread.

When I moved out, I inherited my mother’s old sewing machine, and a few years later, just before our daughter was born, my husband bought a serger for my birthday.

And Oh! how I loved that birthday present! The serger lit a creative fire under me, and I sewed my heart out: clothing for the kids, clothing for me, home decor items, cloth Christmas gift bags, aprons to give away as gifts …

At the time, we were living in Saskatchewan, in a house with a den on the main floor. My sewing machine and serger and ironing board were set up 24/7 and I was the queen of snatched-moment creativity, capitalizing on every spare five minutes I could find. And the thing is, I felt really good about this. Not only was sewing a creative endeavour, but equally important, it was a frugal endeavour: to me, sewing = saving money. As a newly minted SAHM who had been used to bringing in a paycheque, this was my way of contributing to the work of raising a family.

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I sewed both our dresses.

But when we moved to Minnesota in the fall of 1999 all of this suddenly shifted.

Now, there were a number of factors at play: not only had I lost my let’s-close-the-door-on-this-mess sewing room, but fashion was changing. Suddenly, my hitherto-pleasing (and easy-to-sew) 90s-styled tents shirts and dresses felt formless and tent-like huge.

BUT — I also lay part of the blame directly on Target and Kohl’s.

So, I’ve just gotta pause here, because:

Oh. my. word! 

Kohl’s!

Target!

For a Canadian who had only ever been to the U.S. once before, there was something positively heady and swoon-worthy about this new-to-me over-the-top American* abundance on display in Kohl’s and Target!

But … there was also, I soon discovered, something very disheartening about it all: if I could buy a $5 Merona shirt then why the heck should I bother sewing it? For a seamstress whose love of sewing hinged on both creativity AND frugality, this nulling-and-voiding of one of the addends zeroed the entire equation. (Um, yes, mathematically speaking, adding a zero does not result in a sum of zero. This is purely metaphorical math I’m employing.)

And thus, just like that, I became a consumer of cheap fashion, and for the past 16 years my closet has more-or-less been a revolving door (albeit a very slow moving, somewhat minimalistic one) of buy, give to Goodwill, buy, give to Goodwill, buy, give to Goodwill, with my satisfaction in my wardrobe ebbing and flowing with the fickleness of fit and hemlines.

Now, I had tried, last spring, to get myself out of this rut by sewing this:

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If this at all resembles a clown top it’s because I ACTUALLY took a Halloween costume pattern and modified it.

And using a remnant to “try out” this pattern:

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McCall’s 7093

Unfortunately, neither top worked out very well. The first one was based on the blue special occasion top I had bought, and although I measured carefully and adjusted the Halloween pattern, my creation elicited comments of that looks like maternity wear from my two teenagers. As for the second top, it was so unflattering as to make the real thing not even worth trying.

So I gave up, and once again put my sewing machine and serger away. I’d occasionally wander into Winners (TJ Maxx) to see if they had anything in the way of casual clothing that worked. (Nope.) And I even, once, wandered into a small independent clothing store which I had heard advertised on the radio. I was the only customer in the store that morning and the owner was a very chatty woman who told me at length about her lines of Canadian-designed, responsibly-manufactured clothing … but as she left me to ponder hangers arrayed with a selection of that-won’t-suit-me, it’s-lovely-but-where-would-I-wear-it, that’s-too-expensive I literally began to sweat under the pressure of taking something off the rack and going to a fitting room in order to try it on. And when someone else mercifully came into the store I slipped out the door with a breezy, Thanks, I’ll be back!

I lied, dear reader; I haven’t been back.

And then, a couple of months ago, I watched The True Cost, a documentary about the societal and environmental problems of the “fast fashion” industry. A review of the documentary would be an entire post in-and-of itself, and because I know Rita has a post brewing about this issue I’m not going to dwell on the movie itself.

And besides — apart from the environmental impact of clothing (which, my goodness, WAS an eye-opener) — the fact is that unless you’ve been living under a rock, much of the movie isn’t actually news. It wasn’t to me, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be to you. I’ve known for a very long time that sweat shops were not something I should be supporting with my dollars. I’d heard about the factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. I’d also heard that Joe Fresh labelled clothing, a brand which makes up at least 75% of my current casual wardrobe, was found in the debris.

So what this movie has been for me then, is a tipping point. If I don’t want to take part in this destructive system, then what are my alternatives?

  • I could start to scour thrift stores for quality used clothing.
  • I could attempt to source responsible clothing by returning to that small, independent clothing store, or by checking out one of the handful of others located in our very small city.
  • I could do my homework and take a weekend shopping junket to Toronto.

However …

  • It’s absolutely not in me to sift through scads of stuff at Goodwill in order to unearth a treasure.
  • I don’t possess the self-esteem necessary to shop at a tiny store, one in which the mirrors might be outside the fitting rooms, or one in which a saleslady might make a tactless quip about my figure.
  • Toronto is too far/too busy/too hoity-toity.
  • “Responsible” clothing is expensive and unjustifiable for this SAHM who has no office to go to or meetings to attend.

And it’s this last point that has become the clincher: if responsible clothing (unless found at a thrift shop) necessarily translates into more expensive clothing, then once again:

Sewing = creativity + frugality

And that means this seamstress is back in business.

It’s been weeks of trial and error, but I’m absolutely determined to make this work. I’m happy to report that I have learned a tremendous amount, and more importantly, I’m finally starting to see some success. BUT, because I’ve once again been way too long-winded, I’m going to leave the “showing” for my next post.


* I must explain — lest you wonder, But are there no stores in Canada? — that my reaction to Kohl’s was coloured by two things:

  1. Prior to moving to the U.S., I hadn’t been much of a shopper. It is entirely possible that our city in Saskatchewan had a huge variety of fantastic, bursting-at-the-seams-with-stock clothing shops, but because it was my habit to shop for clothing at the fabric store, I simply didn’t know about them.
  2. I had just — a week or so before packing up the house — traipsed through the cavernous, nearly-empty, EVERYTHING-MUST-GO space that was the soon-to-be-closed Eaton’s store in our Saskatchewan city’s downtown core. Eaton’s was one of Canada’s flagship department stores, and it began devolving in the fall of ’99. If you’ve ever had occasion to walk through a closing-down department store, and then shortly afterwards visited a Kohl’s, I’m fairly certain the contrast would astound you as well!

 

—ing

I’m beginning to wonder if I need to join Bloggers Anonymous: Hello, my name is Marian and it’s been 6 weeks since my last post.

What the heck have I been doing?

In no particular order, I’ve been:

Walking:

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We’re back to winter weather.

Baking:

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There’s always something to bake in this house; this ball of dough became whole wheat blueberry bagels.

Sewing:

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I am attempting to sew clothing. It’s not going swimmingly.

Reading:

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A fascinating read!

Knitting:

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The second sock. The pattern is a slightly modified version of “Hermione’s Everyday Socks”.

Building:

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This may one day turn into a shoe cupboard. We’ll see; the boys are threatening mutiny and claim this cupboard does more to clutter up the foyer than a dozen shoes scattered haphazardly on the doormat.

Painting:

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This is a “rescued from the curb” library cart. (Yes, it”s upside down — the wheels need cleaning). I don’t know yet where it will go or what it will be used for; all I know is that I couldn’t let it go to the dump.

Shelving:

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Lots of hours spent at the school library.

Editing:

Of the unpaid Dear Sir and/or Madam, Please will you consider me for your job/grant/scholarship variety. I am my children’s editor.

Braiding:

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I may be just a bit obsessed with braided rugs; this is the 6th one I’m making.

Watching:

Now that Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge have been exhausted, we’ve turned to The Paradise. I am a British period piece whore. (Gosh, I hope my daughter doesn’t read this post).

Adjusting:

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Our daughter will be staying in her university city this summer. And our 17 year old son (not pictured, because he wasn’t born yet) will join her in the fall.

Writing:

A post on clothing and sewing, which is leading to far too much Ruminating and Questioning, which I will not bog you down with.

I hope you’ll tell me what you’ve been “—ing” in the comments :) .

The Day the i-Pad Wandered Off To Die …

… my ten year-old son and I did a KenKen together at breakfast.

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… my son had to inject some fifth-grade boy humour into the endeavour …

And then, after school, we raided his older brother’s bookshelf and found some new-to-him books — The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Klutz Encyclopedia of Immaturity (volumes I and II; we seemingly really wanted to encourage immaturity in our older son) — which he pored over all afternoon, alternately rapt and giggling.

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So, of course — needless to say — the i-Pad didn’t actually wander off to die.

I had hidden the damn thing.

And the reason I had hidden the damn thing was because I had decided, early that morning this past fall, that I had simply had enough.

Enough of time limits on devices which were constantly being stretched; enough of me nagging him over and over and over again to get off; enough of me wondering how the heck we had progressed from him being allowed to watch amazingly cool and creative videos on MinuteEarth or MinutePhysics or CGP Grey to him being immersed in — addicted to! — the utterly inane world inhabited by Minecraft YouTubers.

And perhaps, had I not been in such a foul and fragile mood that day, I would have simply ‘fessed up. I would have been, you know, an adult and told him I had taken it away. I would have told him that he was spending too much time on it, and that that time was pre-empting other more important things, things like reading books, or perusing Popular Science or National Geographic or Muse, or playing with Lego, or just plain conversing with me as I stood there in the kitchen making his lunch while he ate his breakfast.

But because it was last fall and I was neck-deep in an existentialistic grinchy funk and my husband was away yet again, for the whole freaking week, I took the easy way out.

I lied played dumb.

So when he asked, that morning, Hey, Mom, do you know where the i-Pad went? I simply said, Huh! Is it not on the couch? Well, then I dunno…

Remarkably, it took three days (three days of a wholehearted effort on my part to distract distract distract) before the truth came out.

We were walking home from school when he floated yet another query of Where the heck could that i-Pad have gone?!

Sighing internally, knowing I was going to have to tell him sooner or later that I had imperiously made up some new rules (no technology Monday through Friday afternoon), but suddenly inspired (and truth-be-told, desperately wanting to inject some humour into what I suspected would shortly be an angry situation), I said, “Hey, you know how old our i-Pad is, right?”

(Very, in case you’re wondering; he rattled off something about generation two.)

“And you know how it hasn’t been working properly recently?”

(He agreed. It was a very annoying i-Pad as of late; even I had noticed that.)

“And you know what some animals do when they get old and sick?”

(I didn’t give him time to answer, reflecting as soon as the words left my lips that it was his brother who had been animal-crazy, not him.)

“They wander off to die!” I announced.

(So, yes, I’ve since looked this up. Um, that’s right: specifically for this post. (Yes, I may be a bit of a nerd). And it turns out this wandering off to die thing may actually be a myth.)

My son looked at me funny and said, “The i-Pad did not wander off to die, Mom!”

(At this point — no word of a lie — I had a sudden vision of my son, as an adult, pushing his frail and elderly mother out onto an ice floe. And it occurred to me that I would perhaps one day sorely regret ever putting this nugget of an idea into his head.)

And then the jig was up.

“You took it, didn’t you?” he suddenly accused. “Where did you hide it?”

Ah … I tell ya, hardly a day goes by that I don’t feel slightly sorry for my kids, saddled as they are with me for a mother …

Because my son didn’t have a hope-in-hell of arguing me down from my position.

In the first place, I am, and always have been, a bit of a Luddite. When I was in university, I typed my term papers and essays on a manual typewriter, despite the fact that there was not only a perfectly good electric typewriter in the house, but also one of those early you-know-you’re-a-nerdy-geek-if-you-actually-have-one computers (complete with word processing capabilities and a dot matrix printer!), sitting there, waiting for use, in my father’s basement study.

Making matters worse for my son is the fact that his Luddite mother has an inherent, nearly supercilious, do-something-constructive-with-your-time!, distrust of video games. An attitude, I admit, that is borne of ignorance and compounded by idealism: I have never — not once — played Pac Man; I don’t get the point of Angry Birds or SimCity (even though I can appreciate the fact that my husband and son get a kick out of playing them together); the fact that tweens play Grand Theft Auto makes me despair for humanity; and I greet claims of superior hand-eye coordination, which are floated as an excuse for all of it, with a shake of the head and a heavy bit of eye-rolling. And while I know for a fact that there are indeed PLENTY of video-game-playing-kids who grow up to lead perfectly normal lives (cue the utterances of So then shut the hell up, mom who doesn’t know anything, yet somehow has a blog), that fact fails to change how I feel about them.

The second battle my ten year-old son faces has to do with his siblings. As you may have noticed, we have a rather wide age gap between our first two children (who are now 19 and 17 years of age) and our youngest, who is a month away from his eleventh birthday. This means we have a bit of a social science experiment going on in our household: because we didn’t buy into the need to get computer games for our older two kids, AND because we were late adopters of home internet service, our older two essentially passed the first decade or so of their lives computer and video game free. Our youngest, on the other hand, cannot remember a time when we didn’t have a computer or the internet.

And here’s the thing: I can tell the difference.

Although it’s not fair to compare children, it hasn’t escaped my notice that our youngest isn’t quite the reader that the older two were, both of whom became voracious readers with little to no prodding on my part. They read all the time — books, magazines, encyclopedias — anything they could get their hands on. And while their young lives weren’t technology-free — they watched plenty of children’s programming on TV — there seems to be something fundamentally different about TV-watching versus gaming, or even TV-watching versus what I’ll term I’m-just-going-to-click-one more-link internet browsing.

This past weekend I was listening to Spark, a program on CBC radio, and they had a really good segment on why your kid can’t turn off a game when you ask, and holy moly hello … this is finally addressing the refrain I hear constantly from friends who have kids the same age as my youngest. We’re all going through the same thing, and yet there still seems to be that myth out there, that subtle parental put-down that says you’re not doing your job as a parent if your child is hooked to a screen.

I ran up against this perception at a meeting last spring with the resource teacher, when upon discussing my youngest and listing off activities he enjoyed, I confessed that he was rather more fond of the i-Pad than I would have liked. Her response was a cut-and-dry, matter-of-fact “Set limits!”, to which I replied, rather testily, “I DO set limits! The problem is that it’s addictive. I can tell my son to get off and he’ll say just a sec. Two minutes later, I will tell him once again to get off and he’ll say just a sec. And on and on it goes, until 20 minutes half an hour 45 minutes later, I am having to physically wrench the device from his hands!”

(Thank goodness there was a younger teacher in the meeting with us. She chimed in at that point and said, “Devices ARE addictive; I’ve even noticed that with my own use.”)

So when I finally did have a proper I’m the adult and you’re the child and here’s what I’ve been observing conversation with my son, he — amazingly — understood my point. And we have managed to keep him technology-free Monday through Friday afternoon ever since. I’m happy to report he’s reading WAY more than he used to. He’s helped me on a few more KenKens. He’s been devouring the Popular Science magazines that we subscribe to. He’s even occasionally been dipping into the encyclopedias, just as his older brother used to do.


I should probably leave this story here, but it seems I’m utterly incapable of leaving out this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction twist at the end, despite the fact that it hints at just a bit of dysfunction in an otherwise strong 25 year-long marriage:

Here’s what happened when Friday rolled around after that first technology-free week, and my technology-loving-Angry Bird-appreciating-I-love-her-but-why-is-my-wife-such-a-Luddite husband came home from his business trip (to a province with a lower sales tax, I have to add (in an ominous foreshadowy sorta way 😉 )):

My husband (henceforth known as “my child’s father”) commiserated with our ten year-old son, who wasted no time in telling him what his mother had done, to which my child’s father replied, “Yes, I heard about that!”. And when my son turned to me and said, “Hey, Mom! It’s Friday evening! Where’s the i-Pad?”, my child’s father said, “No need…” and pulled out a brand new one.

Humph …

My Husband May Be Turning Into a Vegan Activist

Well, *there’s* a sentence I never thought I’d write…

So, technically my husband is not actually a vegan (he has yet to give up butter or the occasional pizza), and perhaps activist is a bit hyperbolic (although his co-workers might disagree) …

But before I explain what’s happened with my husband, I think a little background is in order:

Our 19 year-old daughter has been a vegetarian — off and on — for about eight years now. She declared her vegetarianism — without preamble, without any hint of a warning — just before her twelfth birthday. We were camping and my husband had just set a barbecued pork chop onto her plate when she suddenly pushed the plate away and said, “I don’t want to eat this; I want to be a vegetarian.”

So, of course — as any parents would do — my husband and I questioned her on it. Isn’t this rather out of the blue? we asked.

But no, apparently not. Apparently, it was something she had been thinking of for quite some time*, and because of that it didn’t even occur to us that it was something we could, or should, be talking her out of.

(I do confess that when, a few short months later, our daughter’s politically- and socially-active social studies teacher showed her class the documentary Food, Inc (much to the chagrin of many parents) and one of her best friends went home and told her parents that she too wanted to become a vegetarian, and her parents simply said, Oh no, you’re NOT! … I felt slightly duped. Did YOU know, I asked my husband, that we could simply have said “No”?!?!)

Has this last paragraph left you with the impression that I was less-than-happy with her supposedly well-thought-out stance?

Yes, I admit to a fair amount of grumbling:

What’s she going to eat when we have chicken?! What about the pasta sauce?! And why am I the one now stuck cooking (cough*heating*cough) TWO meals?!

But, ah … the beauty that occasionally comes with hindsight … ! Looking back on it now, I’m extraordinarily glad that we didn’t talk her out of it, because although our daughter’s position was tempered by a short period during which she acquiesced slightly and ate organic, free-range meat and chicken, her vegetarianism has meant several things to our family:

  • It forced me to become a better cook (although I confess to a fair amount of *heating* until the year I gave up processed food):
    Processed Food is a Slippery Slope

  • Her stance influenced her younger brother, who also turned vegetarian for a time, and who, to this day, remains very thoughtful about the food he eats.
  • Our youngest son has — from a very young age — been exposed to (and eats!) a wide variety of foods which he claims his friends’ parents would never dream of setting on the table**.
  • It further heightened my already-strong interest in reading about nutrition and health, which has resulted in a healthier and more varied diet than we would have had otherwise, and we have all slowly moved along with her to what has become, in the last couple of years, a nearly-completely vegetarian diet.
  • It has likely halted what we’ve always imagined to be my husband’s genetic “fate”: a predisposition that would lead inexorably towards weight gain and chronic disease.

And this is where we return to my husband and the whole vegan-esque activist thing …

My husband has recently done two things (and by that, I mean he has done them independently; he has not just watched me do them and then listened to my take on things):

  1. He’s read How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, by Dr. Michael Greger, the medical doctor who runs the website nutritionfacts.org. This is a two-part book which deals with both the scientific evidence which lies behind the top fifteen causes of death in the U.S., as well as the foods*** which have been shown to prevent these diseases. It’s well-written and very accessible; my husband, who has a strong technical background, but is completely unversed in biological matters, has found it to be a fascinating read.
  2. He’s watched the documentary Cowspiracy. This is an eye-opening movie which does two things: firstly, it illustrates the enormous and wide-ranging effects animal agriculture has on the Earth, from deforestation to toxic run-off to dead zones in oceans to methane production to the mis-use of antibiotics to climate change; and secondly, it highlights the failure of environmental organizations to acknowledge the elephant in the room that is agribusiness.

Now, although my husband has compelling personal reasons to be galvanized by what he’s read and watched, it’s struck me that this book and this film provide a powerful wake-up call even to those without those compelling personal reasons; that if ever there were reasons to experiment with Meatless Mondays, to become a weekday vegetarian, or to *gasp* go whole hog (pun intended) and do one’s darnedest to become a vegan, well, these two things in concert would be IT, because the evidence is powerful: what’s good for our health is also good for the planet’s health.


*“…quite some time…” Ha! Our daughter recently confessed that it actually wasn’t something she had thought about prior to that fateful supper; she just figured we would be less likely to talk her out of it if we felt it was a decision she had conscientiously arrived at. What a stinker….

**Does it sound like our ten year-old son is ecstatic about this arrangement? He’s not. If he had his way I would be serving Kraft Dinner (macaroni and cheese) every. single. meal. But hey, we’re not zealots! He had a hot dog just last week when we went to a hockey game.

***Greger’s book promotes a whole food plant-based diet: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds, with little to no ultra-processed foods.

Soul-Sustaining Scenery Versus the Treadmill

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These are scenes from yesterday morning’s walk. A fresh snowfall, crisp air, and heavy boots to work up a sweat … what a lovely way to start the day :) .

I’ve never been much of an “exerciser”. My pre-children attempts at exercise were sporadic, at best, and my post-children years have been even more dismal. I’ve watched as others (my husband and my sister-in-law, for example) have consistently managed to find the time for regular exercise, but I’ve always put other obligations (children and home) first, completely discounting and disregarding — disdaining even! — the whole don-your-own-oxygen-mask-first-before-attempting-to-help-others approach to self-care and health.

So after a lifetime of neglect, it shouldn’t really have come as any surprise when, about three years ago, I began feeling distinctly creaky in the hip area.

Slightly panicked and knowing I had to finally do something, but reluctant to be spending an hour in the basement on the treadmill, I decided to try going for a long walk after dropping our youngest off at school in the morning. But while I managed some mornings, it was still sporadic; I was letting the day and its obligations dictate the exercise, rather than scheduling the day around the walking. I was still letting myself be somewhat of a martyr to my family and my home. I was still putting my physical and mental health in the backseat, and it wasn’t until Deborah advised that I should view my walking as a prescription for health that I managed to completely turn my way-of-thinking around.

Our daughter sent us this very funny (and OH, SO TRUE!) video a few days ago, which completely fits with the theme of this post. If you haven’t already seen it, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did (but FYI, there is one partially beeped out f-word):

 

Kingston and Kondo and Seeing Stuff

There once was a woman who thought about stuff

A constant refrain which made her life tough

The treasures, the dross

To keep or to toss

Indecisive and waffling, enough was enough!

So … hmmm …

I’m fairly certain that limericks are pretty much inexcusable. All I can say is that this is what happens when someone (Sarah :) ) points out that I started the year with a haiku and followed with a pun … does that sound like a dare to anyone else?

Moving right along —

I’m at least six months — perhaps even a year — late to this party …

Nevertheless …

After being on the library’s waiting list since July, I *finally* — in November —read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

Although I am decidedly not a fan of self-help books, I do have a bit of a weakness for books that discuss “stuff”, a fascination which began many years ago, when I happened upon Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui.

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Originally published in Great Britain in 1998; this is a copy of the first U.S. edition published in 1999.

When I first read this book I was a mother to two very young children. I was struggling just a bit with day-to-day life, and Kingston’s claim that clutter could cause a person to feel anxious came as an Aha! lightbulb-revelation. Now, Kingston’s writings aren’t perfect — her tone is a bit self-congratulatory, there’s a fair amount of woo to get past, and there’s a chapter on colon cleansing (yes, you read that right!) which likely makes some people squeamish — but it is a book that has, for me, stood the test of time. Some of Kingston’s words — these, for example:

You are connected to everything you own by fine strands of energy

— resonate just as strongly with me today as they did when I first read the book, even if I do have to take what she means literally in a strictly figurative sense.

So when the buzz began about Marie Kondo’s tidying book, I was fairly anxious to read it.

(But clearly not *so* anxious that I was willing to spend $15 in order to buy it!)

To begin with, I have to say I feel a fair measure of pity for Ms. Kondo. She clearly had childhood issues, which I, unfortunately, can relate to. As a child, I too, felt the comfort that could come from setting physical objects to rights, and would often come home from school and embark on tasks such as the completely voluntary — unasked-for, even — spring cleaning of my mother’s spice cupboard. I would at this point say, Pot? Meet Kettle… but the young Ms. Kondo was WAY more obsessed about it than I ever was. (So … hmmm … Spoon? Meet Kettle … ?)

Empathy aside, this book has left me feeling very conflicted, and as much as I don’t want to say it —

(if you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all...)

— I had a really hard time liking this woman. I know it would be unfair of me not to acknowledge that her cautionary tales — getting rid of other people’s stuff, and guilting siblings into taking her cast-off belongings — were part of her early practices, and that in telling us about them she is merely painting a picture of what not to do, that she doesn’t do them now. But still… Even when she was an adult, and already working in a professional capacity, her judgement seemed a bit off: telling a client she could tidy up by offloading stuff to her mother’s house for indefinite storage? Quite honestly, the word spoiled comes to mind, a descriptor that struck me as befitting both her and her clients.

I also got bogged down in semantics: the use of the term “garbage” when referring to the stuff that she’s encouraging people to get rid of. Are her clients actually throwing everything that doesn’t spark joy into the dump? Are there no charity or thrift stores in Japan?

On the flip side, her advice to use the boxes and bins one already has kicking around the house was a breath of fresh air, and her folding methods are probably bang-on: my ten year-old son’s drawer is still neat and tidy, months after I re-organized it and file-folded his t-shirts. And, her assessment of professional organizers as hoarders? Yes, thank-you, Ms. Kondo: there’s a bit of truth you don’t often hear.

Kondo’s claim-to-fame is, of course, the whole sparking joy thing … and to that I say, okay, sure, yes, in an ideal world, we would and should all live surrounded by only those things that we love, by only those things that spark joy. But … I can’t help feeling this is such a privileged, upper-middle class, first-world, consumeristic metre-stick by which to measure our belongings.

In the first place, it’s a method that really only works for those people who have both the time and the money to assess and possibly replace each and every object which doesn’t make the cut.

And in the second place, while I can see how joy could be a very useful determiner for clothing, say, or for books, or items of decor, isn’t joy rather a silly way to assess* a garlic press or a spatula or a wrench? Surely, in and amongst our belongings there’s room for pure function? Whatever happened to utility and making-do and deciding to live with good-enough? I would argue there’s a certain beauty to be found in all that, as well as in the ability (or determination) to say, Yeah, it doesn’t spark joy, but who the hell cares? I’ll seek my joy elsewhere, thank you very much.

(Are you thinking, methinks the lady doth protest too much about this whole joy-sparking thing? If so, you’d be right. The fact is, I want a nice home just as much as the next person, and I actually have a very finely-tuned aesthetic sense: I can immediately see what I love, what I don’t, what “goes” with what, and how things could be improved … in other words, I see all the stuff; I care about all the stuff … but the thing is, I don’t want to!).

Sigh.

Lastly, there’s the part of the book where (according to Goodreads reviews) she seems to lose a lot of people: her propensity to anthropomorphize objects, and to attach feelings to stuff. She even goes so far as to thank things for their service!

Oh. My. Gosh.

That’s just crazytalk!

I mean …

Um …

Gulp … yes, well …

As completely whackadoodle as it sounds, I have to confess this is a concept I *totally* get.

Because — as a person who sees all the stuff — I have, on numerous occasions, thanked inanimate objects for their service.

There was a stove, for example. A pair of sandals. A blanket.

And then there was a bowl, the smallest of a set of three I purchased just before my husband and I got married 25 years ago:

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And then there were two …

These bowls were the first “household” item I bought, and if ever a set of mixing bowls could spark joy, then my goodness, it was these. Made in Portugal, purchased at a delightful little kitchen shop, the perfect sizes for all my needs … So when the smallest one broke a dozen-or-so years ago, I nearly cried. And I distinctly remember, as I placed the pieces in the garbage, saying the words out loud: Thank you, Small Blue Bowl; you were a good bowl, and I’m really going to miss you.

Ridiculous?

Perhaps.

But I wonder if, in our consumeristic and disposable — and warming — world, this is actually part of the solution.

Maybe we should all be thanking our stuff for the service it provides. Not because, as Ms. Kondo suggests, our stuff is capable of emotion and will have hurt feelings if we don’t acknowledge its hard work, but rather because perhaps, by taking that small action, we would all start to really and truly see the objects in our lives. And perhaps, if we all actually saw the objects in our lives, we’d also be forced to acknowledge the fact that stuff isn’t made from thin air, and that it doesn’t just miraculously appear on store shelves for us to buy buy buy without thought.

Like these Christmas crackers, making a curtain call from my last post:

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Hey, did I already mention that these Christmas crackers travelled 14,000 freaking km (9000 miles) to get to Ontario?!

I wonder … were any of the people who purchased — or merely had the pleasure of pulling apart — these Christmas crackers *actually* thankful for their hat, their joke, and their unique gift (and their 30-odd seconds of fun)?

Maybe Marie Kondo is onto something with her thanking shtick.


*Apparently, Kondo’s second book (Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up) addresses the inherent problem that comes when using joy as a determiner to assess things that are utilitarian in nature. Sarah, who has read the new book, points out that “… Kondo acknowledges her ridiculousness. It’s a big part of her insight about finding joy in what’s useful (a really important principle, but one that I think could be more explicitly stated in the book)”. I wonder whether those fans who have followed her methods to a T will now be royally ticked off as they re-purchase tools they’ve summarily tossed. I will have to wait approximately six months to read this for myself; I’m number 11 on the library’s waiting list.

What if The Grinch Was Actually the Hero of the Story?

So some of you might have noticed things were pretty quiet around here this fall. I wrote my over-analytical knitting post in November, and then silence reigned until New Year’s Day, when, inspired by the beauty of a long-awaited snowfall, I gathered some profound feelings of relief —

(Yay, there’s finally snow! And, yay, 2015 is over!)

— and with some fervent hopes for the new year, I broke my silence with a (probably trite) haiku.

November and December tend to be difficult months for me at the best of times. Even though we’ve always kept Christmases fairly minimalistic, I still find the month(s) leading up to the buying holiday season really difficult. It’s a season of pressure, after all; a season where even if you decide to keep things small and reasonable, to not buy all the crap, to not succumb to the you-must-have-it-all consumeristic mentality, you still have to work really hard to ignore it all.

Making things worse for me, Ruminator Extraordinaire, was a layering of a whole lotta other stuff. There was a heavy dose of way-too-much-to-worry-about with regards to loved-ones close to home, and there were also weighty matters farther afield, most notably in Paris: the terrorist attacks, as well as the climate change talks which took place there a few weeks after.

And when all of it was put together? Quite frankly, I was a bear this fall; a sad-sack; a grinch.

I’ve been tossing the word grinch around a lot these days. I mostly do it in a berating fashion, a mental pummelling of “Why are you such a grinch?” that comes quickly on the heels of the immediate knee-jerk irritation I feel when I see overblown consumerism or store-shelves filled with complete and utter crap.

(Oh, this is going to be a fun post; I wouldn’t blame anyone if they clicked away.)

So … grinch, yes … if you’re still with me, I’m going to assume we’re all familiar with the nasty character in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas!:

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… and I’m also going to assume we have the same narrative in our heads: the Grinch is a mean-spirited fellow who tries to ruin Christmas for the loveable Whos.

Since Seuss wrote the book in 1957, the term grinch has garnered a widespread, general meaning. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines grinch as:

an unpleasant person who spoils other people’s fun or enjoyment

But it seems to me that the term is tossed around much more loosely than that. I often feel that ANY non-compliance or non-participation in things which the majority of people determine to be fun or festive can result in being termed a grinch, if not in actual fact (aloud, and to your face), then — maybe more importantly and insidiously — by you, yourself, in your own head.

So, for example, if you are the lone abstainer in the outdoor-holiday-decorating olympics in the cul-de-sac, you run the (very small) risk that your neighbours will verbally call you out as a grinch (or merely whisper it to each other). The greater risk though, is that you yourself will label yourself as a grinch, and that your mind will then — perforce — either be filled with feelings of guilt, or feelings of defensiveness. In other words, a litany of justifications as to why you’re not *actually* a grinch.

/ Over-thinkers Anonymous? Yes, you’d better send help. Someone’s having a crisis. /

So … anyhoo* … an epiphany hit me the other day:

What if the Grinch was actually the hero of Dr. Seuss’ story?

It’s occurred to me that we only see things from the Grinch’s perspective. When he steals the Whos’ trimmings and trappings and hauls it all up the side of Mount Crumpit, we aren’t shown the Whos’ initial reaction, are we?

No. We have a small protestation by Cindy-Lou Who, and that’s it. After the deed is done, we see the Grinch waiting, perched with his stolen goods on the side of the mountain, and then we see the end result, the Whos gathering outside, hand-in-hand, to sing.

But what I’d like to know is, what just happened inside their homes?

When the Whos wake and clamber out of bed and find all their stuff gone, do they not even blink an eye?

Are they not even a little bit upset that all the stuff they’ve made/bought/wrapped/baked/cooked/decorated is GONE?

Are they not even a little bit disappointed that all the time they spent making/buying/wrapping/baking/cooking/decorating was completely WASTED?

Are they really just all, Oh well! … ?

Or … are they gnashing their teeth, wringing their hands, vowing revenge … until, perhaps, one Very Wise Who steps in and says, Hey! Wait a minute! It’s only stuff we’re crying about! What is Christmas actually all about, anyway? How about we all quit our whining, and get out there and sing?!

So … if the Whos have suddenly realized that Christmas will come even without all the trimmings and trappings, then WHATEVER motivation lay behind the Grinch’s actions — whether he’s simply a petty asshole with a heart that’s two sizes too small; or whether he’s acting out because he’s lonely and feels left out; or whether he’s stolen the stuff because this is his misguided-activist-way to protest child labour or mercury-laced strip-mining techniques or inhumane animal husbandry — whom do the Whos have to thank for this very valuable epiphany? Why, the Grinch of course!

This then leads to a further question: if the Whos can manage to celebrate Christmas just fine, thankyouverymuch, without all the trimmings and trappings, then what purpose do all the trimmings and trappings serve?

And the answer to that is, Duh, Marian … the trimmings and trappings make things fun and festive!

But for me, this then begs the grinchy question: at what cost does that fun and festivity come?

Perhaps, in the Whos’ world, their trimmings and trappings are wholly and completely sustainable. Maybe there’s a local Whoville toymaker who makes frambamafoozlers from sustainably-harvested wood. Maybe their wrappings are reusable bits of cloth made from un-dyed, fair-trade truffula tufts. Perhaps their roast beast is wild-caught and humanely butchered. Maybe, for the Whos, there’s absolutely no harm in any** of it.

But that’s not the world we live in, is it?

We live in a warming world.

According to the vast majority of scientists, we have to keep this warming to a minimum in order to avoid catastrophic effects. Our very survival is hanging in the balance, and what do we do?

We ship fun and festive stuff, such as these Christmas crackers, halfway around the world.

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Christmas crackers: each one comes with a hat, a joke, and a unique gift!

These particular Christmas crackers were made in Indonesia. They travelled over 14,000 km (nearly 9000 miles), over two-thirds of that distance on a container ship, just so Ontarians could have 30 seconds of fun and festivity at Christmastime.

And here’s the thing: did you know — because I sure as heck didn’t! — that international shipping — the way we get so many of our goods — wasn’t in the climate change talks? Emissions from container ships aren’t ascribed to any one country, so no country is responsible for doing anything to address the considerable carbon footprint due to shipping.

I wonder — maybe it would be a good thing if we all started to be just a bit more grinchy when it comes to choosing our fun and festive things.

But then again, maybe grinchy is the wrong word altogether. After all, the Grinch’s success — if indeed my thought exercise managed to convince anyone — hinges on the simple fact that he (perhaps) caused the Whos to see things differently. In the end, it has nothing to do with spoiling fun; rather, it’s about seeing things in a different light.

More on that coming up next …


*I once said, Never again! to the use of the word anyhoo. But sometimes it’s the only word that fits.

**This mostly-vegetarian simply cannot stop herself from pointing out that there is indeed harm done to the beast who is roasted.

Sock-cess!

Ta-da!

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Two finished pairs of put-on-able socks!

So I have to share this with all of you, because it just makes me so freaking happy :) .

(And yes, I know … they’re *just* socks … but I have a small, simple life; therefore, small, simple things have the power to make me inordinately happy).

I had finished knitting my pair (the ones on the right) in early December, and managed to get the first of my daughter’s all the way to the toe stage. For the non-knitters out there, these socks are a cuff-down construction, so I was just about an inch and a half away from completion, when my daughter came home from university for a long weekend break in the middle of exams.

She was barely in the house when I nonchalantly tossed her my pair and quipped Hey, look what I just finished!

Sure enough — without my asking — she immediately tried them on while I stood by and rubbed my hands together and cackled gleefully Oho! my plan is coming together! .

I even managed a stealthily-arranged and nearly-blasé foot comparison, sans measuring tape, of course, because that would have immediately aroused her suspicions.

As soon as she went back to school to finish her last exams, I once again whipped out the knitting. I finished the first sock, but between baking and agonizing over presents shopping and way too much hockey (oh why is there so much hockey?!), I didn’t manage to finish the second one before she came home for the holidays. Not wanting to ruin the surprise, I hid the knitting once again, spent the next two days shaking from knitting-withdrawal, and on the night of the 24th tucked one lone sock into my daughter’s Christmas stocking, along with a promise that the second would be done in time for her to take the PAIR back to school with her on January 3rd.

And yes, as you can see by the photo, I managed! And she LOVES them. Sock-cess!

So for the knitters out there who might be curious as to why my earlier attempts at sock-knitting had resulted in un-put-on-able socks:

  1. I had used too small a needle, resulting in too many stitches per inch, resulting in too stiff a fabric with too little stretch. Apparently I am a very tight knitter. (*WHAT* a surprise 😉 ).
  2. Although I had used a good sock pattern, following it to a T and adjusting properly for calf length and length of foot, the heel flap had followed a one-size-fits-all approach, which doesn’t provide a very good fit for those of us with high in-steps. I have since learned that measuring from the floor to the ankle bone is the way to determine whether or not you can stick to a standard heel flap, or whether you should make yours longer.

What’s next on my needles?

Well, more socks of course! :)

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Are any of you making anything these days? I’d love to hear about it :) .