Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Flaky, Buttery Wednesday Hodgepodge

From this Side of the Pond
1. Speaking of your wit's end, at loose ends, a dead end, burn the candle at both ends, all's well that end's well, or no end in sight...which 'end' phrase might best be applied to your life lately? Explain.  

Well, no, not at loose ends: there's lots to do, including a class report due at the end of the week. But I am not at wit's end about it. Lydia is more the one burning candles here, since she is juggling high school (and its extra-curriculars) plus a part-time job.

2. What was a must have accessory when you were growing up? Did you own one? If so tell us what you remember about it.

"How about a pair of pink sidewinders

And a bright orange pair of pants?"

Is a Sony Walkman considered an accessory?

I did have a pair of '80's legwarmers around that time too.

3. Something that made you smile yesterday?

A giant art book about the Group of Seven, that came into the thrift store. I didn't buy it myself, but I hope somebody will enjoy it.

4. January 30th is National Croissant Day. Do you like croissants? Sweet or savory? We're having chicken salad for lunch...would you rather have yours served on a croissant, a wrap, a bagel, bread, or a roll of some sort?

I will eat croissants any way you want to serve them. They're best eaten absolutely fresh from some little bakery in Quebec; but I'm no croissant snob, I'll buy them on clearance at Walmart too.

5. Sum up your January in fifteen words or less.

Much time online but not for blogging: I'm doing my homework. Plus there's snow.

6.  Insert your own random thought here.

One thing leads to another: we were watching the detective series The Pinkertons, and that reminded me of an old mystery book my grandma had, Miss Pinkerton by Mary Roberts Rinehart. I downloaded that from Open Library and re-read it between other things. Then I wondered if it had ever been filmed, and it turns out yes, there is a 1932 movie with Joan Blondell and George Brent. You-tube has only a trailer (and it's pretty bad), but we found the whole movie for $3.99 on Google Play. We're not much in the habit of paying to watch movies, but decided to go for it anyway. It would cost me almost that much to bus to the library and pick up a free DVD.

So we had our evening of black and white whodunit, with snow falling outside and discount store chocolate chip muffins in the kitchen. (Could have been croissants, but I had already bought muffins.) And that's the way we do things in this brave new world.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Down the hatch

From this Side of the Pond

1. January 24th is National Compliment Day. Is it easy or not so easy for you to accept a compliment? Share a recent compliment you've given or received.

Not so easy: I was told early and often "don't show off."

I was told by someone at the thrift store that I am a "book sorting machine." I took that as a compliment.

2. Ten five little things you are loving right now.

1. A rare sunshiny morning here, and we're getting the best of it through the balcony window.
2. New-to-me sweater.
3. A quick game of pool last night with Mr. Fixit (our building has a library-with-pool-table room).
4. Online databases that have replaced having to hunt through the periodicals index. And you can use them at home, sitting in the sunshiny window.
5. The colours of Janet Read's paintings.

3. Would people describe you as a positive person? Do you see yourself that way? I read here  a list/description of eight things positive people do differently-

Positive people find something to look forward to every day, they celebrate the small stuff, they're kind, they stay busy, accept responsibility for their actions, forgive themselves, know when to move on, and resist comparisons

Which action on the list would you say you do regularly? Which action could you add to your life to give you a more positive outlook? If you're a positive person, what's something you do regularly that's not on the list?

Whoah, that sounds like giving myself a compliment.

Just say that yes, I work at those things, and appreciate them also in others. Everybody needs more "rainy day people" around.

4. Homemade chicken soup, beef stew, or a bowl of chili...what's your pleasure on a cold winter's day?

We have all three quite often, so I'm not sure. I might pick the chili because I like the cheese and tortilla chips that go with it, and I like making the leftovers into a taco salad.

5. The best part of my day is....

Depends on the day. It might be doing a thing I'm doing, or it might be finishing a thing I'm doing. Or it might even be thinking about something I'm going to be doing.

6.  Insert your own random thought here.

We got a bunch of decluttering books in the thrift store yesterday, which is a conundrum in itself. Did someone give up on decluttering, or are they now such experts that they don't need the books? Anyway, those led to an interesting conversation with one of the full-time staff, on the subject of fast fashion and donations and what's happening in countries like Kenya (Kenya doesn't want any more used clothes). The MCC store, like all the others, gets more clothes than it can sell, and has to dispose of the rest. Is the solution convincing people to buy less and hang onto their clothes longer? Blaming the industry and the retailers? Or concentrating on the disposal, landfill issues? The global garbage problem can feel like we're standing under a massive garbage chute and getting buried in falling bags, without any control over the situation. I think we need to see ourselves at the top of the chute instead, understanding that we're responsible for what we drop down there. The donations are good, and they all help support (in MCC's case) international programs like schools; but the fact that people have so much to donate, and keep on buying more to replace those things--that's the big problem.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Thrift store seek and find (and a hack for the height-challenged)

Many times the things I find at the thrift store are somewhat accidental; which is, of course, part of the fun of thrifting. Today, though, I had one thing in mind: a grey cardigan, and it had to be a nice one, not something grandpa would wear for yard work. I recently re-donated two grey blazers I wasn't wearing, so now I didn't have any grey "third layers." Since most of my pants and skirts are grey, that was definitely a gap. But I did not want a blazer (or I would have kept the other ones). OK then, a cardigan. But would this be a day when a grey cardigan might magically appear?

I checked through all the likely cardigan spots in the store, including the plus sizes, the blazer rack, the pullovers (sometimes one kind of sweater gets hung with another), even the women's suits, because you never know. I passed up any sweaters that were very lightweight or very embellished. This was the winner, and actually the only one that fit what I was looking for:

I liked the stripes; they lighten up the dark grey a bit. The sweater goes well with my grey corduroy skirt, and with my pants. It's warm enough, but not so heavy I'm bending under the weight (like one I bought last year). So Yay, to quote Vanita Bentley.

Here's the trick I promised: the large amount of fabric in a shawl-collared cardigan can easily swamp petite people. The easiest fix is to fold the collar and the front edges under. You're not trying to hide buttons or fancy collar details, so it still looks fine, just a bit more streamlined.

As always, thank you to the nice people who donate such good stuff to the MCC store. (Maybe somebody else out there will be blogging about their new grey blazer.)

Monday, January 15, 2018

On the longevity of clothes...or not

I'm taking time out from studying the philosophy of adult education (really) to throw out a few thoughts on why we do or don't, should or shouldn't keep clothes around for years. It's two years since I started following Project 333, a.k.a. trying to get my own clothes thing together, so it seems like a good time to pause and remember what this was about in the first place.

I just read a post that could be summed up as "better but fewer, keep them forever" by a minimalist blogger. My reaction was "that could really make you feel guilty." My own first clothes page from two years ago has maybe ten things on it that I still own, and those were all fairly new (or new to me) then. Ironically, some of those ten things were the cheapest, the ones that theoretically should have fallen apart by now, like the stereotypical $8 grey t-shirt. So, point number one: cheap does not always equal lousy.

Do I see myself keeping what I have now for several more years? I probably will, because I like what I have, and  I'm wearing almost everything I own regularly. I don't have the particular problem of wearing 20 per cent of the clothes 80 per cent of the time. On the other hand, I have re-donated many of the clothes I tried out during the past two years. I got tired of them, the style was too young or too old, they made me look even shorter than I am, or whatever. Thank you, departing clothes, for teaching me what doesn't work, as Marie Kondo would say.

The last point is one on which I do agree with the article, and that is that you should not feel guilty about skipping whole categories of closet must-haves if they don't work for you. I've said it before myself, but it's always worth repeating: you may not be a pants person, or a white shirt person, or a little black dress person, or just a 2018-round-hole person. You may walk through an entire mall full of clothes, and dislike everything you see, because you are not "that" woman. You may also spend fifteen minutes at a thrift store, and find your favourite dress ever. It's not all about what things cost, or where they're made; it's also about how much we do or don't buy into what's new, what's normal, what everybody else buys; it's about what works for us. I had a classic denim shirt, but I recently handed it down to my daughter because it didn't work with anything, and fastening  the teeny little buttons drove me crazy. I like pullover tops better.

Ask who made your clothes, and think about the planet and the rivers and the landfills. But wear what makes you happy, hold onto it awhile if you can, and let the rest go.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Quote for the day: Jacques Barzun echoes Charlotte Mason

"One of the virtues of learning anything is that it takes one out of oneself and into a subject--something independent existing out there, in the world of fact or ideas, or both. To pull the mind back into self-concern and self-excuse is not only a hindrance to learning, it is also a deprivation of the feeling of community with others." ~~ Jacques Barzun, Begin Here

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Quote for the day: you make it sound easy

"It's harder to begin a sentence well than to end it well. As we'll see later, to end a sentence well, we need only decide which of our ideas is the newest, probably the most complex, and then imagine that complex idea at the end of its own sentence. The problem is merely to get there gracefully." ~~ Joseph M. Williams, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Thrifted scarf: roses in January

The weather since Christmas has been icicles-hang-by-the-wall. Now we've gone from bitter cold to slop and slush, with the predictable result of one Squirrel (so far) feeling a bit ungood. There's definitely something yucky going around.

On a brighter about a scarf featuring orange and fuchsia on a background of...I don't know, sort of olive-grey? It's bigger than it appears--it can even be a shawl. The floral pattern is on only one side, and the reverse shows very subtle little dots. You'd think at first that means "hide the backside," but I actually like the dots showing here and there. (DUH moment: I just figured out that it's meant to be reversible.)

I found it on my way out of the thrift store this morning, along with a book about Leonard Cohen for Mr. Fixit, and Joseph M. Williams' writing book Style for me. (One from this year's want-to-read list, so I was happy about that.)

Monday, January 08, 2018

From the archives: Charlotte Mason, and peeling back the veil

First posted January 2014

In one of Ellis Peters' medieval mysteries, The Leper of St. Giles, the diseased beggars living near Shrewsbury wear cloaks and veils that allow only their eyes to show. This encourages rough treatment by others passing by; the beggars are more like shadows or ghosts than real people, individuals, flesh and blood beings.  But Brother Cadfael, reflecting on the times he has treated some of their sores (through his work as the abbey's herbalist), says that he has found sharp minds, unique personalities behind the veils..."by a thousand infinitesimal foibles of character that pierced through the disguise, they emerged every one unique."  He has the gift of seeing what others miss.

In The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater says, "One of Mason's primary purposes for making history the 'pivot' of her curriculum is to allow the child to see the flow of history and to think of himself within it."  She points us to Philosophy of Education, page 273, where Charlotte Mason calls history "the proper corrective of intolerable individualism."  So history, as a way of seeing, cuts us down to size but also shows us where we belong; gives us a place and time but makes it clear that there are other places and times that matter just as much.

But we have to see it.  However we can make that happen, for ourselves and our children.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Epiphany Candles

Happy Epiphany! (Or Christmas, if you're celebrating!)

Frugal Finds and Fixes: Hats and Jackets Again

A brief and frosty Frugal Finds and Fixes
Frugal and more organized: three inexpensive cloth bins, which fit perfectly under the shelf in our biggest kitchen cupboard. They come in sets of two, so we put the fourth one on the bottom shelf of Mr. Fixit's desk, to hold office supplies. It looks better than the cardboard box that had been there since we moved in.
Free and fun: a library "date morning." Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit spent a couple of entertaining hours checking out our closest library branch.
Frugal fashion finds: a thrifted fedora (wouldn't you call it?). Howard the Bear is modelling it right now, but Mama Squirrel is going to wear it once we're out of strictly-toques weather. The label inside the hat shows that it came from a children's-wear chain (although the thrift store hung it with women's hats). That might explain why it is marked Large but fits Mama Squirrel. Never say I don't tell all here.
Also from the thrift store: a purple jacket with a ruffled neckline and a zipper closing. (Shown here with a previously thrifted grey dress.) Often I find clothes that are officially too big, which therefore need to be belted up or trimmed down. This jacket had the opposite problem: it's one size on the small side, but it's fine unzipped, and that's the way I'd be most likely to wear it anyway.

Friday, January 05, 2018

For a cold Twelfth Night: two poems

Poet Malcolm Guite's blog posts for yesterday and today are two poems by others, that remind us that winter can be beautiful and awe-inspiring (rather than just irritating, slushy, and too-cold-for-anything). Here are a few lines:

Rocky Mountain Railroad, Epiphany, by Luci Shaw

I mind-freeze for the future
this day’s worth of disclosure. Through the glass
the epiphanies reel me in, absorbed, enlightened.
Torrents, methinks, that heard a mighty voice,
And stopped at once amid their maddest plunge!
Motionless torrents! silent cataracts!
Who made you glorious as the gates of Heaven
Beneath the keen full moon? 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

From the archives: book lover in the making

First posted January 2008. Crayons (Lydia) was six and a half.

 You reap what you sow--sometimes beyond. I have great sympathy for our young AO friend Tim, whose preschool sister Miss M. Is horning in on his Tolkien books.

 A couple of weeks ago I culled some of our bookshelves and put the extras and giveaways in a box. I asked the Squirrelings to have a look through it and please make sure I wasn't giving away anything that they really wanted.

 Crayons went through it and came up with a pile up to her knees of books she wanted. Not anything I'd read to her or that she'd read herself--these were books that, for some reason or other, she Just Wanted to Keep. The list included an extra copy of Kidnapped ("I've been dying to read that book!"), a 3-volume Ladybird set about great artists ("Mama, look, it has Van Gogh in it!"), Plays Children LoveModern Plays, Pauline Johnson's poems, Maryanne Caswell's memoir Pioneer GirlHind's Feet on High Places, and a book of Hanukkah riddles. And about three others that I convinced her we did already have other copies of. And a book of fairy tales (do you know how many other books of fairy tales we have?). 

 Most of those books were nothing I'd pick for a six-year-old. Truth is, other than the fairy tales and maybe the artists, I doubt she'll even find them interesting for a long time yet. But I can see it happening already: the bug is there. This will be a girl who asks for her own box at library sales.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Wednesday Hodgepodge: First of the Year

From this Side of the Pond

1. It's that time of year again...time for Lake Superior University to present a list of words (or phrases) they'd like to see banished (for over-use, mis-use, or genera uselessness) in 2018. You can read more about the decision making process and word meaning here, but this year's top vote getters are-

unpack, dish (as in dish out the latest rumor), pre-owned, onboarding/offboarding, nothingburger, let that sink in, let me ask you this, impactful, Cofefe, drill down, fake news, hot water heater (hot water doesn't need to be heated), and gig economy

Which of these words/phrases would you most like to see banished from everyday speech and why? Is there a word not on the list you'd like to add?

I don't even recognize some of these! (I do know that Cofefe was only an accidental "word.")

I don't know about hot water heaters, but hot water heating is a logical phrase. As in, some apartments have radiators because they have hot water heating. 

Pre-owned is a euphemism I don't mind. It's nicer than second-hand. Or you could just say new-to-me.

2. What's something you need to get rid of in the new year?

We've already decluttered so much that there isn't much left to work on. Today I read the manga version of Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and that did inspire a bit of paper sorting.

3. Where do you feel stuck?

On a writing project.

Plus I also have to do a research paper for a course I'm taking, but I'm not far enough into that yet to feel stuck, more just a little anxious.

4. January is National Soup Month. When did you last have a bowl of soup? Was it made from scratch or from a can? Your favorite canned soup? Your favorite soup to make from scratch on a cold winter's day?

We eat soup semi-regularly. Canned soup is mostly a quick lunch fallback; if it's for dinner, it's probably homemade. Mr. Fixit makes his grandma's chicken soup with a whole chicken. I make slow cooker soups with beans or split peas.

5. Tell us one thing you're looking forward to in 2018.

Celebrating our first year as non-homeowners.

6. Insert your own random thought here.

Niagara Falls is frozen, and I'm a bit chilled myself. It's probably a good time to break out the split peas.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Monday, January 01, 2018

What Sudoku taught me about planning and fresh starts

Sherlock Holmes: What is that? (balloon with a face drawn on it)
John Watson:  That is… me. Well, it’s a me substitute.
Sherlock Holmes: Don't be so hard on yourself. You know I value your little contributions.
John Watson: Yeah? It's been there since nine this morning.
Sherlock Holmes: Has it? Where were you?
John Watson: Helping Mrs. H. with her Sudoku. (Sherlock, "The Six Thatchers")
A chance line in a T.V. was enough to make me curious about something I had missed out on. Besides, I was getting bored with the newspaper's daily crossword (too much Mamie Eisenhower and Alma Gluck). So I set out to learn something new-to-me.

If you don't know this already, Sudoku is a logic puzzle, not a math game. It's not like the magic squares that require you to add things together. You just have to figure out where the numerals 1-9 go, so that there are no repeats in the row, the column, or the mini-section (1/9 of the whole grid). Puzzles ranked "easy" have more numerals already filled in; "hard" ones have fewer clues. The one in our free weekly newspaper seems almost impossible to solve; I may need Dr. Watson's help.

After several months of increasing Sudoku addiction, I noticed some parallels to other parts of life, such as making plans and decisions. Here's one: don't waste time worrying about every possible permutation for every square. Start with the easy, obvious steps; then look for "criss cross" places that rule out several possibilities at once (that's hard to explain, but just trust me that it reduces tedious pencil-scratching).  By that time, even on the hard puzzles, you should have enough numerals filled in so that you can start pencilling in pairs of "either-ors": in this row, we have a 1 or a 3 in this box, and a 1 or a 3 in another box. That's almost as good as nailing it down for sure.  But then you leave those either-ors alone, move on to another bit somewhere else, and sooner or later they'll get solved.

There is a similarity here to jigsaw puzzles: you do as much as you can on the flowers, then go work on the sky or the frame for awhile. It's also like the sort of logic puzzles where you figure out that either Joe or Jim lives in the red house, and Bill is either the doctor or the movie star. You eliminate what absolutely won't work, and limit your choices to the few remaining possibilities. The secret is not in bringing in extra information to overwhelm the brain, or in thinking about all the maybes, but in figuring out the path or the plan that actually works. Finding the key that does fit.

And if you end up with a gridful of too many either-ors? Rub them all out, keeping only the numerals you know for sure. Start again as if you had a new puzzle with a few added clues. With the clutter gone, you see fresh possibilities.

Happy New Year!