Friday, December 26, 2008

A Snatch of Conversation

A few weeks ago, Uncle Pookie and I were driving home one night. I was saying something about our general spiritual lameness, when suddenly I was struck by it more forcefully and exclaimed, "It's a good thing we don't have to live under oppression!"

"What do you mean?"

"You know, religious oppression, having to receive the sacraments in secret, things like that. We'd never make it."

"Oh, I don't know, we might rise to the occasion."

I thought about that for a few moments. "Well, yeah, I guess times like that can sometimes bring out the best in people."

The husband: "No, I meant our stubbornness might kick in."

And the next few fits and starts of sentences I tried to utter, I couldn't get out for my laughter. He knows us.

Oh, how he knows us! I am rather pliant until something hits up against my sense of personal integrity and then I become rooted and unyielding--more so than most people would consider good for me; and it can be triggered by things other people consider insignificant. As for Uncle Pookie, I've been known to call him The Immovable Object; we'll leave it at that. God forbid we should ever be faced with the prospect of martyrdom, either regular or "white" (bloodless), but if we are and we pass that test, stubbornness will surely play a big part in it.

Which I guess would just go to show that 1.) flaws often have a flip side that can be a strength, and 2.) God can even use our flaws.

So why did I choose to post this today, during the festive Christmas season? December 26th is the feast day of St. Stephen,the first Christian martyr. (See the book of Acts.) He wasn't the last. Whatever the number currently stands at, it's safe to say it will get bigger. The twentieth century saw a surprisingly large amount of persecution of Christians in general and Catholics in particular. This happened below the radar of most Americans (as does today's persecution of Christians in, for example, China), partly because we were insulated from it here. And we still are.

But we in the West live in societies where the Bible is rapidly being redefined as hate speech, where ignorance of Scriptures and Christian tradition are vast and spreading, where families are breaking down and all norms of morality and civilized behavior are suspect. Here in the US fairly large numbers of the population are indignant if religious believers involve themselves in the political process like citizens and the job of Supreme Court Justice now seems to be one with a "No Catholics Need Apply" in the job description. And the way the wind is blowing, a lot more jobs may be coming with that notice before long.

God forbid it should be so. I can not see the future any more than anyone else and I certainly hope that Christian persecution does not happen in the USA or in the rest of the Anglosphere or anywhere else it is not already going on. But in a society where a person can be jailed for quoting passages of the Bible that someone else does not like or be hounded out of his or her job for holding to traditional Christian teaching, it is time Christians have to begin to ask themselves what they will do if they are faced with martyrdom, red or white. And this goes extra for Catholic Christians, because if you'll notice, people who hate Christianity in general usually hate the Catholic Church extra hard.

Something to think about as 2008 ends.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

One Conversion Story For You

I enjoy reading and hearing the stories of people's conversion to the Catholic Church, and I have enjoyed it since before I became a Catholic myself. It is nice, in a world filled with pop culture trivialities, to turn on the TV or radio and hear someone talking about how he wrestled with some of life's deeper meanings and came to a place where he had to make a decision and he made it. You can find these sorts of stories on EWTN, especially their Journey Home program (check their audio archive library for back episodes), some websites like Catholic Answers, and even books. Maybe this enjoyment might seem a little odd since I never liked the "testimony giving" at the Baptist churches I had to attend as a young person--it, like all of churchgoing then, was tedious to me and I cynically noted that all of these testimonies seemed to hinge on the person realizing he would die and being afraid of that. Adolescents can be harsh in their assessment of others, and I think it's glaringly obvious I was not above that. But in a (partial) defense of myself, I truly can not remember anyone ever giving a reason for why they were where they were. Anyway. Here's a conversion story I stumbled across by accident, read, and thought others might like to read: "From Church of Christ to Christ's Church."

You Can (Sometimes) Go Back Again

It can be dangerous to revisit books or movies and TV we loved as a child; there is always the possibility that what seemed so very good back then will be revealed as pretty poor stuff. I can't remember the first time this happened to me, but I do remember that by age 16 or 17 I was afraid to reread any of the Katherine Mansfield stories I'd thought were so great at age 13.

This year I've had two good re-visits though. One book and one TV movie.

The Book

When I was in second grade I fell in very great like with the Five Dolls books by Helen Clare. My elementary school library had three of the five books: Five Dolls in the Snow, Five Dolls and the Duke, and Five Dolls and Their Friends. (The other two books are Five Dolls in a House and Five Dolls and the Monkey.) These books were about an English girl named Elizabeth Small, who had learned the trick of turning herself small so she could visit with the dolls who lived in her dollhouse. Each chapter of the books covered one visit.

I'm not entirely sure what about these books appealed to me so much back then; they are not great books and I did not mistake them as such even then. The dolls and the monkey were fun, as were the black-and-white illustrations, and it was all a bit silly--the dolls' behavior, I mean--and maybe that was enough. Or maybe it was the Englishness, that had me reading new words I'd never seen before--words like pillar box, tam-o-shanter, vicar, hundreds and thousands. Whatever it was, I checked these books out more than once. In fact, I wanted to own them so much that I thought about copying one of them, Five Dolls in the Snow, out longhand. (Cultural note to those under thirty-five or so: This was the late seventies, before the days when everyone had easy access to photocopy machines, not to mention home scanners and printers. In school our pre-copied worksheets or tests came in mimeographed form--purple ink on paper that would still be faintly damp from the machine and redolent of ink when we got them.) I decided that would take too long, though, and settled on copying out one chapter, the one where Elizabeth brought the dolls a truckload of groceries. (Foreign terms there included lorry and treacle.) I did not regret the time spent.

Off and on since the '90s I've tried to find copies of these books from online sellers. (Looking in my local libraries proved fruitless.) I looked under all the titles and under Helen Clare's other pseudonym of Pauline Clarke, and I could usually find some copies, but they were always priced outrageously. Seriously. Until last year I don't think I'd ever seen one under fifty dollars; they usually started higher than that and were frequently over a hundred dollars. Which seems pretty high for children's books that were printed in the USA in the late '60s by a non-obscure publisher (reprints of British books from the '50s and early '60s) and which are not particularly collectible. Especially considering they were often discarded library copies.

So, earlier this year when I finally found one of these listed as a good condition book with somewhat worn dust jacket for under twenty dollars, even after adding on the shipping, I didn't have to think too hard. I figured satisfying a long-felt nostalgic desire was worth that much.

And it was.

The book was Five Dolls and the Monkey, which I'd never read before. You can see the cover art here. I liked the cover as soon as I opened the package and when I opened the book I saw to my pleasure that there was a chapter called "Dressmaking". I read the whole book with pleasure. As an adult with many years of watching British TV shows and reading British books behind me, there was no novelty of terms to be had, but there was an almost eerie strangeness to the little scene where a butterfly--huge and strange to doll-sized Elizabeth--lands among the dolls in their garden. And the whole thing felt like revisiting one of the pleasanter bits of my childhood, except it was a book I hadn't actually had the opportunity to read then. I made up for that by rereading it a couple of times. I think I got my eighteen or so dollars worth of pleasure.

Since then I've found a cheaper still, ex-library copy of Five Dolls and the Duke, which was my least preferred of the three I read as a child. (I had some trouble visualizing part of the theater scene.) I think I was right then, and it is not as good as the others, but it was still nice. I would not mind having the rest of these books, or at least getting the opportunity to reread them some day. Or in the case of the first book, reading it for the first time; I'd especially like to know how Elizabeth's acquiring of the turning small trick was handled.

The TV Show

When I was, I think, fourteen, I turned on the PBS one evening to find something starting called Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice and then Beatrice and Benedick together had me hooked within minutes, and I watched the whole thing with increasing pleasure. When the TV play was over, I went to bed and pulled out the complete volume of Shakespeare that had come from a box of old books my mother had bought me at a garage sale. (With its limp red cover, two columns of text on each page, thin paper, and annoying practice of abbreviating the names of the speaker it is, bizaarely perhaps, a volume I miss in my pruned down library.) I turned to MAAN and read it straight through before I went to sleep.

And that was the beginning of my love of Shakespeare.

It wasn't my introduction. I had seen Zeferelli's justly famous Romeo and Juliet when it was on television near Valentine's Day, even read the play, and had perhaps seen Laurence Olivier's As You Like It by this time. I may even have read a little more than R&J by then, but I don't remember. What I do remember is that that was the first time I fell in love with anything from Shakespeare, and it was the play that ensured I read all the rest (except Troilus and Cressida--I've never managed that) and watched as many live action and filmed versions of the plays as I could. I am not a scholar nor an actor or theater buff, just a lowly audience member and reader. In other words one of the people who help keep Shakepeare alive outside the literary journals (circulation 200) and give the actors someone to perform to. But back to the production in question.

In later years I carried the memory of this with me, but I did not know what production it was--the names of any of the actors or the director or anything. I thought it likely it was part of The Complete Shakespeare Plays, the BBC project (in conjunction with some American group) to film all of the plays, because the time period was right, but it could not be sure. For all that they were put on television for free viewing in the late '70s and early '80s, these plays have not been easy to get hold of since. In the late '90s the VHS were priced at $99 a piece, if you could run down the place to order them from; buying the whole set was something like $2500--a savings, but still expensive. Overpriced, I'd say, especially considering the quality was uneven over the series. For most people, if their library didn't have them, they weren't going to get to see them. But things have improved. They came out on DVD with some mini boxed collections of selected plays--not necessarily the most desirable choices, though--and a couple of years ago Netflix added a few of the more popular titles--the ones high school kids are likely to have to read for school--from the series. And now Netflix seems to have all the titles from this series and this year I have watched many of them I did not get to see on PBS or later from a library I had access to; watching the history cycles in order was especially nice.

A couple of weeks ago that series' MAAN came in the post and I watched it and it was the one I saw back then and, though I had feared it would be otherwise, I enjoyed it all over again. It was not new as it was then, but it had the pleasure of familiarity in the well-worn words and the pleasure of remembering the production as I saw it again. The Beatrice of Cherie Lunghi had a slight edge of bitterness that I was oblivious to when I was a girl (not unsupportable from the text), but all the actors were good, especially Robert Lindsay as Benedick. Okay, Graham Crowden's friar looks a bit crazy and it was hard for me not to think of him in Waiting for God when I saw him, but I'm not sure that actor can help looking a bit crazy in any part--something about his eyes; I had no such problem with Clive Dunn from Dad's Army as Dogberry's doddering assistant. Otherwise I just enjoyed my nostalgic trip ("Oh, there's the orange trees, oh there's Beatrice sneaking behind the trees, just like I remember, oh there's Benedick looking somewhat hangdog and foolish without his beard") and Robert Lindsay's Benedick and the beautifully made costumes. I even kept the disc another couple of days so I could watch it again, all cosy and warm in my chair, working on an afghan. Do I know how to have fun or do I know how to have fun?! The answer to that is yes. And you can have fun too if you add this to your Netflix queue.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Family Creative Workshop

This summer Uncle Pookie came home one morning from the library book sale with a truly amazing number of books, among them a complete set of The Family Creative Workshop (twenty-three volumes plus index). Bringing out my usual objections about lack of space and not buying something just because it's on sale, I honed in on The Family Creative Workshop because it "didn't even look like something he'd usually be interested in" and I already had a general needlework reference. He pointed out that it was dollar-a-foot day (i.e. "it was on sale, therefore I had to buy it") and, besides, it looked good. Well, whatever points it costs me in the game of moral one-upmanship that is marriage (according to Marge Simpson), I've long since conceded he was right and it was a good purchase. (Heck, I'm so bad at this game I'll even admit that my concern over limited space did not prevent me, later in the day, from going to the library myself for a little dollar-a-foot action; books have always been my gazingus pin.)

The Family Creative Workshop really is a fun set of books. It set out to be, according to the introduction, an encyclopedia of traditional and contemporary crafts, and I think it succeeded at least as well as could reasonably be expected. No multi-reference an be exhaustive on any one subject, but this series tells you quite a bit about a lot of subjects, including some you may never have heard of before. They have defined "craft" very loosely. Don't think that it is just the expected crafts. The section on granny squares, which are maligned by some as the hokiest of "old lady" craft items, is sandwiched between gold panning and greenhouse construction. There are also entries on things like cryptography, maps, and old-fashioned street games.

And if some of the craft items are a little seventies-esque (which I tend to like) and not to your taste (fantasy in children's stuffed animals is great, but when making a blue-maned lion, I think it's overkill to use a gaudy patchwork print fabric for the body), just turn the page and read about something else. These books were made for browsing.

Each entry was written by an expert in that area; a few contributed more than one entry. I don't recognize any of these names except that of Isaac Asimov, who did the astronomy section, but they all seem to be knowledgeable. To keep good standards up across such a large number of authors, I suspect there were some good editors working on this project.

There are lots of illustrations throughout the books, and the covers of the books are especially nice: various crafts or craft materials made the artistic focus of glossy photos. You can see a lot of pictures from the books at this link.

The index is good. If you are collecting these books one by one, do not be tempted to forgo the index, because it includes extras. It is divided into four parts: "Basic Reference Guide"; "Materials Reference Guide"; a section of patterns you might want want to use in various crafts; and the index proper, which also includes a second index of projects from the books grouped by evaluation of cost, time required, or suitability by age and skill level.

In short, I highly recommend this series for purchase. I wish I had had it as a child. Just be careful of opening a volume when you're dusting or just want to look up one thing--I've lost "lost" hours that way.

Yet More Mary Frances

Just as an FYI for anyone interested in Mary Frances, if you search for Jane Eayre Fryer at the Internet Archive, three Mary Frances books turn up, the housekeeping one, the gardening one, and the first aid one. I don't actually like reading online books all that much myself and have mostly limited myself to plain text books from the Gutenberg site when I have read them, but some of you might enjoy these.

And of course for those interested in sewing, no trip to the Internet Archive is complete without a peek at Pattern for Smartness. If you've never seen it, it's a late-forties promotional film from the Simplicity Pattern Company, which people like to laugh at for a few ripe-for-MST3K-treatment bits, but which actually has some good sewing advice in it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some Things You're Allowed to Say and Something You're Not

In the contemporary US, there are things you're (still) allowed to say and things you're not allowed to say.

You're allowed to say that, if you have fair skin and a disinclination to get skin cancer, you ought not sunbathe. It's okay to say that if you have trouble stopping at one or two drinks, you ought not drink at all. It's okay to say that, if you have a family history of diabetes and heart disease, you ought not eat lots of sweets and other junk foods. And, while there's no shortage of people who want to sell the notion "you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and still lose weight" and no shortage of people wanting to buy that notion, it is still okay to say that people who do not want to become fat should avoid the couch potato lifestyle in favor of a more physically active one.

But it is not okay to say that, if you are in such a situation in your life that a pregnancy (yours or your girlfriend's) would ruin your life--i.e. cause all sorts of problems for you and wreck your plans--then maybe you should not engage in the activity that creates pregnancy until your life is in a more stable state. You're not allowed to say that.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mary Frances Sewing and Amazing Dollhouses

A couple of years ago I reviewed The Mary Frances Sewing Book. I've just recently found a site that shows the whole Mary Frances wardrobe sewn up. This person--I'll play the odds and assume it's a woman--did a great job. If I'm partial to anything it is the little red rain cape, but all the garments are lovely. It almost motivates me to make up the wardrobe. First I'd want to make an appropriate doll, though, and as there are more reasons not to bother than to bother, it begins to seem like too much effort. Although this Mary Marie doll shown made up by a talented young lady on her blog is cute enough to tempt even the lazy, I'm going to resist. (Lacis and some other sites, including this one, sell two different doll patterns designed for the Mary Frances books; I assume that sewn up one is from the Making Memories pattern, but I don't know for sure.)

For a different kind of crafting from books, look at these dollhouse photos on the Dollhouse Minis blog. It's the Leaky Cauldron and Hogwarts in dollhouse form. What could be better? Seriously, all I can come up with is adding photos of a dollhouse Burrow as well. That Leaky Cauldron is especially nice looking. I've long known that if I had loads of space for a dollhouse to be on permanent display, I would have a big ole Tudor-style timbered one--it would beat out even the Victorian Monstrosity style I like--but now I've seen dollhouse Hogwartses, maybe I should dream big and go for a castle? ... Eh, maybe not. Dollhouses are all about fantasy, but I might have trouble convincing myself a castle was the warm, cosy haven I'd want my dollhouse world to be.

Random Thoughts

Considering what a complex and still little understood thing language is, I find it appalling--simply appalling!--that unlicensed amateurs are allowed to teach it to their children.


If you're going to be a knitting snob, wouldn't it make more sense to be snobbish about the advanced skills you've mastered than about the tools and yarn you use?


Some people say "People's beliefs don't matter" out of one side of their mouths and "It is necessary to believe in ourselves" and "Self-esteem is so important" out of the other side.


Why does "homemade" usually have good connotations when we're talking about food and bad connotations when we're talking about clothing? What--did millions of Americans grow up around women who were great cooks and lousy seamstresses?


Anyone who mocks the old-fashioned virtues of showing some reserve, controlling the emotions, considering the neighbors, and not airing dirty laundry in public ought to be required to go along with policemen on a few domestic disturbance calls.


Maybe I'll feel better about people referring to "a Down's Syndrome child" (or, worse, "a Downs child") when I start hearing people say "Oh, s/he has a cancer child."


Why do some people admire the "quaint", traditional architecture and clothing of peasants and peons in other cultures, while complaining about the dreadfully "uncreative" people in their own culture who insist on doing things the way they've always been done?


If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. Both are true because if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing. Period.


To live in Key West it seems you must either be rich enough to afford two houses (one well away from Key West) or have a lot of family and friends you can stay with every time the Keys are evacuated.


Sometimes hurricane weather reports make me feel a bit like a parent who's heard on the radio that a child at his child's school has been killed and then, when he's located his own still living child, feels a huge rush of relief, only to realize a few moments later that he's relieved it's some other parent going through the worst day of any parent's life, not him.


Possible new word--Conflusion. The result of drawing an asinine, confused conclusion from data presented.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Laid-back Introduction to Sewing

Every pasttime, whether hobby, craft, or profession, has its jargon. Gamers have their GST, d20s, roll-to-hits, dex, and eps. Knitters have their SSKs and M1s. Poets must learn to recognize enjambment, iambs, dactyls, and assonance. Carpenters talk about butt joints and dovetail joints and medical personnel about rolling veins and coding. Even gardening, a relatively jargon-free pasttime, has the delightful "pricking out".

Sewing, unlike gardening, is a jargon-heavy pasttime. The young person who thinks she will learn to sew clothing, innocently thinking this will be a smooth process (after all, you just sit down and stitch fabric together, she's seen people do it, maybe even done a little of it for her teddy bear or something when she was younger), may be overwhelmed when she visits the sewing department in or, worse, a fabric store. There's row after row of things she's never heard of before and doesn't know how to use. Back home, she turns on PBS or a cable channel to a sewing program, thinking she will learn something, only to find the host is showing a more efficient way to do X, which might be helpful, only she doesn't know what X is and what it's used for, much less the old process which it is replacing. If our would-be sewer doesn't let herself be deterred by this and seeks a book on garment sewing from the library, odds are it's the TV sewing show problem all over again--the author assumes the reader has all sorts of basic information already and is just looking for intermediate level help.

And every one of these forays into the world of sewing blasts her over the head with new words. There's [deep breath here] single-fold bias tape, double-fold bias tape, hem tape, hem facing, seam binding, flexi-lace seam binding or hem tape, quilt binding, satin blanket binding, gimp, fold-over braid, fold over elastic, elastic thread, elastic cord, knitted elastic, braided elastic, plushback elastic, picot elastic, interfacing, fusible interfacing, sew-in interfacing, non-woven interfacing, tricot interfacing, facings, stay stitch, hem stitch, blind hem stitch, topstitch, understitch, stitch in the ditch, French seam, flat felled seam, Hong Kong finish, clean-finished, French dart, "rotate the dart", high bust, full bust, "make a muslin", "bag the lining", blanket stitch, buttonhole stitch, 1-step buttonhole, 4-step button hole, bobbin case, placket, fusible webbing, slipstitch... You get the idea.

Sewing books generally seem to suffer from the opposite problem to that knitting books currently have: they all seem to assume the reader knows lots of stuff already. Garment sewing needs its own version of Stitch and Bitch--i.e. something that will address the needs of the complete novice, by showing how to do things (and why), explaining the jargon when it's introduced, and giving some cheerleading along the way. As far as I know, that book is not yet out there, although I've heard good things about Wendy Mullins' Sew U.

The closest I've seen to what I envision is The Illustrated Hassle-free Make Your Own Clothes Book, by Sharon Rosenberg and Joan Wiener. This delightful little book was published in the early 1970s, in hardcover and later in Bantam paperback. (The paperback may have been abridged.)It is very much a product of its time (and therein lies much of its charm), but it is more notable for speaking to complete novices.

Here is the beginning of the introduction:

"About three years ago I decided to start making my own clothes. It
took me another half a year before I actually did it. Each day the goal would
loom in my head--a hodgepodge of scary patterns and intricate machinery,
technical stuff like seam-binding, new and freaky terms like selvage or darts.
Many days I lurked in Sharon's little sewing room, watching as she quickly
turned out pants and skirts, ponchos and shirts. My determination would
strengthen and I'd dash off to the sewing store, only to be confronted with the
old fears again. I asked Sharon to show me how to do it the way she did--without
patterns. And sure enough, after a brief indoctrination period, I became the
envy of my friends...."

Ms Wiener goes on to explain the authors' philosophy: "Sharon and I think clothes should feel good--comfortable, sensual; [w]e also think they should be easy to make within a relatively short period of time, fairly inexpensive and groovy to look at." Now that's a clothing philosophy I can get on board with; as much as there was to dislike about the hippies and overlapping movements of the time, that little sentence seems to me to sum up much of what was best about them.

In their easy-going, jargon-free way the authors divide up all fabric into Softs, Mediums, and Stiffs. I love it! Isn't this how most of us choose fabric?

Wiener and Rosenberg are good at explaining practical stuff too. Take a look at this, which begins the section on facings:

'Don't be scared by the word "facing". It is merely an easy way to
get a smooth turned edge at garment openings like necks and armholes. The facing
is a 2" or 3" piece of fabric that follows the shape of the opening.'
These few sentences impress me because most sewing book authors would have jumped right into how to sew the facing without explaining what it actually is or (as Rosenberg and Wiener go on to do) how to design your own facings for the clothes you will make.

What kind of clothing do they teach you to make? Well, that's probably the rub for most people. These are definitely hippie clothes. I happen to like most hippie clothes, but there's a further problem. The authors explain that they do not sew darts into their tops, because they do not wear bras (bras "give your clothes a funny shape"); they do explain how to make darts in pants and skirts, but the clothes shown are generally shapeless. Shapeless clothes don't work very well on fat people, especially fat women, and there are way, way more fat people in American now than there were when this book was published. Non-thin women who want to make hassle-free patternless clothes may want to pair this book with Pattern-free Fashions by Mary Lee Trees Cole, which has advice for controlling excess fullness easily and, I guess you could say, somewhat intuitively. (More intuitively than in conventional dressmaking, anyway.)

Are there any other problems with the book? I wanted it to be longer because I was enjoying it so much, but it is possible some might wish it were longer because they would like a little more discussion of, say, fabric choice or deciding what size to make their scarves. Additionally, there are a few spots where the book could have been organized a bit better: the Add-On Sleeves subsection should really have been put either right after the Basic Top/Dress or after all the dresses and just before the set-in sleeves, rather than sandwiched in the middle of all the dresses/tops; I think the men's and the AC/DC (unisex) clothing sections could have been combined, especially given the author's views on the swapability of clothing styles; and the skirt fabric suggestions are in the tops and dresses section with no rhyme nor reason. The other (very small) potential problem I see is that the authors use the term selvage when referring to seam allowances. I 've never seen that usage before, and I think it could be a little confusing to the complete novice, although it shouldn't faze anyone else.

And there are two potential non-problem problems relating to the book's age and nature. There is no discussion of special considerations in sewing knits or stretchy wovens. For the reason, check the publishing date: 1971, which I figure means the book was likely written in 1970, maybe '69. There were fewer knits around, synthetics in general were so new many home sewers weren't using them yet, and some of fabrics we have today hadn't been invented yet; moreover, a lot of the synthetic fabric that was around in the early '70s was polyester double knit which was so stable it could, I think, be sewn like wovens and was so aggressively synthetic and unpleasant to the touch that it was not very hippie-like. As to the other non-problem, I've noticed some people react badly to books which use drawings instead of photos or black-and-white photos instead of color. I figure anybody like that wouldn't bother with this book in the first place, so it's definitely a non-problem.

The rest of us, who don't expect a book to be what it is not and who can dig a little of that early-'70s, hippie feel now and again, can enjoy this book. You don't even have to look for a secondhand source, as I did, as Skyhorse Publishing has just re-issued the book and it is available inexpensively from Amazon and other online bookstores. I haven't seen the re-issue and so can't tell you if it was given any additions or other changes, but I can point you to a website with scans of a few pages of the '70s paperback and to a site with a picture of that first paperback's cover--very different from the new cover!

Even people who aren't keen on creating a peasant or hippie vibe in their daily life might enjoy this book for creating costumes or as a non-intimidating introduction to sewing. One, perhaps unexpected, group who might benefit from this book are Harry Potter fans who want to make wizard robes. Although the films put the characters in Muggle clothing much of the time (understandably--it increases audience identification with the characters and allows the Hogwarts scenes to be more visually appealing than a sea of black robes and hats would be), the books make it clear that wizards wear robes most of the time, and a close reading shows that these robes have more in common with some of the dress styles in The Illustrated Hassle-free Make Your Own Clothes Book than with the Oxbridge-like school robes of the films--though you could use the book to help you make those too.

So light up some patchouli incense (or grab a handful of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, if that's your thing), lie back on some floor-pillows, and read happily.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Lesser Kind of Independence Day

This past Christmas we were doing the drive-to-relatives-we'd-just-as-soon-not-visit thing and, as it was Christmas (I usually prefer silence for better conversation), I popped in my Aaron Neville Christmas CD. Uncle Pookie remarked that he didn't really like Aaron Neville's music, that he felt as if he ought to but he didn't.

Most of us have things like that, things we think we ought to like or ought to dislike. Uncle Pookie is less prone to such notions than anyone I've ever know, but there he was saying he thought he ought to like something. Weird.

I've never been much prone to feeling I had to conform to other people's expectations for my preferences--and that used to drive my mother wild, I can tell you: "But all the girls your age like this/wear this/ think that!"--yet I have some of these "I oughta"s. Several I can think of right off the top of my head.

Like Inspector Morse. Apparently I'm supposed to like Inspector Morse. The TV shows were very popular on both sides of the pond, the books were successful, and apparently loads of people like the character. I like lots of British shows, I like mystery series, I'm not necessarily opposed to "elitist" or snobbish characters, so I ought to like Morse. Well, I don't. Morse is a jerk. I feel sorry for his sergeant, just for his having to work with him. Morse also seems a bit of a sexist, albeit in a mild, forgiveable way. Morse doesn't even seem that great of a detective to me; and if you're going to have a prickly detective, he really ought to amaze you with his detecting or intuiting skills, and Morse doesn't. I've watched some of the shows, I've listened to an audiobook and a couple of radio platlys, and I'll concede they have decent writing. But I still don't like Morse; I found him less annoying on the radio, but I didn't like him even then.

I have a stronger feeling I ought to like Lord Peter Wimsey. And I did like him pretty well in that Gaudy Night television show. But the fact remains that, while I'm convinced I ought to have more respect for Sayers' ability, the only of those novels I like much at all are the three with Harriet Vane before she and Peter married. I don't dislike Peter, but I just don't like him the way other people like him and;, despite there being some good bits, I am quite content with missing the rest of his books and stories.

I have a pretty healthy understanding that this kind of "I ought to like--"" thinking is bunk and do not give it much attention. Doing so would be like splitting my mental tastebuds into Elaine Benes parts and surrounding people who keep telling Elaine she ought to like The English Patient parts. Why, that would just be silly.

I'm ready to declare my (further) independence from my own and other people's notions of what I ought to like. Not to mention from what I ought not like. And I'd like other people to join me. Maybe you think you ought to like modern jazz, but you just can't make yourself. Maybe you think you ought to like praying the the Divine Mercy chaplet, when really you'd rather practice just about any other kind of devotion. Maybe you think you ought to prefer gourmet coffee, when secretly you don't think it's any better than the economy-size store brand you've used for years. Maybe you do like shopping at Wal-mart, even though you think you shouldn't. Maybe you think you ought to like Tolstoy, when you'd much rather read Dickens. Maybe you think you ought to like Dickens, when you'd really rather read romance novels. Why not just accept it?

Paying too much attention to these kind of implanted notions about preferences is ridiculous. If something does not violate decency, who cares? We can and should expect ourselves to live up to our moral codes and to perform our personal and societal duties to a reasonable level. It is reasonable, for example, to expect that we and others obey the traffic laws that allow people to travel from one place to another safely or to expect young people to get married before they start having babies. But expecting yourself--or worse, others--to adopt the tastes you think you (or they) ought to have is just ridiculous. If you've given something people think you should like, like Inspector Morse, a fair chance and you still don't like it, just accept it, admit it, and move on.

Yeah, maybe this is a pointless complaining and borderline whinging sort of post on a tiny, unimportant subject and I know it's badly worded, but it's been on my mind lately.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Random Thoughts

If you were to get a tattoo on your abdomen of Gene Simmons with wings, would that be a Belly-kiss-angel?


Ever notice that the only people who assert loudly that they are "good Catholics" are people who are dissenting from Church teaching?


Anyone who goes on about the great dignity and mysteriousness of cats is not picturing Mr. Tiddles sitting on the back end of his spine, hind legs akimbo, while he grooms his nethers. Especially not if he's slurping.


You know, when you read a news item about teenagers playing with blowtorches they've made from spray cans, you don't actually need the article to specifiy the sex of those teenagers.


There's always a market for action movies and apparently for nudity as well, so my multimillion dollar idea for today is [drumroll, please]--make a movie about an action hero who is also an ancient Celt. Everytime there's a battle, he'll strip off, so they'll be plenty of warrior nudity and it will all be integral (or integral-ish) to the plot.


How do vampires feel about those odorless garlic capsules? Sure vampires can avoid those of us who reek of garlic, but some old geezer who swallows several capsules of the odorless stuff for heart health everyday...?


I was glad when Mrs. Clinton conceded, because in the weeks before that I'd begun to think someone had passed a rule that a minimum 95% of all headlines must be about the Democratic primary or natural disasters.


Is part of the tiredness of middle-age that some days you just can't summon the energy to think about doing the right thing health-wise, and only barely the energy to hope you do the almost right thing.


If you learn that some unmarried girls in your school or community are deliberately getting pregnant, how is "We must provide more free contraceptives!" a solution to that?


When you find yourself ogling the aliens on Doctor Who to check if the blue aliens doing the heavy lifting are a darker blue than the blue aliens aliens holding the clipboards, it is time to admit you're not so much concerned about racial justice as you are looking for things to be offended about.

Better Than Snot Green

you are seagreen

Your dominant hues are cyan and green. Although you definately strive to be logical you care about people and know there's a time and place for thinking emotionally. Your head rules most things but your heart rules others, and getting them to meet in the middle takes a lot of your energy some days.

Your saturation level is higher than average - You know what you want, but sometimes know not to tell everyone. You value accomplishments and know you can get the job done, so don't be afraid to run out and make things happen.

Your outlook on life can be bright or dark, depending on the situation. You are flexible and see things objectively.

the html color quiz

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day

Hooray, Hooray, for the first of May,
outdoor ____ing* starts today!

*Ask your parents, kiddies.

Today is May Day. First day of summer, if you require a calendar date to determine summer, rather than relying on what's going on in nature where you live. Don't give me any of that nonsense about the summer solstice marking the beginning of summer; even in England, which is far cooler on May Day than where I live, the summer solstice was always called Midsummer, not Summer's Beginning.

Anyway, just a brief check-in. Monday, when I found that message asking about Hogwarts scarves I just googled for a site that would have pictures of the process in question. The first site that came up was Deep Fried Kudzu. I liked the name well enough--really, isn't that one of the best blog names you've ever heard?--that I later went back to browse it a bit. I can not claim to have explored it thoroughly, but I want to recommend it anyway. It looks like a pretty darn good blog. There's a list of restaurants the author has enjoyed, recipes, pretty photos of home-y (home to me, anyway) places, and I saw links to several interesting things. Including this article about a North Alabama woman called Aunt Jenny.

...Aunt Jenny walked outside, pointed at her husband's killers and said to them that she knew every one of their faces and they would get what was coming to them. She then called her surviving sons to her side and made them place their hands on the lifeless bodies of their father and brother. She made them swear eternal vengeance for their deaths. Legend has it that all the men responsible for the death of Willis and John were sent to their graves by a Brooks boy. Some legends state that Aunt Jenny herself even killed a few of the men.

I enjoyed reading that passage more than a Christian woman probably ought to. It is rather fine drama, and I think you can make an argument that the behavior described is pragmatic, in that the best way to avoid being messed with in the future is to make people very, very sorry for having messed with you in the past; frankly, I would prefer for my country's leaders to adopt the tactic of making people very, very afraid to attack us.

As a hater of impertinent questions, I also liked the anecdote about Aunt Jenny on another site (sorry, I didn't save that link and I'm not looking for it now) that has her, upon being asked how she came by a roll of money she was carrying, saying she paid herself twenty dollars a week just to mind her own business.

Florence King said that there's nothing wrong with Women's Studies that studying the right women won't set right. Aunt Jenny sounds like one of those women.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fringe--Anyone Tried This?

The recent message from Erin Eddington about fringe on the Hogwarts scarves reminds me of something I thought of a few days ago. I have never been much of a fringe person, so I'll likely never try this, but it occurred to me that it would be possible to make fringe in a way I've never seen done.

Take a crochet hook and slip stitch yarn to the edge of a shawl (or whatever) and make a chain twice as long as you want each piece of fringe to be. Then slip stitch to the edge of the shawl, right by where you began. Slip stitch over one or two stitches or spaces, then repeat the whole process.

I'm sure this would work, and I think it would be less likely to get ratty-looking, the way fringe on older items sometimes gets. There is nothing new under the sun, so no doubt someone out there has done this or seen it done. How did it work?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

This Could Be Inspirational

...if I let it.

Thursday I saw a name on NRO that surprised me a good deal: Ursula K. LeGuin. I stopped reading her work back in the mid-'90s, because the increasing PC-ish content got on my nerves--and I was still a self-proclaimed liberal at the time, who would have agreed with much of it! Mrs. LeGuin's name was there because she was being interviewed about her new novel, Lavinia. In it she said that, not having touched Latin since she studied it in high school, she decided, in her seventies, to take it up again. And she did and she was able, "with difficulty", to read the Aeneid in the original.

Now that is awesome. And I mean that in the older sense of inspiring awe, not in some early mid-'80s slang way. Mrs. LeGuin impressed the heck out of me when she said that. The ability to learn second languages--something any child who isn't actually in the sub-basement of human intelligence levels can do without apparent effort--famously gets harder as we get older. And our memory gets less retentive in middle age, so that we have to work much harder to hold onto something new than we did in our youth. Not many people take up language study after they get old. Especially not a "dead" language with a reputation of being rather difficult.

Lately I've been focusing much too much on things I supposedly can't do or that are getting more difficult to do because I am old. At thirty-eight. Mrs. LeGuin makes me feel like a bit of a whinger (mental variety only; I have at least avoided annoying others with it.)

You'd think I would have learned my lesson from something that happened a few years ago: I came across something I'd written when I was twenty-nine, explaining that I could not start something that late in life because I would be at least thirty-two by the time I finished. Oh, the horror! I was thirty-four or thirty-five when I came across that and, guess what, I'd reached (and passed) the advanced old age of thirty-two even without doing that thing. The only choice had been between becoming a thirty-two year-old who had done that thing and becoming a thirty-two year old who had not done that thing.

Something to think about as I grow closer to what I think of as Shirley Valentine age (forty-two).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tax Freedom Day Song

This year I thought of April 23rd not just as Shakespeare's (probable) birthday and as England's St. George's Day , but as Tax Freedom Day. That is thanks to this song , which I found via The Corner Tuesday. I had heard of Tax Freedom Day, the day most Americans have earned enough money to pay their taxes for the year, before, but having a funny song about it makes it much more memorable. Checking back today, I was surprised at how few views this video has. It deserves to be more widely seen and talked about. Watch it and if you find it amusing or at least agree with me that it brings up a point worth talking about, pass the link on.

After that, you may want to read this article on some of the results of one of the things the U.S. government is choosing to do with the money it takes from you. (Incidentally, it is not the first time the author has written on this subject-- I remember this from early last year, when the situation was less bad than now--and, although I am only an occasional reader of his columns, I don't doubt you could find more examples of questionable government spending in his archive, if you are so inclined.) With government results like these, maybe more of us should be asking ourselves if we aren't better judges of what we ought to spend our money on than the government is.

Random Thoughts


Everyone is unique. Ergo being unique doesn't make you special.


Choosing a leader named Hostilius is probably just asking for trouble.


Is it just me or is there something the teensiest bit ironic about concluding an online post in which you rant about the evils of capitalism with a sig that links your Etsy shop?


Don't cats and dogs ever get venereal diseases? I've never heard that it can happen, but it would be odd if it doesn't.


There are few bad situations that government intervention can't make worse.


To the women who complain about not being able to find a gentleman: Have you tried acting like a lady?

To the women who complain their husband "never" does anything special for them: When was the last time you did anything special for him?


I'm trying hard to think of something more stupid than deliberately humiliating (a la Nero) someone upon whose protection your safety depends, but I'm not coming up with anything.


You know, most people would be satisfied with being a bad president. Not Carter, though; he has to be a bad ex-president as well.


Names just don't come any better than Eric Bloodaxe.


What ever happened to the word "envy"? For most of my lifetime, everyone is "jealous" of everything and no one is envious of anything.


Note to would-be rioters: Damaging grocery stores is not the best way to lower costs in those stores. Riots and the fear of riots may have their place in the political arena--history evidences that--but adding to your local grocer's expenses won't help him lower prices.


Am I the only one with a desire to scratch out "gender" on forms so impertinent as to ask me mine and write in "sex" instead?


There seems to be an long list of things Americans today aren't supposed to say or to discuss. For all that some people (mostly conservatives and libertarians) complain about this, I haven't noticed the list getting any shorter.


If we can have all our "I wonder"s satisfied in an afterlife, then one interesting question is how many innovations have we lost due to the litigiousness of contemporary society.


You know, there is just no better way to show how vastly superior a person you are than to mock the purchasing power of those poorer than you. If you believe that, please go on doing it: the rest of us find it highly informative.


Isn't it funny how when you give something away for free, people--however grateful they may have been to begin with--soon start to regard it as their due and demand it as a right if it is cut off?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Little Learning

There has never been a better time to be an auto-didact. Or to be into dilettantish dabbling. A few weeks ago I decided I ought to learn a little about Roman history. It has been almost too easy. So far I've watched some DVDs, done some reading online and off, and listened to some online audio.

I highly recommend The Roman Empire in the First Century, a PBS documentary from 2002, readily available on DVD from Netflix. This is an excellent introduction to its subject. It gives you the emperors and some stuff going on in Rome and its empire (including those pesky people in Judea), in enough detail to be interesting but not so much you feel as if you're being buffetted over the head with information. After watching this you will remember all the emperors covered, the order of their reign, and a little something about them. What more can you ask from a documentary?

There are a lot of other documentaries on various aspects of Roman history. There's no way I can watch them all, but I enjoyed Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story as light viewing. This 2003 BBC program takes the novel tack of inventing a fictional, but typical gladiator to follow as it teaches a bit about gladiator life and the building of the colosseum. (Mostly fictional, anyway; they imagine the life that might have existed for an actual fighter whose fight at the Colosseum's inaugural games was described in detail by a witness.) This works pretty well, although I found I wanted more information, especially about weapons and fighting. I did learn a couple of things, though--did you know that gladiators usually survived arena combats, because the sponsor had to reimburse the gladiators' master if any were killed due to a thumbs-down?--and the eye candy was nice. As a bonus feature, the DVD included another story-style documentary on The Last Days of Pompeii; nothing too new on it, but it did have some interesting information along the lines of boiling blood and brains and such. I've a couple more documentaries in my Netflix queue but I don't think I'll find anything better than The Roman Empire in the First Century. Something more than cursory on Roman battle tactics would be great, though.

Along the fiction side of the DVD aisle, Netflix has the Complete Shakespeare Plays version of Julius Caesar available for instant download viewing, as well as rental. I watched this (admittedly while doing something else that took up too much of my attention) and found it a competent production. I may watch it again and dig out my old VHS of the Brando version and maybe another version of this play. I also plan to re-watch the 1974 television version of Antony & Cleopatra which I enjoyed a couple of years ago, and maybe rent another version for comparison. (Attention Star Trek fans: the 1974 one has Patrick Stewart as Enobarbus, or as my husband puts it in these situations, "Captain Picard is playing in the Holodeck again".) I think it goes without saying that Shakespeare, like other dramatists, never let historical fact get in the way of a good story, and that's assuming he had good information to start with; as with any Shakespeare history play, I recommend checking what Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare has to say if you find yourself wondering about something historical--Asimov's work has the advantages of being easily available and having the information you want all in one place.

As for other fiction DVDs, I've heard nothing but praise for it, so I'm planning to give HBO's Rome a go before long. Also in my queue is Shakespeare's Coriolanus, which I've never before seen, only read. For anyone who hasn't seen it already, I again recommend I, Claudius.

An increasing number of universities have lectures available online; there is a list available here. I am currently listening to a Berkeley course on the Roman Empire; I would be further along, but I paused to catch up my reading up to where the course is. I also just started listening to a BBC 4 history program called The Roman Way. (I don't know how much longer this program will be left up, so if you're interested you should try it now.)

As for reading, aside from a few webpages and a small account in a Penguin world history book, I've stuck to Will Durant's Caesar and Christ. And I can not recommend it highly enough. Why didn't I find this when I was a teenager? I know Durant is not without his critics, but the man can write--something that can not be said about every writer of history. The history just flows along, and reading it in bed at night, just before sleep and already sleepy, I've found myself so interested at the end of a section that I've said, "just one more section" and kept reading for another two or three sections. I picked this up thinking I'd only read the Caesar half, not the Christian half, but now I think I'll read it all; I had to force myself to stop near the end of the first century a couple of nights ago so that I can now catch up on my audio lectures. (I want to stagger the two, for memory reinforcement--never an issue when I was young, but alas age makes fools of us all.)

I am now sorry I did not decide to start my little history program with the Greeks so I could have enjoyed Durant's The Life of Greece first. Well, there's always later; and actually, I did back up in historical time and insert a couple of pre-Roman documentaries into my DVD viewing, because I found a couple that looked really good--The True Story of Alexander the Great and Last Stand of the 300; I recommend both, but especially the latter. But for now I'm sticking with the Romans, as they were only supposed to be a few weeks of dabbling before I finally started my long thought about episode of focused reading on the Middle Ages.

I am not sure what non-fiction reading other than Durant I'll do on the Romans. There is a great deal of Roman writing available online, either free for the googling or free if you happen to have university library access, but I'm a dabbler. I'll probably dip into a few library books and call it done. (For now; this could be a lifelong interest.)

As for fiction, I may pull out my Ovid. I have a thrift store paperback called Gods and Legions I haven't read yet. From the local library, I'll probably try Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series. Some years back I read a couple of Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder novels, which are set in Cicero's day. (This was on the recommendation of Orson Scott Card, whose book recommendations have never steered me wrong; I strongly recommend his recommendations.) I note that Saylor has a new novel called Roma available at the local library that seems to be a sort of history of Rome herself, and, as the Gordianus novels proved enjoyable enough, I plan to try Roma.

My point here, other than to provide a few recommendations of enjoyable things, is that we in the industrialised world have tons of resources available. And so readily, easily, and cheaply available that it requires almost no effort at all to acquire a smattering of knowledge about subjects that are far removed from us in time and space. We take it for granted, but it is a wonderful thing. We did not have these resources in such abundance twenty years ago. Twenty-five years ago I was a teenager who would have given anything to have access to the internet, audio of foreign radio history programs and lectures at universities I could never afford to attend, DVD documentaries, the History Channel. I would have killed just to have had access to a good, let alone great, public library. A thrift store book section would have thrilled me. I had to make do with Mississippi public television and whatever books I happened across at garage sales. A teenager in my area fifteen or twenty years before didn't have that much. But a rural teenager today has the whole of the internet at his disposal. What a shame it would be to waste it on nothing but MySpace pranks and porn.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Random Thoughts


If I'm already "pre-approved", why do I have to fill out an application?


Carter may have pardoned the draft dodgers, but I haven't.


"And if everyone else wanted to jump off a cliff, would you want to do it too?" is the stereotypical mother saying. With my mother it was more like, "Everyone else your age wants to jump off a cliff. Why don't you want to jump off a cliff? What's wrong with you?"


Shouldn't knockoffs of Dockers pants be called Knockers?


"You can't argue with results." Unless, of course, you are a Catholic theologian, in which case the results don't much matter if the intention or the method of achieving the results was bad.


A great bumpersticker would be "What have YOU done for Western civilization today?"


Every little girl should be told by her parents at least once that she's pretty, whether it is, strictly speaking, true or not.


We still use a traditional nurse's cap and white uniform when we want to convey the idea of "nurse" in a cartoony drawing or a Halloween costume, but most nurses haven't dressed like that for twenty years; regular cap use was on the wane even earlier. Soon we will have young people who do not understand why we have this convention of depicting nurses that way; maybe we do already.


In the whole of the history of English language usage, I don't think anyone has ever said, "I hope you're happy with yourself!" and meant it.