17 February 2015

music soothes...

Have you ever experienced the phenomenon where something captures your imagination, draws you in, and you can't explain why, particularly when it doesn't have the same effect on others?

This happens to me more often than not--something reaches my spirit when I am discouraged, and bolsters me, despite the way it does not elicit the same response in others who are close to me.

I made J. watch Rent last week because when I watched it the weekend before, the music found a sore spot in me and somehow soothed it. He didn't get it. At all. I suspected that might be the case. My emotional ups and downs are mysterious to him, and while he sympathizes when the darkness seeps back in around the edges, he doesn't really understand it.

And I'm not entirely sure why a story like Rent seems to help hold the despair at bay. Something about the "No Day But Today" numbers speaks to me ("there's only now, there's only here, give in to love, or live in fear"). I think the sense that love offers hope in the midst of despair is what my mind is latching onto. And I'll take it.

I've felt more fragile lately, more likely to shatter when something overwhelms. Oh, part of it is definitely circumstantial--my grandmother's health is slowly deteriorating, and I am slowly coming to terms with the knowledge that, despite our next visit south being only a few months away, she may not be there then--but I don't think I can attribute it all to that. My fears pile up more swiftly than they usually do, and little triggers have suddenly transformed into larger ones.

I experience high levels of anxiety about driving, particularly at night or in the rain; my reaction to my grandmother's news about how she's doing sends me into a spiral of grief, often followed by nausea (a typical reaction to stress for me); and I'm beginning to find groups of people overwhelming again. None of these are good signs.

My response is, at least, healthier than last time. My first couple years of grad school were fraught, in part because I knew something was wrong but I didn't know what it was (lesson learned: depression does not always look like the symptom list, and being able to function with it does not mean that there isn't a problem). I avoided people and would "forget" to bring lunch with me to school. I'd escape home to hide as soon as classes and my shift at the library were over. I had a couple social get-togethers that seemed safe, and those were the only ones I went to. I was keeping up with my coursework and my grades were fine, so I had to be fine, right?

This time around, I'm deliberately seeking people out. I even joined a mum's group, and that's a little atypical for me. I screwed up my courage and drove in the dark to knit night last night. I'm participating in the Lenten book study at church (of course, it's a Richard Rohr book, so I'm excited about that). I've started doing yoga. I make sure E. and I get out for a good long walk every day. I listen to music that encourages.

It helps. I don't know if it'll be enough, but it helps for now.

14 February 2015

Fermentation

If you're into canning, you'll probably run across the term "lacto-fermentation" at some point, particularly if you read a lot on the subject. I read a bit about the fermenting foods thing, then said, rather determinedly, to J., that I was not interested in trying that.

Two weeks later I was making salt-preserved Key limes.

A couple months later, right after getting home from Christmas with my new canning book in tow, I was chopping cabbage for sauerkraut.

Then I tried homemade ginger beer. Followed by a second batch. Now we're on batch three of the ginger beer, and batch one of a strawberry soda, both mixed up this evening and popped into a cupboard to mature and develop fizz for a couple of days.

What we're discovering with homemade soda is that we like the not-too-sweet taste of it. And once I figure out what I'm doing with it, I can experiment and make bubbly drinks that we can't find elsewhere. I have a number of ingredients to track down before I can make homemade root beer (and one glance at the ingredients list for "root beer extract" convinced me that it would be worth the extra effort to actually use roots to make the concentrate), but I think if the strawberry soda works out, lime soda is next on the list.

What about the alcohol content? Well, there's not much. Enough to make it fizzy, but not enough to even notice that zing that most alcoholic drinks have.* Right now I'm using instant yeast to start the fermenting process, which is easy and reliable. A lot of recipes out there use whey or one of those clumps of bacteria known as bugs (not unlike what's used in kombucha). I often have an absurd amount of whey leftover from making yogurt, so I will probably try using whey for fermenting soda at some point.

It's actually more fun and less exacting than I thought it would be, and I like the results. The next big fermenting project will probably be lacto-fermented dill pickles. Like sauerkraut, that's a longer commitment than soda, and it requires more frequent checking than soda does, too. We'll see how it goes.

*A note: As we don't have the equipment to test the alcohol content of the homemade sodas, but we do know there is at least a little there, we don't share the stuff with our toddler. Better safe than sorry.

05 February 2015

Kid's Clothes Week: February 2015, Days 1-3

Tiny Tunic
It's Kid's Clothes Week again and we're already at Day 4. I did manage to get my hours in for the first three days but didn't manage to do the pictures until today. The above top is one that I sewed up over Tuesday and Wednesday. The pattern is Tiny Tunic Take 2 from iCandy Handmade. Easy to put together, but I think if I make it again, I'll shorten the neck band a little for a closer fit. The top half is from an old t-shirt of mine and the skirt is part of a fat quarter. I lengthened the skirt a bit since E. is apparently skinnier than the 3-6 month old the designer was thinking of but she is starting to get taller. The picture is not spectacular because she is a blur of motion and the light in our entryway wasn't great.

Blackbird Tunic, back view
I made a Blackbird Tunic (from Schwin & Schwin) over Monday and Tuesday. Apparently my inner 70s girl decided it was time to pop out for a visit, and this was the result. The red fabric is something that was in a bag of leftovers from an older woman we know. No idea what she used it for originally. The blue pocket fabric is from the same source, and again, no idea what it was originally for.

Blackbird Tunic, front view
E. was delighted with her brightly coloured top. I trimmed it with rick-rack, being lazy and not wanting to make my own piping, and used a big black button to finish it off. The armholes are bound with white bias binding. It fits her fairly well now and will definitely work over summer. I might make another one in different colours if I feel like it. Since it's still cold, E. was wearing it over a t-shirt and leggings, but I keep feeling like it really needs a pair of bell-bottoms to set it off.

Princess Leia in doll form
And I also finished this off. This was one of E.'s Christmas presents and she's been dragging the poor thing around the house while she was still missing a skirt. So I finally sat down on Monday morning and finished that. J. thinks it's sort of creepy looking, but E. is very happy with the "doh" (she hasn't really figured out codas yet). So we do have a princess doll, but it's Princess Leia, the wonky homemade version. I used this pattern from Simple Simon and Co.

The doll came together okay, but I think next time I might need to adjust my seams or make the body wider at the base, since flipping the doll right-side out through the recommended gap was a exercise in frustration and patience. I'm sure part of it was the fabric I used, which kept stretching out of shape (random thrift store fabric passed on from another friend who was destashing).

I've discovered, when sewing, that I can cut out fabric and patterns while E. is around, since the dresser I do that on is much too tall for her to grab anything off of, but the actual sewing has to wait until she's asleep or when J. is able to watch her. Today the plan is to do some of the cutting work before her nap, and then sew up a couple skirts while she's sleeping. We'll see how it turns out (best-laid plans and all).

23 January 2015

the rain rain rain came down down down

As is not unusual around here in January, the heavens have opened and that liquid water stuff is pouring down. It's the sort of day that makes me want to huddle up with blankets, drink tea, and knit. As both E. and I are sniffly and coughing, we definitely did some of that. Followed by a walk in the rain that necessitated a complete change of clothes and some drying off with towels. After that, we had milk and tea and warmed up.

The walk in the rain was fun, though, and the fresh air's good. So I've been told. The park had turned mostly into a marsh punctuated with playground equipment, and I was the only mother mad enough to be out in that weather. E. waded through puddles, insisted on trying to swing on the big kid swings, and fortunately didn't try to climb up to the tallest slide.

By the time we left the park and headed for the produce store, she was drenched and I was getting there. My raincoat is useless in extremely wet weather, since it just directs a stream of water from my front straight onto my trousers. I ended up soaked from just above the knees on down, and a not insignificant amount of water made its way past the hood and onto my hair.

When we arrived home, E. was chilly enough that she calmly waited for me to unlock the door and headed straight in as soon as it was open. Usually she tries to take advantage of my distraction and makes a run for it around the corner of the house, out of my sight, because mine and J.'s DNA has created that kind of child.

I like the rain. I like the greyness of the skies and the scent of water mingled with earth and leaves. I like the cooler weather. It offers a sense of calm, and today was a day when I desperately needed that. I stumbled across a "war is problematic" article which said a lot of things I agreed with. Then I wandered into the comments, which I really shouldn't have done, because a pro-war commenter waded into the battle by posting horrific pictures of dead bodies with mocking captions. And making fun of a person's violent death really doesn't make you the bigger person in the debate. I had to pull away, and cry, and find a way to re-centre after being reminded, not just how horrible people can be, but how blind they can be to how horrible they're being, especially once religion is involved.

So I went to Celtic Daily Prayer. I'm not good with daily devotions, the recommended mainstay for spiritual life in many Protestant denominations. Most of them seem trite, or only helpful once in a long while. And the attitude that it's something you must do to stay right with God never sits well with me. But Celtic Daily Prayer, a new addition to my library, but a book I renewed at the library many times, usually offers something.

And oddly enough, today's reading spoke to me. "Most of the world would like to see something of Jesus, but how we fail to show Him through our life! How seldom when we speak is it what He has given to us to be said!" (Celtic Daily Prayer, 2002, p. 317). And as I searched through earlier parts of the book, through some of the readings that aren't necessarily tied in to specific days, I then found a section of liturgy based on Caedmon's songs. And this was the part that spoke to me today:

"Teach me to hear that story,
through each person,
to cradle a sense of wonder
in their life,
to honour the hard-earned wisdom
of their sufferings,
to waken their joy
that the King of all kings
stoops down
to wash their feet,
and looking up
into their face
says,
'I know--I understand' " (Celtic Daily Prayer, 2002, p. 199).

I believe that human beings are created in the image of God. Because of that, to kill another human being is to reject that image of God in them. And that is wrong. But whenever I remember this, I also have to remember that people who say and do things that anger or grieve me are also created in the image of God, and as such, to hate them is also to reject that image of God in them. So that commenter on that article today, the one who said such horrible things and posted such horrible pictures, is just as much created in the image of God as were those people in those pictures who must have suffered so much. And so I cried for all of them. And I prayed for all of them. And then we went for a walk in the rain.

I'm mostly sad now, not angry. Introspective and sad. And oddly peaceful.

Let's leave it at that for now.

20 January 2015

yoga and me: an attempt to be more thoughtful

Recently, in an effort to improve my overall fitness level and to get out of the house and spend time with adults, I signed up for yoga classes. This is perhaps not an unusual choice for a stay-at-home parent with a toddler, but it is the sort of thing that the me of ten years ago would never have done. And the people I spent time with then would probably have  been a tad concerned about me if I had done so.

While I never actively identified as an evangelical Christian, I did spend a lot of time in those circles, particularly in high school and in much of university. Some of my attitudes were definitely evangelical (for a while, I was anti-marriage equality. Then I grew up a bit and changed my mind) and others were not (growing up Lutheran meant that I was always nearer to the side of transubstantiation when the topic of Communion arose). For a time, I was one of those Christians who thought that good Christians didn't do yoga because it would spiritually contaminate you. Or something.

I didn't really know much about yoga, but I knew that it had its roots in Eastern spiritual practices, so that had to be problematic for a Christian. Right? Even if you ignored the spiritual history of yoga and just did it for exercise, you could never completely separate it from its origins, so I couldn't, in good conscience, practice yoga. With the typical arrogance of a teenager who thinks she is right about everything, and who was immersed in a branch of Christianity that places a lot of emphasis on doing the right things in the right way, I decided that I would never do yoga. I even told my fitness instructor in a class at university that I was a little dubious about yoga and wasn't sure if I wanted to do the segment on it. The poor teacher, having heard more than one of her conservative Christian students tell her that (it was a Christian university, that was most of the student population), found a work-around. A Christian yoga video, with all the positions renamed after stuff in the Bible, with verses to go with them.

That's when I discovered that I objected more to Christianized yoga than yoga itself. When you're in the gym of a Christian university doing "the Tent" instead of the Downward Dog because you're all so confused about whether it's okay for a Christian to do yoga, I think you have a problem.

Over the Christmas holidays, I read a book about Kundalini yoga. I'm still a little dubious about the stuff with the chakras, but the exercises, the breathing, the learning to focus and relax, those are all things that I don't have a problem with. And when I remember to do at least some of the exercises, I do feel better.

I did follow the book up with another on yoga and science, one that discusses the merits of and the problems with yoga, with a focus on safety. As flexibility, general fitness, and stress/anxiety relief are primarily what I'm looking for in this venture, I think I'm on fairly solid ground.

So off I went to yoga class last night, a little apprehensive about attending a class where I knew no one, and a little nervous about the difficulty level. And it went well. At the end, lying on the floor, relaxing and breathing, I found my mind travelling back in time, eleven years ago, to the summer where I alternated between being entirely at peace with everything and being completely stressed out about what I was supposed to do with my life. The times of peace came when my friends and I took time to sit down, pray, and let things go where they would. I usually ended up lying on the floor during those sessions, completely relaxed. I remembered how centred I felt then, how focused on the immediate, rather than the future, and I felt very much the same yesterday, lying on the floor of a yoga studio after nearly an hour and a half of stretching and breathing exercises.

Meditation has a long tradition in many religions. I still find it strange that many North American Christians find it alarming. There is much we have lost in the centuries since the Reformation transformed Christianity, not least of which is this: Wisdom is found in many places, and God is in all.

14 January 2015

food and a farewell to Christmas


Today has been a cool, humid day--the kind where E. and I head out for a walk, cut it short, and then make coffee when we get home because we were really cold (well, she had milk and just tried to stick her fingers in my coffee). I took advantage of an unexpected nap to put away the Christmas decorations, at last. It's a week after Epiphany, so it's about time. It took me about five minutes. We don't have a lot of Christmas decorations. Everything except the tree fits in an old vodka box, and I'm thinking of pruning a few things next year, like the sparkly glass ornaments that were a gift and don't go with the rest of the stuff.

J. isn't that keen on household decorations that are only used for one month out of the year (my rule is that they can go up on the first Sunday in Advent, and I try to take them down around Epiphany), so we don't have fairy lights or a massive tree (not that most of the apartments we've lived in have been okay with massive real trees) or piles of ornaments, not that we really have the room to store them all, anyway. The tiny tree fits neatly on top of the shelves next to J.'s board games, comfortably out of reach of the tiny person. She was fascinated by the tree. I had to move the Nativity scene up there, too, after she started pointing at the windowsill and exclaiming about the "dolls."

So, the place is back to normal-ish. The weather's been such that I keep wanting bake things. English muffin bread is on my list for a little later today, mostly to use up more of the whey in the fridge. I had the urge to bake an apple tart the other day, and this was the result:


This was my first attempt in recent memory at a lattice crust, and I really liked how it turned out. I've been kneading bread enough lately that I've lost a little of my touch with the piecrust and it came out a bit tough, but still tasty. I need practice, or patience. Or both.

Continuing with the food theme, I tried making enchiladas using TVP as a meat substitute. TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) is a soy product that looks a bit like beige panko. You measure it out and pour an equal amount of hot water on it to rehydrate it, then mix it with whatever you're cooking. Like tofu, it takes on the flavour of whatever you happen to be cooking it with. While "textured vegetable protein" sounds like something you'd find in the galley of Serenity, it's actually pretty good. When rehydrated, it has the consistency and texture of cooked ground meat, and the first time I had it, at someone else's house, I had to be told it wasn't ground beef. I made tortillas for the enchiladas, and combined the TVP with black beans, yellow bell pepper, onion, garlic, and a few spices.

Enchiladas in progress.
And it was tasty. We had enough leftovers for dinner tonight, too. French onion soup is on the list for tomorrow--possibly officially vegetarian if I don't get lazy and use Bovril for the broth.

11 January 2015

food and sickness and knitting

We've officially had our first instance of sickness making its way around the family (at least, now that it's more than just the two of us). J. got a cold at Christmas. Then E. and I caught it in time for New Year's. Mine was worse than hers--I'm still sniffly a week and a half later and she's perfectly well. It was her first cold. Then J. came home from work on Thursday with more cold-like symptoms, followed by a fever and vomiting. He's still very congested and I'm crossing my fingers and hoping E. and I don't catch it. I suppose we'll know by the end of the week. I always tell people that she's up-to-date with her shots when she drools on them, but that's not really helpful for the things we don't have shots for. 

As we've all been varying degrees of ill lately, I have been somewhat inspired to make food. On Friday I made no-knead bread, bagels, and applesauce cake. Oh, and apple butter. The bread and bagels were partly an effort to use up some of the whey we have in the fridge. I made yogurt last week and then a batch of ricotta mid-week, so we ended up with a couple liters of whey that needed using up. I put it in pizza dough and in the bread and bagels. I think another loaf of bread is on the list, since there's still half a pitcher of the whey lurking on the top shelf next to the milk.

We've also been trying to use up the meat in our fridge since after it's gone, we're going to be eating a primarily vegetarian diet for a while (cue the random cravings for fried chicken and barbecued ribs that I have no current plans to bother trying to fulfill). I hadn't really realized how long it would take to use up the Costco-sized chunk of prosciutto we bought for our Christmas party back in December. This last week I did pizza and gnocchi to whittle away at what's left. Some kind of pasta is on the list for today.

Meanwhile, the knitting mojo's back! I knit E. a sweater, finished a hat for her, and have the last of a sleeve cap to complete on a sweater. The urge to make stuff has returned and this is good. The sewing mojo needs to show up next--I could do with some new tops and a pair of yoga pants.