Friday, February 27, 2009

The Ghost House

So. My first solo apartment was extremely well-located and cheap, and came complete with a laundry room right next to my (hollow, interior-style) apartment door that included a dryer you could use for free. Being able to warm up my flannel PJs at bedtime was huge compensation for inconveniences like being in the basement of a 100-year-old mansion, in a small damp space that looked out at the parking lot on one side and always smelled a bit of gas.

The gas I put down to the stove being a faulty. After a few weeks, though, the phone started ringing while I was talking on it. That happened a lot and I assumed the wiring was bad. Then one day I came home from work and couldn't find my butter dish. It lived on the table; I lived alone. I looked around, confused, before noticing bits of something sticking to the wall near the phone: it was the butter plate, now in pieces, shards of it clinging to butter that was splattered across that wall.

I looked down and sure enough, there was the rest of the butter plate on the floor. It had been picked up and hurled against the wall, apparently. By the wind? It was a gusty day, but my kitchen window - the sill 12" deep and crammed into a quiet corner - was closed, since I'd never been able to open it. By my landlord, annoyed with me for having given notice six months before my lease was up so I could move to England? He had seemed like such a nice man, and not at all annoyed with me for my change of plans. By the other basement tenant, perhaps sick of my nightly flannel-warming habits? He was across the hall from the laundry room and would never have heard the dryer.

I was across the ocean myself before it occurred to me that instead of renting a firetrap in close proximity to an angry burglar, I might have been rooming with a poltergeist. I'm not sure even now which explanation I prefer!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ghosts? Boo!

I love a good ghost story, and recently while drinking tea from the mug I bought on a visit to Hampton Court Palace I remembered the place has a few, so I looked them up here.

There is a story of a recent appearance by a ghost with a thing for whapping fire doors open (and fair enough too; they're far from aesthetically pleasing.) But the attached video does nothing to reinforce the intriguing elements of the story. I mean honestly - everybody can tell that's a guy in a costume, right?

At least my mug is the real thing and holds just the right amount of delicious tea... which reminds me, this is a good time to stop 'work' for another cuppa.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Eat More Cake!

I was on my way to the gym this morning when I passed an impeccably white van (no small feat in the melty slushy mucky weather we're having) decorated with a giant green target and the slogan Eat More Cake!

as if I needed encouragement. In fact just this morning I spotted a cake-motif'd thing that I feel I simply must have; clearly, I have cake on my mind, possibly because I neglected to buy any for Valentine's Day - most unlike me. I can never resist grocery store cake because it's so moist and the icing is so fluffy. Dufflet's cakes, on the other hand (see link above) are unbelievably flavourful and decadent and now available in my local grocery store freezer cases.

And then there's the cake my sister makes in Easter Bunny form, using an authentic German mold she bought during her post-university European travels. That work of culinary artistry, also known as The Joy of Cooking's "White Cake II" is bliss on a plate. It takes a little effort though, so often I'll bake the Better Homes and Gardens 'Yellow Cake" - it's easy and just as delicious in a different way. And maybe I should do that today because for some reason, gym or no gym, I feel compelled to Eat More Cake.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Curse of the Tiger-Etsy

Etsy is a thief of time. First it was the hand-dyed yarn, then it was the knitting needle organizers, and now it's vintagey aprons (suggesting an alarming shift to domesticity on my part), and the adorable felted flowers that my friend of the SumpnSassyisms has been making.

When you can go shopping from the comfort of your own sofa where you're supposed to be editing for a client or writing for your phantom some-day publisher, there's not much hope for procrastination-avoidance, is there? I suppose I should be grateful I avoided the temptation this long.

Maybe Etsy is a blessing though. Every time I look away from it and catch sight of my window, I have to ask myself: is it time I took down the heartstrings? They do kind of clash with the silver balls still hanging from the garland at the front of the house. Tell me I'm not the only one with Christmas deccies still up, 'kay? Even if you're lying. Because it's waaaay too cold to be out taking down garland.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A fashionable fall

t's nearly spring, that magical time of year when you can finally break out the rain boots for rain instead of calf-deep snow, and think about April in Paris, and look for excuses to eat chocolate instead of going out for a run. Oh, and hear fashion news about the coming fall.

I have always loved clothes and spent hours designing them in my head. I'll watch old movies that really have nothing to recommend them plotwise as long as the wardrobes are good, and I have laminated vintage sewing pattern catalogue pages on my bathroom wall. However, I do not see the point of Vogue, or fashion shows generally. I gather one is meant to look at pictures of extreme fashion and ferret out details that translate to: Red belts! Alligator accessories! Big shoulders! and then buy those things, and wear them.

My own policy is to know what looks good on me and wear that. So I was pleased to read, by way of being amused by the Fug Girls liveblogging the Oscars last night, that updos are in for fall. Updos may or may not look good on me, but they are terribly practical, and by fall my hair should have grown long enough to have them again. Now to find a warm hat that accommodates same...

Friday, February 20, 2009

A test you'll like taking

Last night I dragged the StockPot of Knitting over to the TV to watch Blackmail, the 1929 Hitchcock film.

I read a review once of Helen Hayes' performance in an early silent, where she's hiding in a closet in fear of being beaten if she's found. Her devastating response to this acting challenge was to pace round and round in that tiny space as though she were a caged animal. I couldn't help thinking of that as Anny Ondra's hand and forearm cast about from behind a curtain looking for something - anything - to stop what was happening to her.

Blackmail was England's first talkie: silent filming was already underway when Hitchcock was asked to redo it with sound. He agreed, but he went ahead with the silent version too, and some critics think that it's better. What do you think? Here's a silent clip of Anny's character returning home from an all-night walk after murdering her attacker, and here's the talkie take.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The most scintillating news you'll read today

My brain may be a little fried after the excitement of the past few days but

I discovered this morning that my box of Kleenex was made in the US but printed in Canada, while my travel pack of Kleenex was printed in the US but made in Canada. What will Buy American and Buy Canadian policies have on Kleenex supplies?? Cold sufferers want to know.

And there's more. A new fashion trend is sweeping town (okay, my neighbourhood) (well, my house): two pairs of long underwear replacing heavy tights with dresses. This time our usual invention parent, necessity, has taken the form of a surprise cold snap just when somebody's tights were in the wash. Spread the word - longjohns are cool! Wear them outside your pants for increased social acceptance!

Okay, maybe my brain is fried. I'm gonna go take a nap.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

And the winner is...

Not me.

I hope you're not shocked to hear that the finalist list for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Literary Awards is out and I (or rather the story I submitted) am not on it.

It's usually hard for me to know exactly how to take that sort of thing. Should I submit a different kind of story another year, or more stories overall? Should I carry a lucky penny with me on a daily basis? Should I buy more chocolate?

But today, it's not hard at all. The meaning of not making the finalist list is: keep knitting. For a little longer, at least.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Niagara Falls (daily)

Quick trip to Niagara Falls yesterday. I have to be honest: I don't love the Falls. I used to go often as a child (I grew up nearby, and my mother drove us over every time a cousin or out-of-town friend came to stay) so I do have happy memories. And they are certainly majestic... and the Niagara Parks Commission has done a wonderful job not mucking up the view with touristy gimmicks. Still, the number of people who have ended their lives there - in particular the one whom I knew and admired enormously - makes it difficult for me to see them as more than an awe-inspiring gravestone.

Which is probably why the boat at the top on the Canadian side, rusted and caught on rocks a perilously short distance from the edge, always fascinates me. How terrifying must it have been to be on that boat--decidedly not seeking death--in the last moments before the rocks intervened? And how desperate the rescue to get its passengers back on shore? It's so close to safety, close enough to see fear on the men's faces during their ordeal, and yet too far to stretch out a hand to help.

Well, you gotta love wikipedia, because now I know, and you can too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Litmus Test

I have read that your mind is at its most creative on waking from sleep, and I've experienced that to be true. So this afternoon I was interested to notice, on waking up from an extremely rare nap, that I was plotting. Or rather, I was interested to discover *what* I was plotting.

There are a number of rents now in the curtain that divides me from my novel, and one or two actual holes where I can look through to the story unfolding on the other side. I can tell that the background work is nearly finished and my subconscious is getting ready to let me in.

But not yet. I woke up plotting more hats. It's taken many long years, and I still have anxious periods when I hope I'm doing right in taking this course, but overall I have learned to trust my brain. So, more hats it is. For now!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

... from the team at Procrastination Central!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reading list

A friend is reading The Devil in the White City (about nefariousness behind the scenes at the Chicago World Fair) and I'm thinking it sounds like a good read. So do the stack of New Yorkers sitting on my kitchen counter. I haven't read anything but knitting reference books and patterns for... gosh, I think it's more than a month.

Maybe this year, my valentine to myself should be a nice long lie down with a good book and a plate of chocolates. *That's* something I haven't done in... wow, seven years at least. I'm due, don't you think? Probably if I had the combined goodness of chocolate and words flowing into my brain at the very same time, all the right words for my novel would magically unfold there and I'd just have to type them.

I'd better get busy on these hats, yeah? If only to clear the sofa.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blossom Dearie

Being a little slow, I did not realize that Blossom Dearie passed away a few days ago, and I was selfishly sad to hear it even though she did die in her sleep at home, which is not such a bad way to go.

I can't remember when I heard Blossom the first time, but I quickly adopted her piano and sweet, crisp voice as the perfect background for reading, writing, and dinnerpartying. I suspect none of this would have pleased her: apparently she did not hesitate to ask people to be quiet while she performed. Still, I meant no disrespect by my multitasking, and I did often hang on her every word, even when I was technically doing something else. Everything is nicer with her voice in the room.

For years I hoped to celebrate publishing a whole novel by going to Manhattan and hearing her at Danny's Skylight Room, where she was performing not infrequently and, in fact, gave her last performance in 2006 before it closed up shop... so the loss of that dream hurts, too. But you have to be grateful for a life that yielded so much wonderful music and so much positive influence on other musicians, don't you? Not to mention the tidiest assessment of adjectives you could ever hope to hear.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Be careful what you wish for

Here I am deep in the throes of discractionary tactics and what happens? Exactly what I'd hoped would happen: one of my characters is talking to me again. Nothing to the purpose - nothing that will help me move her forward - but still. She's talking.

And I have so many hats to knit!

Maybe this is a polite warning that I need to get moving and finish them off... or maybe the dam is about to burst and this is the equivalent of a fire alarm.

Either way, kind of nice, isn't it?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gotta have the bread

Yesterday was procrastination-free: I was so busy I had to multitask my wicket cold with about a million other things, including the urgent mixage-uppingness of bread dough. And it occurs to me that while I have mentioned here my most amazing bread recipe - easy, delicious, and freezer-friendly - I haven't shared any yeast-management tips.

First up, use a wide bowl for the water over which you will be scattering your yeast. If it's too narrow some of it will get clumped up on top in a traffic jam that keeps some from getting wet and melty. Poke it down into the water and it will cluster together in a panic, the outermost yeasts sacrificing themselves to keep the innermost ones dry (and believe me, they will stay dry no matter how much you mix them with gooey flour.) If you try to get around the problem by straining the resulting mess into the flour, avoid spilling it all over the counter. But even if you do, odds are good it will still rise very well, particularly if you set a bowl large enough to completely cover your loaf pan full of dough. Here is the handiwork of my 32-cup Tupperware thingy under just such conditions:

I don't think I've used the giant bowl for much else, but it's so great for this that I've never regretted buying it. Now get out there and bake some bread - if not to eat, then to make your house smell great!

Monday, February 9, 2009

My word

The other day I was looking something up in the dictionary and was stopped in my tracks by a word I'd never heard or seen: plagal. It's an adjective, a musical term meaning 'having the keynote on the fourth scale step', when referring to church mode, or 'progressing from the subdominant chord to the tonic' when referring to cadence.

And it suddenly struck me: there must be a lot of terms completely natural to people in my community who specialize in areas other than mine - terms that are completely foreign to me. It's like there's a closed world with a coded language out there that even having so many musicians in the family, plus a dictionary, can't help me decipher. I mean, honestly, was I supposed to have a clue what either of those definitions meant?

At the same time, few of the words common to my existence are likely to be foreign to others. Chocolate, procrastination, naps, warm socks... there's nothing in there that other people around me can't recognize. I find this one-sided distance very interesting even if it does turn out to be a reflection on my intelligence. And you know I am totally remembering 'plagal' next time I play Scrabble.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bacon and pancakes and tea, oh my

Oh, how I love a rainy Saturday with nothing whatsoever scheduled and sufficient forethought to have bought bacon and bakery bread and bagels yesterday, when it was sunny and lovely outside. Today will be a big melt with giant pools lapping at the edge of every sidewalk, and I'm delighted to be staying home (as far as I know), and to have happy rubber boots if I decide to go out after all.

Yes, yes. Bread, bagels, pancakes... obviously I'm not a low-carb girl. I probably won't have them all in one sitting though. I don't think.

Will I write today? Almost certainly not. Will I finish my editing assignment? I hope so, but maybe I will take the day off, at least until 8pm when panic sets in. Will I knit? I can guarantee it. And I'll read books about knitting too. Dontcha just love a rainy Saturday?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Knitting - it's a lot like writing

Welcome to the Friday edition of Mary Justifies Knitting Instead of Writing Her Novel:

Hi, I'm Mary, and I just finished sorting out all my knitting needles. It's like they breed, plus people keep bringing them to me. The executor of a distant relative's will, the mailman, after an eBay free-for-all I don't quite recall the details about... people like that.

But I noticed something while piling up the 12 pairs of 6mm needles and the 8 pairs of 3.75mm needles - something even more interesting than the cluster of needles between those two sizes, a social commentary on the need for instant knitting gratification only big needles provide (or perhaps a clue that these needles are mid-80s vintage, when big sweaters were hot.) What I noticed was this: no two pairs of the 6mm needles were alike. They were plastic or metal, red or green, long or short... and that's sort of like fiction, isn't it? There are only so many plots, and they're made fresh and different by their context. Isn't that magical and rich and meaningful?

Stay tuned for next week's installment, in which Mary will invite her knitting needles to write her novel for her and be turned down flat.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Distraction of the day

I don't enjoy shopping like I used to (I used to walk for half a day from one clothing and/or shoe store to the next, for entertainment - the mind still boggles.) And I guess it's a sad reflection on the ever-increasing proximity between me and grownuphoood that the kind of shopping I enjoy now is related, often, to organizational aids.

Specifically, knitting needle organizational aids. And needles, since I keep losing the sizes I need under piles of in-progress projects, and for some reason am needing multiple sets of particular sizes. I did inherit a bunch of needles, and I bought a huge mixed lot on eBay once to get my favourite vintage plastic ones, but I've still managed to have huge gaping holes in my supply.

Between that and Karen posting about her various Wicked Witchy yarn purchases (and no, I'm not linking to that blog post, it's too painful because I'm sure that yarn is no longer available for slowpokes like me) and enticing me into long hunts for hand-dyed yarns on Etsy, I'm sort of shopping a lot. I mean, what else is there to do when the house is clean and the words aren't coming on the novel and the hats on the needles are ready for me to pick them up as soon as my editing job is done? Oh, right. The editing job! That's what I was doing! Never mind...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

On the bright side...

Binnie posted something in her blog yesterday that is staying with me - essentially, that she made about a million hats recently and then suddenly wrote two short stories (which I read, and they were excellent.) I too have made about a million hats and then suddenly wrote pattern ideas for more hats, which I've been knitting. Sort of the same thing I suppose, except that the art is taking on different forms.

(see what I'm doing there? reinforcing the concept that art is art and makes more art instead of facing the cold hard fact that I'm not obeying rule number one of writing fiction, which is to sit in the chair and stay there no matter what? Such a clever girl I am.)

Aaaanyhoo, Binnie's remarks give me hope that the solution to my problem with my two characters will resolve itself as the hats dry up, and instead of sitting with determination in the chair, I won't be able to force myself out of it. That, however, is not the bright side I meant by the title. The bright side is I can only knit for so long before being overwhelmed by how badly the house needs cleaning. So today, my house is clean. Hurrah!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Today's excuse

...not that I need a reason, since we've established that I procrastinate, right?

I am not going to write today, fiction or otherwise, because it is a designated knitting day. I've earned it! and also there's a hat I really want to make, though frankly I would just knit random stitches as long as I can do it with the grass green/yellow wool I bought on Sunday. I need some spring in my brain.

But also, I noticed that even when I'm not writing more of my stories (and MAN how I wish I could say that and mean soap operas, which I think would just be a blast to write for once you got past all the politics and egos and sixty years of backstory that every viewer is guaranteed to remember) I am writing this blog. And believe me, the process of distilling random thoughts into one cohesive message and condensing it to less than two hundred words is writing. So, ha. I'm done! and now I can knit with abandon, when not sniffing around the kitchen for something holiday-like and not at all sensible. Or, you know, shoveling snow.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Unfinished murals

Deep breath. No, I didn't work on the novel all weekend. I did want to, though. Is that a start?

Well, too bad if it is, because I can sense another delay tactic on the horizon. If you've been to my website recently you may have noticed this in the upper left corner:

It is, coincidentally, the upper left corner of The Unfinished Mural in my living room. And over the past few weeks, perhaps because I had to move the furniture so it wasn't blocking the radiator when the first cold snap hit, I've been noticing the unfinishedness of it all, and thinking I might need to buy a new jar of Mod Podge (surely the old one can't still be functional after two years?) and get it done already. It's a peaceful task, decoupaging a mural... some scissor work, and messy hands, and the satisfaction of making art without having to be any good with a pen or a brush. And no editing to speak of either, because glue is glue, and will not be argued with.