Friday, December 2, 2016

Book Review: The Illustrated Book of Sayings

I think language is so fascinating.  Words have so much power and history.  They evolve.  They're born and grow right along with us.  I think that is incredibly nifty.My favorite radio program is A Way With Words on NPR.  I find the origins and development of our common phrases, expressions, idioms, etc. just endlessly interesting.  There is always something new to learn.

I've done fairly extensive personal "research" on a few linguistic queries that caught my interest.  For example, asking everyone who crosses my path what name they give when every soda from a soda fountain is mixed together into one (usually gross) concoction.  I grew up calling it a, "graveyard," as did every single person I've asked from my hometown in eastern Montana.  Matt, who grew up in southcentral Montana, calls it a, "suicide."  Almost every Billings native does the same.  I've only met one person who called it a "kamikaze."

Another one I like to ask about is based on the song "There's a Hole In My Bucket."  I like to ask people what names they associate with that song.  Almost universally people recall the woman's name to be Liza--though I have gotten one lone Martha.  However, there is rather wide discrepancy about the name of the male character.  Most often he is called Henry, however I grew up saying Georgie.  Georgie is decidedly less common--Sesame Street's rendition is well known and uses the name Henry.  Henry is also likely closer to the original--Heinrich, from back in the song's German ancestry.  Though it is worth noting that the earliest recording of the text leaves the man without a name.  (Here is the wikipedia entry, which is pretty decent though could use some more citations.) It intrigues me to no end that both my sisters sing the song as Henry, while I alone sing it as Georgie.  We grew up together.  We watched Sesame Street together.  We had the same music teacher.  We had the same pre-school and kindergarten teachers.  Yet, we say it differently.  I find this, perhaps, more intriguing than it really is.

Or like how my mom pronounces the work coupon with a strong Q sound rather than a "coo" sound, but I do the opposite.

The other day I was reading one of my Newbery Challenge books and the author used what I found to be a peculiar expression.  She was describing a nosy aunt.  Rather than using something along the lines of "She was always sticking her nose where it doesn't belong/into other people's business," the author used the metaphor of "putting her finger into [the] family pies."  I'd never heard that one before.

Stuff like that just fascinates me.

So, it was with all of this in mind that I picked out The Illustrated Book of Sayings: Curious Expression From Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders.
It was a cool read.  Each idiom has an accompanying illustration and is spelled out in both the native language and in English.  The art was simple, but pleasant.  It has the feeling of children't art, but is slightly more stylized than that in a way that also reminds me of vintage posters (think: WPA posters and old war propaganda).
Several of the expressions I adore and want to adopt into my own speech, either because they are adorable or tremendously spot-on.

"Not my circus, not my monkeys," is something Polish speakers might say to mean, "Hey, not my problem."  That one is probably my favorite.

There was also "You are my orange half," to mean soulmate, counterpart, other half in Spanish.

"He knows as much about it as a hen knows about the alphabet," as a barb Hungarians use against someone who is discussing something they clearly know little about.

" look at the radishes from underneath," is a German expression about the dead that essentially matches our "pushing up daisies."

Only one expression, from England, had I heard of previously, something my dad says, "Mind your Ps and Qs."  The rest were all fully new to me.
In addition to giving an approximate translation of each expression the text offers brief tidbits about the culture or country from which the idiom originates.  It is not in depth at all, but might be a jumping off point for learning more.  For example, the author talks about the positive symbolism of cats in Japanese culture.  Apparently cats are very common in Japanese expressions.  I'd like to learn more about that, cat-worshiping person that I am.
My only complaint was that the text was on the left page and the illustration--and idiom--were on the right page.  Several times I found myself reading the text without having read the saying it accompanied.  I eventually got into the habit of reading the right page first, but it felt very backwards to me.  Perhaps this is all part of the book's multicultural charm--reading from right to left.  Or perhaps it was just an oversight in the design and layout.

In addition to teaching me new sayings from around the world this book prompted me to do some pondering on American idioms.  It was the Farsi expression, "I will eat your liver," which really did it.  One the surface that seems like a very odd way of expressing deep care and love for a person.   Then I stopped to think about some of my commonly used American expressions.  Some are rather straight forward or sweet and charming.  Others, now that I stopped to think about it, were also a bit odd.  Like when I say I love someone to pieces.  Also, I must set out to discover where the phrase, "the apple of his eye," comes from...

All in all, a neat little book.

Disclaimer:  I got a copy of this book for free through the Blogging for Books program.  The review and opinions here are my own and were not influenced by that fact.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

No-Shop November, in Review

No-Shop November went pretty dang well.  And fast--so fast!
Food was really no problem--we've got that down pat.  It is actually pretty neat to create deliciousness from the things already in the cupboard or fridge.  It encourages me to approach meals in a different light.  I tried several new recipes which I intend to share after perfecting them a bit.  We did end up using every single grain of sugar in the house.  Straight out of the gate Matt started a batch of wine which ate up most of what we had on hand.  We should have thought of that!  Still, there was just enough for dessert yesterday and today is December.  Good thing.  I need to bake sugar cookies for an end-of-semester party on Friday.  We shall buy sugar today.  (Also, some mod podge and some Christmas presents, too.)
There were only a handful of things we ran out of--sugar, cornstarch, Earth Balance.  We almost ran out of soap, but I made a batch that was cured and ready to use just in the nick of time.
This year we expanded the scope of our No-Shop experiment to include all spending.*  While not quite as smooth as the food portion this still went fine, though with improved planning I know we could do better.
In the end we made six purchases:
#1  A Shutterfly photo album of our Washington Megavacation.
(We remembered that we had a coupon for a free book which expired 12/1.  We had to pay for postage.)

#2  A flashing taillight for Matt's bicycle
(We bought a headlamp and taillight set up for Matt because, with time change, he is cycling a lot in the dark.  We used a gift card he got for his birthday for the bulk of it, but we did have to drop a bit of cash, too.  We saw no reason for him to be cycling around unsafe for a couple weeks though so we just went ahead and bought it.)

#3  Two short sections of plastic tubing for beer brewing
(Matt misplaced his tube and went to the store to replace it--the beer needed re-racked No-Shop November or not.  He actually bought the wrong gauge and so had to make a second trip for the correctly sized piece.)

#4  A bucket and nylon sack, also for brewing
(Matt started too many fermented beverages at once.  These were required for a certain stage of the rhubarb wine and all our vessels were already full!  Ooops.  Poor planning on our part.)

#5  A cup of tea, bowl of fruit, breakfast potatoes, and toast at a local restaurant
(I was invited to a birthday brunch with some girlfriends.  I didn't want to say no to the occasion just because of I went.  I justified it to myself in that I'd intended to go out to a $10 concert the night before and had opted to skip it for a game night in with friends.  So, either way I was spending that $10.)

#6  I signed up for a fitness program.
(This whole gym thing will probably be a post unto itself, but for now I'll just say I found a trainer I like this fall and spent eight weeks working with her.  She has a six week follow-up program that started yesterday.  So, I had to pay for it yesterday.)
*For clarity and full disclosure I'd like to, again, list our designated exceptions to the No-Shop November experiment--concert tickets, beer while out and about, and gasoline.  
So, that is that.
And now we're taking the money we saved over the past month and dropping it as a lump payment on my student loan.  I think 2016 might be the last year I have one of those hanging over my head...  That would be cool.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

My Ransom Note Dayplanner

Over the summer I suffered a technological mishap that resulted in quite a few lost files.  One would think I'd have learned to back up things by now--and I have--just not as frequently as I should.  My previous back up was a couple years old.  So...a lot of things just disappeared.  Like our most up-to-date Scrabble stats, say, or the template for my homespun, recycled dayplanner.

And it is the time of year where I need a new planner.  (I am lost without my planner to guide me.)  I found myself jotting down a growing list on the last page of December 2016 of concerts, meetings, dental appointments, etc.  that are, somehow, scheduled for a 2017 that is astonishingly close.  But, my old template was gone, a casualty of the mishap.  It was just something basic I'd pulled off the web and so that was where I went to find a replacement.
As I was scrolling through different free options I realized that I could seize this opportunity to get creative and make my own.  And a cooler one at that.  So, I did.
I don't know where the ransom note idea came from, but I really like it.  It is playful and bright, quirky and still easy to read.  I enjoyed hunting out the letters and laying them out in an attractive arrangement.  Johnny made herself quite a pest trying to help me with all these scraps of paper, but I persevered.  The birds I clipped from a renewal reminder for Audubon magazine, but everything else came from an outdated issue of Time.  All cast off things, destined for the recycle bin at the library where I work.
I sketched out the boxes and pasted down the letters, making one master copy.  I then printed out copies on (the gazillion) pages that students have left behind in the printer at the library.  This not only makes the dayplanner more eco-savvy, but frequently provides interesting things to look at from aviation traffic signals to English papers.  Often enough though the backside is just gobbledygook.
I have a smallish (9 inches x 7 inches) three ring binder which I use for containing my planner pages.  It is something I picked up secondhand and it has served me at least three years now.
I like it.  I like it a lot.  Maybe there was at least one upside to the digital malfunction.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

So-Called Snickers Cheesecakes

I have two sisters by birth and a third by the Catholic church.  RaeLeigh was born nine months before me.  Both her parents were work associates of both of my parents.  In addition they were friends--Catholic friends at that.  So it follows that my parents are her Godparents and RaeLeigh, an only child, got the three of us as her sisters.  And we added her to our elaborate Barbie dramas and to the staff when playing "Office."
She and I were very close as kiddos, grew apart as we matured, and have rediscovered each other's awesomeness as adults.  And we've fallen into a pattern of getting together every couple of months for some of what I call our "kooky, health baking," even though I don't think we've actually baked anything.  We tend toward freezer desserts.  RaeLeigh finds a recipe online and we converge at her apartment for a session of gab as we mix and measure in the kitchen.
Our creations are the sort with designations like, "No Gluten/ Dairy/ Eggs/ Soy/ Refined Sugar, etc."  Dang are they tasty though.  Who needs sugar when you've got a third of a cup of maple syrup?!  Dates and walnuts make an astonishingly yummy crust.  Seriously.  It is amazing stuff.  I was surprised.
Kooky, health baking is awesome.  One caveat on that:  Don't be fooled by that "date caramel" bit.  That is just date puree--I don't care what she calls it.  That is not caramel at all.  I'd skip it and just swirl in a bit more of that melted chocolate.  Or, use some real caramel sauce!  Or go with the kooky date sauce, if that floats your boat.  😉
To expedite the freezing processes and otherwise make our lives easier we made mini-cheesecakes in cupcake tins.  That worked swell.
It has been too long since I've had a Snickers to really gauge these so-called Snickers Cheesecakes in that regard.  They were scrumptious though.  I can say that unequivocally.  The coconut cream makes for a smooth, rich mouthfeel.  The chocolate and peanuts merge in that heavenly pairing that is chocolate-peanut.  It is sweet, but with just a hint of salt to make all the flavors sing.  All in all, a decadent little treat.
Find the whole recipe here at the Minimalist Baker.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sewing Salons

Just over a year ago my friend Kris and I hosted the very first Sewing Salon.  The idea was (and is) a simple one:  host a public sewing group once a month as a means of fostering friendship, community, and offering support to others as they learn to sew or practice new techniques--with snacks!  It would be a place where newbies could come and have someone help them out when they were uncertain and experienced folks could come tackle a big project without the distractions of home.
A little backstory:  My mom organizes Quilting Retreats a couple times a year with her friends and sisters and mom, etc.   A space is rented and it is like a weekend-long slumber party/sewing marathon.   It is a jolly good time and we all get a lot done in an environment that is so dedicated to creativity.  I've blogged about my mom's retreats here, here, and here.

Kris and I wanted something like that in our lives on a regular basis.  So, we reserved a space at Kris's church and sent out an email and a Facebook event to a smattering of friends.  I was a bit hesitant about the whole thing initially.  A monthly sewing group seemed right up my alley for ATTENDING.  But, for organizing?!  Oh, I was much less certain about that.  I mean, it's not like I am a sewing expert or anything.   Who am I  to host a sewing group?    What sort of responsibilities would I be taking on?  Besides, who would even come?
But, despite my tendency to overthink things, I could tell it was a good idea.  An idea that would fill a little gap in our creative community.  Plus, Kris has the energy and spirit to convince me to give just about anything a try.  Looking back on the past year of salons I feel that it has proven to be a success, too.  The average attendance is about six, I'd say, but it varies from session to session.  Other people seem to enjoy it, to look forward to it even.  I certainly do.  It is such a kind, supportive group of people, many of whom I didn't know before we started these Salons.

I've learned about making rag rugs, t-shirt yarn, felting wool, embroidery, darts (!), and so much more.  I've eaten too much and laughed just the right amount.
Community starts like this, I think.  A good idea, a couple people to baby it along, and a following that comes together to make it all worthwhile.  I'm so pleased with our little sewing community.  I'm delighted to watch it grow.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: Hello, Bicycle

I realized I couple of things while reading Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life by Anna Brones.
First, I'd like to take a cycling-camping trip.  I can only imagine the satisfaction from cycling to a location, setting up camp, enjoying the night, and pedaling home again.  It would be the satisfaction of backpacking--and then some.  I told Matt I am going to look into this.  Surely there are places to camp that are a reasonable cycling distance away.
Second, I'd like to organize a group ride with my pals.  I know I have friends that cycle.  I don't know why it never occurred to me to see if they'd want to all cruise somewhere together.  I can see good times ahead.

Overall though, I didn't find Hello, Bicycle all that useful.  Maybe I've been cycling too long; I've been a cycle commuter (a term that seems too over-the-top to cover my five miles a day) for a decade or so.  Perhaps if I'd stumbled across it in the mid-2000s I'd have gotten more ground-breaking, eye-opening info out of it.
I do think it would be a good starter book for a budding cyclist--or someone who wants to take cycling to a new level.  The author takes the reader through buying a bicycle, accessories that are required, such as helmets and lights, and some very basic bicycle maintenance.  I had to smile a little over the written instructions and diagrams for changing a flat tire.  I think that is something that one just has to do, in order to get it.  Written out it seems like a snap--which is not how I remember my first experience changing a flat.  Still.  Gotta start somewhere.  Also included are a few recipes, tips for different types of cycling (commuting, downhill, exercise, cycling with kids), and a good list of resources and cycling groups.  I might have to take part in 30 Days of Biking this year!  I do love personal challenges and all.
I am torn about how to describe this book.  I found it a bit pretentious, but at the same time it seemed it was written for someone very much like me--someone who goes to the market and comes home with kale and baguette in their bicycle basket.  This left me pondering my own potential pretentiousness.  I liked the quaint, almost-vintage looking illustrations.  I especially like the empowering language--even when it did smack of pretension.  I have to credit Anna Brones with spelling out all the ways that cycling--and an active cycling culture--is a good thing.  I mean, I generally think of my commute as my daily exercise and not much more.  Anna made me realize that I am not only improving my health and being eco-savvy, but am also helping the economy and even reducing our dependence on foreign oil, too.   "Cycling is patriotic!" she says.  I did love that.   I also didn't ever give much thought to how bicycles helped women gain a greater equality with their male counterparts.  Like so many things, what seems simple might have a lot more going on if one follows along through the pages of history.
That is sort of the broad theme of the book, I'd say--that bicycles are revolutionary.  They're simple, easy to maintain, affordable and can be customized into whatever a person wants--from speedy road bicycles to workhorse cargo bikes.  In a world dominated by car culture, Anna Brones proudly, excitedly encourages a (growing) alternative lifestyle built around two wheels--and I like that view a lot.
(Even if she does make cycling in a skirt sound way harder than it is.  I dunno, maybe I just don't wear short enough skirts that this is a problem for me.  I do think the Penny in Yo Pants solution is pretty clever...even if I don't need it.)

All in all, I don't know how "inspired" this guide is.  It might be best suited for a novice or beginner cyclist, but even someone more experienced can sift out a nugget or two to tickle the imagination, open new doors.  The important part is that Hello, Bicycle makes a person want to get out and go for a ride.  So, I guess, it must be counted as a success because it certainly did so for me.

Happy cycling!!

Disclaimer:  I got a copy of this book for free from the Blogging for Books programs.  The review and opinions are my own and not influenced by that fact.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dress #20

For my 20th homemade dress I decided I should do something special.  I thought a unique dress was in order, not more of the same pattern (2174) which I make over and over and over.  Don't get me wrong.  This dress is just about perfect for me--so much so that it has essentially become my uniform...which makes it hard to invest time and energy into something else.  What if it didn't work out?!  What if I didn't like it as much?!  I eventually realized that I was probably just pigeonholing myself, both stylistically and in my sewing skill-set.  So, I decided that Dress #20 had to be something different.
My trusty, ol' Simplicity 2147.  I've made more than a dozen of these.
I waited until Simplicity patterns were on sale for $.99 at Jo-Ann Fabrics.  I bought two new patterns with the 20th dress in mind--not at all sure when I'd get around to actually making said 20th dress.  One pattern (1800) is so similar to My Dress that, while I am sure I will love it, I ultimately decided it just wouldn't do for Dress #20.
The other pattern was this one.
Instead of just coasting with what I know (er, that would be the 2174) I realized I should see it as an opportunity to branch out and learn a new skill or two and maybe challenge myself.

I'd been eyeing the Simplicity 1950's vintage remake pattern for some time online, but always brushed it off as not-the-sort-of-dress-I'd-make.  It has no pockets and has darts for heaven's sake.  My only previous attempt at darts went terribly.  So terribly the dress remained less than half-made and squirreled away in the sewing room closet for the last couple of years.  I don't think I've ever made a dress without pockets before, except that Little House Halloween costume, which I don't even count as one of my dresses, since it hasn't migrated into everyday wear.  The 1459's full skirt is lined, which intrigued and intimidated me.  The few skirts/dresses which I own that are lined are quite nice.  The drape and flow is lovely, even with leggings underneath.  But, it wasn't something I'd ever tried before.  There were button holes and a fabric belt to make, too!  Lots of new or almost-new territory for me.
And so I plunged in.  Conveniently my mom was in town and helped coach me through making darts.  She had some tricks (like Tailor Tacks) for me that really, really helped even things out.  The darts aren't perfect, but they're close enough.
I finished it this past weekend at a sewing retreat I attended with my moms (my mom and Matt's mom) and some friends.  It turned out very well.  I adore the full skirt, especially.  Oh, how it twirls!!  I cannot wait to go dancing.
I had to adjust the sleeves for my "heavy" arms.  This is the term used in my pattern alteration book.  I just winged in on the matching fabric belt and probably should have used a stiffer interfacing as the belt gets folded and wrinkled from my sitting down.  Lining the skirt was a snap and I think I shall have to line my skirts from now on.  I ended up sewing the button placard closed.  I quite dislike gapping between button holes and this dress really could stand three buttons, rather than the suggested two, I think.  Live and learn.    The buttons matched the dress swell.  They even look kinda vintage.  The huge, wide collar is a lot of fun, if you ask me.
This is the first time I've had to go shopping for dress making supplies in order to complete a project.  I think, possibly the first time ever.  I get everything gifted to me or pick it up randomly at garage sales without a specific project in mind.  I actually had to set out for matching buttons and lining fabric this time though.  Even still, it was a dress that cost about $10.
Honestly,  I don't know that I'll make the pattern again.  However, I am going to take things the pattern taught me and run with it.  Things like, lining skirts and making bodices with darts.  I might make a mash-up dress with a 2174 bodice on a twirly 1459 skirt--with pockets!  The world is my oyster.