the ship has turned

I try not to complain too much in this space, but if you know me in person (ahem, Duchessers on the opening weekday shift), you've heard me air more than a few grievances over the last two-and-a-half years.  It has been really hard. By 'it', I mean all of it, or what has seemed like all of it. And by 'hard' I mean nigh on unbearable.

There has been the (naively unexpected) struggle to stand up under the weight of adult responsibilities. Owning, keeping, and renting a house is, it turns out, more than we signed up for. When mushrooms started growing out of the baseboards in my study last spring, I thought that I might have finally reached the end of my rope. Then the rain in August happened; we left in the middle of the night and over four months later returned home. I lost most of my garden last year. I almost lost my most important person. There has been the battle to keep our relationship healthy, alive, existent--and I spent much of the winter battling against Tim rather than for him. I did damage that terrifies me. There has been a five-year history of panic attacks, anxiety, and depression to start recovering from, and redeeming, and this has seemed like a doomed project. In January I wrote: the more I notice my problems, the more I delve into my own mind, the harder it is to act normal. I feel like I am giving body to a latent, restless ghost of craziness which has just been waiting in my head for me to fully incarnate it. There's been the daily pressure of living on a low income. There's been the daily impossible decision to try to produce creative work when I could be earning money instead. There's been this incredibly long, drawn-out quest for a bachelor's degree, and a point last August when I thought I'd decided I wouldn't finish it. There have been fucking long winters. There have been hopes and plans buried alternately under clutter, under snow, under raw sewage, under red tape, under the covers, under pages of lists, under my own hands.

--------

On Tuesday morning, Tim and I had just returned from the mountains. Tim's parents, who had been keeping Simpkin for us, were supposed to be delivering him home any minute. Tim sat down at his desk, looked at his screen and said, "Lizzie, you are really, really not going to like this". I knew instantly. A window screen had come off in the night; Simpkin was gone; they'd only just noticed. Tim's mum came to pick us up so we could search and call for him.

Is is my temperament, or the sympathy-enabling super-connectivity of the world, or a human penchant for rehearsing grief that made it familiar? I felt I could have been the one reading the email to Tim. I knew it all. I knew that within days I would be at a vet or the SPCA to identify a piece of roadkill that had once been the sweet, brave cat I once adopted. I would not have been surprised to see a bloody, furry lump on the side of the street in St. Albert where Tim's parents live.

Except that right now, Simpkin is asleep on our bed and has been all day.

When we got to St. Albert, we were out of the car and calling. I looked under cars, tried to look through the planks into neighbors' backyards, looked under bushes and porches. I circled the block. It started to get hot and I started to feel sick. There was a forecast for temperatures above 30 C. We searched the overgrown backyard again. The shed. The room downstairs with the open window in case he came back. Then I sat on the front steps and cried. Tim brought me water and made Simpkin an entry in a missing pets database. We decided to print off a poster with a picture Tim's sister had taken before Simpkin disappeared, then go home. The printer wasn't working. We ate bowls of Vector cereal and Tim went downstairs to try to print from the desktop computer. I went back outside. I looked under the shed again. Tim came out, holding a printed sheet. "I  don't know if this is any good--he looks black." I heard something and called, interrupting Tim. I heard it again. I called. Tim said, "I think it's a bird, but try again." A sad, cracking quack more than a meow. We thrashed aside raspberry canes. I went around to check the other side of the patch, and when I ran back Tim was holding a spitting, hissing Simpkin aloft. I ran inside for the crate while Tim pinned him down--Tim's mum had been watching from the window and was already handing it to me at the door of the bathroom. We let Simpkin into the crate and took him inside to recover. My anger and muteness toward Tim's mum had disappeared. Everything could be good again. We brought him home, cleaned his ears, sprayed him with water for heat exhaustion. Here he is. He is fine.

"I'm so glad I went back outside. He might have died of exposure--it was so hot and those bushes are so thick."

"Yes. It would have been sad to find a little cat skeleton out there in the winter when the foliage died back."

I almost howled at the thought.

--------

Of course, I was convinced that we had not only lost Simpkin, we were once again being made calamity's bitch. But I think there has been a change.

Today my grandparents on my mum's side stopped by to tell me that they are distributing some of the proceeds from the sale of their house in town. Later in the week I will be receiving several thousand dollars. First I thought: This is the beginning of the end. They are sharing out portions of their estate. On the heels of my premature feelings of fear and grief and (already) denial: an inappropriate, wild sense of relief. Something good has happened. And I thought: This is the beginning. The ship is beginning to turn. After this torturous year, someone has come to my rescue. Someone is easing this weight on me. Now things are possible. 

(It is characteristic of my grandparents to come to my rescue.) The money means that I can pay off my student loan and my credit card and still have enough left over to cover my next semester of tuition--because I am going back to school in September. If I get my usual grant from the government, most of the year's tuition will be paid for. I can almost certainly graduate without debt.

For now, I am reeling. I am tempted to chastise myself for these past months of bitterness and despair, but I mostly just want to share the good--fantastic, lovely, iridescent, delicious--news. Thanks for sticking with me. Sailing on.

xx Lizzie

dovetails


A few weeks ago, Tim held a tiny dovetails class for me and my friend Teng.


After two hours, the three of us had cooperatively produced this corner.



By now I have justified adding woodworking to my list of skills-to-practice. I want to make a box.

Observe the Japanese saw I bought six years ago--the green one--and have used for the first time this summer. 

like a cinnamon bun and a doughnut and a raisin croissant rolled into one

I came home the other day to find a gigantic plumbing bill and the almost equally gigantic cinnamon roll that Tim had made to console me. I forgot all of my landlording woes as soon as we started eating it, and supper that night consisted of gooey delicious cinnamon roll--and beer. Tim generously took notes and pictures; I am here this morning to share them with you.

The finished product shown below is actually the imitation I attempted yesterday, since I Needed More.

Mine is Very Good, but just barely Not Quite as Good, since I forgot the Egg (all-important).

Cinnamon Raisin Roll

Put two handfuls of raisins in a bowl with boiling water to soften. Set aside.

Combine in a large mixing bowl:
120 g (1/2 cup) warm water
60 g (1/4 cup) milk
4 g (1 tsp) salt 
4 g (1 tsp) dry yeast
20 g (5 tsp) sugar
1 egg

Melt:
40 g (3 tblsp) salted butter

Add to mixing bowl:
melted butter
320 g (2 and 1/3 cups) white flour

Mix well and knead for ~10 minutes by hand or with a mixer and dough hook.

Let rise, covered, until doubled.



Preheat oven to 375 F.

Roll out with rolling pin into large rectangle. Brush with more melted butter. Sprinkle generously with brown or white sugar, cinnamon, and raisins.



Roll up lengthwise into cylindrical loaf. Slashing optional.



Bake on cookie sheet covered with silicon baking mat or parchment paper. Loaf is done when lightly browned on top and internal temperature ~180 F. (Or use your usual bread-testing method.)








nerd



Tim and I have become obsessed with the first two seasons of the BBC's Sherlock. When I found a fair isle chart on Ravelry for the motif from Benedict Cumberbatch's wallpaper, I remembered that Tim wanted a sock for his tablet, and cast on immediately.

(Raveled here.)

Remember that this was also a good day

Tim and I finally took off to explore the North Saskatchewan river. We didn't make it past the city limits (I wanted to), but we are planning to go again before it snows. We feel mostly aimless these days, which can be awful and lethal, but also allows for spontaneous adventures, late nights, supper with friends, coffee with friends, frivolous reading.

Our Germany plans are coming together. I feel finished with this place. I'm satisfied to soak up what's left and then leave the rest. 



Hello again


I waited and waited to get some decent pictures before posting; but friends, I felt lonely. Here is the news. It is summer now. I haven't settled into the productive routine I had planned out for myself. I am not used to so many cafe shifts. Days of exertion and too much sun have left my body complaining. My sit bones are bruised from my bicycle, my hands are swollen from digging, my arms are sunburned, my back aches. So far, the potatoes are planted and the beds are dug. Seeds have been purchased. I'm reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. We ordered a lawnmower and bought blueberry bushes to plant under the giant evergreen. I finished my dress and pair of plain socks. Tim and I spent the past two days in Calgary. The verdict on the micro-culture three hours away? Calgary's hipsters are slicker, cleaner, more expensive, and less collegiate. Less like young lumberjacks and fishwives. Calgary's restaurants are disarmingly good. Calgary contains more cyclists, more hills, more flowering trees. Calgary's streets are nonsensically numbered. Astonishingly enough, it's the first time we've been away together. Sitting in unfamiliar parks, bicycling a Google maps route, and walking into cafes where for once we were the ones who weren't sure of the lining-up and table busing procedures, I realized how much I want us to strike out on our own. I want us to make a city our own. I want to make an adventuresome and ambitious start. Did I tell you we are thinking about Germany? 


For now, there is so much work to do.

Resolutions in February


- learn to make my own happiness (because it is not Tim's job, and because circumstances will not always be peachy)
It was paying to get my hair cut. Painting my toenails. Walking in the cemetery. Making a good effort at work. Spending time with friends, in spite of that fear that I am socially awkward. Drinking beer while making supper. Singing--which I hadn't really done since moving in with Tim. 




- complete one wearable sewn garment (hello brown paisley dress)
I actually have all the cutting and marking done. 

- master fair isle knitting (in order to make things such as this)
This is for March.

- remove makeup every night (this has never, ever been a habit--now that flossing is down, it's time)
Something of a fail. Must get back to this simple thing.

- reach goal weight once and for all (140 pounds)
Indulge me while I digress for a moment. The more I think about this, the more I realize that what I want for my body is a hell of a lot more than a smaller number on the scale. I want to be really strong. I want to be able to run when I feel like it. I want to take a bike trip this summer. I want to feel good after eating. 

I am becoming attracted to the idea of more serious lifting. Since Christmas, with a lapse in the middle of February, I've been doing both strength training and short bouts of cardio. I feel amazing after lifting free weights, holding a long plank, actually feeling my chest touch the ground during a push-up. I adore my biceps. Today I squatted for the first time, holding one of the dumbbells Tim uses on his arms. 8 hours later, my whole body hurts in a very, very good way. 

- pay back money owed Tim (so very close)
Closer. Almost.

- pay off student loan (not so close)

- repair book cubes (damaged in the move last spring)

- further improve backyard (especially firepit, but also hope for fruit trees, removal of gravel, chopping of hoary huge evergreen)

- write something (anything) every day (this should be at the top of the list)
Like washing my face: so easy, so hard. I must, I must. And notes for poems too. 

- learn more about math and computing (calculus, number theory, Python)

- publish in at least one magazine (which means submitting)

- give excellent presents (better than last year)
My friend Amelia got married. I bought her this book. If that isn't a good present, I don't know what is. 

- apply for at least one "real" job (something outside the service industry, something challenging, something that utilizes my skills)

- properly repair bathroom ceiling and baseboards (and begin to learn about renovating a house)
I watched Tim repair a window frame, and watched Tim's Dad rip up three layers of lino and lay down tile. I have a lot to learn.

- play the violin again (Vivaldi's "Winter")

- learn more about baking bread (to begin: read the lovely book Laura got me for Christmas)
As you know, this is going well. I'm through the first chapter on basic doughs. I've started the sourdough chapter. 

- get a tattoo (at last at last)

- put more of myself into relationships (especially that relationship with one Tim Put)
It was continuing to talk. Trying very hard to nip passive aggression in the bud. Not spoiling Tim's birthday with impossible expectations, but leaving a miniature cherry pie at Transcend for him to find when he opened the cafe. Making friend dates.

- use my nice things (and remember that I have many)
It was yarn that had been "stashed" for a while, turned into a cowl and a sweater. Hoarded coconut milk turned into rice pudding, and saved butterscotch chips turned into cookies. A tiny handsewn notebook filled with grocery lists. A perfume bottle emptied. 




- make and repair more, and buy better and less (I need a darning egg)
Tim's sweater is done, after trials and tribulations. I'm in the middle of a mildly overwhelming repair/restoration that I hope to blog about this week. As mentioned, I repaired my rubber boots. 





Tim Put

Though we couldn't pin an exact date on it, this August marks five years of togetherness for me and Tim. And what do you know about him? Precious little! I should have mentioned these things long ago.


Firstly. Tim is smart.
As any of our friends or most casual acquaintances or the regulars at Transcend will tell you, even before they hear about his official IQ, he is, actually, a genius.
And he is good at explaining things.
He will help someone with their high school chemistry, and then turn around and talk protein spaces with a biologist.
He never politely acquiesces to someone he disagrees with, but neither does he ever launch a personal attack.
He is the least spiteful person I've ever known.
He does not take pleasure in other people's misfortune or degeneracy.
He does not take revenge.
He wants to help me with my projects, and his advice is sensible and perceptive.
Did you know he is a luthier?
He has made bass guitars and is working on a violin.
He's designed an espresso tamper that keeps a barista's wrist straight and prevents repetitive injuries.
Half our coffee friends have already ordered one.
He defends scientific ideas from abuse and misguided politics.
His knowledge is wide-reaching and coherently arranged; he will outline Godel's proof and then sum up its implications for epistemology and computing.
He makes delicious food.
He likes to play Age of Empires, Mario Bros., Portal, Halo, Zelda, Pokemon.
He's going into the last year of a BSc in Math, with a minor in Philosophy.
He's ridiculously good-looking.
He has forearms that make me swoon and he can get up past 50 km/hour on a bicycle and do one-handed push-ups.
He has coped with three years of my panic attacks.
He has helped me to stay sane.
He eats enormous bowls of oatmeal with strawberries and chocolate chips almost every day.
He knows a lot about electronics; he designed and built a pair of speakers.
He loves Brahms, Bach, Chick Corea, Dave Holland.
He introduced me to jazz.
He notices things.
He gives wonderful presents--both my pocket knife and my kitchen knife, 23 by Blonde Redhead, chemical handwarmers, most recently: an amazing box I plan to photograph and show you.
He's agreed to let me make him a sweater, and has this morning put up with repeated calls to come and look at some ravelry pattern or slightly different type of yarn.
At this moment he is researching the Edmonton protocol for rescuing stray cats.
He just mowed our endless lawn.
He likes the BBC as much as I do.
He has the softest hair.
He can play the acoustic, electric, and bass guitars.
He likes both Valrhona and the hot chocolate powder from Superstore.
He tells me about the things he reads.
He is excited about the new Mars probe.
He is the best person I know.

a paradigm shift: beauty (in which I make unstylish claims)


"The coats of arms that encrust those South German walls were once as simple as upside-down flat-irons with reversed buckets on top: at the touch of the new formula, each shield blossomed into the lower half of a horizontally bisected 'cello, floridly notched for a tilting lance, under a twenty-fold display of latticed and strawberry-leaf-crowned casques, each helmet top-heavy with horns or wings or ostrich or peacocks' feathers and all of the suddenly embowered in mantelling as reckless, convoluted and slashed as spatulate leaves in a whirlwind. The wings of eagles expanded in sprays of separate sable plumes, tails bifurcated in multiple tassels, tongues leapt from beaks and fangs like flames and inlaid arabesques. All was lambent."

- Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts, 99

Part 2. 

(Incidentally, in composing this post and the last, I seem to have tricked myself into doing some real writing. Having a clear goal in mind, the pressure lets up. Rather than to fabricate, vaguely, a perfect, core-shattering poem, I am trying to communicate a specific event of my recent mental life. With my ducks thus in a row, I can give myself up to wordsmithery; that is, to technique. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I think that--even though (in good writing) the medium becomes part of the message--when the message is clear in the author's mind, it becomes easier to mold it to a beautiful and expressive medium. Thorough understanding and better familiarity allows an author to judge what paraphrasing an idea will stand or be enhanced by, and what first-thought, gut-level words and expressions must remain.)

Reader, I am entranced with technique.

On Monday, July 2, I wrote:

Have, for two days, been reading the blogs of (knitting) pattern designers. I am getting my first glimpse of the techniques and mechanics of more sophisticated knitting (and, partly thanks to the blogs, partly thanks to Laura, of garment construction in general). I am entranced. This may be my equivalent to Tim's woodworking.

The best way to create the crotch seam in a pair of pants is amazing (you put one leg inside-out inside the other). I have just purchased my first sock pattern, and I can't wait to find out how to create a gusset. And fair isle sweaters--why did I blindly assume that a plain garter stitch sweater, like a steel and glass building or a plastic Eames chair, must be intrinsically more beautiful, have greater integrity? Decoration in the material arts is unfashionable, like form in poetry or adjectives in prose. Display of a technique rather than a bare concept is said to be gaudy. But why?

To approach from another angle: this marriage of mine is astonishing. The two years that Tim and I dated were one long, mutual interrogation. We talked philosophy more than anything else. What did the other think of ______? We were delighted to have discovered someone who felt the same way about almost everything, and we both felt that, on the subject of beauty, the mid-century modernists had it soundly and sacredly right. However. 

Maybe it was reading Donne, maybe it was the intricacy of my friend Justina's henna-inspired partial sleeve, maybe it was Patrick Leigh Fermor--his lavish writing and his memorized Latin odes, maybe it was all the lovely old houses in Old Strathcona, maybe it was admitting my love of medieval hymns and carols. By the time I started Hofstadter's book, I was already primed for a drastic change of feeling, but I did not want to bring it up with Tim. 

But I didn't really have to. Before I did, he showed me a seventeenth-century table on a woodworking site. 'Elaborate' is not quite a sufficient word. Then we started watching a three-part BBC series on the history of metal working in England, and by the time we had finished the first episode (silver), it was clear that both of us had been quietly revising our aesthetics for months, along almost identical lines, and simultaneously. 

"When two people live together intimately, each comes to understand the world to some extent in the way that the other does. Each imbibes the other's point of view, and over a period of years, another person's way of looking at the world has become internalized. One can now look out at the world with the other person's eyes, see it with their soul." 
- Douglas Hofstadter, Le Ton beau de Marot, 479


Tim sent me a link to this video about a week ago. Ignoring some of the dubious metaphysical claims, I think it is spot-on. 






a few items

Things feel so hopeful this evening. I thought I would give you a few items (what qualifies as news around here):

~ Our third rhubarb plant has pulled through a very rough transplanting indeed. After two weeks of flopping around in the mud, its stalks are finally perking up.

~ After intending to do so since our first year of university, when Tim took a course and brought home an intriguing textbook, I've been making my way through an introduction to mathematical proof-writing.

~ My friend Laura is coming over on Sunday, and we are going to sew harem pants like the ones all the women I saw in European airports last summer were wearing. And I can honestly say that I don't remember the last time I was so excited.  I need to buy some cotton print.

~ I bought peonies and a hydrangea for our empty front flower bed. Those huge, bobbing heads of flowers are hardly real. And I found sorrel at the same greenhouse. Sorrel! The herb that tastes like sour apples; I used to eat it out of my Mum's garden when I was six. She had an amazing garden that year, the first and the last for a long time. Now I'll plant it myself, beside the covered patio, and harvest handfuls for potato soup.

~ (We finally planted the potatoes. We were so late. I hope they come up.)

~ For the past ten days or so, I've been utterly drained, stripped to my nerves, emptied of all physical and emotional reserves. Eight-hour shifts have turned into tests of endurance. I've fallen off my bike once, and I spent all day yesterday in bed. Tim and I put our heads together, squinted at my inner eyelids, and diagnosed anemia due to iron deficiency. I don't think I've ever purchased red meat, since moving out of my parents' house, but the time has come.

~ Tim built our first fire in the backyard tonight. The flames ate around the rings in the wood.

~ I'm in the middle of purging and organizing the files and programs on my laptop. I've never done it before, and it's strange, to learn my way around this little machine that I've used every day for five years.