Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Flight Behavior: an appreciation

It should be obvious by this point that I think Barbara Kingsolver is the bee's knees. Not only is she a gifted writer but an advocate for the slow food movement and the queen mother of the modern day victory garden/farm return with her nonfiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which her family lives almost entirely off of the contents of their own backyard for the duration of a year with glowing success.

In the last few weeks, I have finished her latest novel, Flight Behavior. As a fiber enthusiast, I took particular delight in this particular Kingsolver publication. The main character, Dellarobia, is the wife of a man whose family is in the wool business. They keep a flock of ewes and there is a chapter early on dedicated to fleecing the flock and preparing the wool. Later, you see the mother-in-law dying wool in bright colors to sell at the local market.

That aside, Flight Behavior takes on global warming when a flock of butterflies shows up to winter in Appalachia instead of Mexico, while also tackling issues of race, class, educational inequality, and familial struggle. Despite its subject matter, the book gives equal value to its liberals and conservatives. Though the liberals get their bittersweet scientific evidence of climate change, perhaps my favorite chapter consists of the low-income conservative Dellarobia giving a snooping liberal tree hugger what-for. The man tries to harp on how "you people" need to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint. I may be a tree-hugging liberal, but let me just say that there is nothing so amusing as a privileged upper middle class citizen getting his come-uppance when he is forced to realize how the poor in this country live, or rather, live without. "Fly less," he suggests with reduced enthusiasm to a poor farmer's wife whose never even seen a commercial airliner in real life. It reminds me of the look I get from just about everyone when they learn that I still use a flip phone that does not receive text messages (though apparently, it will receive them within the next month).

Flight Behavior is the story of two different cultures colliding. It is the story of how the internet has made people less aware of social graces and the need for discretion. It is a story about how people survive and what they need to thrive, and it explains, in its own simple way, what progress offers and when it needs to be reigned in and replaced with the wisedom of an earlier age. It shows how the land can shape you if you let it, how the world effects us even when we don't want to see the change happening before our eyes. It's everything I would expect from Kingsolver with just enough of the unexpected mixed in.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Swatch avoidance and the third mother bear

Almost every knitting guidebook in existence tells of the importance of the swatch, that it will save heartache, that it will ensure a good fit to that future sweater, etc. etc., but I'll tell you something: I hate swatching. Just hate it. I hate it to the point that I will avoid swatching until I no longer want to make whatever it was I needed the swatch for in the first place, which, of course, means that I no longer have to swatch anymore. See how that works?

Because the blanket I'm making is also a pattern I'm developing as I go, I figured I'd avoided the need for a swatch once again. However, this was not to be. You see, after completing the first corn-inspired square of the Maize and Blue Stained Glass Blanket, I knew that it was too squat. I tried to justify the okayness of its wide rectangularity, but alas, deep within, I knew it would never be okay. Sighing, I unpicked the cast-off and completed two and a half more repeats of the pattern, resulting in a squarish rectangle that seemed much more up to snuff.

Then, I picked up stitches on the right-hand side of the rectangle, one for each row I knit up and I started on in garter stitch. Soon, it became apparent that something was very wrong. The two square was much wider that the first square was long, and the stitched spilled over on both ends of the first square. Obviously, this many stitches was too many, and I realized, with chagrin, that I would have to swatch. Then, I frogged the second square and put the first square, along with yarn and needles, in its project bag and read a book instead.

This behavior continued for many days, until I knew i had to end the procrastination. I had promised this blanket's completion and complete it, I will. With determination, I took out the yarn and needles and swatched a wide, short swatch. The height of the stitches didn't matter, as I could just cast off when I had reached the length specified in my sketched blanket blueprint, but I made sure to make the swatch much larger than the 4 inches necessary to measure gage. As it turns out, according to the swatch, I need to pick up 7/10ths of the number of stitches I originally picked up. I have since made a plan for how to best place this picked up stitches and I will begin again this weekend, having quite learned my lesson though I'm sure it's a lesson I'll learn again soon enough.

In crochet news, I have completed my third mother bear. His legs are shortish, though not as short as Stubby's legs. I had a lot more fun with this little bear's facial expression than I had with the first two and I'm fairly in love with him. I've named him Mark, in memory of my good friend Jolynn's younger brother. I want to make at least a fourth bear before I send Mark and his two siblings off to the mother bear project homebase, but with all the work left to do on the blanket, I'm not sure it will happen. I might end up sending off these three and then taking a break on the bears until my brother has his blanket in hand. We'll see.

Also, happy belated Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Mexican Pasta Shells, Compliments of Karis' Kitchen

I follow quite a great many food bloggers, I like to think. However, I don't often get around to making what they come up with every week, mostly because I'm working on my own ideas, my own meal plans. However, the minute the Karis' Kitchen Blog posted the Vegetarian Taco Stuffed Shells, I copied the link for it into an email doc and sent it off to the husband. He instantly agreed: Next week, we're going to make that.

And make it, we did. Tonight, I got home from work to all the food half-cooked already on the stove. As you can go directly to her for the recipe, I won't repost it here. Essentially, it's bean-stuffed large pasta shells covered in cheese and enchilada sauce and baked in the oven for a half hour. Of course, we made some substitutions to the original recipe. Instead of kidney beans with the black beans and lentils, we used cannelloni beans.

Instead of tomato puree, the husbands opted to purchase tomato paste that meant a more potent flavor for the enchilada sauce. (Note that if you do the same, we cut the paste with water to tame the intensityo of the flavor some).


Then, we only baked it for twenty minutes because the cheese was melted already and we were hungry.

(Please ignore the state of the oven.)

Jumping on this recipe was the right move. It was vaguely healthy but with that bar-food flavor that both the husband and I have been really, really wanting lately for no real reason that I can explain. The kid also gives it copious thumbs up. I will say that I agree with Karis that next time, I'd probably turn it into a lasagna. This thought occurred to me as I was desperately trying to cut my shells into bite-size pieces by ramming them against the rounded side of my bowl with a fork. It didn't work well. This is the inherent architectural flaw of the stuffed pasta shell. It exists more for show than for functionality.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Time is on My Side... right?

In the midst of all this novel-restructuring, I have finally reached a point of calm. The hard part is always finding a way to begin. For me, the answer came when I thought of some advice I once received from a professor a few years ago that still sticks with me. She said, essentially, that unless there was a very good reason not to do it, the most logical way to structure your fiction is in chronological order.

This makes sense for obvious reasons. With the novel-in-stories, I had organized the novel by story, meaning by narration of the character involved, whether in first, second, or third person. To tear apart those stories, for the last few weeks, has been my task, and it's a task I don't fancy. Consider it the epitome of "Murder your darlings." I couldn't fathom a way of doing it until I thought about my former professor's advice. Would it work in this case? By Jove, it just might.

And so, the task has been creating a detailed timeline that outlines when exactly in time each event of each story occurs. I have nearly reached the conclusion of this, but it has been slow going. Because each chapter had a story in and of itself, a separate entity, I never gave a lot of thought to how the time sequence of one might impact the time sequence of another. Alas, when something vital happens in one story and is also glimpsed in another, it can become problematic to chronologize them when that means that the majority of what happens in the second story, given the amount of time it takes to drive from Ohio to Pennsylvania on I-80, happens several hours later than I need it to, considering certain events that are supposed to happen after that in a third story that, in fact, happen a few hours too soon given this new travel-time revelation. These are the things we grapple with for our art.

When I finish grappling with these dilemmas and follow up with adequate solutions, which I anticipate managing to do by mid-week at the latest, the next task involves pasting each time-noted piece in chronological order in a new document. For this to work, the narrative with get a bit wild for a bit and I'll have to go through and decide how best to handle that particular situation. The book has a lot of narrators and they will end up thrown willy-nilly throughout the novel, depending on when they are occuring in the timeline.

At first, I was concerned about this. However, I've been reading a lot of Louise Erdrich lately, working my way through her collected works (in chronological order no less), and Erdrich has multiple narrators per chapter, sometimes several if I recall correctly. Moreover, sometimes these narrators are in first person, sometimes third. There may even be a second person or two. The thing is, it works, or at least, it works for her. It gives me hope that what I attempt will not be in vain and that, at the end of all the toil, with some editing and some rewriting, I can make this novel-in-stories function as a plain-old-novel.

Like the little engine that could, I will hope that my "I think I can" attitude will lead to success. Here's to chugging along in blind faith that things will work out in the end. Optimism, don't fail me now.