Saturday, March 31, 2007

Some springing, no scoffing, and some persuasive reading

Tiny Tulips
I've been working for three days on a post about my favourite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion. It has been agonizing. Long story short: Read it, it's fantastic, read it again, you'll love it more. But if you're used to chick lit, mystery novels, sci fi, or Dan Brown (gah!), have patience. Austen says a lot in seemingly simple, insignificant ways. Oh, and just because Anne Elliott is quiet, does not mean she's a pushover. It's just that she has manners.

Hyacinth single
Finally, pay attention to the last quarter of the book. Like most novels with a romance storyline to resolve, it has that period of uncertainty at the end. Now this part of the plot doesn't have to be contrived and annoying, and I think Jane Austen always managed to keep it fresh. Generally, though, the woman has the task of waiting for the man to make a move (eg, Pride and Prejudice, and every romantic comedy). In Persuasion, the tables are turned. Anne Elliott's delightful powers of perception means that she knows Wentworth's heart before he knows hers. It makes for one of the most powerful letters you'll ever read in literature. I won't quote from it, because I've done enough swooning lately.

Oh right, and Captain Wentworth? He's like Horatio Hornblower, except he marries the right person, and doesn't eventually cheat on his super-cool wife with a widowed French lady. Yeah, Horatio? You're on notice. Wentworth? Make us proud!

Have I made my case? No? Maybe another day (I will try again). The post I was writing and eventually abandoned was mainly just to share these pictures with you. Daffodils coming up in the garden, and hyacinths that Mom got from her prayer pal. There are more at my Flickr account. And behold! What is that (hint: look to the right, the sidebar)? Why, it's a flickr badge! You can click to see more pictures! No scoffing, that took me far too long to insert into my template tonight.

The face of a fiend

Isn't this the face of a fiend? A fiend on drugs?

Truth is, I'm the real fiend in this situation. Why? This may be creating a little internet liability for me here, but I have to admit: I drug my cat, and not for her own good.

I let Livy into the catnip two or three times a year. I invariably feel guilty. Supposedly, catnip isn't harmful, and cats can use it every day. But when I see my gentle, spacey cat with a little *boing!* bubble over her head, I know this is a powerful, cat-mind altering substance. What's worse, it isn't self-administered. Sure, if I leave my night table drawer open, she'll sniff it out sometimes. But when I take her Cat in the Hat toy, rub it in catnip, and drag it along the floor in front of her, poor kitty doesn't have a choice. I might as well be putting kitty sleeping pills in her food and posing her in doll clothes while she's zonked out.

It feels unethical. And yet, so cute! When does the catnip good outweigh the catnip evil? If it's responsibly administered and never abused or used for the wrong reasons, is it okay?

Is this the face of an addict?

Friday, March 30, 2007

I Love Austenblog

This is why I love Austenblog:

Not just the Jane info, the Editrix, the Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness, the electronic reams of snark, and the constructive, interesting comments - but because silly people like me actually get a chance to contribute!

The used my email on a post about KJ Rowling/Jane Austen crossover! I am inordinately pleased. I love this website. I love Jane Austen. I love JK Rowling. What could be better?

Unfortunately, someone has already come to rain on my parade. Reda that first comment. And my catty riposte.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rhetorical questions lead to blogging purposelessness

I have to admit to you all, especially after these 40 days... I sometimes feel like my blog has no purpose. Is it a nephew blog? Well who but myself wants to read that? Is it a cat blog? Right, with only one cat. It's not a history blog - I don't seem to ever write about what I'm actually writing about... And I take so few pictures lately, I can hardly call it a photoblog.

How does a little dreamer kid end up as safe, practical, "realistic" old me? Do purposes appear near the start, or halfway through? Or do you sometimes learn at the very end of something that it had purpose all along? But enough with the rhetorical questions, I'm starting to sound like Carrie Bradshaw.

I'm not the kind of person who needs a future path, with my years blocked out in terms of categorical accomplishments and the like. But at the same time, I like to have a purpose. You know, a general direction. And a life, like a blog with no purpose, well. . . Hello.

To cheer me up, and perhaps give you something new to look at, here's the blog of a friend of mine. At the same time I was stressing out about Chapters and school and working up the nerve to quit, he was looking for a way to spend the next few months. One day he said, "maybe I'll go to Guatemala" - and he actually went. To a girl who likes to hedge her bets? Very impressive. Here's his website, or you can find his link at right.

Could these be my stepping-stones of purpose?

So, what do you think? Does this blog need a purpose? Or, you know, merely a topic?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Battlestar Galactica

The Battlestar Galactica season finale:

Holy COW, that was good. The first 40 minutes, it was impossible to believe that this was actually a season finale, it was rather sedate. And then, Bam! Twenty minutes, and my life was changed forever* (okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it was really good!). It was a perfectly balanced episode, made more effective by not sticking to traditional story arcs. One of the best moments? The very first credit of the final credits.

Now we have to wait until January to see the conclusion, unless the two-hour special in the fall answers any questions. Please note I have heroically refrained from using exclamation marks in this paragraph. I shall never bee accused of writing like Dan Brown.

Unfortunately, without exclamation marks to keep me excited, I'm afraid I will rather be like that rock that gathered moss if I have to wait until January to find out what happens to all my favourite Galactites. Which is a perfect segue** (imagine that!) into a picture I took today of lichen:

*Note for future: never blog immediately after fantastic season cliff-hanger of favourite show. It can get a little gushy.

** Did you know that "segue" is actually pronounced "seg-wey"? I didn't! I always thought a "segueway" was somehow different from a "segue". And you know what else? I'm not in the least bit embarrassed to confess my ignorance.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Won to cook with me?

Those of you who know me even moderately well know that I love good food. I've never been a going out kind of gal, so as a result, a good 80 per cent of my "entertainment budget" actually goes to food purchasing. I had two back-to-back good years for food during my undergrad. In second year, I lived with Liz and Chen. Liz loved comfort food and Chen loved Chinese food, so it was only natural I would add to my repertoire of fast, easy, and yummy food. Then, in third year, I lived with Leah, who introduced me to some Caribbean food. Our apartment was only a block away from a good grocery store, so it was a constant source of fresh food and meal ideas. And if I had a hard day at school, I was never beyond stopping by a fish store for a fresh halibut steak, or a handful of large scallops.

Anyway, that's all just a rambling introduction to my current post: Sarah's Won Ton soup. Now, I can be particular about not mixing different types of food - such as serving curry and tacos at the same meal - but when I am cooking for myself, I'm only a "purist" from time to time. Some sacrifices to 'authenticity' have to be made, and some tailoring to personal tastes should be done when you are, after all, cooking for yourself.

Okay, on to the recipe:

Take half a package of ground pork, and about 3/4 cup of raw, shelled shrimp that have been minced into small pieces (Hint: if you like shrimp a lot, chop them a little coarser, so you bite into little shrimp pieces when it is eating time) . Stir these in a bowl, along with a few finely chopped green onions, a teaspoon or so of sesame oil, some salt and pepper, and about a tablespoon of grated ginger (why go powdered when a ginger root is only $0.34 at the grocery store?). If you plan on making fresh salsa and guacamole and aloo gobi (cauliflower curry) in the next few days (this is how I plan my yummy meals), then add a tablespoon of fresh, chopped cilantro as well (I hate buying a huge bunch of cilantro for only one meal).

Get out the package of won ton wrappers that you bought in the produce section, by the tofu and dressings shelf. Lay out a few on a chopping board, and put a small tablespoon of meat in each. Wet the outside edge of each wrapper, then pinch all the edges towards the centre. You really need to pinch it fiercely: if the meat is squeezing out along the long edges you know you're over-stuffing them. I've found it is important not to over-fill them, no matter how much you're tempted, because if pork gets inbetween the wrapper edges, it won't seal properly. I say "pinch fiercely," because I like that chewy noodleyness you get when you eat the soup.

Sit the won tons on a floured plate while you work.

I love lining them up on a plate - it feeds the anticipation!

Then drop them in a pot of boiling water. Boil in batches for 5-6 minutes each, then use a slotted spoon to take them out and set aside in a bowl.

This is the great thing about making your own won ton soup: choosing the broth and the other ingredients. Won ton soup you buy at a restaurant generally has slices of pork, and either bok choy or chinese (napa) cabbage in it. The broth is generally a light pork or chicken. I chose one of those cartons of low-sodium chicken broth, poured in the whole two cups, and then added another cup or so of water.

Since I didn't want that strong chicken soup flavour, but I also didn't want a weak broth, I added in a teaspoon of black bean and garlic sauce, that I found in the "International foods section" of a Sobeys (that means you'll be able to find something like this ANYWHERE). I heated up the broth in a pot, and added to this some firm tofu (I like the taste! And it really absorbed the black bean garlic flavour, delish). At the last minute, I threw some snow peas and sliced green onions in as well.

Put the won tons in bowls and pour over the broth and veggies. The great thing about home-made won ton soup is that you control the won ton content - which means you can have not three, not four, but five or six or seven or eight won tons per bowl! Oh the ecstasy!

And voila! Bon appetit. The thing I love about cooking this meal the most is that when you take the won tons out of the water, they puff up with hot air. As they drain, they collapse into that snug, wrinkled shape that you get in restaurant won tons.

Look at all that pruny goodness (without the prunes, and all the pork and shrimp).

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pets past, the history that (regretfully) never repeats

This is the third or fourth time I have sat down to write this post.

I have been having a recurring dream lately, something quite new to my sleeping habits. I have been dreaming about slowly waking up in the morning, with the sun lighting up my room, and seeing my cat Willow, who has been sleeping at the foot of my bed like she always used to. She uncurls and walks up the length of the bed and greets me hello. And it is exactly like it used to be.

Willow was my childhood cat, the pet of my soul. Dad climbed forty feet up in a tree to rescue her, after someone abandoned a box of kittens in the woods (taped shut, they had clawed their way out). She was supposed to go to the SPCA, but never made it there. She used to follow me on my paper route. She would come flying out of the woods when I called her at night. She was an albino, and she used to get sunburnt in the summer, so I would have to keep her in between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. She'd wander around the house meowing pitifully, begging me to let her out, while Dusty sunned himself on the deck. She sat on the ledge by the stairs and watched us watch TV for hours at a time.

I trimmed her paw fur, and cut away the many, many slugs she collected in her jaunts through the wood. She played subordinate to Dusty, but she was a scrapper. She took on some kind of raccoon or weasel once, and came home with a face oozing puss, and an eye swollen shut. She had a perpetual wink after that. She was a good mouser and birder (much to my distress), and while she never ate the birds, I was always finding the plump bottom halves of mice lying on the walkway.

I realized even while she was still alive that there would never be another cat like Willow. I think there are very few people who get to have more than one of those special pets in their lifetime. You love your pets, and think they are clever, or becomingly weird, or beautiful, but there is always that one that topped them all. Some people will collect pets throughout their life, trying to recapture that lost connection (I'm thinking of all those Fluffies II through VIII). I guess that is why it is such a. . . blessing, to be able to wake up once again to Willow's soft fur and curled ears and ferociously affectionate nose-bites. It is like a good omen, and maybe even a sign of forgiveness, to dream of Willow after these years without her. But it makes me feel my loss, too, because there has never been a quirkier, more beautiful, more loyal cat than Willow, and I will never know another one like her again.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The post where she hits google paydirt

I have to tell you, this is a very untrafficked blog. There are probably three people who check it every day, and I only average 4 first-time visitors a day. I have had three hits from google in the last two months. One of those was someone searching the name of my blog. I got a hit from someone looking for pictures of the new BBC Jane Eyre series, and one from someone who found me via a Richard Armitage search.

Imagine my extreme pleasure, then, when I noticed a hit from google today. This curious visitor was looking for information on -- get this -- "how to help a squirrel with itchy skin." A squirrel with itchy skin!! Now, I know how they landed here - some combination of my squirrel posts and the one on Livy's visit to the vet - but really now. Isn't that fantastic?? I am really pleased, I tell you. Pleased as pie.

Is this squirrel itchy?
Itchy skin: The plague of squirrel-kind. This poor rodent has been afflicted with itchy skin for months. He has been disowned by his family and is now living in a drafty hole abandoned by woodpeckers. Who will help the squirrels? Will you?

In order to meet the needs of my new and potential visitors, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the itchy skin affliction among the squirrel population. Itchy skin afflicts approximately 80 per cent of all squirrels at some point in their lifetime. While some may be solely due to environmental conditions such as dry winter air or sun damage, some itchy skin is caused by pests, bacterial infections, and chemical imbalances in the skin and fur follicles.

Fleas are a common causing of itching and scratching, in which case I would suggest pet shampoo (probably kitten shampoo is best). You may have to catch the squirrel in a live trap and dump it in a tub or basin of warm soapy water to administer the treatment. If your squirrel spends a lot of time in the sun, I would suggest you check the affected areas for suspicious moles or hair growth (good luck). If you discover that it is nothing more than dry skin, hold him by the tail and dip him in some (room temperature!) peanut oil or sunflower oil (you know, whichever is his favourite). That should help with the dryness, and encourage grooming, too (what fun you will have watching him eat his fur! Those squirrels will eat anything). Finally, if it is some strange rodent skin condition that you cannot treat using any of these methods, talk to the hamster expert at your local pet store. One be-toothed rodent is the same as the next, right?

And finally finally, if you actually want to know how to help an itchy squirrel, this is not the place to look for it. But you are more than welcome to come back! Oh, and bookmark me. And leave comments! It's not that I'm desperate for more readers. It's just that I'm desperate for more readers who are concerned about the health issues of poor defenceless squirrels.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mem'ries of a Heart Man

Heart Man ThumbI have been thinking about memory lately. Any psych student will be able to tell you what a quirky thing memory is, but I'm sure you have experienced it for yourself, talking to siblings about that Christmas years ago, to old friends about that day on the swingset, or to spouses about that special date.

I admit, I pride myself on my memory, as my mother will surely attest. It isn't that, like my friend Yasmeen, I can remember every country in the world and its capital city. Despite being a student of history, I don't really have a head for dates. And goodness knows I'm not good at remembering all the tasks and chores I should be accomplishing every day. But sometimes, my mind creates the most vivid memories, short video captures of a day and a time - what happened, who said what, the quality of the light as it came in through the window.

But even more surprising, of course, are the things we forget. That's why it is so great to have lifelong friends - they'll often remember the funny episodes you forgot. And then there are the things that trigger memories that you thought had disappeared long ago. Smells are often connected with memory, but a song might do it, or a photograph. I found a little doodle of mine the other day, executed when I was about four and half years old. It wasn't that the picture brought back any specific memory like the ones I often get, although I knew from looking at it that I drew it in church, probably an evening service, and that it was probably scrap paper from my mother's bible.

Heart Man Doodle

Even though it wasn't connected to a memory, I had a strange flood of emotion as I looked at it. I remember the feeling of pleasure and surprise, that I had drawn something so rudimentary and yet so aesthetically perfect. That came from this pencil? I have had very few moments like that in my measly artistic career (a drawing of my cat Dusty, leaping after yarn, in grade one, is indelibly sketched in my memory, still the height of feline perfection), when you know something is just right, and you instinctively stop, and rest, and admire.

Of course, none of you may think this picture is quite the height of artistic pen drawing that I do (this is a replica by the way, I traced it into my journal when I found it). And yet somehow, Heart Man (that is the title I gave him way back then) is still artistically pleasing to me. He's a piece of my soul. My four-and-a-half-year-old soul.

Note: The duplicate paragraphs in this post have been deleted.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Waxing and waning: mooning over history

This was a good weekend for me and history. The graduate conference is on this weekend, and although I only attended the opening lecture, the meet and greet, and one session this morning, each one was exactly the kind of topical, thought-provoking experience that I needed. It was an unexpected chance to recharge. The long talk with my supervisor, which helped me refocus my thesis and my thoughts, didn't hurt either.

Something else lately that made me feel better? Monday night, and this view of the moon from my bedroom window. I call it "The Moon Nebula." Not very original, I know, but look at it. Don't you feel like you've seen this before on Star Trek, or the Discovery Channel, or somethin'? Can you imagine that sense of awe you feel when you suddenly look up and see the great sky far above you? That was Monday night.

The Moon Nebula

But really? If I'm really being honest? Forget Star Trek's opening credits. This picture makes me want to pull an "Emily of New Moon" and tramp off over snowy fields, return to a warm room with a pot-bellied stove in it, and write stories until the sun rises and peeks its amber face in my window. Oh yes. LM Montgomery season is almost upon me! And I can thank the moon.

Monday, March 05, 2007

"Utilizing" up my patience...

What is up with all this use of the word utilize lately? Such an ugly, overblown, useless word, when its much simpler, less distracting cousin (um, hello, poor, neglected little "use"! At least I still love you!) is always around to help out. Let me quote at length from a handy dandy dictionary:

Utilize |ˈyoōtlˌīz| verb [ trans. ] make practical and effective use of : vitamin C helps your body utilize the iron present in your diet. ORIGIN early 19th cent.: from French utiliser, from Italian utilizzare, from utile (see utile 1 ).USAGE Utilize, borrowed in the 19th century from the French: utiliser, means 'make practical or effective use of.'

Because it is a more formal word than use and is often used in contexts (as in business writing) where the ordinary verb use would be simpler and more direct, utilize may strike readers as pretentious jargon and should therefore be used sparingly.

The Columbia Journalism Review shares my distaste, saying, "usually all people gain by using it is two syllables and the joy of feeling superior when in fact they sound ridiculous." One online reference source says, "it is nearly always possible, and more elegant, to say use."

D'ya hear that, people? You could sound more elegant by merely dropping the word "utilize" from your vocabulary!

Kam "utilizes" his teddy bear for comfort.

This person makes the most heart-felt case for the word, but even that is hardly a passionate plea for the word's utility. She defines, for instance, a situation where the word may be appropriate, but even then gives an alternate without the little fiend:

For example, "The teacher couldn't use the new computer" means something completely different from "The teacher couldn't utilize the new computer." The former means that the teacher didn't know how to turn it on, or didn't know what the mouse was for, or that it was broken or otherwise unavailable, or something like that--that the teacher could do nothing at all with the computer. The latter means that while the teacher could do something with the computer, he or she was unable to do something practical with it--use it in instruction, perhaps.

Since people tend to dislike utilize, it might be prudent to rewrite even a sentence where it is used correctly--"The teacher couldn't use the new computer effectively," perhaps, or something more specific.

Some lessons to take from this:

  1. People who use this word in their day-to-day blog posts sound like pompous jerks.

  2. People who use this word in a sentence such as: "They do not properly utilize the theory to suit their argument" are actually saying "They do not properly make practical or effective use of the theory..." and are therefore being redundant, silly, and sound like pompous jerks.

  3. If you see the word "utilize" used in a blog post, you have learned a profound insight into the writer's psyche. There is now no need to keep reading. Drop that blog like a hot potato!

Obviously, the word can be used properly. Somehow, though, that doesn't diminish its hideousness. And because the word retains its pretentious overtones, it is not a word that should be used lightly. The word "utilize" should be a trigger, causing us to re-evaluate the sentence. Is it clear? Is it precise? Does it convey the proper tone? Can it be said better? If you are in love with the way it makes you sound, no amount of convincing from little old me will convince you to strike it from your repertoire. So I will only add, please utilize at your discretion.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Thursday Miscellany

A few items of note:

I registered for my motorcycle course! I managed to rope my most obliging mother into it, too, remember. Sometime in June, I will have my motorcycle licence, hooray!

I did my thesis proposal defence today. It was terrible. My new life slogan is "I should have gone to SMU". *sigh*

My brother and sister-in-law and the boys spent Saturday night here. One of the highlights? My goofy nephew:

Oh, and I bought a ring a few weeks ago that the store had to order in. I picked it up today. It's a lovely, lovely, violet cubic zirconia, so glittery, it brightened up my otherwise disappointing day.

The inferior photo quality is because these were taken on my laptop, and cropped a bit. I haven't had the will to upload any camera pics for the last few days. Maybe tomorrow, if we get that delightful snowstorm (no sarcasm, it has been a very dry, blah winter, I'd love some sparkly snow), I will get some photos uploaded and edited.

Wait, is it shallow to post pictures of glittery rings on my blog? Because, I'm talking serious glitter, like, of Mariah Carey proportions.

Hmm, this really is only "a few" things that I have mentioned. If I come up with anything else, you'll be the first to know.