Tuesday, July 31, 2012

a few specific and achievable goals

I haven't forgotten about this post, or all that underlies it. (Not for a minute.) I have been eating more vegetables, more protein, drinking more water. I've cooked a whole salmon and made a gorgeous meal out of yellow wax beans with a bit of butter. It's a start. But it feels tenuous, and I need to feel strong again.

To that end, a few specific and achievable daily goals for the next 7 days, to be duly reported on next Tuesday:

- strength training/isometrics (core, arms, or legs)
- 3 litres water
- some small garden harvest
- vitamins
- 3 proper, sit-down meals; no more than one snack
- a form of fun exercise: jumping rope, hooping, walking, etc.
- bedtime routine: teeth and face cleaning (no going to sleep with mascara on), lotion, benzyl peroxide, herbal tea, etc.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

a short defense

(the tomatoes, on Friday)

I think our tenants think we're a couple of self-righteous hippies. The other night, lying in bed beside an open window, an isolated fragment of conversation rang out from upstairs: "I mean, they don't even have a car". And we don't have a car. We don't have a television (just four or five monitors), or full-time jobs, or cellphones. So far, so normal (in my mind). I avoid the mall like the plague. I will happily drink alcohol in great variety, but never, ever go out on Saturday nights. I work as few hours as will pay my bills, buy my groceries, and allow me to save for tuition. I now have a giant garden. I bicycle and walk; during the Winter, when I have to, I take the bus. I read and write a lot. I use a laundry rack and a bread oven on a daily basis. 

Our tenants' opinions are only the beginning (and wait until they notice that I sometimes knit). Edmonton is considered an oil town which exists largely to supply and connect the notorious Fort McMurray up North. While all of this oil means that Alberta has enjoyed a healthy economy during the past four years of recession (and I am certainly not one to complain), it seems that almost everyone who lives here--even the hipsters--are mystified that I too am not channeling all of my energy into the usual industrial pursuits. My co-workers are friendly towards my few-hours-as-possible policy, but most of them are working two or three jobs. People seem to want me to earn more, but also to spend (a lot) more. Since I do not work 40 or 60 hours a week, saying that I "can't afford" something is somehow seen as a comical, even (strangely) elitist suggestion. 

May I offer a short confession, and a short defense?

Perhaps the "elitist" title is appropriate after all. The truth makes me sound like an unendurable snob, and it is this: The culture, acquisitions, and activities which I am ridiculed for avoiding? I have no interest in them

I would rather buy black beans in bulk and make my own (damn fine) Mexican food, than eat at Tres Carnales*. I would rather spend an evening with Patrick Leigh Fermor than at a party. I would rather ride my bicycle to work than pay for a car and a gym membership. I would rather grow my own peas than buy them at the farmer's market, never mind Superstore. I would rather mix a gin and tonic at home than pay the price of half a bottle of gin at Three Boars*. Most of the time, I would rather buy yarn or fabric than clothes. Most of the time, my own food is better, making things is more fun. I'm ok, not being able to "afford" things, as long as I can read lots, put myself through university, become a better cook, own outright a fraction of a house, buy raw materials and books and acres of free time.

I would rather live cheaply than spend my twenty-second year at a minimum-wage job. It's not through lack of ambition or laziness that I have four days a week "off". Even if I only had one day off, would the money I earned amount to anything significant, when compared to the fact that I had exchanged it for hours and hours of reading, writing, exercise, sleep, cooking, making, talking, thinking? 11 dollars an hour is simply not enough to devote one's present life to serving coffee. 

* Please note that I am not disparaging these establishments; they are, on the contrary, two of the best places to eat in Edmonton. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jam recipients!

Jess and Allison--hurrah! Ladies, if you would be so kind as to email your mailing addresses to, I will post two jars tomorrow.

Monday, July 23, 2012


I'm afraid the season has already turned. After our one allotted Canadian week of +30 degree temperatures, the days are already a wee bit shorter. The plants are in an obscene rush to put themselves out before time is up.

Tomato plants flop over the sides of their raised bed. Potato plants bloom floridly. Pea plants sprawl, fattening pods before they've done any climbing to speak of. The weeds stop spreading (quite so fast), and just quietly grow taller and taller. We're having a dour, stormy day. It's so dark inside the hobbit hole that I had to go outside this morning to try and photograph the experimental legwarmers. It was raining by 9 am, but luckily the structure that I've been cleverly calling "the laundry roof" protected the laundry.

The miserable-looking avocado plant to the right, the plant we've had for over two years, and started from seed before we were married, was broken (and possibly killed) by our tenants' friends.

Knitting the legwarmers, I've gained some valuable practice working on five needles in the round. When my sock yarn ("peaks ferry") arrives (tomorrow?), I will be ready to attempt a somewhat neat job. I've had several failed attempts at Making Things over the past couple of days--including one this morning. This afternoon I am ignoring everything but The Poetics of Translation. 

(I did have a piece of news that made various sad paper-sewing and -folding catastrophes seem less important: around 11 this morning I received an email from The White Wall Review*. They want to publish "Thirteenth House", a poem I wrote this past winter, in their Fall 2012 issue. So I will have two publications coming out within the next few months. I have to say I'm ridiculously pleased.)

*WWR published "Cat Wants" under the name Patrick Walker-Nelson in 2009. It was my first and only acceptance under a pseudonym. Nice that I've made it in again, under my own name.
Jam is lovely. Toast with jam! Scones with jam! Yogurt with jam! I will be drawing a winner for an adorable jar tomorrow, so go here immediately and put your name in the pot.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


So. When was the last time I talked about my health? Ah yes, you're right. I've complained about it frequently over the past several months. I feel fat, I feel tired, and round and round we go.

More to the point, when was the last time I put in some sustained effort? Two summers ago I was discovering the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for the first time, and I felt great. Although I'm a lot stronger than I was then, and make a small handful of "good choices" regularly and automatically, I have definitely stopped being as deliberate about eating, sleep, exercise, breathing . . .  My mood has suffered. I've become more difficult to live with. My self-esteem is at quite an ebb. And this post is as relevant as ever.

Throughout this recent era of slackery, I have managed to do some serious thinking. I've read some books, I've watched myself, and I've drawn some conclusions. Number one: I do know how to care for my body; it's just that ninety-percent of the time, I am unwilling to do what needs to be done. Not unable, but, for various reasons, unwilling.

So. What needs to be done? I will get rid of the passive. What do I need to do? Starting now?

~ Drink more water--between three and four litres in total every day.

~ Consume far less sugar. If I've learned anything about what my body wants, it's that it almost never wants sugar. I feel nauseous and lethargic every time.

~ Consume far less everything. I'm becoming convinced that my constant stomach aches are the result of too much food, and that even my most conservative portions over-estimate my hunger levels.

~ Stretch, do isometrics, breath deeply, walk quietly, use lavender lotion, smell the rain--in short, concentrate on all sorts of sensory pleasures.

~ Stop eating breakfast for lunch and supper. Stop eating bread at every meal. Substitute protein and vegetables.

~ Start blogging (again) about struggles, thoughts, progress. This journey is worth my considerable attention, and I suspect I need public accountability.

knitting legwarmers = practice for knitting socks

(Posing a knitting project in a pastel shade on top of a stack of children's books might be seeming to imply something, but I assure you, it doesn't.)

Thank you for putting up with those two long posts. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

confiture de rhubarbe (giveaway)

Now that I've canned nineteen jars of jam, it is high time I shared some of it. I'm giving away two jars--would you like one?

I think you would. If you'd like your name to be entered, comment on this post. As usual, posting a link on your own blog or a social media website counts as an additional entry. And I would be thrilled to post internationally! I'll put your names in a hat and draw two winners on Tuesday, July 25.

xx Lizzie

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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 paradigm shift: rhyming poetry

The external life is quiet and (quite literally) homely these days: If, on any given day at the bake shop, you happened to ask me what I did on my days off, you would learn that once again I watered and weeded the garden, baked a loaf of bread, baked a pie, bicycled over to see my friend Adam perform in a Shakespeare play, wrote in my journal, knitted, hung the laundry outside, watched a BBC documentary, and worked my way through a novel, some math, a few more pre-emptive pages of honours thesis research. I am not complaining. And I have to tear myself away every time I go to work, because meanwhile the internal life has been fascinating and deep and rewarding.

Back in May, finishing up Le Ton beau de Marot, Douglas Hofstadter's book on poetry translation (you may remember the exercise I posted here), I was flabbergasted to find myself helpless in the face of Hofstadter's arguments for the primary importance of formalism, particularly rhyme and metre, in poetry:

"Thus the act of looking at a poem in print or reading it aloud should be directly tangible to a reader engaged with the poem, as opposed to being merely a covert intellectual fact."
- Douglas Hoftstadter, Le Ton beau de Marot, 524

"The need for sensuality of sound in poetry, as well as its analogue in music, was taken for granted until not all that long ago. But around the turn of the twentieth century, a wave of change started rippling throughout the arts. In poetry, free verse starting taking over, and in the world of classical or "serious" music, tonality was dropped, at least in some quarters, and replaced by a severe, austere, unhearable cerebrality; thus did poetry and music together start down the sad slide from being sensuous and visceral to being solely intellectual. And in the course of that slide, they lost more and more of their mass appeal, in the end becoming esoterica appealing only to tiny coteries and cliques of people who listened with humorless scholasticism and pretension."
- Douglas Hofstadter, Le Ton beau de Marot, 526

Though I haven't written explicitly about it here, my poetry-loving career has been almost exclusively  devoted to British, American, and Eastern European modernists--not the most rhymey company. Up until my first year of university, I actively shunned formal poetry, though I began to come around to it during our class study of Beowulf (and by the time we'd gotten to John Donne, I was won). But I remained unwilling to declare formal poetry anything special. 

Reading Le Ton beau, I was bombarded with memories of poems that had struck me hard and slain me. These poems were not prose-with-line-breaks, nor were they poems based on complex, but invisible, math.   They were kissing cousins to every one of human history's ceremonies, rites and traditions. They were not only beautiful messages, but beautiful mediums. And sometimes--oh infidel!--function followed form. 

My scattered reading in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology has been enough to convince me of the existence of a universal (though not Platonic) human nature. Isn't this what I have always held that great poetry speaks to? To ignore the innate appeal of rhythm, rhyme, and repetition would be to ignore a major aspect of beauty in poetry--and, in fact, to ignore the nature of beauty and the human desire for it in the first place. 

I am surprised at this swing-around in my own opinion; I have always thought that I loved only the intellectual in poetry. All of this is not to say that I am abandoning blank- and free-verse, that Milosz and Hughes are dead to me. It is only to say that I think there is an unmysterious reason why Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle" cuts as close as it does. How on earth will I incorporate it into my own work? Where much of contemporary poetry demands only unfettered feelings or salty descriptions, formal poetry demands technical skill. 

And I must continue later in a second post, because I am also recently enamored with technical skill, and from there a host of other issues open up. Bear with me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tell me,

would you be interested in a rhubarb jam giveaway? I promise that the jam is sweet and tart and the colour of a faded carnelian. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Tim made meringues while I was at work on Friday. Today, I took one and balanced it on a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream sprinkled with anise. 

Monday, July 2, 2012


And now in the garden . . . 

one tiny hot pepper


one tiny tomato






Please excuse a bit of a silence. I find myself easily tired and easily saddened lately. Dissatisfied but not driven.