Whatever May

. . . . There is something about the month of May that begs for puns. No other month is so open to them. Sure, you can March over to April, but once you have done so you’re out of it. May has a bit more range.

But I’m not really writing about May. Nor am I writing about writing, if you can believe it, nor Spring, nor plans future, nor any such wishy-washy excuse to ramble. No. I am writing about a belt.

 

I can not fully remember life before the belt. I thought of it barely two months into my new job, as my boss casually pulled pliers, screw drivers, and wire strippers out of the pouch that clipped to his own belt loops. His phone handily mounted beside it. His multitude of keys dangling from a carabiner on the other hip. I myself ran back and forth from whatever tool room was closest, and struggled not to walk so far from my phone that I couldn’t hear it vibrate. I have no pockets worth mentioning, and exactly zero functioning belt loops. To acquire either would mean radically renovating my wardrobe and, even more, abandoning the haphazardous collection of silhouettes that constitutes what might be termed my style. Doggedly I struggled on, all the while dreaming of the perfect belt. A work belt. A belt of pockets and loops. And then, finally, after a year of minor frustrations and inefficiency, I buckled down and made it.

Oh.

That was in September. By November I had stopped pretending any kind of civilized fashion sense and had started wearing it out all places, even to church. I wore it to a wedding too, over my Little Black Dress (my excuse was that I was also playing the bartender and so, technically, since I wasn’t a guest, I didn’t have to be in full formal attire). It’s quite amusing to remember that the number two reason I hesitated to make it in the first place was feared self conciseness about how it would look. Pooh. Practicality once again has ground my vanity into the dust with a contemptuous laugh. Besides, I’ve gotten compliments on it. Not just “how cute” either, though those are nice, but the slightly more grown up “how clever.” The only draw back to the later is I can’t really remember how I made it, and so can’t be sure if it was really clever or some combination  of luck and an uncured predilection for hoarding.

 

The belt has saved me a lot more than missed work emails and a few thousand extra steps to track down tools. I made a vow to myself last year that if I didn’t show some initiative and make something useful, sewing wise, by the end of January, 2017, I would pack my sewing kit up and give it all away. The belt was a such a success that even if it hadn’t been followed by two much smaller creations the room would have been spared. In a lot of ways it seems like such a minor victory, when my goal is always public-acceptable clothes, but if I stop and think about it, even a well made shirt would only be worn once a week. The belt gets worn six or seven times that.

 

Okay, for those who care about such things, here’s a very non-technical write up of my process for making it, as far as I can remember. The material I used was the waistband and part of the pant leg of a pair of second-hand capris I purchased four or five years ago. The original intention was to make a skirt, but honestly I bought them becasue the buttons were so cute and I loved all the little details. I had some extremely complicated ambitions for the belt originally, but by the time I’d completed them the plan had been reduced to two rectangles. The top rectangle was both longer and taller than the back piece. Since there was a flat felled seam running about two inches from the bottom of my fabric, I decided to make that the bottom edge for added strength and structure – this also brought the tops up to a similar height. Serendipity. I’m not sure if I actually realized I would need a 3D structure in order to really fit things in these pockets, perhaps I hit upon the idea of tucks simply becasue the  top piece was so much longer than the back and I was too lazy to cut it, or maybe it was because folding the felled seam down to the bottom edge created an excess of fabric that had to go somewhere. Either way, once I had the pleats down everything else was history. The inclusion of the pants’ coin pocket was another conceit of accidental brilliance. I included it becasue it was too cute to toss aside, but it has turned out to be indispensable for holding mini USBs, quarters, screw heads, and VGA adapters.

 

The hard parts were all in attaching the binding and cleaning up the edges of the waistband – I had hacked it off without really thinking a whole lot about how I wanted it finished and didn’t really leave myself much space for seam allowances. I ended up binding it with fabric from the leg. It works, becasue of the nature of the item, but is neither professional nor elegant. The pocket strip, too, was a little tricky to attach to the belt, and the depth of the pockets meant there was more weight in them than my original seaming could hold. I ended up supplementing it with safety pins until around December, when I went over it with enough stitches to keep King Kong tied down. I have a multitude of plans for remaking these, and most of them involve a strip of only three pockets – more space really is less, I’ve found. For a more sophisticated interpretation I would love to make a zippered pouch on the underside, perhaps in the band itself, for passport like things which shouldn’t be openly advertised.

 

Already this belt is showing signs of, shall we say, excessive love. My flawed but pretty bound edge has been worn open in a half dozen places, and in one of the places I reinforced with extra stitches the fabric itself has given out and formed a hole. Strangely, I’m not really saddened or alarmed by these ominous signs. The knowledge that this garment can be, if not recreated, at least replaced is rather delicious, and though I might put it off longer than is really wise, I’m still looking forward to the challenge.

And in the the Garden was . . . .

What is your memory of gardens?

Like so many things, my memory of gardens is of books. I had plants in my yard as a child – the mint patch that defied any attempts to plant something else; the clump of cattails that I can never quite be certain actually existed; dandelions, used on cheeks as yellow blush; Azaleas, flanking the path to our house like two shaggy, ornamental lions; pokeweed, the berries happily used to stain our fingers brightest pink. But all of these, except for the dandelions and pokeweed, were inert. A background, as it were. Flat and interchangeable with imagination.

In books gardens often are characters. Even when they are not, there is a certain kind of book that, without ever having any actual gardening in it, still speaks of them in hushed voices. Certainly Anne of Green Gables would make anyone long for glades of velvet violets, and most older books sprinkle fresh flowers about until you’re certain they are being conjured out of air. But it is Mandy and the Sunflower Garden and Cicely Mary Barker’s faeries, and even the water colored flowers in one Ariel picture book, that I draw my definition of a garden from. Those and The Secret Garden, which filled many a day with the exulted wonder of seeing things grow. Maybe that is why I am discontent with giving up and washing my hands of green things, or maybe it is less conscious than that, an assumption, seeded into mind during childhood, that gardens are as much a fact as breathing and cake. Even Bilbo had gardens. Gardens large enough to justify hiring someone just to tend them.

My plans for my garden this year are modest. We reap what we sow, after all. No fig trees. No hand built containers. Just seeds. And a blueberry bush. My parents have two large planters that they’ve never used which I have relived them of, and I’ll need to get dirt, of course, but other than that my shopping is done. Well, mostly done. I do want to get some Arp Rosemary. And maybe some lemon grass. But other than that my shopping is done. My list is a funny, malformed thing. Half practical, half fanciful. There are no roses, none of the heavily scented flowers I dreamt of last year. No larkspurs, which always make me think of Nancy Drew. Mary Crawford would likely not be too inspired by what is essentially going to be a scraggly vegetable patch. The drama is to be supplied by echinacea, luffa gourds, chard, and nasturtiums, but otherwise it is all business. All small lettuce and baby bok choy, long thai egg plants and small french radishes. And herbs  – fanciful ones, chervil and rue and crinkled garden cress.

In all of this, it is apparent that the thing which grows strongest in my garden, besides the mint and the weeds and the love-in-the-mist, is my own undaunted optimism. Perhaps that is the flower most worth cultivating.

 

 

 

Here and There Again

I just feel like words.

 

It’s like a craving for chocolate, or seaweed, or popcorn after walking past the movie theater, catching the soft edge of its salt and oil smog. The warmth of that smell is an edible thing. A flavorful thing. You, almost, could be satisfied just to pause there indefinitely. Drinking in the aroma. Satisfying your soul with it.

 

But then, of course, you’d remember that the smell is not the popcorn. Your heart would break over the cruelty of a world that could tantalize you with such wonders and yet deny you even the smallest claim to them. And you would have to choose: withdraw or enter?

 

Thus I stand with words right now. They follow me around at work; creeping into my notes, tripping around the edges of my tongue, and tangling with my thoughts until I can hardly concentrate. The warm weather is not helping. Today was so bright and green, it felt like the 15th day of Spring instead of the beginning of True Winter. Far be it from me to complain though, I like all days, and it is only fair winter has its cold ones to balance out the heat we get in August. Still, the cold has had a bite this year. A vampiric bite that clamps in and refuses to let go, draining you of all healthy marrow and replacing it with brittle steel. You can not merely bundle up more if you wish to defeat it. You must employ outside aid against this foe. Hot drink by your hand (properly capped, of course) and the oldest, heaviest, warmest laptop you can find to balance on your knees.

Between the gothic cold and the false spring, my mind has been all a buzz, in a true excess of words, and so I have done some creating to purge them out. I got an excellent dumpling book for Christmas, and crimped my first batch with surprising ease – although my arms were sore for the next few days. Pathetic. I have ordered my garden plans, and my garden seeds. I have started another sewing project to add to all the other ones I have languishing untouched in my little green room. And I have tried instagram.

 

It was a short experiment.

 

The trouble started when I realized I couldn’t change my language. My browser is in Japanese and, sometimes, sites, in an attempt to be helpful, will mimic that. Most of them are thoughtful enough to provide a handy language picker in their footer for when things are Not What They Seem. Not instagram. But then, it is a picture site, so words aren’t really necessary. I set it up, followed a few people, uploaded a profile picture, and then put the app on my phone. Yes, the app annoyed me pretty instantly, but only with all the little-normal things that are assumed nowadays. It wasn’t until it stopped letting me use the app without a phone number that I gave up and uninstalled it. Then I un-gave up and went back to my computer . . . . and found that my account no longer existed.

 

True Story.

 

I probably could have summed that whole debacle up with a gloomy photo of the login page saying, in red Japanese, that my username wasn’t in their system, but the words would not have it. Paint with us, they almost screamed.

 

And so, here I am, making another practice sketch. Letting my words play here and there across the page. Maybe here is not a place I can stay in everyday – maybe too much page is as bad for a person’s soul as too much popcorn is for the stomach – but as long as the words whisper to me amidst the silent days, here is where I will be.

Adventure is just around the kitchen

Never a Cloudy Day

Hello all, and welcome.

There is not much to speak of going on here, not much at all. I’ve gotten a few chapters further in my, *cough* March *cough*, TBR book, have come even closer to almost finishing a work belt, and managed to make savory granola.


The later is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while – since the whole miso cookie thing – but now that I’ve done it I’ve discovered a serious flaw in my plan: it is almost impossible to eat! It’s too tacky and lose to be pleasant for finger food and I haven’t been brave enough to try it in yogurt. It rather taxes the imagination, that flavor combination. I might end up using it for muffins or some such. Any ideas, universe?

Strawberry Fields and Military Sci-Fi

Aldis had freeze dried strawberries in the nut section last time I went in.

I have been curious about freeze-dried fruits, and, more specifically, how they would do in granola for about as long as I’ve been into making granola so naturally I bought a bag, combining a crushed handful of fragrant redness with (shelled) pumpkin seeds, almonds, candied ginger, vanilla extract, and honey syrup.

Conclusion: It does right well in granola, though more because the powder clung to the ginger than becasue the chunks are noticeable. Next time I will add less sugar, but for now the strawberries are pleasantly tart and smell heavenly; when topped with chunks of fresh peaches it is divine.


I’ve since used the strawberries, powdered, as a base for salad dressing and as an addition to candied walnuts. I have a little bit left in the bag . . . . maybe something traditional like scones? I haven’t really had time to think about it: for the last 2.5 day I’ve been slogging through the muggy jungles of Marduk in a 1,000 page crawl of the Empire of Man’s opening half. I’m recuperating while my hold requests for the last two books are fulfilled. I do have three other books on my table, all also courtesy of the library (one on loan from a completely different county, using the Marina system. Magic) but, in all honesty, I don’t think I could read another line right now. Not with enjoyment, anyway.

Part of that is becasue all the books I’m reading are just similar enough to start running together. I’ve been kind of on a military sci-fi kick lately – it’s my new whodunit, I guess. For years I loved reading Agatha Christie and Arthur Doyle during the summer but, now that I’ve read a fair number of those stories and sampled a few others in the genre, I’m rather mystery-ed out. Even with my love of formula, between the literally cookie cutter nature of some mystery books, and the inevitable ruins they makes of the characters’ lives, I’m a bit numb to them. I can get my seasonal dose of scandal from police dramas, thank you.

Military sci-fi fits in perfectly to the void thus created. The situations are equally convenient, the characters unimportant, and the plot merely a carriage for death, cunningly achieved. At times authors of either genre will wander into arm chair philosophy; the whodunit focusing on the psychological origins of human evil and the military covering honor and death and what the struggle to live means when that struggle includes being willing to lay down your life for an outside cause.

Not that the characters in military fiction are merely bits of wood for the bullets to hit. However, they do sometimes seem so in comparison to longer epics that don’t make battles their primary focus but instead are full of random character dialogue. The Belgariad comes to mind as the best example of this – the characters are the reason you read the book and, when you are done reading it, you feel you know them inside and out. The Belgariad is such a part of me that it’s difficult to not hold other long, drawn out sagas to the same standard of camaraderie, even when they are obviously in a completely different category. And military fiction is a completely different category than Fantasy or Sci-Fi. Instructional rather than inspirational, Military Fiction is for the quartermaster in all of us. It’s about logistics and order in the midst of lack and chaos. That is what I love about it the most: the orderly, detailed unfolding of battle.

But that is also why it occasionally comes across as, well, flat as a cartographer’s masterpiece. Take the Lost Fleet series, of which I’ve waded through three out of six books. The battles are delicately orchestrated to be daring and dangerous while at the same time letting the characters survive without outright cheating death. They are filled with exhaustively persistent reminders that something ten light-minutes away will take thirty minutes to reach you if you’re going at point one light speed.1 If, by the end of the first book, you are not mentally begging for a good ol’ warp drive you have not been reading it closely enough. The human drama element is there – but it is there becasue that is a part and parcel of war and you couldn’t really have one without the other. As such the characters are sometimes conscripted to speak or act in ways inconsistent to their personality2 but necessary for the moment, effectively killing off any chance of the audience relating to them. This is good, becasue there are only three categories for named characters in war: the doomed, the enemy, and the hero. All in all, it is a wonderful argument for the chain of command and the military mindset and will make you ponder deeply the complexities of waging war in a vast 3D plain. It will get you thinking, but it’s not going to leave tears streaming down your face.

Of course there are military books that have relatable characters as well – L. E. Modestt’s scholar portfolio in the imager universe comes immediately to mind. But even here it is not all the characters. It couldn’t be – too many people die to keep track or care about all of them. And, let’s be brutally honest, no matter how much people are willing to follow a military leader there is something so tragic about them that it is almost impossible for them not to be somewhat isolated in the midst of their troops. They may know the name and backstory of every soldier, but at the end of the day the knowledge that they are sending these men to their deaths will wall their hearts round with guilt. Truly, MF can be almost as emo as a vampire love story. Which, of course, is just another reason to love it, becasue military fiction reminds us, again, that sometimes the hardest of us are also the softest, that it’s rare to have hate without love, and that numbness can only exist where feeling is possible.

I think it’s the juxtaposition of these two concepts – the obsessive attention to niggling detail and the yearning to serve and protect what you hold dear – that really makes military sci-fi. As a culture, we tend to divide things to their basest elements, putting the brain here and the heart there, but this one genre welds them together with spit, wire, and pure grit. This is the-needs-of-the-many level philosophy, where you must constantly weigh the worth of lives today against the uncertainty of victory tomorrow. In a strange way, it is a place in fiction where the hero will always survive but will never truly win, because every time a life is lost he fails. In a world that continually invites you to fall, how can we not relate to the relentlessly battered warrior, who sees his actions time and time again take the life of friend and innocent alike? Perhaps it is as much for the hope they lend – the encouragement to press on despite our despair –  and not just for the ingenuity of war that we continue to write and read them.

 obligatory ending photo

Incongruous Tart

Socks Off    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Or whatever the actual figures are. I’ll admit, my love for a logical world was not strong enough to figure out how soon two ships would come together if they were five light minutes apart and one was moving at 1.4LS and the other at .9LS. The answer was, invariably, “not as quickly as it takes to tell it.”
  2. Assuming they were lucky enough to merit a personality in the first place