Friday, May 31, 2013

Yarning For U-Knitty: How To Start A Knitting Club

Over the past month and a half, Thursday nights have been my favourite. I arrive at my church, pull some chairs out of the closet. I arrange them in a circle, then settle in to wait for the others. I pull out my yarn, my crochet hook, my scissors if I need them. For about an hour and a half, I let my fingers dance while I listen, talk, share.

Approximately 8 of us have started up this 'knitting' club. It's a surprising group, too! The average age is about 23, and we're missing the stereotypical grandmotherly knitters. This is just a touch disappointing - they would have so much to teach us. As it is, many of us are still learning. I've taught one to crochet, and helped others as they struggled with their hooks and patterns that seemed alien to them. Another is learning to knit, discovering yarn-overs and fancy, fuzzy yarns. I, myself, am taking the opportunity to get back to knitting, to push myself to try a sweater for real, for once, now that I have access to a little hand holding and someone who is more knowledgeable than myself.

But first, I need to finish this project.

Photo, from my phone, snapped by a fellow yarner.

It's a blanket in a beautiful, almost 'reversible' pattern and I'm so close to finished. Unfortunately, as with every crocheted blanket I've ever made, the last part is the most painful part: working in all those ends, one at a time, laboriously, without cutting corners. It's such an important part - I did cut corners once, working the ends in minimally and snipping them off. I paid for it in all the holes I had to fix when I pulled it out of the dryer following its first wash. But, I will be so happy to finally work in that last long tail.

 I hope to be able to share this project with you properly next week, when I have finally finished it. Until then, I'm going to suggest something crazy. You could start a knitting club too. True, you need a few fellow knitters to get involved. But it's not hard, not in the least.

How to Start a Knitting Club
  1. Ask your friends, particularly those you know have an interest in knitting. Ask the ones who don't have an interest too. They might want to learn!
  2. Find a place that is easy for the majority to get to. If you belong to a church, ask if you can use one of the classrooms! It's a good neutral place to meet that doesn't put any pressure on a host. Or, see if one of the people interested might offer up their living room.
  3. Set a time and a day of the week. 
  4. On that time and day of the week, show up at the decided-upon location with your knitting bag in tow.
  5. Knit! Or crochet. Or, if you'd rather, quilt! Or, maybe do some beading. A knitting club doesn't have to be just knitting.
See? Easy!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Three Things for Thursday: A Turquoise Apartment, A Coffee Table, A Delicious Salad

This week, I'm featuring a few things that have caught my eye around the Internet lately.

One: A Turquoise Apartment

Designer Emily Henderson is responsible for this gorgeous space.

There's a sweet story behind it too. Henderson worked with Sunrise Living, an assisted living home for seniors, to give a home make-over to one lucky resident. Head over there to read the whole story and see the whole apartment.

My eye was caught by this little sitting room. I think it's the casters on the chairs. Or maybe the buttons. Possibly that bright blue blanket combined with the red pillows. Whatever it is, I think it's all perfection.

Two: A Coffee Table 

But not just any coffee table. A coffee table made with such care and attention, it can't help but blow me away.

This is the creation of another designer, Sarah M. Dorsey. She and her husband meticulously cut long sticks of driftwood down into small slips of wood, then glued them together to create this coffee table top. The result is absolutely gorgeous!

Three: A Delicious Salad

Before you think I'm going all themed with today's Three Things (designers!) let's shake it up with this salad:

This is Once Upon A Cutting Board's Roasted Spring Vegetable Salad with Arugula Pesto Vinaigrette. Even the name seems drool-worthy.

I don't know much about arugula. I've never bought just arugula and, while I've had it in those salad mixes you can get at the grocery store, I don't think I could pinpoint the flavour of arugula. Which is why this salad has caught my eye. One of my hopes with my food shake-up is that I'll be able to broaden my food horizons by trying as many different foods and flavours as possible, things like vegetables I've never tried or experimented with. Things like arugula. So, this salad is definitely on my list of recipes to try.

What has caught your eye on the Internet lately?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

This Dusty Kitchen: Bread for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

I have come to realize that I eat a lot of carbs. For breakfast, a bagel slathered with margarine*. For lunch, another bagel, toasted with cheese all melty on top, or a tuna sandwich, or a wrap stuffed with meat and cucumbers. For dinner, spaghetti, or rice with chicken, or hamburgers with a huge bun, or pizza, or Kraft dinner if we're feeling lazy. Of course, slathered with ketchup. (Is there any other way to eat KD?)

I love bread. I believe there is nothing better than a warm loaf, straight from the oven and dipped into chili or soup. I love every kind of pasta. Rice, I've taken a little longer to warm up to. It seems like every single meal we consume in our house is very heavy in at least one of the three. Obviously, we're eating way more than the 45-65% carbs most health care professionals recommend.

Part of the problem is that my food repertoire doesn't expand much beyond carbs. Breakfast is always wheat, lunch doesn't seem complete without some kind of bread, and dinner? How do you make dinner without pasta or rice? 

People follow low-carb diets all the time. I have no interest in that. In fact, I have no concern about my carb consumption, beyond the amount of grains I consume. I do recognize the need for the Husband and I to start cutting out a bunch of our bread, pasta, and rice carbs and adding in more... non-carbs. (What are those?)

I guess this means more salads. More eggs maybe. More meat. More beans? Definitely more vegetables. 

It certainly means more balance.

As we were shopping last night, the Husband mentioned our diet. I was quick to correct: this is not a diet. This is an exploration of food, an expansion of our meal repertoire, a learning experience in which I focus on feeding us with new foods. Not a diet.

Do you eat as many grains as I seem to? Do you have any recommendations for me? Your favourite salad recipes? The perfect way to make chicken or steak? Do you completely disagree and think I should keep stuffing my face with bread, especially if it's fresh from the oven?

* Yes, margarine, processed shite as it may be. All because it spreads.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Stairs and Project Attic of Awesome: Rising to the Occasion

We're kind of far off from getting our stairs for our new attic space. In fact, the Husband and I have both acknowledged the possibility that we might arrive at more or less the end of the renovation still using the temporary stairs the Husband's dad built for us. They're pretty serious temporary stairs but, none-the-less, meant to be temporary.

However, we've already decided that this is among the projects we're going to hire out. In order to make sure we get the best looking stairs we possible can, we're going to put the job out to someone who knows, intimately, what they are doing. So, because it's something we're going to have to order, I'm well aware that the time for decisions on what those stairs are going to look like is going to come up a lot faster than I expect.

It's time to think about it now.

So, some options!

We could go with something completely classic and, in being classic, safe:

I've always loved the high contrast look, a crisp white with a dark wood. And, these days, I'm contemplating the possibility of putting a soft carpet on the floor, so perhaps the runner would provide an appropriate transition. 

Or, perhaps instead of a wooden railing, we should consider wrought iron:

On Sunday, we stopped in briefly at an open house on our way home from church. It was one of these huge top-ups, once a bungalow, now a million dollar luxury home. The builders had decided to use wrought iron and wood for the railings. It was a look that, until I saw it there, I hadn't even considered. But, as we wandered up and down through the shiny levels, from basement to second floor, the wrought iron felt kind of perfect. It made the space feel more open and airy. An option, certainly.

And, then, sometimes, I consider something on the extreme edge of modern:

Specifically, the horizontal orientation of the railing and the wide openness of the stair treads catch my eye. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy considering the option, indulging a fantasy of the ultra-modern, perhaps, this type of stair isn't actually an option. We already know that the space beneath the stairs will be closet and nothing but. It's where our washer and dryer are, after all, and I can't wait to get them hidden behind a wall. 

So, no open stairs for us. 

More than likely, we'll end up with a combination of styles. Perhaps the classic, high contrast stairs combined with a horizontal, wrought iron railing? Perhaps.

Are there any other styles of stairs I should be considering, especially considering how small our space is? Which do you like best?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Garden, 2013: Container Gardening

Nope, no attic update. The Husband went golfing this weekend instead of working on the attic. We'll get back at it next week! I promise.

I think.

Everything in my garden has exploded over the past week. I swear, my squash and broccoli have each grown bigger, my little seedlings are starting to pop up, and a few of the plants we started inside and planted, not knowing if they would survive have decided to fight for life. They adored the rain last week and the sunshine of the weekend.

We have plenty of space in our garden. We have six beds and all the space along the edges of the garden. We can't even fill them all. But, believe it or not, I'm doing a little container gardening this year as well. Container gardening, for the uninitiated, is exactly how it sounds - growing a garden in containers. Lots of things grow well in containers: tomatoes, peppers, beans... a large enough container and you can grow anything.

My containers contain my herb garden. Herbs grow well in containers. Many varieties, in fact, should not be planted in your garden. Mint, for example, spreads like crazy and is notoriously difficult to keep under control. I keep these close to the back door, the perfect place from which to snip herbs while cooking.

My oregano from last year came back thick and strong. I transplanted into a pot and it took right away. Now, I just need to figure out exactly what to make with it.

The rest, I planted from seed: rosemary, thyme, basil, sage, and parsley. Each one got a little marker, made with a twig and a pen. 

I can't wait to see them sprout and grow into little plants. 

Do you plant herbs? Grow your garden in containers? Tell me about it!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Project Attic of Awesome: Why this, why not that?

This post has been sponsored by Hitachi mini diggers. I'm assuming we would have to use one just like it if we ever decided to go ahead with a more major renovation. While this may be a paid post, all words are my own.

We didn't get very far on our attic renovation last weekend. It's kind of a funny story actually... the Husband and I were so excited about getting out in the garden on Saturday that we could think about nothing else until every weed was pulled and every seedling planted. "Monday," the Husband said. "We'll do the rest of the framing upstairs on Monday." That's the benefit of having a long weekend, right?

So, we spent the day in the garden on Saturday, and enjoyed a second day off visiting with my parents on Sunday. Monday morning, we pulled on our work clothes and dragged ourselves reluctantly upstairs.

"Home Depot, first thing," the Husband said. "We need a little more wood."

"Home Depot?" I said. "I don't think so."

Naturally. Everything was closed. Reluctantly, we took another day for ourselves.

This means I have no update for you. We've made no progress. This weekend doesn't look much better, filled as it is with living, commitments, and very little renovation work. After doing so well for four weeks, we've fallen off track. We're officially behind. It's disappointing, but I always knew it was inevitable.

Occasionally, I like to think about the 'what-ifs' of the decisions we did not make. Do you remember when we first began to realize that our full top-up renovation wasn't going to be worth it? We decided on the attic renovation because it was the easiest, quickest, most affordable way to get a little more square footage. But, we could have gone for another more extensive option: we could have dug down, and then built up, finishing off with a 2000 square foot home. From 600 square feet. It could have been huge.

We still could, I suppose, but we likely won't. I have very little interest in such a large renovation. Since Danica at Country Chic Renovator has been working hard at their addition, I recognize that it's possible, well within our capabilities as renovators, but I always find myself more interested in the spaces that currently exist rather than spaces that could exist. My imagination is captured by old, run-down spaces. It's not sparked by the potential, the ability of a patch of dirt to sprout walls. I'd rather fix the old than build the new.

So, it's unlikely that we'll ever be excavating, at least while we remain here, in the Big City. But hopefully, one of these days, we'll actually finish that attic.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sit. Stay. Please don't chew the couch.

This guy is giving us a run for our money. He's a happy one. An energetic one. Almost a year and he's only become more happy, more energetic.

Too happy, too energetic. Perhaps.

Every day, we have to brace ourselves to come home. Would he have pushed the bathroom door open and spread the garbage all over the living room floor? What part of the couch will they have destroyed? Will their teeth have found the crisp pages of my books?

She's not innocent either.

Yes, we could crate him. But he grew out of the crate months ago and we've been reluctant to buy a new one, especially since our house is not exactly resplendent with space.

Will he get better? Is this just the terrible twos or did we go drastically wrong somewhere? Perhaps we weren't firm enough. Gave him too much space, too early. Went lax on his 'sit' and 'stay' in a way that made him think those books were his. Didn't give him enough toys to play with. Put too much temptation in front of his nose. Didn't spend long enough time at the dog park. Too many cookies. Not enough cookies.

Good thing I love him anyway.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Garden, 2013

I know. I haven't talked much about the garden here at all since last year. This is because we haven't done much with the garden. Why? There is no reason. None. Sure. We've been planning the attic renovation and, for the past four weeks, we've been busy carrying out that attic renovation. But last year, I couldn't get enough of the garden. We started our plants in February. By the time they were ready to go into the ground, the tomato plants were falling over and nearly 2 feet tall. This year? We didn't get going until the end of March, a whole month and a half later and the seedlings we ended up with? Well... I can't say yet that they made it.

I blame it all on the fact that winter stuck around late this year.

Over the Victoria Day long weekend, we finally turned our full attention to that patch of land. We needed a break from the house after last week's intense day in the dust and because of the neglect in the back yard, we had a lot of work to do.

All those weeds. Not to mention the planting. First things first, we took a trip to Home Depot nice and early Saturday morning to pick up all our plants. Admittedly, we went with very little plan. We knew we wanted tomatoes and peppers, but other than that, we went intent on seeing what was there and building a garden plan based on that.

We were home by 10, ready to get to work. So many weeds to pull! So much ground to work!

But, we finished. And now, our garden looks like this:

It seems less lush and green, I know, but now it's weed free and planted with a plethora of vegetables. Specifically:

  • Tomatoes
  • Green peppers
  • White onions
  • Spanish onions
  • Chives
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Parsnips
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Pole beans
  • Butternut squash
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cucumber
  • Watermelon.



Well. Maybe. We'll see! That's part of the joy of gardening, finding out how much is too much, learning about each new plant that finds its way into the garden, and allowing for the possibility of failure and death. 

Did you spend some time in your garden this weekend? Spend time outside in the beautiful sunshine?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Chocolate Cream Cheese Crepes and Strawberries

This is a paid post, sponsored by Philadelphia Chocolate Cream Cheese, through my involvement with SheBlogs Media. 

However, all opinions in this post remain my own.

I love cheesecake. So much so that, for our wedding, instead of your traditional fluffy wedding cake covered in fondant, we had three different flavours of cheesecake cupcakes, all made and lovingly decorated by my mom. Every special occasion, I go for the cheesecake - the New York style one, though a good no-bake cherry cheesecake is pretty delightful too. I've even made one or two, with decent success.

So, you would think I would be really excited when I started to see billboards of Philly chocolate cream cheese spread  popping up around town, right? After all, cream cheese and chocolate make a pretty awesome cheesecake. But, there's something about it on toast that doesn't seem right. Toast is crunchy, wheaty. Not quite right for the decadence of chocolate cheesecake.

And then I bought a tub. I experienced first hand the stroke of genius someone at Kraft had. Take cheesecake. Whip it up. Put it in a little tub.

But I'm going to suggest that it doesn't belong on toast. True, I haven't yet tried it on toast (maybe I'll save that for tomorrow morning), but there are for more majestic things this delicious chocolaty creamy decadence could go with. Baked into the middle of a breakfast muffin perhaps. Icing a cupcake. Mixed in to pancake batter. Or, on crepes. With strawberries.

Oh, these were so tasty. I'd even go so far as to say they were perfection. Perfectly chocolatey and perfectly sweet stuffed with just the right amount of strawberries and Philadelphia chocolate cream cheese.

This was, admittedly, my first time making real, authentic crepes. The Husband likes his pancakes thin, so whenever we have pancakes, I water down the batter just for him. But these were better than those. I used a tried and true recipe: the basic sweet crepe from the Joy of Cooking. The result was crepe-like, not anywhere close to a pancake. They were, bonus, way simpler than I expected them to be.

So, make these! Smear them with Philly, add some strawberries, roll it up and consume!

Sweet Crepes with Philadelphia Chocolate Cream Cheese and Strawberries
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar

Philadelphia Chocolate Cream Cheese
strawberries, sliced

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for half an hour. This is the perfect amount of time to prep your toppings and clean up your kitchen a bit.

Spray a non-stick skillet with Pam or melt approximately 1 tsp of butter. Cook the crepes using about 1/4 cup of batter per crepe. The crepe is ready to be flipped when the middle of the crepe bubbles and the edges begin to look a little crispy.

I used a spatula to flip. If you're fancy, you might be able to flip it by tossing it in the air. That is beyond my capabilities. A spatula is just fine.

Cook on the second side until speckled golden brown.

Smear a bunch of chocolate Philly all over one side of the crepe. Add the strawberries in a line, preferably off-centred in the crepe for easy rolling. Roll, sprinkle with more strawberries, eat!

If you haven't tried it out yet, keep your eye out on Philly's Facebook page: I hear there's going to be a coupon on May 21st! On the facebook page, there are also details about a fun 'Breakfast in Bed' challenge you can participate in - a little social media arm-twisting to get someone special to serve you breakfast in bed!

Have you ever made crepes? Or are you more of a pancake person? Waffles, perhaps?

Have you tried the new Philly chocolate yet? Thoughts? Am I being unfair to the humble toast?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Warm blankets, Casseroles, and a Video

This week has been a difficult one. Last Tuesday, a Facebook friend posted a photo of a missing person's notice sitting on the dash of his truck with the caption, "Heading out of find my buddy today." We all know the end of the story now.

I am grieving with the community of the Ancaster CRC.

One: Warm Blankets

Since we've been messing around with the attic and, effectively, removing all the insulation we have, and, since the weather has been unpredictable and nasty, it's been kind of difficult to control the heat in our house. It's cold upstairs or boiling downstairs, no in between. 

This has me thinking about warm blankets, even though the weather is warming up. Warm blankets have me thinking about cool evenings sitting on the porch all wrapped up with a glass of wine or maybe a cup of tea. Those days are coming! In fact, they're here!

What I really want is one of these.

These blankets are made out of old saris. Shelley, the owner of, sent me a small sample of the blankets, and even in the little square format, I could tell they would be soft and cozy, perfect for cool spring nights.

Unfortunately, they're a little pricy for me right now. Instead, one of these days, I will get around to crocheting myself a good, full-sized afghan.

Two: Casseroles

Talk about comfort. Casseroles and I get along really well. I'm not exactly sure why, but I've come to realize that most of the meals I make involve more than one different kind of food all mixed together. Chicken, with potatoes, with veggies? Why wouldn't you put all of those things together in a casserole dish with some kind of gravy or white sauce and bake it for 25 minutes? 

Three: This Video

Worth a watch if you haven't seen it yet.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

This Dusty Bookshelf: Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska

Drunk Mom: A Memoir
Jowita Bydlowska

This book is going to mean a lot to some people.

In the year after her son was born, Jowita Bydlowska relapsed into intense alcoholism. Three years after her recovery, her son now four years old, she's published this novel, a reflection, a walk-through of that year and everything she and her small family went through. She paints a clear brutal picture of addiction and the grip in which it can hold you.

I have never struggled with addiction - unless playing endless rounds of Candy Crush before bed counts, but I think that's the farthest thing from what Bydlowska and others who struggle with substance abuse experience - and I've never been a mom, so in some ways, I don't believe I experienced the full impact of the subject matter Bydlowska chose to address. She's received some flack for it with the critics, those who believe her memoir is nothing but a self-promoting exposé that will do nothing but hurt her son in the long run. I can't agree. Even though I can't relate to what Bydlowska went through, even though I know very little about alcoholism and have never experienced its painful impact, I know others, women, mothers, even children of alcoholics, to whom this book will become important, a reminder of the human behind the addiction.

Oh, so human it was.

Bydlowska chooses to approach the subject purely from a personal perspective. She leaves out research and statistics. She doesn't go into depth on ways to get clean, or the scientific explanation of what goes on during withdrawal and detox. Every word she writes is personal, experiential, a memoir in its truest sense.

Memoir or, perhaps, blog. When I started the first few pages, the first few chapters, I told the Husband, "I don't think I can handle this." It wasn't because of that gritty opening scene that finds her in a public bathroom snorting the cocaine she found in one of the stalls. It was because of the voice Bydlowska chose to write in.

You know that blog style?

The one in which the blogger separates out each sentence into its own paragraph?

As if each were so important, they need space around them.


Could you handle a whole book of it?

I thought I wasn't going to be able to. Honestly. Two chapters in, I was nearly ready to drop kick the book onto the lowest shelf on my bookcase, the one that collects all the dog hair. The story held me though, and I'm so glad it did, because I realized, halfway through, that style - while slightly annoying - contributed something to the reader's own sense of drunkenness. That space between each idea? I was familiar with it. It felt like I was tipsy, floating just outside of any situation, taking longer than normal to absorb the scene and form a thought. As I turned the last page of the book, that writing style, which I was dead-set against in the first two chapters, made the book for me.

Read this one. It's worth it.

(Full disclosure: I received my copy of Drunk Mom from Randomhouse Canada for review purposes. However, when I review a book for a publishing house, I am not required to give it a glowing review. All opinions in all of my reviews are exclusively my own and not influenced by any outside party.

Thanks for the copy Randomhouse! I truly appreciate it.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Project Attic of Awesome Update: Let There Be Dust!

According to our schedule, by the end of Saturday, by the end of week 5 of this renovation, we should have accomplished the following:

  • Reinforce the ceiling joists with floor joists
  • Support the new floor joists with one ginormous beam
  • Rerun the existing electrical 
  • Support the ginormous beam with posts and rip down the living room wall. 
A little further explanation: in conjunction with this attic renovation, we planned to take a wall down on our main floor. Technically, our bungalow is a 2 bedroom, but, since we put a set of stairs in one of the bedrooms, it wasn't exactly useful space anymore. Logical solution? Rip down the wall and open it up to the living room. This was especially logical since we will still have a two bedroom house what with the beautiful attic suite we're going to end up with. 

The problem with all this is that the wall we wanted to rip down is, surprise, surprise, a supporting wall. You're not exactly supposed to rip down supporting walls. Good thing I married a structural engineer. Hence, all that reinforcing we have worked into our reno plans.

On Saturday, when we woke up, we had half the attic floor to reinforce, the beam to build and the wall to rip down. And, unlike previous weeks when we had help from family, it was just the Husband and I. Saturday morning, I told the Husband I didn't want to go to bed until that wall was down.

The start of our beam. In the end, it was five 2x8s wide.

We worked hard. I became deft with the drill, finding any and all tasks that needed to be done but didn't necessarily require the strength of my Husband's arms or the use of power tools that have blades.* I hammered and drilled, wedged fresh wood into place, and nailed joist hangers, one after another. At 2 pm, we started on the posts downstairs. At 3 pm, we took the sawz-all to the wall. 

We didn't finish cleaning up the dust until 10 pm. 

But! The wall is down, and the long hours and the hard work was all so worth it. As our space emerged from the dust, it became clear just how worth it the change was. We should have done this a year ago, attic or no attic, second floor or no second floor. Suddenly, our house feels like a proper sized home. It doesn't feel abnormally small anymore. Sure, it's still small, but it doesn't feel tiny, doesn't feel cramped. 

We're thrilled. 

(Despite the swirls of dust that are going to take weeks to eradicate.)

* I cannot and never will be one of those women who approaches power tools that could take your hand off with confidence. Blades make me anxious. That said, I did pick up the sawz-all a time or two during the day. Even that was a nerve-wracking experience. It may not be very liberated of me, but if the husband wants to run the power tools, he's welcome too. 

I can handle a drill well enough though.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Photo Friday Thank You

Dear friends,

I have been so very humbled and blessed by you. Yesterday, I posted on a topic that I've put a lot of thought into, a decision that has been crucial in shaping who I am. I often find these posts difficult to write, second guessing my words, worrying that the way I say something will be misunderstood. Even when I am confident in each word conveying my ideas with strength and clarity, I worry about the person that will disagree, that will walk away offended and hurt. I am terrified of that person confronting me and ripping apart the words in a way I never intended for them.

But yesterday? You didn't all agree with my decision. Some of you didn't agree with anything I said in my post, I'm sure. And yet, you shared yourself with me. Your own ideas. Your own viewpoints. Your own perspectives. I am so grateful.

I am grateful that we are willing to talk about things that don't have one clear answer. I am grateful that we can accept each other with openness. I am grateful that you were willing to share your worldview and that, by doing so, my own was so deeply enriched.

So, thank you, all of you.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Commemorating Three Years with Some Last Name Talk

Yesterday was our third wedding anniversary.

It was probably on our third date, maybe our fourth, that I told the then-boyfriend that I was planning on keeping my own last name whenever I got married. It was a deal breaker, I said, if he wasn't ok with that. Intense? Too soon? Maybe. But I'll be honest: I was looking for forever. 

I also told him that if he ever asked my dad for permission to ask me to marry him, a) my dad wouldn't give it because obviously the boyfriend had no idea who I was, and b) we wouldn't be getting married.

Eight months later, the boyfriend became the fiance without parental approval. We were both 22. What did we need parental approval for? 

At some point in the planning process, we had dinner with my grandmother: the then-fiance and I, my parents, and my dad's parents around the table. The topic of my last name came up. I don't know how. How doesn't matter. I confirmed what my parents already knew: I would be keeping my last name. This point had never been a topic of discussion. The then-fiance had known, right from the beginning of our relationship that I would not give up that counter-cultural decision. He knew that it was important to me.

Across the table from me, I could see my grandmother's face twisting. 

"Oh," she said. She has a very specific way of saying it, a way that oozes disapproval.

"Yes. My last name is important to me. It's who I've been for the past 22 years. It connects me to my parents, my brother and sister. Why should I have to give it up?"

"But that is disrespectful to your husband," she said. So direct. So black and white. 

I can't remember how I reacted. Did I laugh? Did I argue? The conversation moved on without me and never since have we acknowledged it. 

The issue of women's names is a contentious one. After all, you could do the 'feminist thing' and keep the last name you grew up with but, hey, you know, that's your dad's last name. If you're trying to escape the bonds of patriarchy, you better come up with something all on your own. Or, take your mom's name. Or your great-aunt's. But that name doesn't mean as much to you? Well, I guess your shit out of luck. You can't win.

In my social circles, the issue tends to hardly come up. I belong to the Christian Reformed Church, which is progressive in some areas and not progressive enough in others. Among my friends, it is a point of pride to take on their husband's names, as if becoming a Mrs. elevates your social status, as if finally being free of the stigma of single-hood* allows them to fully embrace adulthood. It's assumed that, at the end of a ceremony, you will be two people joined by one name. No other option is considered.

But why not? 

Biblically, people didn't even have last names. 

Don't get me wrong: I will never look down on someone for taking her husband's last name. Some of the time, I wonder myself if it might be nice to share that one name with the Husband. It's a choice for which there is no right answer except for the one that is right for you.

But, sometimes, I fall into wishing. Wishing that one of my friends might make the same choice I did. Wishing that my church could get my name right in the birthday list in the bulletin. Wishing we would stop getting mail for a woman that doesn't exist. Wishing that my grandmother would recognize how personal and important that decision is to me. 

I can tell you this: we have been married for three years and we haven't shared a name for any of it. We are no less a family, no less committed, no less respectful, no less ready to tackle the rest of our lives together.

Happy Anniversary to us!

Tell me, did you keep your last name, or, if you're not married, do you want to if you do get married? Did you put much thought into the decision? Have you run into resistance to it?

* Single-hood and the stigma is a whole 'nother topic, especially if you want to talk about single-hood and the church. But, I would probably be stepping way out of my league there.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Attic of Awesome Update: Inspiration

This past weekend, my dad drove to the big city, picked up a hitchhiker on the way, and joined the Husband in the attic with a roll of wire and whatever other tools one uses to run electrical.

I puttered around in the garden.

We are still nicely on track. This weekend, together, they got the existing electrical re-run, so the existing wires were run through the floor joists instead of on top of them. They also had to move an existing switch off the wall we're planning on taking down.

The hardest parts of the job are slowly getting finished. We can look around now and say, "Ah, subfloor will be down in just two weeks. And, once the subfloor is down? Is only a matter of a little drywall. We're almost done."

Drywall. And maybe a little beadboard. We'll also have to make decisions about lights soon. Windows. Wall colour. Ceiling colour. Stairs - the material, the finish. 

Who am I kidding? We have so far to go yet.

But the hard parts, the structural stuff, the guts? Those are almost done. Or, at least, that's what I like to think. 

Nine more weeks to go. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Week 3: Project Attic of Awesome

The attic really doesn't look like much yet, but, believe it or not, we're slowly getting through the most difficult, most involved, most complicated bits of the project.

When the house was originally built, despite the adorable dormer the builder added to the roof, it was not designed to be living space. Most attics are like this: ceiling joists are a lot less robust than floor joists because they don't really have to support much. Attics tend to be built with ceiling joists. And then filled with insulation. And never seen again. This means that, since we want to make the attic a living space, we have no choice but to reinforce the ceiling joists with 2 by 6 boards. If we didn't, a) we wouldn't pass inspection by a long shot and b) we would fall through the floor. Maybe not right away. But eventually.

On top of that, we want to take out a wall on the main floor. And, guess what? It's a supporting wall! This is where being married to an engineer who has connections to the house building business comes in really handy. This process involves building two temporary walls - one on each side of that supporting wall - to hold up the ceiling while we take down the supporting wall and slide in a beam.

See? It's all very complicated.

At this point, we're here:

We've reinforced the roof and framed in our 'closets' at the same time. Half of the ceiling joists have been reinforced.

We've carved our stairwell out of the floor, adding in a beam - and removed the temporary wall we built, pictured here, when we were finished.

This week, hopefully we'll get a set of temporary stairs put up so I'll actually be willing to brave the floor joists. It's a lot easier pulling yourself into a small attic opening than it is a large stairwell opening.

This week is also the electrical week! The past couples weekends, we've had the Husband's dad and brother out to help us. This weekend, my dad is rolling up his sleeves and setting his mind to the logic and symmetry of circuits and switches.

Ah, progress. We're getting there!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

This Dusty Bookshelf: The Invisible Girls by Sarah TheBarge

Somehow, I've gotten trapped in a cycle of books that have kept my morning commutes occupied but that have grated on my in one way or another. I want to read a book that I can say I gobbled up, a book I can say that I loved because of this, this, this, and this, a book that was everything I wanted it to be.

This was not that book. The more I read, the more I'm likely to find it, right?

(Unfortunately, the book I'm currently reading, Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska is also not that book. But, let's not get ahead of myself.)

Or, perhaps, the more critical I am to become.

The Invisible Girls
By Sarah TheBarge

A memoir. I seem to be reading more memoirs these days than I have at any other point in my life. Maybe it's because more people are writing them? Or because people are taking memoir more seriously? Or because I'm taking memoir more seriously now that I've hit the wise, old age of 26? Probably, it partially has something to do with the rise of blogs and the coveted blog-to-book-deal dream.

I think this one was a blog-to-book-deal. At least, TheBarge mentions a blog. I tried to find it, but all I found was a wiped template with a few pages advertising the book. Now that a publisher is paying her for her story, the blog is dead.

This makes me sad for blogs.

Sarah TheBarge does have quite the story, and certainly a story that belong on paper, reaching more people than her blog would have, perhaps. At the age of 27, her life fell apart when she discovered blood on her shirt and, upon squeezing her breast, realize something was very very wrong. A double mastectomy. And then, it recurred. Essentially, TheBarge lived through a nightmare. 

A few years later, in a new city, trying to restart her life, she meets a Somalian woman and her children on a bus and a new part of her story begins as she gets to know the family and helps them survive in the new and unfamiliar country. 

It was a touching story. Emotional. Difficult to read. There were times I had to close the book on my commute home or face the embarrassment of crying on the subway. But, this book is also problematic in two very different ways. 

1) Are you familiar with the White Saviour Complex? Admittedly, I was warned before I started this book that its pages are filled with it, so perhaps it was all the more glaring for me, this idea that Westerners, specifically white westerners, will save Africa, that, without us, they will be lost, suffering savages. This complex is generally attached to the attitude of Westerners when they go to African countries, but I couldn't ignore its presence in this book as well. TheBarge muses more than once about what would have happened to Hadhi, the Somalian woman, and her children if she hadn't met them on the bus that day. The problem with this? Hadhi is not empowered by TheBarge's attitude. Her work to care for her children, to eke out a life for them in this new place goes unacknowledged. 

I would never say that we shouldn't acknowledge our privilege and recognize that we can help those who struggle here at home or in other countries. I'm not saying that TheBarge should have ignored this family on the bus. I'm not saying that she shouldn't have done all the things she did, bringing them gifts, helping them make ends meet. But her attitude about what she was doing irked me. Help, yes, but don't assume that you are the only thing protecting them from sure death and suffering.

2) TheBarge grew up in a strict Baptist community. The book is strongly Christian, which, being a Christian myself, I actually enjoyed. She makes some beautiful realizations about God and suffering as she struggles with her illness and her relationships. But, as she described her upbringing, her church, and the community in which she was raised, I became frustrated with what she wasn't saying. She shrugged off the emotional abuse, in one breath using it for shock value and in another, dismissing the actions of others as normal, as not their fault, as justified and rationalized. She holds the hurt of being abandoned by her church community and her boyfriend as she struggled through treatment at arms length, unwilling to acknowledge how absolutely shitty they were to her. It bothered me. Sometimes, I think people use religion as an excuse to be terrible to their kids, their spouses, those who are, in some way, under their control and no one ever holds them to their actions. 

At the end of the book, I felt a little bit like TheBarge wasn't necessarily ready to write her story yet. It felt raw at times, but at others, she seemed to be holding the reader or her experience at arms length, laying out facts and actions without exploring them further, without letting the reader into the deep, gut-wrenching pain she must have gone through. Her journey was powerful, but in this book, I don't think she allowed it be.