Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Long of It

My faithful readers may think that I've passed on to a better world, or perhaps a different, internet-less one, at least. Truly I've been thinking of you all, and of America, and I've even been on the internet regularly. Yet for the last couple of weeks Avram has been working heavily on his doctoral applications, and so the computer time has been at a premium, and thus my computer time has been limited.

Yesterday though he finished the second application that was due by December 15, and having written two letters of intent he isn't as worried about the remaining four due in January. So now he's applied to Berkeley and Duke, which is nice to have two done, very official like. it's up to me to fill in the last two weeks. Mainly while Avram has been working so hard (editing his writing sample, writing his letters of intent, making sure all of his other materials are in) I've been learning how to knit. I learned how two years ago, but being left handed, and trying to knit left handedly, although my teacher was right handed, meant that I never got very far, because every time that I made a mistake, she had no idea what I had done, or even how to fix it. This time, my visiting teacher, Sister Rigby (now isn't that British sounding?) is teaching me; she's a lovely older lady, who's teaching both me and her companion, who is Nokuthula, about my age and from Zimbabwe, although she's lived in England for the last five years. Over all we're quite the international group, which in a small aside is really very nice. I like how international the ward is here; today, for example, our closing prayer in Sacrament Meeting was offered in Portuguese, from a sister from Portugal. And there are several families from Africa, and then of course a large American college contingent, not to mention the native British members, and Scottish members, who have the best accent ever. I really like our ward here, and I just wish that I weren't so transient, so I could feel like we were adding strength to the ward, instead of just passing through.

Now that I've moved completely off topic, let me return to the subject at hand; knitting. So this time I got over my left-centricity, and just learned to do it with the right hand, and it's gone swimmingly. I guess I can't do everything with my left hand, although I can try. I've always wanted to learn how to knit or crochet, or be industrious with my hands, but besides being left handed, I've encountered two difficulties. First, I've never been very motivated to actually work on it on my own, but here there is very little to distract me, and I really have a lot of free time, so it's been very nice and refreshing to have something to do. Second, I'm a snob. I learned this through studying the middle ages, but I have a large pre-disposition towards natural fabrics; linen, cotton, wool, and, of course, silk (could silk even be knit?). I like wearing them better, and I certainly try to only sew with natural fabrics. But knitting isn't that easy; wool yarn is very expensive compared to acrylic, and it's also hard to find. So to knit I've had to reconcile myself to using fake material, which is sad, but necessary. For one thing, there is no way I could afford to knit if I limited myself to real materials.

There are good aspects to acrylic. True, I can't think of any at the moment. But I did buy myself some acrylic yarn, and am making Lydia a stocking for Christmas. It has a green stripe at the bottom and top, and then is red for the body with a felt Christmas tree I'm going to sew on. I've finished about 2/3 to 3/4 of it, so I feel confident in my ability to finish my first project. And I don't mind an acrylic stocking at all, so that problem rests for now. I guess because I'm not going to wear it, or more accurately that it's not a garment of clothing. I don't mind acrylic in other places besides clothing. At least not as much.

And I'm proud at myself for recognizing that the word knitting must be related historically to the word knot, because all knitting is is a series of knots, and of course they look the same, and Avram checked, and I was right. This may be old news to others, but I had never thought about it before, and it's nice to have a potential folk etymology be right.

Also getting into the Christmas spirit, we bought a small (fake) Christmas tree and put it on a table in our living room. Then we also got some small wooden (cheap) ornaments and they perfectly cover the tree. Avram and I both had ornaments like these on our tree; little painted people and things like Nutcrackers and drums. I showed them to a girl from Poland, and her family has them too, so maybe they're a worldwide phenomenon. Because we live in the country, and we can, we went out on two occasions to the wilds of nature behind the manor house and cut down some every green branches and ivy. Every time we've been back there, it's been the perfect English sort of countryside experience, to the point I wish that I had tweed to wear. Or wellingtons (they would be very handy in the extensive authentic mud). We wanted some holly, but apparently because of the flooding this year they had in Oxfordshire the holly has really suffered, and particularly the birds have eaten all of the berries this year. It's actually kind of funny, because every single British person we've even mentioned holly to has gone onto this tangent about them having no berries, and it's very disappointing, etc, etc. They care a lot about their holly and berries, I suppose. Lydia helped us carry the boughs home, one bough in each hand, in a very pagan fashion. Since then she's walked around the house with the greenery, singing lalalalala. A natural druid.

We've brought the greenery home and strung it around our house; it makes me feel like we've decked the halls, although we have a sad lack of red berries (blame the birds). Last week, in our continued merriness we attended our ward party, with tons of food and games. This ward party was more decorated, more fooded, more games than I've ever seen at a Christmas party before. Just the way I like parties. Lydia met Santa Claus, and sat on his lap to receive a present (a book) from him. She didn't cry, but she wasn't exactly happy about all of this, either. At the end of the party they had signs for every day of Christmas in the song "The 12 Days of Christmas," and every one in the room, even those like the Shannons, who were being lame and sitting on the side, were made to come and join in under a day (we were under day 10). Then in order we all sang the song, while sitting down, and each day's group stood up to sing their day's blurb. If the brother in charge thought that your group didn't do a good enough job, he made you repeat your part, too. As you can imagine, by the end of the song we had stood up a lot, and we were near the end. Apparently they do this same thing every year. It was fun, although tiring.

Then yesterday we had the Purcells, another American family over for games and lunch; we played Settlers of Cataan, which I had never played before, and was very fun. Also, it was the first social activity we had planned with another couple (or even another person at all) since we've been here, so it was a nice change in our regular life. And yesterday evening we attended a stake Christmas concert, which Avram sang one song in, and then had mulled juice and hot chocolate afterwards. I liked being somewhere with Mormons, where we could actually drink any drink offered. The concert was nice, as well, for one thing, most of the songs were new to us, whether because the choir sang mostly British ones or because they have a wide repetoire I don't know, but I liked it. And they sang the Coventry Carol, accompanied by a wooden recorder quartet, including a real bass recorder. Good times were had by all.

So that brings us up to date with Christmas time and our activities. Really, this Christmas is turning out to be a very nice time, and doesn't feel wrong or weird at all. Maybe because we're here as a family, maybe because we've been so busy doing Christmasy things, but Christmas feels right this year. The previous sentence sounds a little funny, but I've found as an adult that Christmas is a much harder holiday to pull off, because one's not dependent on someone else to "make it happen." Instead, Avram and I are the ones who are supposed to bring the magic in. Oh, I forgot, in keeping with bringing the magic in, we've also been making Christmas food. We started out with taffy, which neither of us had ever made, but we wanted to do Christmas cooking. We don't have thermometor here, and so are dependent on the dropping bits of your syrup in cups of water to determine how far along we are. Either we're bad at testing this, or the sugar cooks really fast, but somehow we overcooked the syrup, and when we started pulling the taffy it turned hard instead of being soft (and I got blisters in my impatience to roll correctly). So we ended up with hard candy instead. A sad day indeed, especially because neither of us are much of hard candy people. Lydia sure loves it, though.

Yesterday we made gingersnaps, which did turn out fine, and then this coming week we're going to make soft caramels, which I dearly hope work out better, because I love caramels, and then also Gingerbread men to decorate (they're easier than doing a whole house, which we originally wanted to do). Mmm, now that I'm thinking of food, I need to go eat. So I'll turn off the font of surpressed contact, and end this post.


  1. Nice to have you back. Swimmingly. Now that sounds British to me. Tell me about the game Settlers of Catan (or whatever it was. I can't see your blog when I'm making a comment.) We are in charge of games for our New Year's Day outing to the Church Camp so we are looking for fun group adult games.

  2. Oh, this is a board game, so you'd have to buy it, but it's a game where you are all trying to settle more of the board (or more effectively settle) than anyone else through building roads, building settlements and cities, and other means. But it's really only playable with the bought game. I always liked the game "In the Manner of the Adverb," where one person leaves the room, and then the remainder pick any adverb as a group, and then the person returns, and picks a scenario and people to act it out. Then the chosen people do so, in the manner of the adverb they all decided on. The scenarios usually just go for a couple to a few minutes. Then the person has an opportunity to say what they think the adverb was, and if they get it wrong, they pick another scenario and people to play it, and then try again. This goes on three times total, and if after the third scenario the person still doesn't know, they are told, and a new person goes out and it begins all over again.
    I really like this game because it isn't competitive, adverbs are easy to think of (just add an ly), it can be fit to any group (ie, only religious scenarios, or religious adverbs, I suppose, although I don't think that would work as well) and in my experience at least, it's really fun. So that's my idea.

  3. Two comments: #1: I know how you feel about the left-handedness. I usually end up doing things like knitting with my right hand, too, which feels sort of like betrayal. Once I bought myself a calligraphy set with a book for instructions, and was all excited to learn. But of course, the instructions were only for right-handed people and would not work for me at all. And I couldn't very well change hands, either! Back to knitting, if you ever get the chance to learn how to spin yarn, loose wool is cheaper than buying wool yarn, and you can dye it however you want! I've done it a little and am not very good at it, though.
    #2: I have made taffy at Christmastime for years, and even though we always had a thermometer, and followed the recipe, it always turned out hard. I have never figured out why.

  4. i dont have a candy therm. either and so whenever i try to make something i am so worried i will cook it too long that i end up taking it off too soon and the candy is too soft! :) at any rate it sounds like you are having a merry time and I am so glad! we are going to make gingerbread houses for FHE tonight.. but they are not real i am just makinging them with grahm crakers so they are small and everyone can decorate their own which is the fun part anyways. i am thining of making ginger cookies just to eat though. I LOVE them!

    oh and do share a picture of lydias completed stocking, i woud love to see!

  5. Funny Left Handed Connection

    I was bored and surfing the net last week and came upon this British site

    Funny that you have a left handed story and are in the UK

    Sounds like fun times.

  6. pookie, you amaze me. You do so much! And your never afriad to try things! I have some good news, Devin wants to get a new stove for our kitchen and I aggreed to try and learn to bake. starting with bread. He really wants me to make home made bread. I bet you never thought I would agree to that huh? well what can I say. we'd do the strangest things in the name of love.

  7. I agree with Aleatha, about loose wool. Good news is, you don't need a spinning wheel-- a Navajo spindle is easy to make and use. Bad news: the wool yarn you get this way is not of even thickness, and works better for crocheting than knitting, but it can be done, and is even "authentic".