Monday, April 25, 2016

In which I'm in a bike accident but my eyebrows are on point

I was all alone this weekend, as Jon went to a wedding in Buffalo and Seamus went to Nashville with his school orchestra, and I stayed home to take care of the dogs. It was lovely being on my own. I didn't have to cook and I ate things like roasted cauliflower dipped in guacamole and cinnamon toast and luxuriated in cups of tea and long, uninterrupted spells of knitting and reading and watching The Vicar of Dibley.

Friday, I rode my bicycle to work. I was on my way home, flying down the last steep downhill stretch, when I saw a scooter getting ready to exit a side street. This is the scariest thing about cycling, because you have no idea if the person in the side street or the person who is signaling a turn across your lane has noticed you. So, I was going very fast, and I put on my brakes and my bike didn't respond well, but then it seemed that the scooter driver was going to wait for me. So I released my brakes, and the scooter went. I put on my brakes again, and my rear wheel began to buck as if the bike were about to flip and I lost control altogether and fell sideways into the road, which is better than flipping over, but was still terrible and I'm lucky I wasn't crushed by an oncoming car. (YES, I was wearing a helmet, although my head never hit anything.)

The scooter driver stopped and asked if I was OK and I said "No," because I was very upset and I didn't know if I was hurt or not, but I stood up and realized that nothing was broken. It seemed to me that something dramatic ought to have happened at that moment, I don't know what exactly, but God smiting the scooter driver is one idea that comes to mind. It didn't occur to me to call 911, indeed, I had completely forgotten about the existence of my bag and cell phone, and didn't notice until after I got home that my bag was hanging precariously off the side of my bike. In that anticlimactic moment, the only thing I could think of to do was get back on my bike -as absurd as that action seemed - and ride home. "See?  You're fine!" said the scooter driver, and buzzed off. I noticed that another driver had stopped and gotten out of his car, but I didn't want to interact with anyone, so I rode home.

And I am fine, except for a bruised backside and a road-rashed knee which I immediately photographed and angrily tweeted at Charlottesville City Hall because I was SO ANGRY and had to vent at someone and I feel that local government has a lot to answer for regarding the shitty cycling conditions in this city.

Lucky that this is the worst of my injuries

I told myself I would NEVER ride a bicycle in Charlottesville again, but I had weekend plans and since Jon took the car to the Richmond airport, a bike was my only mode of transportation. Saturday morning, I got back on the bike to ride to the gym for barre class. It was OK, but I was skittish on the downhills. After the gym, instead of going straight home, I rode to the public library near UVA. The ride home was awful, partly because of all the dangerous debris in the bike lane on Preston Ave, and also because of heavy traffic related to the Dogwood Parade and the farmer's market. On South Street, I had difficulty because the city has torn up the road, so it's awful for bikes and some idiot inexplicably pulled over right in front of me. THEN, after I finally got out of the worst of the traffic, some fucking asshole in an SUV turned left right across my lane, and again I was going downhill, although not as steep this time and I managed to avoid him, while he turned into the ACAC parking lot, as oblivious of my existence as if I'd been an ant on the sidewalk. The scooter guy at least had the decency to stop and acknowledge that he had harmed a fellow human, which goes a long way toward righting a wrong.

A few years ago, my uncle, aged 70, was on a cycling tour in the mountains of southwest Virginia. He was going down a steep hill and was sideswiped by a car. He flipped over and hit his head and when he didn't regain consciousness, was airlifted to a trauma center where he remained unconscious for a crazy amount of time. Two hours, if I remember correctly. Thankfully, when he finally did wake up, he was fine. What is the point of this story, other than to illustrate that we Woodrichs are incredibly hardheaded? It's that cyclists are incredibly vulnerable and that drivers frequently assault them, with few or no consequences that I'm aware of. In my opinion, any driver who injures a cyclist should be charged with assault and battery in addition to the appropriate traffic violations. My father, who's in his seventies and cycles 80+ miles a week says I need to keep my front and back lights on during the day. He also recommends neon tape on my helmet or a neon vest. Good advice, which I'll take if I ever get the nerve to get back on a bike, but I think I am done with cycling in Charlottesville.

But this post was supposed to be about the weekend, which didn't entirely involve near-death experiences. I got my eyebrows threaded, which is something I do now. It's so much nicer than trying to manage your brows by yourself, and as Grace says, "If your brows are on point, your face is on point." Are you familiar with this procedure? The ratio of improved appearance to time and money spent is enormous. How else can you get a new face for $12? It's not very painful, but I pre-medicate with 600mg of ibuprofen. On a lady pain scale, with one being wearing thong underwear and ten being walking six blocks in too-tight stilettos, eyebrow threading ranks about a three. But I have never experienced it without Advil on board. I put on a pretty sundress and walked downtown to the salon and then browsed in the yarn shop, which is my favorite downtown business. Saturday was altogether satisfactory, except for the guy who tried to kill me in front of ACAC.

The hair is tragic but the brows are good.

Sunday was more of same, and I worked more on the pantry shelves. The new shelves are finished. I just need to fix up the old built-in shelves, which were awfully dingy.

Painting the shelves

Experimenting with color for the shelf back (using paint samples I already had on hand.)

My latest knitting project. I am really enjoying this fun pattern.
It will be a pair of slipper socks. They're knitted flat and seamed.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tristram Shandy

Of Charlottesville, this can be said: it's residents have eclectic reading taste. If you're a long-time reader, you may remember that I'm not as delighted with Charlottesville as most people seem to be. I moved here against my will and even after eighteen years, my homesickness for Buffalo is like a wolf ceaselessly clawing at my heart. However, one good thing about Charlottesville is that it is such a bookish town. I have long noticed that the "recently returned" cart at the library always holds books that are a cut above the dross that seems to entertain most Americans.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when I tried to check out Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy from the public library and got this error message: THIS BOOK MAY NOT BE CHECKED OUT BECAUSE A HOLD REQUEST HAS BEEN PLACED FOR IT. Tristram Shandy (1759) on library hold. Only in Charlottesville. Fortunately, our library owns two copies, so I turned mine over to the desk clerk and checked out the other one. So everyone in Cville got their Laurence Sterne fix and we all lived happily ever after.

Why in the world was I even reading Tristram Shandy? I'd read it once before, many years ago, and didn't particularly enjoy it and now I can't remember what prompted me to add it to my book list to read again.

It's a lighthearted, comic novel, about the life of one Tristram Shandy, gentleman, but there are so many diversions and side tales that two hundred pages pass before he's even born. Which I believe was intended to be the point of this novel, if there is one. Mostly we hear about Tristram's parents and his uncle Toby, who suffered an unfortunate battle injury to his "groin." Indeed, some of the funnier moments in the book are when the woman that Uncle Toby is courting contrives to find out if, despite the groin injury, he is still able to shake a leg, as it were.  It's not a bad book, but the 21st century mind (or at least, my 21st century mind) has difficulty processing 18th century literature.

But not to worry, it was made into a movie in 2005, starring Steve Coogan as Tristram and Rob Bryden as Uncle Toby. The movie is not a straightforward re-telling of the book (there is nothing straightforward about Tristram Shandy) but is about making a movie of Tristram Shandy, in which sometimes the characters are in character and sometimes they play themselves. I enjoyed it, but it might not be to everyone's taste. My children objected to the many scenes in which Keeley Hawes is bellowing in childbirth agony.

Tristram Shandy is also one of the books on my Fifty Classics list. A few years ago, I joined a project in which bloggers agreed to each create their own list of fifty classic works of literature to read within five years. The original project is now defunct and the link to the blog post that started it is broken, but I'm sticking to it. I now have only ten months until my deadline and 18 books left to read.  Up until this point, I worked through the list at a rate of about eight books a year and now I need to read eighteen in ten months, a considerable stepping up in my fifty classics game. Luckily, I read most of the difficult books first and what's left (listed below) will mostly be fun, cozy reads. There's a lot of Anthony Trollope because I wanted to read the full series of his Barchester books, followed by his parliamentary books which spring from the Barchester series. (If you want to see the complete fifty classics list, go here.)

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (Currently reading)
Point Counterpoint by Aldous Huxley
Portnoy's Complaint by Phillip Roth
Framely Parsonage by Anthony Trollope (Currently reading)
The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope
The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope
The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope
The Duke's Children by Anthony Trollope
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Monday, April 11, 2016

Studs Lonigan: Fictional Ancestor of the Trump Supporters?

The Studs Lonigan trilogy, by James T. Farrell was included in Modern Library's list of the best 100 novels, which is how I ended up reading it. Like many of the books I write about, Studs Lonigan is one that you probably won't like, but will learn from. I honestly don't seek out painful books to read. They just seem to come to me.

The three books are titled Young Lonigan, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, and Judgement Day, and are easily found bound together, so you don't have to search for each one. I love these pulpy covers though.

The Studs Lonigan books were written during the depression and follow the brief course of the life of one William "Studs" Lonigan, starting with his graduation from 8th grade in 1916, and ending with his early death of pneumonia in the early 1930's.

All three novels are set in the Irish-American neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. At the beginning, the story is hopeful. There's a scene in which Studs' father, Patrick Lonigan, complacently muses about his success as a parent and provider and the bright future ahead for his family. The family is lower-middle class; owners of a painting business.  Paddy and his wife make it a priority to obtain a good Catholic education for their children and to raise them as directed by the Catholic church.

Studs himself is a decent kid.  He likes to think of himself as a tough guy, he has a crush on a neighborhood girl, athletic talent, and adequate intelligence. So what goes wrong? According to wikipedia, Farrell intended to show the spiritual and cultural poverty that was ruining (and continues to ruin) vulnerable Americans. That first summer after eighth grade, Studs does nothing but hang around with a questionable group of boys. He admires the uncouth young men who hang out at the neighborhood pool hall. His parents, who claim to value education, give him no useful direction. (This is a particularly uncomfortable book for the parents of teenagers.)

In the second volume, he's a high school drop out and one of the regular members of the pool hall, where the young men do nothing but brag about their sexual exploits, bully the neighborhood misfits, drink, and air their prejudices. Indeed, there are so many racial and ethnic slurs in The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, I was nervous about reading it on my lunch break in case someone peeked over my shoulder. By the start of the third novel, Studs' health is a wreck and the Great Depression has cut off any chance he might have had to make something of himself.

A recurring theme is luck. Over and over, Studs waits for the day when his luck will change, and curses his own bad luck, but never does anything to help himself. He makes one bad decision after another (dropping out of high school, asking a girl he doesn't like to marry him, investing his savings in questionable stock).  He has enough insight to regret his stupid actions after the fact, but not enough moral energy to change his ways. Paddy Lonigan's continuous lament is that he has worked hard all his life and now faces ruin and the death of his oldest son. He and those in his community consistently blame others for the decline of their way of life, and while the Depression isn't their fault, but they choose to place the blame on those of other races, religions, and ethnicities.

I read Studs Lonigan during the height of the media coverage about the violence at Donald Trump rallies and it's easy to find similarities between Trump supporters and Studs Lonigan and his friends. In both cases, they're people who have been left behind. We now live in a vicious, competitive meritocracy, where everyone seems to be fighting to be (or position their children) near the top. The affluent can obtain what is necessary to stay afloat and others can't and are lost in a world of disappointed expectations and resentment. And, as in Studs Lonigan, the blame is misdirected at specific races and religions rather than where it belongs. Although it was written over seventy years ago, the Studs Lonigan trilogy is a timely book to read now.

Monday, April 04, 2016

More Than you Want to Know About My Canisters

My new pantry isn't quite ready for the big reveal.  I'm still organizing things, working on the arrangement, and acquiring canisters.  Also, I haven't come up with the solution for the silverware-in-a bucket problem.  The built-in shelves now look horribly shabby next to my new pantry, so I think I'd like to spruce them up a bit as well. Still, I don't want to be a dick and not share anything.  It could be a while before it is all set up to my liking. Anyway, this is the fun part, so I am taking my time.

Once the brackets were installed, it was relatively easy to build the shelves. I bought 8" wide pine boards and Jon cut them to the right length. I wanted them to be a rich, medium brown and none of the available stains looked right. In the end, I copied a friend's technique and used Minwax medium walnut, but wiped it off before the recommended time. I'm happy with the color. I sealed them with three coats of polyurethane.

For the canisters, I mostly used mason jars that I had on hand. The large canisters on the bottom shelf are pickle jars that I bought at Fifth Season, one of my favorite shops in Charlottesville. They carry a wide array of "urban DIY" products for home fermenters, brewers, cheese makers, bee keepers, and canners.

Not quite there yet

Across the bottom row: Sugar, Oatmeal, Whole Wheat Flour, Bread Flour.  I keep all-purpose flour in a large tin on the counter.  It holds fifteen pounds of flour and it's awesome. I bought it from the old "Martha by Mail" catalog.  Anyone remember it and that 1930's green that was so popular for a while?  I fell hard for that 1930's green.  I think Martha was the one who started the trend in the first place. I stenciled the word "Flour" on it, but it looks a bit messy. I'd like to re-enamel the whole thing white, with black letters. Slight digression, but the Martha by Mail catalog was the best. I just read that the catalogs themselves are considered collectible.  I can't find the resale value of my flour tin (not that I would ever part with it) but the yellow ware mixing bowl set, that I probably paid somewhere between $50-$75 for was listed on ebay recently for $500.

I did not realize how dirty my tin was until I saw the photo. (The inside is pristine, I promise.) It has been in constant use for well over ten years. (I can't remember when I bought it, but Martha by Mail folded in 2004.) I am not responsible for the red countertops. Those came courtesy of the former owners, and honestly, they are now nearly twenty-seven years old and are in pretty good shape.

I'll share more photos once I get everything arranged to my satisfaction. I am not going to dispense all of my spices into twee little jars.  Only the ones I used most often. The bottle carrier on the top shelf (which I bought at Fifth Season) was going to be my silverware solution. A wide-mouth quart-sized canning jar fits into each section and I was going to store forks, spoons, and knives in each, but now I'm not convinced that this is the best solution. It would take up a lot of counter space, for one thing.  I'd like to find a creative way to use the hole where the drawers used to be.  At one time, I had baskets stacked in there, but the space is so narrow, it was too difficult to install shelves inside to support individual baskets.