Monday, November 29, 2010

First Doll Rebecca

I've begun sewing doll clothes for a Christmas present, and my sewing room is starting to get messy again, with all the scraps and pattern pieces swirling about like my creative juices. This doll and her clothes were waiting on the bed in that room, and as they have already been lost in the house several times in the last years, I thought I better take their pictures right away and add to my blog sewing archives the first successful doll clothes I ever made.

Oh, I sewed some other ones by hand when I was ten years-old or so, for my Barbie. But I didn't have a pattern, just laid the doll on some scraps, cut out what looked to me like the shape the garment should take, and when I sewed the pieces together I was always surprised at how ill-fitting the clothes were. I can almost see the very shirts and dresses in my mind, though I threw them away pretty early.

Rebecca was the first doll given to my first daughter Pearl. She was hard and small and her limbs didn't move, but I thought she was good enough to be The Doll, and I discouraged relatives from giving Pearl any more because "She has a doll already." I was different then.

Sewing for a doll like that is challenging; knitted clothes are a bit easier to get on when the dolly insists on holding her arms stiffly by her side. I wasn't an experienced knitter but I found some patterns for much larger doll clothes at the thrift store and managed to adjust them for this little mite. This gives me hope that in the future I might be able to at least knit a dishcloth that I like.

The pictures show most of the wardrobe I made for Rebecca 30-plus years ago. Nowadays I like to use velcro fasteners; I don't know if we didn't have it back then or if I just liked the old-fashioned and time-consuming snaps or button loops that the little girl almost certainly couldn't do up for her own doll. As I recall, the young children are good at ripping off the dolls' clothes and then they come to Mama to help them dress up the dolls again. If Mama is busy there can be a lot of naked dollies lying around.

Pearl did eventually get some other dolls, the My Friend Dolls made by Fisher-Price, and I sewed for them a little. I never thought to take photos of the clothes, but I plan to, next time I see Mandy, Becky and Jenny.

For the granddaughters' dolls, so far I've only made the clothes for Maxi-Muffin shown here. Now I'm working on an American Girl type of doll clothes, for which many patterns are available. With luck I'll have some photos of these creations within the month.

Because -- Christmas is COMING!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Into the Ocean

"As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God."

--St. Isaac The Syrian

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Around the Internet World

More odds and ends from the virtual library or discovery museum out there in digital space. Some of these I found a couple of months ago and then forgot to tell about. My collection has grown to such a size....I better pass these along NOW:

**I probably already told you about the The Poem Farm, which blogger Amy says " my poem-playground, a place to share teaching and writing ideas, and a cozy spot to highlight poetry in classrooms. If you are a teacher or a student, please consider sharing here on an upcoming Poetry Friday." A recent Poetry Friday post is at right.

**Yay! Vindication for my wooden cutting board. Since my wedding I have been using the lovely one my brother made in high school wood shop, and our family always seemed to be healthier than many, so I wasn't worried. I didn't dream, though, that wood is actually safer than plastic.

**A performance of Beautiful Bach was the kind of pleasant surprise one gets on Facebook sometimes. I understand the performer made a foot pedal for the chromatic button on his harmonica in order to play as he does here.

**Who couldn't use help on keeping the family car looking better? I was charmed and inspired by the practical and literally refreshing ideas Sobe Organized gives in these Steps toward a cleaner car.

** The Candy Professor shows us what a variety of real food ingredients was in candy in 1926, compared to what she calls our current "over-chocolated" world.

**Wayside Wanderer posted a thought-provoking sermon excerpt on what makes a truly Strong Woman.

**One of my favorite learning resources that I have mentioned many times in individual blog posts is The Mars Hill Audio Journal. It just occurred to me that I have failed to pass on to my readers an easy and free way to get a taste of what is available through this audio magazine. Though they don't provide bonus CD tracks any longer on the bimonthly journals, the old listenable tracks are online and ready for anyone to hear at the click of a mouse. Some of my favorite authors and thinkers are on this list, discussing everything from Ents, Mozart, and Hawthorne to Ritalin, reality TV, and Wendell Berry. Maybe someone reading this will get sparked into a discussion after listening to one of these short interviews. Tell me if you do!

Probably no one has time now with holiday or holy-day preparations going on,  to actually look at these pages, but they will keep.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Demigods and Monsters

Hermes was really the one who thought of the Internet. I just learned that fact, which should have been a no-brainer, from the book I'm reading, one of a series that Philosopher grandson recommended to me. He finished all five books before he even told me about this new interest, and that he'd moved on from The Magic Tree House and The Cats (Warriors), so I have to get busy and read at least one book or he'll be on to something else and I'll be left too far behind to have good talks about the story.

The series is Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The only one on the shelf at my local library was The Sea of Monsters, so I took it home and found that it has been read enough times that it will stay propped open on the bookledge that my treadmill at the gym provides. Three times I've been so engrossed that 45 minutes passed almost painlessly.

Ric Riordan wrote these stories, which are a marvel of creativity and imagination. In the world he has created, Greek gods still live and procreate with humans, "siring" a slew of Half-Bloods who face numerous challenges of two kinds. They have to navigate everyday life in middle school while keeping their ancestry secret, even though their senses clue them in to the real identities and purposes of some of their classmates. The bullies from out of town who cause a brawl in the gym, for example: most people don't realize that they were actually Laistrygonian giants bent on destroying our hero, a son of Poseidon.
The second type of challenge is fighting the wars and solving the problems that are caused by their parents' shenanigans. It's good that the special kids have a camp just for their kind, where everyone understands the true reality of things and they can learn what they need to know about the players in this game they didn't ask to join. But the campers and directors are as prone to bicker and fight as those in the more traditional tales we might be familiar with.

Or we might not be familiar with them. No doubt very few middle-schoolers these days have parents who know the Greek myths well enough to teach this part of the canon of Western Civilization, if they had time for that sort of thing. I can say this with confidence because even I, a homeschooling mother with great motivation to teach the classics, had to let some things slip through the cracks, and mostly for reasons beyond my control.

Speaking of control, one of the hard parts of being a child is that so many of the things that make you suffer are not in your power to change. How many children have absentee fathers, or parents who generally don't take responsibility for their actions and leave the children feeling abandoned? Such children could relate to our tribe of half-bloods, many of whom also suffer from dyslexia, by the way. This fact I suspect was thrown into the story to encourage readers who are victims of whatever complex of modern phenomena causes that difficulty. But then I wonder, would dyslexics read books like this for fun? Maybe the author just wants to teach us not to dismiss those who are challenged by traditional school.

I can think of quite a few popular books with similar themes of children solving mysteries or just getting along when parents and sometimes all adults are absent. The Boxcar Children is the most elementary in every way, one of the first "chapter books" that my children read, about young children who manage to take care of each other and feed themselves, living in a boxcar. 

The Railway Children is more advanced, and though its protagonists don't find themselves with both parents literally absent, wartime circumstances force them to be on their own most of the time and even help solve their parents' problems. Harry Potter doesn't have parents who can help him navigate the magical world he has been born into.

Barely halfway through Sea of Monsters I was prodded to start looking further into stories of the Olympians, as the characters are packed into the book pretty cleverly in their modern forms. The Grey Sisters drive Percy wildly through the streets of New York City while fighting over who gets their one eye, which falls on the floor. Percy has befriended the school "weird guy" who turns out to be an infant Cyclops and very endearing--so far.

Old-style Hermes
Hermes gets several pages' worth of contemporary fleshing-out. When Percy is sitting on the beach and lamenting his latest predicament, Hermes approaches as a jogger saying, "I haven't sat down in ages." His cell phone is constantly ringing, with urgent calls about many things, and as Percy listens he realizes who the jogger is. His phone antenna is actually his caduceus staff in a shrunken form, with the snakes as small as worms. They chatter incessantly, like a duo of phone operators, until Hermes threatens to put them on vibrate.

When a satyr who is a captive of the Cyclops Polyphemus sends a dream to Percy, we see the monster's cave with its sheep-themed decor, including a sheepskin-covered recliner and sheep action figures added to the piles of sheep bones one might expect. And on another battlefront, when slime from an exploded hydra sprays on her, the heroine is put off her game long enough to cry, "Gross!", reminding us that she is only a 7th-grader after all.

These just-for-fun elements are easier to tell about than the interrelated analogies and symbols I find on every page, threatening to make me sprout philosophical blog posts like so many hydra heads. If I read more in this series will I be able to resist?

I can't resist telling you that it is the fault of multiplying monster "life force" that franchise stores proliferate. For the purpose of trapping our heroes, a Monster Donut shop has appeared in the middle of a marshy woods. The heroine warns Percy as she asks if he hasn't wondered himself at the phenomenon: "One day there's nothing and then the next day -- boom, there's a new burger place or a coffee shop or whatever? First a single store, then two, then four -- exact replicas spreading across the country?"

My ideas sprouting
It's becoming clear that Mount Olympus stands for Western Civilization. And in the case of these half-bloods, it's their family heritage. One argues: "Thalia got angry with her dad sometimes. So do you. Would you turn against Olympus because of that?"

Last spring Philosopher was dreading an Easter vacation trip to the Bahamas, because the planned route had the family flying through the Bermuda Triangle. I wondered at the time how he even knew about this area that is the subject of dispute as to whether mysterious things really do happen more often there. But now  I have read in Sea of Monsters this explanation: "Look, Percy, the Sea of Monsters is the sea all heroes sail through on their adventures. It used to be in the Mediterranean, yes. But like everything else, it shifts location as the West's center of power shifts." It is now The Bermuda Triangle.

There we have a hint as to the popularity of this type of story in its many re-tellings. Adolescence is a sea of adventures, for sure. Reading books like these might help kids keep their boats afloat, by means of encouragement or just diversion, getting away from the daily strain of here-and-now. Philosopher is fast approaching the shore of this swirling ocean, and I thank the gods God he has two responsible parents who in no way have abandoned him. As for the Bermuda Triangle, it was during that portion of the flight that he was delivered from trouble by a magical sleep.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Matthew VI, 28 FF. - Richard Wilbur

November 15 was the beginning of our Orthodox Nativity fast, known also as Advent or St. Philip's Fast. There doesn't seem to be anything clearly on my mind to write about it, which isn't surprising, seeing as fasting always reveals a pervasive disorderedness.

But last year I posted this poem that seemed appropriate, and here it is again, worth further consideration, I think.

A blessed Advent to all who come here!

Matthew VI, 28 FF.

Rabbi, we Gadarenes
Are not ascetics; we are fond of wealth and possessions.
Love, as you call it, we obviate by means
Of the planned release of aggressions.

We have deep faith in prosperity.
Soon, it is hoped, we will reach our full potential.
In the light of our gross product, the practice of charity
Is palpably inessential.

It is true that we go insane;
That for no good reason we are possessed by devils;
That we suffer, despite the amenities which obtain
At all but the lowest levels.

We shall not, however, resign
Our trust in the high-heaped table and the full trough.
If you cannot cure us without destroying our swine,
We had rather you shoved off.

--Richard Wilbur

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Page -- and Looking Ahead

Whew! It took me hours, but I finally got the Books and Reviews page updated. It is linked from the sidebar at left in the list of Pages on This Blog, along with the Recipes. So far I have only those two extra pages, but I hope to add a couple more eventually. Today was a chore because after I searched through two years' worth of blogs to find what reviews might exist, and created the links, the whole mess disappeared. Tonight after dinner, while B. was figuring out his new cell phone, I did it all over again and managed not to lose it.

It appears that 2009 was a better year for reading and reviewing. That isn't surprising, as I've had so much else going on this year to keep my mind and attention in other places. I wonder what 2011 will bring?

Just this week I've been meditating on the benefits of using up the food I have in the cupboards and freezer while I resist the impulse to stock up, a practice that isn't necessary or even helpful for our shrunken family. While I was plotting how to simplify this way in the kitchen, I read a discussion among avid readers about the advantages of re-reading good books. No doubt there would be a lot of nourishment for my mind and heart in doing that, and I'm looking at the shelves with the renewing of old literary friendships in mind.

There is no excuse for me complaining that I don't get to read enough -- just look at all the fun I've been having just in the last two years. I should go to my paper records and put more titles from the last decade into digital form just for the joy of remembering all the book food I've tasted and loved.

Anyone who has a book collection and a garden 
wants for nothing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Around the Net

When Joanne at  Seasonal Hearth  was in the Netherlands she and her family rode bicycles a lot, and they took so many pictures of bicycles of all sorts everywhere, it adds up to give a feeling for the country where the population of bikes is greater than that of people.

On this blog about Words, I learned that I possess philoprogenitiveness, and it has been one of the greatest stories of my life! I don't always read these posts, but they come daily...Now that I've been so encouraged by this one, I might check in more often. If I had known the word amphibology it would have come in handy when I was grousing about grammar recently.

Some people can drink milk their whole lives seemingly without  any problem (though my husband's chiropractor thinks it's the worst thing for anyone) while others can't digest it. Via Touchstone I ran into this article about population migrations and where the gene for lactose tolerance came from. I'd like to read more about it.

My favorite prize from recent web wandering is a daily posting of poems from the George Hail Library in Rhode Island, each one accompanied by a picture and brief introductory notes. It's more reliable than the online poem-a-day I used to read, and the blog host has some pleasing parameters for the sort of poetry she likes to share. Here is a recent one that I love. If you click on the title you can see the photo and comments as well:


It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

~ Pat Schneider, American poet and writer

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Grousing About Grammar - Bad Sentence

One thing I didn't tell you in my recent review of Wordstruck by Robert MacNeil is how he gave an admonition that made me wonder if I am the right kind of influence on people:

"If you love the language, the greatest thing you can do to ensure its survival is not to complain about bad usage but to pass your enthusiasm to a child. Find a child and read to it often the things you admire, not being afraid to read the classics."

MacNeil quotes a man named Hugh Kenner, who said of some people that they "took note of language only when it annoyed them." In the days when I frequently read to my children, especially when they were older, I must say in my defense that I do remember stopping at least occasionally to point out particularly well-written sentences. But when the bad sentences force you to stumble or pause or halt completely as you try to figure out what is going on, you can't help but be annoyed and take note of them, too.

This happened to me just today, and once again I will reveal myself in full nitpickerliness. The sentence that held me up fails in more than one way, so it's very useful. I'm not going to tell you where it came from, but the author has a (recent) doctoral degree in Intellectual History. I'm not sure why I think that should mean something pertinent to my complaint...but let's just get on with the beginning of his article:

F.M. [abbreviation mine] lived his life as a poet, a playwright, a novelist, a journalist, and a Roman Catholic. Born in Bordeaux during the year 1885 to a bourgeois family, M.'s mother tenaciously held to her religiosity. His father's side of the family, on the other hand, sported Voltairean, republican, and anticlerical sentiments.

You can probably guess what happened to me as I was reading briskly along in the first sentence, then cruising through the stop sign period and on to the comma in the second sentence, fulling expecting that M. would be there after the pause -- Oh! M's mother is here, how odd...that must mean the author was talking about the mother's birth in Bordeaux...strange that he would start out telling us about M., and then in the very next sentence start in on the mother...and there is his father in the following sentence...hmm...I don't know much about M., but I don't actually think he is recent enough that his mother could have been born that late...the author must be talking about M.'s birth, then. Too bad, now I have stopped thinking about M. and his mother and am all focused on this writer, poor boy, who spent so much effort in school and can't get his lovely article off to a decent start.

Before moving on to find out more about M., I had to skip to the end and read the blurb on the author... next I began a rewrite of his problematic beginning in my head -- so many times I have done this for myself and five children, trying out different arrangements of words and clauses so that you say what you mean and your reader can read you as effortlessly as possible.

What happened here is called a dangling participle or dangling participial clause. The "Born in Bordeaux" clause actually has no subject (it's dangling there unattached), but we naturally expect the subject to be close by, so we try to attach the clause to M.'s mother, but it doesn't really belong to her. The Wikipedia article to which I linked tells it all very clearly, along with other examples that are often funny.

One way that this particular beginning could have been rescued would be to make it slightly longer. Sometimes it just gets awkward, trying to pack too much into a sentence, and the best thing is to make one or two more sentence so you don't muddle things. To put his birth and his mother's religious attitude into one sentence seems to be hurrying along too fast, as though the author were just stringing his notes together.

And don't try to be too clever in switching the order of your clauses and phrases. That's partly how this writer got into trouble. It's only the second sentence of your whole article, so certainly you can afford another sentence with the direct and simple subject-verb order.

To say that M. was born "during the year 1885"....It must just be a careless wordiness, because "in 1885" would do nicely, and during gives the impression of an ongoing activity. The time of birth is a date, not a duration.

How about this re-do of the second and third sentences, putting the mother into the father's sentence, and we don't even have to add lines. Taking out some commas makes it a  little cleaner, too:

He was born to a bourgeois family in Bordeaux in 1885. M.'s mother tenaciously held to her religiosity, while his father's side of the family sported Voltairean, republican, and anticlerical sentiments.
Now that I've got that settled, I can go to bed. I'll take the article along and hope I can keep my mind on M. this time.