Wednesday, 28 December 2011

What's in a name?

I've had a few people recently ask me what my blog name means, or why I chose "glanalaw".  So I thought it might be interesting to do a post explaining the name!

When I first set up my blog I knew I wanted it to reflect both my love of God, my love of singing, and my love of Wales.  I am partly Welsh and for years I've been fascinated with the country, the music, and especially the language (which is exceedingly difficult to learn, as I found!)  In high school I spent several years trying to teach myself Welsh with the help of a Rosetta Stone program and a couple of grammar books, and one of my favourite opera singers is Welsh.

I wanted to come up with a name that would reflect "pure song" or "pure music" -- as my singing is done for the glory of God.  After some research I chose "glanalaw".  "Glan" is an adjective meaning "pure", "clear", or "untarnished".  "Alaw" means "tune", "melody", and (interestingly) "water-lily".  So the literal meaning is "clear/untarnished melody", which I think is a good reflection of what I wanted to convey!

When I first set up the blog I didn't think "glanalaw" was a real word - I thought it was my own hybrid.  But today I got curious and decided to google it.  Apparently there is a town or area in Wales called Glanalaw.  

There is also a lovely little church called Capel Glanalaw in Patagonia, which had a large number of Welsh settlers.
Capel Glanalaw
There's also an ancient standing stone or menhir called Glan-Alaw, or Bod Deiniol, in Anglesey.  I can't find anywhere which translates "Bod Deiniol", but "bod" is supposed to mean "being" or "wight" (like Tolkein's barrow-wights?).  Deiniol is a given name, the Welsh form of Daniel.  I'm not sure why the same menhir should be called "Daniel's Wight" and "Pure Melody", but there it is.  Fascinating!
View of the standing stone, borrowed from this website.

 Bod Deiniol/Glan-Alaw is in the middle of a field, and I found a note which said it is on private property but visitors are allowed when there are no crops or hay in the field!

Another view of Bod Deiniol, from here.
I don't know if anyone else will be as interested in this information as I am, but I thought it was fun to see that I hadn't actually made the word up, and discover some of its history!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Glad Tidings

Happiest Christmas to all of you, my friends!  After a long day of traveling I'm finally with my family for the holiday, and I'm enjoying it so much.

I'll just leave you with this video: Bryn Terfel, reading the Christmas story.  It doesn't get much better than this -- a most beautiful voice, reading these most beautiful words with such feeling.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Light a Candle

There are so many things I want to write about, this Christmas.  About peace, especially.  About being light to the world.  About joy and beauty and love.  About concepts so big I can't even put them into words.

Mostly, about the phrase I came across in a book I read recently.  "Light a candle for Christmas Eve."  In the book this is in the context of Christmas during World War I - when there was a spontaneous, unofficial cease-fire in the trenches, and may lit candles to celebrate the birth of Christ, oblivious to their personal safety.

I haven't been able to get the words out of my head, and I think they have a wider application than a cease-fire almost a century ago.  As I go to services tonight, and tomorrow on Christmas morning -- as I light the Christ candle at the centre of the Advent wreath -- I will think about this.  Light a candle -- not just for Christmas Eve, but for every day.  Light a candle -- and share the Light with the world.

As the last lines of this gorgeous Spanish carol proclaim:  God is born -- God is here!

Friday, 23 December 2011

I may have left this a little late...

Happy Christmas Adam!

(It's a joke.  It's the day before Christmas Eve... and Adam came before Eve... )

So about a week ago I decided I really wanted a new holiday dress.  Maybe not specifically for Christmas, but one that I could wear maybe for a New Year's Eve party, or something along those lines.  I wanted white with black trim.  Classic, but feminine and a little frilly, just for a change.

I dug out McCall's 6027, which I bought on sale for a dollar, and some white figured calico.  Bought black lace on sale.  Then did nothing with it.

I'm making view b (the one with sleeves) and adding a bit of length to the skirt, but taking out the godets.
Last night it occurred to me that Christmas was really soon, and I should maybe start sewing.  So today I got out all the supplies, and cut out and sewed up what was supposed to be the lining (a lovely, silky polyester.  It really is a "lining" fabric, but it's not the nasty kind!)

Then I started looking at my calico, comparing it with the lining, and realized I'd rather have the plain white as the outside of my dress.  The calico is just a little creamy, which doesn't look as well on me as pure white.  So we're having a mid-project change of plans.  I'm going to turn the "lining" into the fashion fabric, and put the white-on-white calico as the lining.  That way, I'll get little shadows of the print, but it won't be so "busy".

The lace will be stitched onto the skirt of the underdress.  I can't decide though whether I want to have it hang down below the outer skirt, or whether the lace should hang to the same length as the outer skirt, so it'll just show when the dress is in motion.  Thoughts?  Opinions?  I'm going to have lace around the neckline and probably trimming the sleeves, so maybe it should show at the hem for balance.  Or maybe not.

(The belt is from the bridesmaid dress I made this summer.  It works so well, I figured why make a new one?)

I was also thrilled to discover that when I cut out the size I usually make, I had to make really deep seam allowances in order for it not to be hugely too large!  Yay!

The problem of course being that tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I wanted to wear the dress for the evening services.  So I'll be doing a lot of sewing tomorrow....

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Gratuitous Extra Music for Advent

I was going to have a nicely-written and thoughtful post about Christmas today, but I accidentally slept until noon and I have quite a lot to do before flying to PA on Sunday morning, so I'll just give you some more music and a photo of Sunday's Advent wreath, instead.

I know it looks like the centre candle is burning, but it's just a reflection. 
This is "What Sweeter Music".  The setting is by John Rutter, the words by Robert Herrick, dating from the 17th century.

(In case you hadn't noticed, I really love English choral music!)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011


A couple weeks ago I bought five pounds of sweet potatoes because they were 20 cents a pound... and ever since I've been trying to find creative ways to use them!  (So if you have ideas, I'd love to hear!)

Tonight, I poked around on the web and ended up making a stew of sorts -- a conglomeration of several recipes.  It turned out to be really tasty so I thought I'd share.  It's hearty and just a wee bit spicy; perfect for chilly evenings!

Sweet Potato-Lentil Stew

1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1/2 apple, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T butter or olive oil
3/4 cup lentils
1/4 tsp each ginger, cumin, curry powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
3 cups broth (chicken or veg, your choice)

Saute all the veg and the apple in the butter until onion is translucent and everything else begins to soften.  Add in broth, lentils, and seasonings, bring to boil; turn down and simmer until lentils are softened and veg are cooked (about 30 minutes).  Should be quite thick but not dry; add in more water/broth if necessary.  Adjust seasonings and serve!

2 generous servings

Notes: one of my inspiration recipes said to serve with dollops of plain yoghurt.  Another said to purée the soup.  So I suppose you could try that!  I liked it in chunks, just as it was.

I'm sorry there's no picture but the light was bad by the time I finished cooking, and anyway it's not a very exciting-looking stew.  But it tastes excellent!

Monday, 19 December 2011


I like my Christmas holiday.  It's been especially nice this year because I have a whole week between finishing all my obligations and actually travelling anywhere.

So far it has been full of good music.

Hot tea and peppermint cookies.

A new doily in the shop.

Also things like the antics of Conrad, and staying up half the night reading.

I could get used to this.

(P.S.  I'm going to be playing with the layout over the next few days, starting with making the photos bigger.  Please let me know what you think!  What would make this page clearer, easier to read and to navigate?)

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Music for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today I had the privilege of being the soprano soloist for a performance of Saint-Saëns' "Christmas Oratorio" at a local church.  It was quite an ambitious work, and the solo work was hard.  Lots of high notes, and lots of singing in general.  This was one of my favourite numbers from the oratorio - the soprano/tenor/baritone trio.  Unfortunately we didn't record the concert, but here's a good version from YouTube. (We sang it in English, though.)

That was a bonus!  Here's the official Advent music selection ;-)  This one is probably more of a Christmas Eve/Day song, really, but it's so lovely I want to share it (and I have something special planned for Christmas Eve and the day itself!)  We sang this anthem at church a few weeks ago and will repeat it at the Christmas Eve services.  I'm not sure whether it's the melody or something about the text, but the first time we sang through this I found myself in tears.  It is beautiful.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Musings on Music

I think it's interesting how people tend to assume that "classical" music is beyond the reach of the average citizen, and when they are trying to make it appeal to those who are not trained musicians, they jazz it up or add special effects or something.

Take this video for example.

A friend posted this on Facebook this morning.  I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it; the idea is really cool, and it's well executed.  But then I started thinking, I really think the original -- one cello, no gimmicks - is actually at least as dramatic and exciting as this version.  Maybe more.

Maybe that's just me?  After all I am a "trained musician" and I did grow up with Bach.  But listen to this:

What do you think?  I've had this reaction before to "souped-up" classical music.  I'm curious whether anyone else thinks the same way!

Thursday, 15 December 2011


I'm sorry it's been quiet around here this week.  I've been a little busy....

...sitting two finals

...finishing a project

...completing a 25-page research paper

...singing an opera

...rehearsing for a Christmas oratorio this weekend

...grading final exams.

I finished all that this afternoon, and celebrated with a trip to the yarn shop (a gorgeous hank of charcoal-grey lace-weight) and a batch of peppermint crinkle cookies.  Now I'm going to bed for about a hundred years.

See you when I wake up ;-)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Don't give your cat caffeine, and Advent Music

I spent this afternoon lazily.  I watched Jane Austen movies instead of studying, did some embroidery, and had tea and biscuits.

Conrad had tea, too.

He wasn't supposed to, really.  But he likes to sit on the end table in the living room, which is where my tea was, and I guess he was thirsty.  Anyway, he'd had a good drink before I caught him at it, and then I figured, well, I'm not going to drink any more of that mug now, he might as well have his fill.  And thought nothing more of it.

Approximately an hour later, he went suddenly berserk.  He's a high-energy cat anyway, but this was ridiculous.  He was tearing about, ricocheting off furniture, bouncing off the walls (literally!)  He also spooked at small noises and appeared completely convinced that the furtherance of his life depended on how thoroughly he killed his toy mouse.  He's never been so crazy.

The effects lasted about an hour, after which he appeared to come down off his caffeine high and fell asleep sprawled on his back on the sofa with his paws in the air.  When I carried him upstairs for bed he tottered about for a moment, and is now sleeping soundly on the ironing board.  I'm not sure I could wake him if I tried.

The moral of this story is: don't give your cats caffeine!  I suppose I should be grateful it was tea he drank.  If he'd had coffee he might have exploded!


This is supposed to be an Advent music post, but I had to share the cat story too -- sorry!  This week, I have an ancient verse in a fairly modern setting - "I sing of a maiden" set by Patrick Hadley.  The words date back to the 1400s or earlier, and I think they're lovely.

I pasted this in from Wikipedia - the original Middle-English text, with a modern "translation" next to it.

I syng of a mayden
þat is makeles,
kyng of alle kynges
to here sone che ches.
I sing of a maiden
That is matchless,
King of all kings
For her son she chose.
He came also stylle
þer his moder was
as dew in aprylle,
þat fallyt on þe gras.
He came as still
Where his mother was
As dew in April
That falls on the grass.
He cam also stylle
to his moderes bowr
as dew in aprille,
þat fallyt on þe flour.
He came as still
To his mother's bower
As dew in April
That falls on the flower.
He cam also stylle
þer his moder lay
as dew in Aprille,
þat fallyt on þe spray.;
He came as still
Where his mother lay
As dew in April
That falls on the spray.
Moder & mayden
was neuer non but che –
wel may swych a lady
Godes moder be.
Mother and maiden
There was never, ever one but she;
Well may such a lady
God's mother be.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Coordination Lacking

So I think that today's events pretty well sum up my life at the moment...

I woke up later than I should have because I'd spent an hour hitting snooze and ignoring the cat, who was yelling for breakfast.  So when I finally got up Conrad was delirious and rushed down the stairs ahead of me to get to the food.

He was in such a hurry that he tripped and fell down the last half-dozen stairs.  I almost fell down them myself because I was laughing so hard.

Then later I dropped a large spoonful of (hot) oatmeal on my (bare) foot in an absent-minded moment.

I also tripped on my skirt on the ladder during opera rehearsal and almost crushed Esther who was supposed to be pulling me off said ladder.  (No, I don't know whose bright idea it was to dress us in ankle-length skirts and then tell us to perform an opera on a ladder...)

Then on the bus this afternoon the driver started before I had time to sit down, and the hanger of the costumes I took home to alter got caught on a bar, yanked off, and thrown to the ground with a clang.  Everybody stared.

Later, the cat fell over in an excess of delight because I was home and petting him.

So yeah.  Coordination.  We lack it.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A very knitterly post

So, most of you who knit have probably heard of the Yarn Harlot (otherwise and more politely known as Stephanie McPhee.)  Sadly I have never read any of her actual printed books (which probably makes me an outcast in many knitting circles), but I do read her blog faithfully, and it is pretty excellent.  She is funny and smart and occasionally poignant, and she writes really well.

This month, she's doing a totally brilliant series on Gifts for Knitters, geared towards non-knitters who know their loved ones who knit would love something useful and cool for Christmas, but haven't the least idea where to start.  I have been nodding and saying "yes, that's absolutely right!" each time she puts up a new suggestion (it's one per day, theoretically), and so I thought I would share this treasure-trove of information with the world.  Or, the very small portion of the world which reads this blog, anyway.

Here is the link to her blog.  Go read, and laugh, and then leave it suggestively open on the computer so that your non-knitting loved ones will maybe take the hint.  (And no.  She did not pay me to write this post.  I just love her blog!)


In other news, I finished a couple of doilies this week and put them up in the shop.  They're really quite reasonably priced compared to others which show up on Etsy, though I almost feel bad asking that much for them since they don't take too long to knit, and they're really fun.

I also experimented with crocheted lace this week, and decided it's not worth the trouble.  I do like the look of some of it, but it takes far more concentration for me, and is not nearly as quick.  Maybe I'll give it another go at some point, but for now, I'm loving these knitted doilies.  Expect to see more of them in the near future!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Public Service Announcement

Dear Jogger who I almost hit this evening,

I understand that you want to get your daily exercise, even on cold, gloomy, rainy evenings.  But if you must do so outside, please realize that it is NOT a good idea to don black sweats and a dark cap, and then go jog on an unlit and winding road, relying only on the (faint) reflectors on your running shoes to make you visible.  The only reason you are not now flat on your back in the hospital is because I thought the twinkling of your shoes was probably a raccoon's eyes, and swerved.  The rest of your person didn't register until I was already passed.

For the sake of those drivers who would rather not become guilty of manslaughter, please invest in some light-coloured exercise gear, or go find a gym that's open past 5.

A severely shaken driver.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Music for the Second Sunday of Advent

This morning my church had its "Lessons and Carols" service.  It was really lovely, I think!  The choir sang five anthems, and we had a brass quintet, a violinist, and an oboist, mostly faculty from my school.

Today's music isn't really related to that, though.  It's an anthem which we sang last year at the Union Christmas concert, and I fell in love with it.  I was privileged to have a solo in it, but that's not the only reason I like it ;-)  The words are an old English carol, and I love the imagery; also, the beautiful setting by John Rutter.

I hope this Sunday has been blessed!  (And less full of research papers than mine has been...)

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Just off the needles

A lace doily or mat.  (I never know what to call these.  "Doily" sound so prim and Victorian, not very appealing to the modern sensibilities... but then, what else would you call it?)  First time in a couple years I've worked lace, and it was so satisfying.

It's been starched and now it's blocking.  I can't wait to take the pins out.

Friday, 2 December 2011

An opera rant, and more for the shop

Note: This might get a little boring for anyone who's not an opera nerd like myself... sorry!  You can scroll down and look at the pictures of things in the shop, instead ;-)

The last couple weeks I've been deeply involved in my music research project, in which I'm comparing and contrasting the methods of the composers Bellini and Gounod in turning the story of Romeo and Juliet into operas.  (Bellini was an Italian, writing in 1830; Gounod, a Frenchman whose opera premiered in 1867).  This project led me to watch a film version of the Gounod opera, made about 10 years ago and claiming that "Shakespeare's lovers never looked and sounded so good as in this romantic new film adaption."

Well.  I take issue with that statement!  Firstly, apparently this director was trying to make a feature-length film, presumably to appeal to a wider audience than opera often draws.  When dealing with a 3-hour opera, that means some pretty significant cuts.  (The liner notes say that the film is "based on a slightly abridged version of the opera", to which I replied "slightly?!?" in tones of disbelief...)  So, about half the opera was missing, and much of the rest had been rearranged to fit the director's vision, or something.  (This led to startling choices such as Romeo and Juliet being married *after* Romeo has killed Tybalt...)

Secondly, I realise that opera singers are usually older than the characters they portray (since a lot of operas center around young love, and the singing voice is not really mature until the 30s...)  This works on stage, mostly.  However, if you're going to do extreme closeups, and have your characters cavorting around the countryside and rushing breathlessly around in excitement, it works better if they don't look closer to 40 than to 20.  I couldn't take them seriously!

There was also the bit, when Juliet is waking from her drugged sleep, when Romeo exclaims "Her lips mumured; my trembling fingers felt in hers the warmth of her blood!  She looks at me and raises herself!" -- all while standing ten feet away from Juliet, and looking at the sky.  He's not touching her.  He's not even looking at her.  How is he supposed to know she's doing all that?  Did the director really think that people would be so stupid as to not be able to read subtitles?  Or did she not actually know what his words meant?  That was the last straw.

Most of the film seemed to be more about showing off the gorgeous countryside (it was filmed on location at a castle in the Czech Republic) and much less about the plot.  The music is gorgeous (with Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, it's bound to be, even if they do look too old), but for me at least it wasn't an effective film.  And by "wasn't effective" I mean "I sat there fuming at the screen for three quarters of the movie."


In other news, I have a few new things in the shop tonight!  

Two sets of hand-quilted coasters, one stitched with silver-grey perle cotton and one with a dusky blue.

And a scarf, the colours inspired by Hogwarts' Gryffindor House, but of course you can wear red and gold even if you're not a Harry Potter fan!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Advent Wreath

For as long as I can remember, my family has set up an Advent wreath every year, lighting a new candle each Sunday of the Advent season until we reach the Christ candle in the centre on Christmas day itself.  This Sunday ritual is one of my favourites, so when I realised I'd be spending the entire season of Advent in my own place and not at home, I knew I needed to set up an Advent wreath for myself.

I could have bought one but I didn't like any of the options I could find in my price range, so I decided to devise my own.  I knew I wanted something rustic, unpolished.  My first thought was to use a grapevine wreath as a base, but all the ones I found were so rigid and densely woven it would have been hard to affix the candle holders.  But a trip to Hobby Lobby produced a hank of raffia and a coil of floral wire wrapped in green fibres.  

After some experimentation I formed the wreath by braiding the raffia tightly, then twisting and tucking the ends into each other.  (Conrad ran off with several strands of raffia during this process; he was convinced the whole procedure was for his benefit!)  Then I fashioned candle holders out of the wire, forming "cups" out of coiled wire, then using the ends of the wire to fasten the holders to the raffia wreath.  The final step was to wrap the wreath with a length of wide gold ribbon which I had lying around.

Purple or royal blue are the traditional liturgical colours of Advent.
I put my "Christ candle" in the middle on a glass candle base I already owned, and surrounded it with evergreens clipped from the bushes in the garden.  

I like the end result!  It's definitely "rustic" (perhaps a little too much so, but it suits me).  I don't know whether it will hold up to years of being packed up and re-used, but for this year, I love it.  I lit the first candle yesterday for a few hours; it was comforting to be carrying on this familiar ritual.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Music for the First Sunday of Advent

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent!  I love Advent; maybe because it hasn't been secularized by the rest of the world in the same way Christmas has, it's always been a really special time for me.  I thought that this year, it could be fun to share some carols and hymns which are suited to the Advent season, before we move into the true Christmas music.

Today, a lovely anthem, "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending."

Enjoy this first week of the Advent season!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

More for the shop

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving day with family and friends!  I wasn't able to travel home to be with family, but I had a good time with my landlords and got to help with the cooking.  (I'm really glad I did - I can't imagine Thanksgiving without spending a lot of time in the kitchen!)

I've spent the rest of the weekend doing some finishing work and listing things on Etsy!  Yesterday I showed you lots of socks; one pair was just recently completed but the others have been hanging around for a while, waiting for me to get my act together.  Today, I have two crocheted afghans and a set of quilted coasters.

First up, a granny square afghan from the stash.  I used up most of my scraps in the blue/grey colour range, with the centres of each square in a creamy white surrounded by robin's-egg blue.  It's not symmetrical but it all works together!

Then I made a set of quilted coasters, using part of a "fat quarter" of calico.  They're backed with muslin, filled with scraps of quilt batting, and quilted with silvery-grey perle cotton.  I'm slightly in love.

They come in a set of six, and they're reversible.  I like the grey-on-white side at least as much as the striped side!  So understated.  Find them here in the shop....

And finally, a big, squooshy, delicious ripple afghan, with plump tassels on all its points.  This is another stash-buster; I pulled out all the yarns I had in this understated, pink-and-tan colour palate, and supplemented with a couple splashes of brighter colours.  I love love love the stripe of turquoise at one end!

I also love how the sunlight gave such sharp definition to this last photograph.  You can see every stitch! This one is hard to part with but it is also on Etsy here.

I hope you all have a lovely remainder of your weekend, and a blessed first Sunday of Advent!  Maybe next week I will post something which doesn't have to do with Etsy ;-)

Friday, 25 November 2011

A quintet of socks in the shop

Finally the weather was clear and I was able to photograph my backlog of items for the Etsy shop!  Today, a quintet of wool socks:


 Check them all out in the shop!  And spread the word to your friends who might be looking for hand-crafted Christmas gifts :-)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Bus Stop

You meet the most interesting people at bus stops.  On Monday I went to the library by bus.  Coming back, the bus was late, and it was raining.  I had my backpack (enormous and heavy) and a tote bag (ditto) and a large red umbrella, and wet boots.  There were two gentlemen at the bus stop.  Both were smoking, one of them inside the semi-enclosed shelter.  Cigarette smoke does not do good things to my lungs, so I stood outside with my umbrella.

Smoking gentleman #1 (the inside one) decides to come out and offer me a seat.  It was very good of him, I say, but I'm extremely allergic to smoke, so I'll just stand out here.

He retires.  A moment later, he's back to offer to stand outside.  So good of you, I say, but even the lingering smoke would trouble me.

He turns away.  Then back.  "You say you're allergic... what does it do to you?"

I try to explain about deep, hacking coughs, and headaches, but I don't think he gets it.  He wanders back into the shelter.  I shift my umbrella, set the tote bag down on my foot so it doesn't get wet, and look for the bus.

Smoking gentleman #2:  "Is your backpack waterproof?  It's all hanging out in the back."

I allow that it is not, in fact, waterproof.  A certain amount of shifting about to get the largest possible portion of it under the umbrella.

Gentleman #1 emerges again, comes up to me, and asks, "'scuse me, but what is your race?"

I probably gave him a blank stare for a minute.  "Um... I'm American?"

Gentleman #1:  "Oh.  I just wondered... you look like one of them gypsy women, where they from?"

A further blank stare.  "Uh... I believe they're from eastern Europe.  And I don't think I'm a gypsy..."

He:  "I just wondered.  You look like one."  He turns away, then back.  "I mean, you look nice..."

Me:  ......

He wanders back into the shelter.  I shift all my bags around again, get water down the back of my neck, and wait for the bus.

Gentleman #2 asks if I'm a student.  I say yes.  He asks what I do, and when I say "music" he promptly starts suggesting that I join a touring group "like those women who play the violin."  I have no idea what he is talking about, but I smile and nod and say that opera is more my speed.

Presently a third gentleman, tall and distinguished and silver-haired, comes up, book in hand.  He stands near me.  We all four scan the road for the errant bus.  I start jigging up and down and singing, partly to keep warm and partly because I rarely go more than a few minutes without singing.

Gentleman #3 turns to me and says, "You're singing.  Why are you so happy?"

I wasn't entirely sure how to answer that, as my singing had not been prompted by extreme joy... "I like rain?" I venture.

Then he asks me whether I liked to sing (yes) whether I was classically trained (yes) and what I want to do with it (opera.)  Then he seems to run out of questions and subsides.

Finally the bus appears (twenty minutes behind schedule) and we all get in out of the wet.  Then the bus driver sings snatches of Christmas songs all the way to the transit center.

I still haven't gotten over being asked if I was a gypsy woman...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

I don't know about you, but I have a weakness for flavoured coffee drinks.  Specifically the holiday-themed ones Starbucks comes out with.  Their warm, creamy goodness can make the worst day seem better.  That is until I look at my bank balance.  At upwards of $4.00 a cup, they add up quickly.

So I decided I would try to make my own!  I stocked up on canned pumpkin the other week when it was on sale (as well as cooking down a couple of fresh ones), so starting with the pumpkin spice latte seemed like a good idea.  I took a quick look at a few other make-your-own recipes floating around the web, but I ended up just coming up with my own.  My goal was not only to save money, but also to make it a little more healthy!  I'm sure the commercial version is full of sweet syrups.  The most expensive item here was the Reddi-whip I used, which cost about half what a single latte at Starbucks would run, and will last for many drinks.  (Mine was enough to go with an entire apple pie plus three drinks.)  Everything else you probably have in your kitchen already.  So, here you go!

Pumpkin Spice Latte

2 cups of milk*
1 T sugar**
2 T (approximate) pumpkin purée (fresh, frozen or canned)
a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice***
1/3 cup strong coffee†
whipped cream

Combine milk, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and pumpkin in a medium saucepan.  (Feel free to adjust the amounts of sugar and spice!)  Heat until just barely not boiling.  Froth with a whisk or immersion blender.  ††

Pour coffee into a large mug; pour milk mixture in and stir.  Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg.  This makes one really large serving, or two smallish ones.


* I used skim milk because that's what was in the house.  This would probably be richer (and better) (but less healthy) with whole milk.

** I used white sugar, but I bet it would be even better with brown.  I just didn't have any.

*** If you don't have dedicated "pie spice", make your own with tiny pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and ginger.

† Espresso would be even better.  1 or 2 shots, depending how much caffeine you need and how strong you like the coffee flavour.  I only have a French press, so I made do with that, and it tasted fine!

†† Or, walk upstairs to pack your bags for school, leaving your pot of milk to boil merrily and slosh onto the stove.  Instant froth!


To make the whole process even easier, try this!  I know I won't make enough of these lattes to go through an entire 15-oz can of pumpkin before it spoils in the fridge.  So I froze the remainder in an ice cube tray, then transferred them to a freezer bag.  One cube is exactly enough pumpkin for a latte, so you have instant perfect portions.  Just grab one from the freezer and throw in the pot with the milk; it will thaw and incorporate as the milk heats.  (If you're concerned, nuke the pumpkin for 15 seconds before combining.)  You could do this with fresh pumpkin purée too.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Poor Conrad

Conrad went to the vet yesterday, and now, in the words of some famous author whose name I can't recall, he is an ex-gentleman cat.  He also got a microchip implanted - useful for if he gets out, and required if I ever take him out of the States.

He took it pretty well, though he spent most of the evening looking like this on a chair:

Later he perked up a little and looked out the window, and now he is chasing his feathers-on-a-stick toy around the kitchen.  I think he's feeling better.

By the way, it's incredibly difficult to administer syrupy pain medicine in a syringe to an alert and unhappy cat.  I tried wrapping him in a towel, but that only made him mad.  Eventually I just dosed his food -- and since he's been acting like I've starved him for weeks, he scarfed down the medicine with no fuss.  We'll see how this evening's dose goes...

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Case of the Mondays

1. To begin with, I'm still sick.  We've proceeded to the sandpapered-throat, hoarse coughing stage, accompanied by a voice which has dropped at least a fifth and which is threatening to give out entirely.  I probably shouldn't have gone to school today, but I decided to muscle through and go anyway.  Which leads me to

2.  I locked my keys in the car.  Normally I'm extremely careful about that.  I collect my things, holding keys firmly in hand the whole time, and I check three times before I actually shut and lock the door.  Today, possibly due to 1), my mind was elsewhere.  As I pushed the door closed I saw the keys sitting on the seat, winking at me.

3.  AAA is really a great convenience.  I am glad I am a member.

4.  I wish I hadn't needed to find out how convenient they are today.

5.  Conrad went to the vet to get neutered today.  I'm going to have a sad little kitten after school.

6.  We will probably spend the rest of the day feeling miserable together.  I don't suppose having company will really help a lot.

7.  Owing to my illness over the weekend I have not done a lick of work on my major research project, for which I'm supposed to have an outline and 3 pages of prose by tomorrow morning.

8.  I have a feeling they're not going to get done tonight, either.

9.  Maybe the good professor will let me reschedule?

10.  At least I had a good homemade pumpkin spice latte this morning.  Recipe to follow.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Still Sick

This whatever-it-is feels like flu, only without a fever.  In pretty much every other respect it is the same, though.

Thanks to Nyquil I slept almost 16 hours last night, which probably helped.  I have spent most of the day lying in bed contemplating my various ailments, which is not very pleasant.  However I did not even have the energy to knit (which is how you know I'm really sick.)

Then a friend recommended a remedy.  It involves green tea, honey, lemon juice, salt, and a splash of strong liquor (I used rum) and she said "don't skimp on the salt and the rum!"  (They are supposed to kill bacteria.  It is the most vile-tasting concoction I have ever swallowed in my life, but it seems to have helped.  I sat up, watched True Grit, and took out my knitting.  (I stocked up on movies at the library this weekend, which turns out to have been a good thing!)

A strange lineup.  Suitable for a witch's brew producing vile, unspeakable concoctions.

I do not recommend this brew to anyone with a weak stomach or a strong gag reflex!  However it does seem effective.

I am hoping I am well enough to go to school tomorrow.  I've got lots to do this week!

Saturday, 12 November 2011


I've been fighting off a bug for more than a week, but today it finally got me.  It's time for boxes of tissues, doses of Nyquil, and a lot of hot tea and pineapple juice.

And bowls of chicken soup.  What a good thing I decided to make a big pot of it yesterday!

Now, if you'll excuse me while I tuck myself into bed and sneeze quietly to myself.  Conrad has made it clear that he will accompany me.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Autumn Leaves

A bright, blustery day.

A day of crisp sunshine in which it is impossible to be unhappy, and which dares you to go out of your way and crunch in the fallen leaves.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

I may be slightly insane

A friend posted this link a couple days ago:

In case you don't feel like following the link, it's a relay race.  A 196-mile relay race.  And I'm actually seriously considering signing up.

If you know me at all you know how ridiculous this is.  I've done a couple of 5-K races, but usually with reluctance and a great deal of mental swearing.  The last one I only did because my sister needed a running partner.

But this looks... well... fun.  The thing is, you're running with a team of 11 other runners, and the most anyone runs is 20 miles, broken up into 3 sections.  The website also has a detailed training schedule posted, which would help a lot.  And the next one in our area isn't until next November.  I'd have a whole year!

So, I've decided I'm going to work on the training schedule.  Even if I don't end up doing the race itself for some reason - scheduling issues, or not getting a team together - it gives me something to work towards and a definite goal.   Also - a nice side effect - it will help me get into better physical shape.  The race website recommends that every participant be able to keep up an 11-minute mile pace, so that's another goal.  I'm also going to try to do at least two 5-K races between now and then, and work towards running a consistent 11-minute mile pace throughout the race.

Towards that end, I went out running this evening.  I gave myself 20 minutes and managed 1.7 miles (according to, which works out to an 11:45 pace... not too bad!  Of course I don't think I could have gone another step, so we've still got a long way to go :-)

I won't belabour the point on this blog - it's not mainly about exercising - but I'll probably mention it every now and then.  I wanted to post about it initially as a motivation factor; if other people know about my goals, then I'm more likely to keep to them!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Butternut-Apple Soup

I bought a smallish butternut squash last week and then realised I had no idea what to do with it!  After an appeal to my facebook friends, I had lots of suggestions.  I decided to try soup, and since I had some cooking apples on hand, I threw one of those in as well.  Below is the recipe, more or less - I didn't measure anything so amounts are approximate.  This was warm and satisfying; the perfect Autumn food in my book!

Butternut-Apple Soup

makes about 4 servings

1/2 a medium-small butternut squash
1 large cooking apple
1 large onion
1 carrot
about 2 T. butter
cumin and curry powder - a sprinkle each
2 peppercorns
1 tsp salt
1 quart water
2 cubes chicken bouillon

Cook onion in butter and salt until soft.  Peel and chop the apple, carrot, and squash.  (My squash was in about 1"-square pieces; the apple and carrot were roughly diced.)  Add to pot with the rest of the ingredients.  Bring to a boil; keep at a low boil/vigourous simmer until all the veggies are soft.  Ladle out and put through a blender in batches until smooth.  Serve hot.  I added a splash of Tabasco sauce to my bowl, but it certainly isn't necessary.

It's such a pretty colour! 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Mischief Managed

Finally, I have a post about the costume I've been hinting about!  I'm so glad to have this project finished, but I had a blast making it!  If we're friends on Facebook, you've likely seen a few of these pictures, but here are lots more plus all the construction details.  At some point I would love to do a "real" photoshoot of this dress; I think it deserves it.  For now though all I can manage are some mirror shots and a couple of self-portraits done with my camera's timer :-)

I've wanted to copy Bellatrix Lestrange's costume ever since the trailer for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out.  But I never had an excuse to wear it, or I couldn't find a pattern, and with one thing and another it's been nearly five years since that first viewing.  But this fall the boys decided they were going to take me trick-or-treating (the first time I've ever been!) and I felt that my sewing skills were finally good enough that I could tackle this project.

A couple still shots of the inspiration costume.  I don't know why I'm always drawn to the bad guys when I'm copying costumes!  I guess they just get all the cool clothes.

This is the first garment I've ever made entirely without the help of a commercial pattern.  I draped the bodice and skirt on Coraline, my dress form, and the sleeves on my own arms.  (This is complicated.)  A single mock-up of each was enough to work out the kinks, and then I sewed it up.  The sleeves are attached to the bodice with lacing cord.  There's a section about 4 inches long which is sewn up, but the rest of the sleeve is laced.  They come to a point over the back of the hand and are held in place with a loop which goes around the middle finger.

I love the sleeves.  Also, my silver spoon ring, which is imitating a snake for the night.

Hand-stitched eyelets and a badly-exposed photograph.

I couldn't find any fabric that reproduced the movie cloth closely enough (black with silver spirals), so I bought plain black broadcloth with the intent to "print" it myself.  I bought fabric paint, glitter, and silver metallic embroidery thread also.  But in the end I used a metallic silver marker, not originally designed for fabric.  It gave me the finest line and the best control.  I added the spiral patterning after the dress was put together, since I didn't want to spend time carefully drawing on fabric which would just end up as scraps.  The patterning on the skirt ended up a little larger than that of the bodice and sleeves, and I sort of "faded out" about halfway down the skirt.  This is not "movie correct" but I think it looks good.  Also, I didn't bother hemming the skirt since in the film it looks ragged and worn.  I just bunched it up and roughly trimmed the edge.

Two different sizes of silver swirls.

The corset I drafted from my measurements.  I made a simple two-layer underbust corset, out of leftover black broadcloth and some reddish-pink cotton I had in my stash.  It's boned with plastic cable ties and laces up the back.  (That accounts for 16 of the hand-stitched eyelets.)  Then, I traced the shape of the base corset and cut out pieces of faux-leather vinyl in random shapes, trying to roughly reproduce the look of Bella's corset from the film.  I think the original is probably made of *only* leather, and much heavier, but since the flimsy leather/vinyl was all I had to work with, I felt the base corset was needed.

Bunched-up leather.  Sigh.

I stitched the "leather" pieces together using a quadrupled strand of heavy thread and a leather needle.  (Pro tip: don't run a leather needle through your fingertip.  It hurts much worse than a normal needle!)  I overlapped them just slightly and used a modified overcasting stitch, with an "x" thrown in every so often for stability.  Then I whip-stitched the leather outer to the fabric corset on the top and sides (but not the bottom, since they didn't quite line up.)  The leather ended up bunching and buckling a little as I wore it, but it's a minor enough problem that I don't care to do anything about it ;-)

Of course, to be Bellatrix you don't just need a black dress and a leather corset.  I had to try to copy the wild hair!  To do this, I plaited my hair into tiny braids - I think about 12 altogether.  My hair was slightly damp at the time, and I used a wet-set foaming lotion.   Then I coiled them up and pinned them to my head, slept on them, and wore them all the next day.  When they came out my hair was tightly crimped.  I fluffed it out a little and then backcombed the entire top of my head to give it some volume.  I still didn't end up with *quite* the crazy mop Helena Bonham Carter had, but I suspect her hair is naturally a little more textured than mine!  I was pretty pleased with how it turned out, anyway.  For makeup I used my normal powder foundation, thick eyeliner in a dusky blue, and shades of grey eyeshadow.  Then I applied black lipstick and blotted it partially away.  I wanted to paint my nails black also, and I toyed with the idea of drawing the "dark mark" on my forearm, but time got away from me.  (And anyway I'm not that good an artist!)

(Trying to take a photo of my hair and makeup - Conrad thought I was crazy.)

A snakey earring and some frizzy hair.

All in all, this was a whole lot of fun to make and to wear!  But next year?  I think I'm going to be Danielle from "Ever After" :-D

I fuzzed out the mundane living-room backdrop.  This is much more dramatic ;-P