Friday, November 30, 2012

lemon spice cupcakes

I really wasn't kidding when I said I do more baking (and log more kitchen time in general) in the winter than the summer. On a recent mid-week day off I used the excuse of being home alone and my mother in law's birthday to kill a couple birds with one stone. Given that there was a birthday, clearly there needed to be cake. I'd also been promising Bunny a lemon cake for quite some time and he's been getting a little cranky about it. (Man likes his cake, what can I say?)

So there would be cake, and it would be made with lemons. Except my mom doesn't have a cake pan and all my bakeware's buried so cake wasn't going to work, but the quick swap of muffin tins made that ok. I didn't want to make just any lemon cake, I needed to add a little something extra to it. If I'd have had fresh mint (or even peppermint extract) I likely would have turned this in to a lemon and mint cake, but being restricted by ingredients that was off the table. What were easily at hand were some beautiful spices, and somehow cloves and nutmeg seemed perfect.

These cupcakes are made, once again, based off the good old Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook's recipe pages. In fact, I took the same recipe that gave me these beauties and just ever so slightly modified things. In all honesty, it's just a small addition to the ingredient list and a slight switch in mixing and baking instructions. But seriously, these are amazing. Your family will thank you.

Lemon Spice Cupcakes

Ingredients
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  •  3/4 cups milk
  • 3/4 cups margarine
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • zest & juice of one large lemon
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350*F. Line or grease the muffin tin. This recipe yields 18 cupcakes.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together margarine and sugar until just barely creamed.
  3. Add eggs, milk, vanilla, lemon juice and zest and mix until evenly combined.
  4. Add the baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cloves and half of the flour. Mix on low until most of the flour is incorporated. Add the rest of the flour and mix until the batter is of an even consistency, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
  5. Fill the cupcake containers about 3/4 of the way full. For me this worked out to be just under 1/4 cup of batter in each.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  7. Cool in the tray for 10 minutes then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.
  8. Let cool completely before frosting.
Lemon Buttercream

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3-5 cups icing sugar
  • zest and juice of 2 large lemons
Directions
  1. In large bowl, mix butter with lemon zest and juice until everything is smooth.
  2. Add 2 cups of icing sugar to the bowl, turn mixer on to medium and blend until sugar is all absorbed into the butter.
  3. Continue to add sugar, half a cup to a cup at a time. Mix until each batch is completely absorbed, and taste before adding more.
  4. When you find your buttercream comes to a flavour/texture combination you like you are good. If you like less sweet, this will likely look like about 3 cups icing sugar, if you like more sweet you're probably more in the 5 cups or so range.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

changing expectations, culturally

My mind lately has been pulling itself back to the question of what it means to be a woman in the modern world. What we expect out of ourselves as human beings, women, wives, mothers and all. It's a hard question because so many conflicting things are expected of us, by virtue of being women. Every choice we make is a little bit heavier. Particularly lately I've been thinking about what it all means in terms of parenthood.

When babies eventually come, would I rather be a working mother or a stay at home mom? Actually having a choice in the matter is a pretty big luxury in and of itself, and I'm lucky in some ways in that I have some easy options both ways. If we can afford it, I have a husband who would support me staying at home past the end of government mandated maternity leave. If we can't, or I decide I want to be at work either way, I have access to free childcare. Let's be honest: free childcare is a huge deal. So going into motherhood I'm in a pretty privileged decision to make my choices.

I think about being a working mother though and I rather shudder. I just don't want to do all of that. Then I realized something that struck me as kind of strange. We expect a lot more out of our own parenting than we used to. As women have been climbing up the corporate ladder, chipping away at glass ceilings and just generally increasing our expectations on the work front, so have the expectations on the home front.

It's not enough to just have a happy, healthy kid anymore. Said kid also has to have music classes, and participate in sports and athletic activities. There's a lot more help with the homework expected, and chauffering each kid to an activity a day (pottery classes, piano lessons, soccer practice, French club, Girl Guides). In general parents (fathers as well as mothers) are expected to do a whole lot more with their children. Raising a well rounded child isn't enough, we need to coddle and cajole, and be a much bigger part of our children's lives.

It's backwards, you know? We have less time at home, to take care of the house and raise the kids. Yet we have bigger houses which take more maintainance, and we have increased the demands of childrearing, which takes its toll. There's less time to go around and we are supposed to do so much more of it. Of course it doesn't work as well as everyone would like it to.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

crinkles

As I've been on the slow climb towards turning thirty (which is still a couple birthdays away) I've been paying a little more attention to my skin and skin care routine. I try to remember to wash my face, even though I forget more often than I remember. I have some amazing moisturizer that I try to use at least a couple of times a week. I've switched to a slightly more expensive make up brand, at least for my foundation, because it's better for my skin and has an SPF. (Plus, I like their stuff.)

I keep paying attention because everyone tells you about growing old and wrinkles and the fact that a little bit of time spent taking care of my skin now will one day payoff is more elastic, less wrinkly, more even skin. Because I'm supposed to care about wrinkles and dry skin and even if I don't care right now one day I will.

I think I've finally identified my first wrinkle. Like a wrinkle that stays even when I'm not distorting my face. A wrinkle that's just there no matter what I do. Just under the outer corner of my eyes, there is a wrinkle and it won't go away.

What's so confusing about this wrinkle is that I feel like I should be upset about it. But I'm not. I feel like I should care that I have a wrinkle. But I don't. It's just there, doing its own thing and its not a big deal. My skin has a little fold that didn't used to be there and it's not going to go anywhere. It may even make me look older. I just don't care.

Maybe it's that I married an older man and that's made me more comfortable with the aging process. Maybe it's that there aren't enough of the wrinkles yet for me to be concerned. Maybe the fifth wrinkle is the one that will make me cry about getting older. Maybe I've escaped from the idea that being, and looking, young is inextricably bound up in my worth as a woman. I'd like to think that's what it is, but who knows.

How do you react to "visible signs of aging" (as all the commercials like to say)? Do they bother you at all, or are you ok with the aging process?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

book review: The Magicians

After Rushdie's memoirs I needed some lighter reading. Something a little escapist, that wouldn't be too challenging. Something about this book grabbed my attention, so on a recent shopping spree I picked it up.

This was every bit the easy read I expected to be. It even ended up being more gripping than I expected. The first few chapters weren't particularly promising; while the I liked where the plot was moving I found them a little uncomfortable and childish like this was going to turn into a Harry Potter fan fic.

In some ways it did, even though it's completely unrelated to Harry Potter. What I found intriguing about the book though was that even though it went into magical worlds and there was a bit of "live the dream" to it there was this beautiful humanity. This book is jaded. It explores the idea of happiness and misery, how we build and nuture those emotions and conditions.

It's the human elements that make this book. I enjoyed the magic bits, but in the end it was Quentin, the main character, and his struggle against mundane human misery and depression that created the interest. He has everything he's always wanted: he goes to a magical university, has abilities that the rest of the world only dream of, he even visits the alternate universe featured in his own childhood fantasy books. Even with all of that, he's still unhappy. He longs for these things, intensely, until they become real. The more he gets what he wants, the more he realizes that happiness doesn't come from these things.

Honestly this wasn't the most amazing book I've ever read, but it was engaging and I found the human story within it to be incredibly deep and relateable.

Monday, November 26, 2012

carmelized butternut squash risotto

Now that it's cool out I want to be in the kitchen all the time. All the time. In fact, this risotto may have made its way to our table the same day as the last batch of brownies were created. I've got all these great dinner ideas swirling around my head - roasts and gratins and soups and all sorts of delicious things.

It also may be time to admit that butternut squash is becoming one of my favourite foods. There's nothing I like as much as a good squash soup, and it lends itself well to pasta. There's this earthy, slightly sweet, creaminess to a well roasted piece of squash that just works. This risotto though might be the pinacle of squash goodness. The caramelized squash cubes blend so beautifully with the creaminess of the risotto and the sharp accent of the parmesan.

To be honest, the squash risotto may also be my best risotto so far. At least it's definitely had the best reactions.

Carmelized Butternut Squash Risotto

Ingredients
  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 4-6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, gently simmering
  • 1 cup white wine or juice (optional)
  • 3/4 cups grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375*. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, spread the squash cubes in one even layer across the sheet. Drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil and about 1/2 tsp salt and place in the oven.
  2. Set a timer for 40 minutes.
  3. Bring a small saucepan with the stock to a boil on a back burner of the stove. Leave this simmering through the rest of the cooking process.
  4. In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat remaining 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, saute about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent.
  5. Add the arborio rice to the mix. Stir until evenly coated with the oil and occasionally after. This part takes about 5 minutes and you're looking for the rice to start to smell a little bit nutty, and the edges may begin to brown.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low. At this point you'll want to add your first infusion of liquid. If you have wine or juice (apple or white grape would be best here, in my mind) add that to the pot. If not, just add a cup of your stock. Stir frequently as the liquid absorbs to the rice.
  7. Continue to add stock, one ladelful at a time (approximately 1/2 to 3/4 cups at a time) and stirring as the liquid is absorbed. It should be about 3-5 minutes per ladelful. You don't need to be tied completely to the stove at this point but you don't want to walk away for very long. This needs to be stirred at least every 15 seconds or so as the liquid absorbs. The slow addition of the liquid is what creates that creamy risotto taste.
  8. When you've added at least 4 cups of stock, take a look at your rice. If it's creamy and kind of loose (if you run your spoon through it and the rice moves to fill the gap) it's time to taste things. Try a couple of grains of rice as a start. You want the rice to have a bite similar to al dente pasta.
  9. If the rice tastes good, procede to the next step. If not, keep adding liquid till you get that consistency.
  10. Add another ladelful of stock to your rice. Stir as it absorbs.
  11. Remove the squash from the oven and transfer your cubes into the risotto. Stir to evenly distribute the squash.
  12. Add a final ladelful of stock to the risotto. Stir until incorporated.
  13. Remove from the heat and stir in your cheese.
  14. Serve, garnish with more parmesan if desired.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The quilt is toddling along towards completion. Some weeks it seems like I make a crazy lot of progress, sometimes it seems like things are dragging so slowly. At this point, all the squares are completed and all the edging is sewn on the individual squares. Now it's just stringing them together in rows of four and sewing the rows together into an actual quilt top.

This is a pretty easy, relaxing bit. It's straight backstitching and I can practically do it in my sleep. Except when my fingers start to freeze and cramp which has been happening lately. Maybe that's a sign that it's time to close the basement window? This stage is also rather exciting, as I'm starting to see how my squares are going to look on the finished quilt and get a better idea of how everything pieces together.

I'm also a little anxious. I want to get started on actually quilting the whole thing together and I'm just not there yet. I want to get started on the baby quilt, to the point that I've been playing around with design ideas when I'm doodling on the phone. In fact I think at this point I know exactly what I'll be doing there at this point and I just want to start. I'm ready to play with new fabrics.

I'm also moving closer and closer to actually having my own hand made blanket. Which has always been a huge deal for me, and I'm a little at a loss as to what I want to accomplish next. I know I want to keep quilting, and I have dozens of ideas I'd like to work on and I'm excited to work on more fabrics and patterns.  I feel a little like it won't be enough to just keep quilting. I might have to set myself up with a new challenge here.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

linkses

The Huffington Post is talking about pregnancy, post-miscarriage. This gets to the heart of a lot of how the miscarriage has made me view the idea of future pregnancies. I want them, I just don't trust my body to handle them.

accomplishment on the job (but not the career)

I've been with my new job for awhile now. In fact, I've officially had my three month review (plus a month of training, which they don't count towards that). It's not a career, per se, but it's a job that pays the bills, lets me strengthen and develop skills and that I mostly enjoy.

Turns out I'm also actually kind of good at it. Which shouldn't surprise me, since it's related to previous work experience, but it does a little. I've even got the marks on my review and some follow up from my supervisor and they're pretty clear. Objectively I'm really good at my job. My reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and I push myself to keep improving. It's fun to constantly have something to come home and brag about, even if it's just a good report or a nice mark on a review.

I don't feel so good at it though. I have this one thing that I just struggle with. I mean I hit my targets and I'm a good solid average at it. I certainly don't earn my way to bonuses in this particular area often (and this is one of only two targets we can earn bonuses for), and while I do my job it's nothing to write home about. I have other things that I'm really good at, objectively, but I find really hard to do. It's not a hard skill, it just isn't one I was naturally given. I feel like I'm growing as a person because of it, and I'm getting to develop stronger skills but I just don't feel good at it.

I wonder sometimes if it's just that I feel like I'm capable of more. Maybe I'm never going to feel good at a job that I think should be easy. Maybe taking a "paying the bills" job is never going to give me a sense of accomplishment. Don't get me wrong, I still take pride in doing a good job. I'm constantly trying to hit higher performance targets and come in consistently above standards and expectation (and for the most part, I do). I just don't feel like I'm doing enough. Not enough to feel really "good" or to be able to feels "accomplished", although I'm getting better at celebrating the little victories.

What's the line from Erin Brockovich? "Not personal! That is my work, my sweat, and my time away from my kids! If that is not personal, I don't know what is!" I may not have made a career a field I have a deep burning passion for, and I may not have a fancy job but you had better bet I take my work seriously. This is my time away from everything I love, and that's a big deal. I can't hate that time, and if I didn't strive to do my best at whatever it is I'm doing it would be an awful waste. Just sometimes it feels like even if I am the best at what I do it wouldn't mean all that much and I don't really know how to change that. Maybe I just really feel like work is never going to be an accomplishement for me - even the best job I've ever had, where I did feel like I did something really good in the world I never felt any personal sense of achievement. Maybe work is just work.

How does work and career play into your life? Is it a central element, or somewhere along the sidelines? What role do you wish work had?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

on "Joseph Anton: A memoir"

This book has been a long read for me. It's been carted back and forth in my bag for a couple of weeks now, quite literally weighing me down. Its been eating away at the back of my mind, making my thoughts swirl around confusingly.

At the end I'm not entirely sure what to say about this of all books. I could start with the easy and state that it is, in fact, quite brilliant. The way Rushdie unfolds his life on the page, the way he choose to tell the story in third person narrative, the genuine disbelief at the situation he finds himself in after the fatwa. It's the story of his life but it's also the story of a modern dilemna we find ourselves in: the battle between Western style freedoms and personal expression and the reaction of fundamentalists against those same rights. Rushdie was really one of the first battles of the culture wars that have been going on.

Although I picked up this book because I was genuinely interested about just how the fatwa had impacted Rushdie's life and because I wanted to hear the story from his side that wasn't the most important part of the book for me. Rushdie speaks to the human condition, what it means to be human. He speaks of what it means, for him, to be a writer and actually quite a wealth of advice for aspiring writers.

I can't tell you how many lines in this book are currently underlined. Passages that spoke to me so strikingly I wanted to be able to find them for later. His writing can be breathtakingly beautiful. It's got its flaws for sure and at times his voice almost comes off as pompous, but by and large I was enraptured just by the way he strings his words together.

Most of all what I want to say about this book is that you should read it. Even if you don't like his style, even if you disagree with his opinions. The man's got something to say and he will make you think.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

nutty, fudgy brownies

You would think that when I'm ready for brownies that it might interest me to try a new recipe. I'm a fan of changing it up and I get bored of the same old recipe time in time out. Except when that same old recipe is this one that I`ve already used twice.

I`m fairly consistent in how I like my brownies: fudgy and crusty. I don't want a "cake like" brownie, because if I wanted something cakey well I'd just make cake. For me a brownie needs to be fudgy (maybe even gooey, sometimes) and it absolutely must have the brownie crust. Otherwise why bother? Having a recipe that I know gives me my necessities in a brownie makes me a little weary of trying any other recipe although I have about a dozen bookmarked to try later.

The problem I run into is that I don't want to always make the same brownies. Every batch doesn't need to be espresso brownies, even though the original recipe is perfection itself. Sometimes I want to change things up a bit. Maybe make mint brownies, or do something layered and with a cream cheese marble. Sometimes I just want some nuts with my chocolate.

There's this bag of pecans sitting around the house that's just been begging me to find uses for them. They made a great crust on a pork chop the other week but there were still plenty left over. It seemed to me that they wanted to go into some type of chocolatey goodness so clearly brownies were called for. Even more clearly it wouldn't be enough to just add pecan bits. If I was going to make nutty brownies, I wanted that flavour to be incorporated into the whole batter which was where the Nutella came in. Luckily Bunny knows that I have a secret love of chocolate hazelnut everything and occasionally grabs the giant Nutella jars from Costco to surprise me with so I already had a form of chocolate and nut flavour to go from. Adding a quarter cup of that to the batter just seemed like it would make everything better.

Nutella Pecan Brownies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar (of your choice. I like brown here, but white works.)
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, or coarsely chopped semi- or bittersweet chocolate (depending on your tastes)
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cups butter
  • 1 /4 cup Nutella
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350*F.
  2. In a sauce pot, melt butter and sugar until fully incorporated. This should be glossy and somewhat melty by the time it's done, and is the single best method for brownie butter creaming I've ever encountered. Seriously divine.
  3. Remove from heat, stir in the chocolate and Nutella until fully melted. Let cool about ten minutes.
  4. When slightly cool, add eggs and vanilla, mixing until combined and glossy. At this point, mix things fairly well to ensure everything is fully incorporated. The longer you mix at this stage, the better your brownie crust ends up being. The whole chocolate mixture should be a big, glossy muck by the time you're done here. 
  5. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt until everything is evenly distributed and you have a uniform consistency. Things should come together fairly quickly, and you do not want to overmix at this point.
  6. Gently stir in the pecan pieces.
  7. Spread into a lightly greased 13x11" pan and bake about 30-35 minutes.
  8. Let cool for 10-20 minutes, then cut into bars and remove from the pan. Take half to a neighbour immediately, otherwise you will eat them all. (Which really may not be a bad thing, but still. Share the brownie love).
  9. Eat them. Do not frost, because these have that lovely crust and that just should not be ruined.

Monday, November 19, 2012

shopping for a fall weather uniform

As colder weather as been creeping over central Ontario my every day outfits have needed a bit of an overhaul. Airy dresses or a tank top and jeans, both paired with a light blazer, were great work day uniforms during the summer months and early fall but they lack the sort of warmth I need with temperatures starting to hover around the freezing mark.

Given the fact that my winter wardrobe had been purchased two to four sizes ago I had the issue of not having too many easy transition pieces to move into winter with it was clearly time to start updating the wardrobe. A few of my old sweaters have enough stretch to still be wearable still, but most things are starting to look a little baggy on me. I've also figured out that my skinny jeans have become my every day pants because I'm loving the look of them tucked into some tall boots and it's just easy to pull on a similar style pant every day. Skinny jeans, boots and a sweater seem to have become my fall uniform. There was also some incentive to spend money on clothes as my work likes to pay out our bonuses in the form of gift cards and there was a rather hefty one to the mall sitting around burning a hole in my wallet.

Last weekend Bunny and I came up with a plan and headed out with the intent to spend. We went out with a shopping list in mind: two or three new everyday sweaters for me, a hoodie sweatshirt for him and maybe if there was some leftover I'd buy a new pair of jeans. And boy did we ever get lucky.

I was determined to buy quality items, not just discount sweaters at the cheap stores because I wanted something that would last and there are a few stores that I find do sweaters really well. First store we rolled into I managed to find two really great sweaters with the added bonus of 25% off the entire store. Next was a search for Bunny's hoodie and we happened to find two that he really liked at great prices (and one of them ended up being on sale as well). After that we still somehow had enough left over to get another sweater, my jeans, a couple of books and pay for lunch and fancy coffee ... with a small balance left over.

What's interesting is noticing what's in common with all the items I purchased. All the sweaters have interesting necklines. None of them have the same neckline, but they're all a little unusual. Boat neck with buttons, deep v with a sort of collar and a big, bunchy faux turtleneck (it looks better than how I'm describing it, I promise). Soon enough it will probably be cold enough to layer blazers over the sweaters but for now I have some great fall weather pieces.

Now, on to the hunt for more boots to continue to expand my fall/winter wardrobe. I could use some nice riding style boots and some dressier winter weather boots. Heels might not be so practical in a more or two.

Friday, November 16, 2012

second hand

When acquiring "things", whether they be books or furniture of stuff for a future baby I put some serious thought into the decision to buy new or used. The hypothetical house Bunny and I want to buy one day? Well, we love the idea of a new build and getting to choose something where the layout serves exactly our needs and we have the opportunity to customize. We also love the idea of an older home, with sturdy construction that's already stood the test of time in an established neighbourhood and fully grown trees in the yard. Both options are equally viable, and in the end the decision will come down to what we like best and can afford when the time comes to make the decision.

Other decisions are easier. If I'm buying a stove (which I unfortunately may be doing soon) I'd rather invest a little more money into a new model, that hasn't undergone years of repairs and breakdowns and has a warrantee. A coat rack or end tables? I'll probably scour garage sales and thrift stores until I find something I like that's decently constructed and I'm not breaking the bank on. Books are another easy choice: if it's readily available used, I'll buy it used. The writing isn't any less spectacular just because someone else has thumbed the pages before.

I love antiques. This probably has something to do with growing up with a lot of family antiques and hand me downs. I grew up with family heirloom sideboards, bookcases and dressers and there's an understanding that my younger brother and I are both in love with these pieces and we know we'll have a terrible time compromising on who gets what in that unfortunate eventuality of their being passed down. Having all these beautiful, well made pieces instilled a love of the sturdy construction and amazing craftsmanship of turned legs, carved details and the lack of fiberboard backing. If I were ever buying these sorts of pieces myself I know I would hoard money and end up with a perfectly mismatched set of antiques.

My ideal set of formal dishware, for one day, is all antique china. It actually doesn't matter to me whether its a matched or mismatched set (I'm good with the eclectic mix of patterns). Just beautiful, well taken care of pieces that have some personality to them. I have a hidden love for antique teacups and saucers, and even the start of a little collection that will one day drive Bunny nuts.

Something like a couch or chairs? While I love antique Queen Anne's I lean towards more modern constructions with overstuffed cushions and recliners and general comfort in which to lounge. I just don't find antiques to be quite as comfortable and for me comfort is key. I'm also not keen on not knowing the history of my upholstery, although antique construction is far superior. I'm also not opposed to a well loved and cared for hand me down from friends or family who I know care for their possessions.

What I'm not a huge fan of is a collection of mismatched, run down hand me downs. That sort of style certainly filled my needs in university, and while I don't need everything to match, Bunny and I do have a somewhat cultivated sense of personal style in what we'd look for in our own spaces. Some newer pieces let the older ones shine. The things that don't match still need to go and complement each other.

I'm also sometimes weary about the safety of older things. All the baby stuff we've been given will have to be carefully researched eventually to determine that a) it's still safe and there have been no concerns or recalls associated with with and b) that it's still in good condition and I'm not concerned that something will happen to things. Something like a car seat I will 100% buy new just because of safety concerns, even though I don't think new is the only way to go.

Another thing I'm a fan of buying used is cars. Not that I've bought any cars recently, but Bunny and I have been discussing the eventuality of ditching the truck and we're pretty sure we'd like to buy used. I like the savings, and I don't need that new car smell. We've also got a mechanic that we trust, who is very good at his job and has a relationship with our family so we know he'll tell it like it is. Plus many of Bunny's motorcycle skills are transferable and he's always done his own basic maintainance (oil changes, changing tires etc). The whole idea of "new" isn't important for us in a car.

How do you style your home? Are you a fan of hand me downs or antiques? Do you like a matched look and the comfort of owning all new pieces? Is it a little bit of a free for all? Are there any things that you insist on buying either new or used?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

even when you have it, it feels like there's never enough

The whole married budget thing is still a little up in the air. Bunny and I both have our individual data from October, but I've yet to get a hold of his cashflow information and start combining all the information and really working on the data. I'm lazy about it. I'm also a little scared. Even without putting the data together fully with what I do know I'm sure we're doing alright. Money's a big worry for me, and it always will be.

Do we have enough? Can we afford the things we want and need? Do we have a big enough emergency fund? Are we spending too much on stupid things? Will we ever have decent retirement funds and be able to afford a house? Why was I so happy to let Bunny quit the lucrative career before we took advantage of another year or two of that salary to put towards a home? (The answer to that last question of course is for both of our sanity and our relationship, and support him in doing something that he loves as a career.)

In the grand scheme of things, I'm pretty sure October was a good month. Yes, we had to pay for the root canal and that was painful. Yes, Bunny took more than a few sick days this month. Luckily we found some significant cash, in actual bills, that we had quite literally forgotten about and were able to use towards that expense. Honestly when we can forget about a few hundred dollars and not be stressed about it? We can't be doing that badly. On top of that, we were able to pay all our bills including a couple of large and irregulars that we usually don't see, throw some extra money towards the ever decreasing debt and put some significant cash in savings. All of that, and we didn't even have any freelance hours this month. That's a big deal mostly because Bunny's freelance hours are where we're able to get the biggest payout per hour and it's money that goes straight to our long term savings funds, so it's pure gravy. On top of that I had some nice paycheque surprises myself, including an extra fifty bucks on one cheque, a sweet little performance bonus in the form of a gift card (new shoes, here I come! - or not) and the news that I'll be getting somewhat of a raise next cheque which is always a great thing.

We're doing alright. We have money in the bank. We can afford everything we want or need. We could afford to live on our own if that was our priority right now, and that's a priority that's always under review. We can afford to help my mom out with some around the house things as they come up, and we intend to. Still our financial goals feel a million miles away. Buying a house? Doing so with a big enough down payment that we have an affordable mortgage? That feels almost impossible. Going to Spain in a year or two feels more doable, but that expense would seriously cut into the house fund. Even though my student loans are ever shrinking, it still feels like I'll never get out of debt.

What's particularly ridiculous sometimes is knowing that I'm the one who likes managing the money in this relationship. I'm a little bit better at it, by both of our accounts, although Bunny's pretty good with money himself. For all that I worry, always, I love coming up with budgets and paying the bills and watching the savings go up and the debt go down. It's my thing. It's such a stressful thing.

How do you feel about managing money? Do you enjoy it? Is it stressful? A combination of both?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

almond clementine cupcakes with cream cheese icing


Lately the KitchenAid mixer has been making me feel guilty. Just sitting, unused, in the corner of the counter it's practically giving me puppy eyes. Everytime I enter the kitchen there's a little twinge of "I should bake something" and last weekend I finally got around to it.

I've been promising Bunny some sort of cake for weeks now and I still hadn't gotten around to it. Cupcakes seemed the easiest since I wanted to make icing as well. Me being me I wanted to do something a little bit unusual though. Something needed to be different. Nosing around the pantry I came up with a bag of almonds and a box of clementines and naturally I figured that almonds and clementines would make a good cupcake combination.

Then I pulled out my favourite cookbook of all time, the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook and looked at a couple of recipes. I kind of mashed the recipes for yellow cake and chocolate cupcakes, with some modifications, together into these beauties. Using the almond flour here gave them a rather dense, crumbly texture rather than traditional airy cakeness, but I liked the end result. I may have eaten three last night. Luckily with the in laws next door I was able to unload half the batch without too much trouble.

Almond and Clementine Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
makes about 18 regular cupcakes

Ingredients
For the CupCakes:
  • 3/4 cups butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • juice of 2 clemetines (if you're better with a microplane than I am, add the zest too! My clementines just wouldn't zest)
  • 2/3 cups milk
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup almond flour (which, if all you have are whole or partial almonds you can make by zipping it up in a food processor. About 2/3 cups whole almonds worked into 1 cup almond flour for me)
For the cream cheese frosting
  • 250 grams of plain or light cream cheese, softened
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • juice of 2 clementines
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375*F.
  2. Prepare muffin pans for baking. Either lightly grease the cups or use cupcake liners.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved into the butter and it's nice and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs, vanilla and clementine juice and beat until eggs are well incorporated and there are no obvious chunks of butter.
  5. Add the milk and mix until incorporated.
  6. Add the almond flour, baking powder and salt and mix until evenly distributed. Once the almond flour is fully incorporated, add the all purpose flour and mix in.
  7. Full the muffin tins about 3/4 of the way full. These cupcakes don't rise a whole ton so they can fill most of the cup.
  8. Bake approximately 20-25 minutes. You're looking for golden edges to the cupcakes and for a toothpick inserted in the centre to come out clean.
  9. Let cook in muffin tin for 10 minutes, transfer to cooking rack to finish cooling before frosting.

Make your Icing
Note: this makes about twice as much icing as you need. Unless you really like icing.
  1. In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese together with the clementine juice. You want the juice fully distributed through the cream cheese and the texture will get just a touch watery.
  2. Add the icing sugar 1 cup at a time to the cream cheese mixture. Stir until fully mixed in and the sugar has completely been absorbed into the cream cheese. Taste throughout the process. With all four cups of icing sugar the icing should be much thicker, in fact almost as thick as the cream cheese was before adding the clementine juice.
  3. If it's not sweet enough, add more sugar. Alternatively, because you've been tasting throughout the process, you can always stop when you get to the sweetness level you prefer.
Once your icing is made and your cupcakes are fully cooled go ahead and frost them. Then watch them disappear.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

baby stuff

Even though we're not currently expecting, Bunny and I have been slowly coming into a collection of baby stuff. As it happens the collection actually started just after the miscarriage (as in, the day after the ultrasound confirming things) and started very awkwardly. Slowly since then Momma Bunny's garage has been filling up with things that as yet we have no use for.

Right after we got a positive result on a pee stick some friends of ours texted to say they wanted to get rid of some baby things, and would we be interested? That day it was an easy answer. Yes! We need baby things! We will happily take your baby toys and fancy, convertible stroller and bouncy chairs. When the miscarriage happened it became very odd and uncomfortable, because seeing and thinking about all the baby stuff kind of just tore the hole in my heart even farther open. I felt guilty taking the these things when just looking at them made me want to cry. Luckily Bunny's was a little more together and he handled dealing with all the stuff (except for the massive stuffed tiger I cried into on the drive home) and hopefully his good graces made up to some extent for my lackthereof. Yet another apology for my behaviour just after the miscarriage needs to be made to these lovely friends.

As it happened, that pile of baby stuff ended up not so much being a straight on gift as a trade. Our friends wanted space and to give the things to people who might someday use them. We happened to have a well taken care of antique wooden toboggan of just the sort that our friends had been hunting for (and finding that wooden toboggans, even used ones, were going for ridiculous prices) that we were looking to unload. So we swapped.

This week, Bunny brought home a crib. It's actually a really beautiful crib, and while when the time comes to use the crib I will have to do some research and safety vetting to do, again that's one less thing we will eventually have to purchase.

It's all a little awkward and uncomfortable though. The baby stuff not only reminds me of how much we want babies, but how clearly they are not happening right now. Getting pregnant is not something that you can control. I mean, you can do all the right things, and plan on pregnancy, and time certain bedroom activities even when you're not in the mood. At the end of the day though nothing that we do can guarantee anything. Sperm and egg will collide when they want, not when we want them to. Implantation may not always occur, and chromosomal abnormalities happen, ectopic pregnancies happen. And there's just no guarantee. Maybe we just can't have children in an unassisted biological manner.

Right now that's not something we really know. The doctor said that having had a miscarriage is a good sign, because it means that neither of us is sterile (I hate that word), but at the same time, maybe there's some sort of inhospitable environment or something going on there. It's a fear I can't quite shake, and I'm trying not to worry about it too much right now. We're letting life happen, and while we're trying to make a baby we're honestly not trying that hard. I'm not ready for ovulation kits or talking to doctors about fertility tests and drugs and all that jazz. Maybe down the road we'll have to look at that, but I hope not.

All that baby stuff sitting the garage feels like tempting fate. I'm still a little bit emotionally tender and the idea of wanting something so badly and knowing that there's always a possibility that things won't happen the way I want them to makes me anxious. If I let myself want something so badly and it doesn't work out the way I want it to I know I'll be devasted. I don't want to be devastated, again, by baby making issues. Wanting something so badly feels like inviting disaster. Planning and acquiring for things I can't control feels like inviting it not to happen. The idea of never being able to use that baby stuff is a little painful. I'm trying not to borrow trouble, though. Life's going to happen the way it happens, and there's only so much I can do to affect that outcome.

That pile of baby stuff in the back of the garage and my mind still has a little niggling worry though.

Monday, November 12, 2012

more on the quilting

The quilt is really, seriously coming along well. I don't think I expected to like doing the borders/sashing as much as I do but it's really just more piecing and it goes so comfortably. I just like sewing straight lines, lol. At this point I'm working on larger sections at a time and the sort of "supersized" nature of the borders when compared to the simple blocks makes things quicker and simpler.

I also figured out the trick to cutting multiple pieces at once with the rotary cutter for this section and that took out the most tedious part of the process. It's definitely made it clear that I need a bigger self healing mat and a long, wide quilter's ruler for when I start my next project but I'm excited about the whole thing.

Bunny's reaction as the quilt is growing is making me laugh so hard. The particular fabrics I'm using here are a pink, silver and black mix with a combination of abstract graphic prints and one that has a brocade look. Originally I bought them for living room pillows (with his approval) until he later told me he really didn't want our pillows to be pink. So I didn't particularly intend for him to love (or even like) the quilt just because of that. He's gotten super excited about it though, even to the point that he's a little disappointed that I'm not making it a bit bigger to go on our bed. He even told me to use fuschia for the borders which was my end decision anyhow.

There's still a lot of work left to do. After I finish the borders I have to piece the top together and get it all ironed up and measured and everything. Then there's putting it together with the batting and backing and properly quilting it. But this is ever so slowly starting to take shape and look like a real quilt. That's pretty exciting.

My quilting habit is also kind of cutting into my reading time, but after spending 8 hours a day staring at a computer screen it's a good change. I'm still slugging through the Salman Rushdie biography, though the end is, finally, in sight. Even if I weren't a fan of memoirs I'd be a fan of this book. It's maybe making its way to my best ever books list so I want to savour the last hundred pages. His writing is absolutely gorgeous. I'm looking forward to sharing more of my thoughts on this book later.

Friday, November 09, 2012

things which make me happy

I'm having a kind of blah day today. Right after Bunny's teeth got fixed and the grumpy pain monster went away he got sick and so there's been the sucky sick man in my husband's place. Although he's pretty adorable when he's sick. I also maybe had a wee bit of a freak out over the living situation again today, crying in the car after running some errands about how much I hate living out of boxes (finding my winter coats should not be such a big ordeal) and all that other garbage. So it's time to focus on the good stuff, because there is so much good stuff.

  • Myself, my family and those who are near and dear to me are all fine in the wake of Hurricane Sandy
  • We live in a place where the most we're ever affected, personally, by a hurricane is some big winds and heavy rains
  • My adorable puppy who has been especially playful lately
  • The end of my husband's tooth pain. I love seeing him happy and pain free again.
  • Having the best husband in the world
  • Knowing enough about motorcycles to be able to have a somewhat informed discussion. For people who've known me for awhile, this is surprising. Personal growth and more knowledge.
  • Quilting and other sewing projects that keep me happy, calm and sane. Plus the sense of accomplishment that comes along with them.
  • Sour cream and onion chips.
  • The really amazing potato and leek soup my mom made the other week.
  • First snow! It happened, it was beautiful, and it was light.
  • My three month review at work just passed, and it was all glowing positive. Plus, I maybe get a little bit of a raise, which is always nice.
  • Our savings are growing again. October was a good month for us, and while we'll probably have less to show for November and December what with Christmas and all it's nice to see those numbers grow.
  • Babies that people I know are having.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

rotini with butternut squash

The first time I heard about pasta with butternut squash I made a "ewwww" face. Because that's gross. Right? Turns out that's not right. It's actually kind of fantastic. Especially if you're me and are the one freak of nature in the world who is convinced that tomatoes, especially tomato sauce, is just the grossest thing ever. I mean the smell of pasta sauce sends me out of the room gagging. So this butternut squash thing? It's a nice change from the usual olive oil and parmesan or cream sauce routine I have with the pasta.

I've seen numerous suggestions for this, and while I'm sure a puree would be delicious, and I'm sure that I'd enjoy it if the squash chunks were a more firm-tender I have a sneaking suspicion that this way is best. Caramelizing the squash chunks mean that I can get an almost sauce-like consistency when mixed with the browned butter at the end while still maintaining some of the bite of the squash. The soft-but-not-liquidy texture is an interesting contrast to the pasta.

There are things I would change, as always, if only to try something different next time. There was a bag of pecans I almost chopped and toasted to mix in with this, but Bunny's impending root canal stopped me. (Thank you dentists for giving me my husband back. The grump monster was getting old.) For the same reason I also cooked the pasta itself just passed al dente so that things would be easier on him. If I'd planned ahead to have fresh sage, or any herb really, on hand I would have added that to the brown butter mixture.

Ingredients:
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried sage (or other green herbs. I was sorely tempted to use mint, which I just might do next time.)
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 2" cubes. You'll want these to be uniform, but uniformity is more important than getting any specific size.
  • about 500 grams of rotini, fusili or penne (for us this was about 1/2 a package of rotini)
  • salt to taste
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350*.
  2. Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil for easy clean up. Lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray or oil. Lay out squash cubes in a single layer across the sheet.
  3. Cook for approximately 1 hour, or until the squash starts to caramelize. Look for the edges of the cubes to just be turning brown as you remove the squash from the oven.
  4. Start preparing pasta, according to package directions. Don't forget to liberally salt the water, as this is the main opportunity to season the pasta. My pasta took about 10 minutes to cook and the water about 5 minutes to heat. If your pasta requires shorter or longer cooking time, adjust when you start this step accordingly. When the pasta finishes cooking, reserve about 1/2-1 cup of cooking water before draining it off.
  5. In a large skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Continue to heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter begins to take a slightly browned colour. Let heat for approximately 10 minutes. When the butter is properly browned it will start smelling rather nutty and sweet, and will take on a really luxurious flavour. The low heat is super important here, as it's incredibly easy for the butter to move from browned to burnt and higher heat will speed that process. By keeping the heat low it's easier to monitor your butter.
  6. Once that butter browns, remove from the heat and stir in the garlic and herbs. If you're adding something like fresh sage or rosemary this is the time to do that as well.
  7. Bring the pan back over the heat and add the squash to the butter. Mix everything around to get an even coating of butter on the squash. Turn the heat up to medium and cook the browned butter and squash together, stirring constantly. The aim here is to get the squash to break up a little bit so it can cling to the pasta, rather than just be chunks of squash in the pasta. Cook for about 3-5 minutes (or until you see a consistency of squash that you like.)
  8. By now your pasta should be cooked and drained. Add pasta to the skillet and stir vigourously to thoroughly coat with the butter and squash. Let everything hang out in the skillet for about 2-3 minutes at this point.
  9. If desired, add 1/2 - 1 cup of reserved cooking water to the pasta/squash. Let lightly simmer until it comes together with the butter into a more saucy consistency. This helps the butter really adhere to the pasta, and tastes a touch lighter.
  10. Eat! Enjoy! If you're a fan, serve with a liberal helping of freshly grated parmesan. Or garlic toast (if you're my mom or Bunny that's a must.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

update on the quilting

The quilt that I'm working on is coming along quite nicely. I find my work tends to come in stops and starts, as it is with most of my hobbies. Some days I'd just really rather be reading a book (and Joseph Anton: A Memoir is proving to be a slow read, but I'm savouring every page) or baking something delicious. Some days or weeks life gets busy, or I get sucked into extreme tiredness (all this sleeping I've been doing lately seems a little overboard) and nothing gets done.

At this point though I'm just finishing quilt blocks 23 and 24, as I try to work on two identical blocks at the same time. The whole project has been a little fly by the seat of my pants and just teaching myself some basics and working from that point. Right now I'm deciding just how big I want this thing to be. After these blocks are done I'm planning on laying things out and seeing if I like the size of a four by six block quilt or if I want to get a hair more fabric and grow the quilt just a touch more. I'm getting to the point where I'm almost done with the blocks though.

I've already made a few more decisions on the quilt construction that are soon going to be ready to implement. I'm going to put contrasting, solid borders both between the blocks and around the edge of the quilt. Which means once I've got my blocks finished I have to pick up some new fabric for that, and I have to decide whether I'm going with black or fuschia for the borders, then there's more cutting and sewing. My other plan is that if I do black borders, I'm doing fuschia backing or vice versa. That seems fairly straightforward, just based on how easily piecing the blocks has gone.

What's the most exciting right now is that after I finish the quilt top, I get to start on constructing the quilt and doing the actual "quilting" aspect, where I get to join all three layers (quilt top, batting, and backing) together. It's a very new sewing skill, but I'm rather excited about starting it, and I think it's going to be fun. Maybe in two or three months I'll have an actual finished quilt, given that I'm intend on doing every stitch by hand.

At this point I've come up with a few lessons that I'm definitely going to take to heart when I start my next quilt. Next time is going to be a little less experimental in that I'm actually going to design something with a finished size and total design in mind, whether I draw out my own design or go with someone else's design. I'm also going to invest in a bigger self healing mat and a larger quilter's ruler to make life easier in the cutting department. (That bit might seriously be the least fun part of quilting. It's just tedius, but it's not bad.) For sure I'll try to buy all my fabric at once to avoid any dye lot differences because that was one thing I've run into so far that I haven't been thrilled with. And uh, maybe I'll buy fabric at a fabric store instead of Wal-mart?

As it happens the next project is sort of slowly taking place in my mind. While I really want to do a quilt that both Bunny and I love, with some colour concessions as I'm pulling for grey and purple and he'd like orange for the whole thing, that's a few projects away. There's someone very near and dear to us who is expecting in about six months and I would really love to make a baby quilt for this new little bundle of joy. I grew up in a family where when there's a baby on the way you make something for it, and I'm not exactly known for knitting cute little baby clothes. I think a baby quilt will do nicely, and I've got some great plans there.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

eloping and miscarriage

There were very few things that I didn't love about the way I married Bunny. Eloping was perfect for us, and our moms had a great time being our witnesses and it let them feel involved in our wedding which was important. One thing though did drive me nuts.

The classic elopement question: is she pregnant??? In some ways I was lucky in that very few people posed that question directly to me, but friends and family posed those questions to our moms with a fair sense of regularly. Because oh two introverts are eloping after they've tried to plan weddings to make other people happy, the must be having a baby. (Well, that's my sarcastic take on it. A lot of people don't realize just how introverted Bunny and myself actually are.) In all fairness as well, most of the people posing those questions didn't know that we have had an open conversation on eloping as a potential way of getting married and it was always an option to us. Hell, it was always my preferred option.

The fact of the matter is a pregnancy did spur us towards our decision to elope. Just not in such a traditional way. We didn't formally make the decision to elope until after the miscarriage. The rationale behind our decision to elope was very complex, emotional and not always easy to articulate. Mostly we'd just been through too much heavy stuff, and supported each other through it, and it was ridiculous that we weren't married. The miscarriage was in some senses the straw that broke the camel's back.

When people posed that question it really, really hurt. It felt ignorant. It felt like the people asking had no clue who Bunny and I were, as individuals and as a couple. It felt like they were trying to boil down a complicated decision into the easiest of lowest common denominators, and that they didn't trust us to actually think our choices through. A lot of those feelings were just my very emotional interpretation of things. These people were following a cultural script that suggests the only reason people elope is that they are having a baby, and maybe they were being a little thoughtless by jumping to that question instead of asking more opened ended questions. These are people who love us and who we do love back. But man did I want to punch some of them in the face. (I promise, I did in fact control myself. And I recognize that people don't know the emotional minefield they've walked into when they ask us that question.)

In our case the prevailing script was way off. It couldn't have been more mistaken and because of how torn up I was the questions hurt. A lot. The take away? Don't assume you know people's motivations for their actions. If you're curious ask, but ask in an open ended way. Reproduction is complicated. (Just like weddings) It's emotional. (Just like weddings.) And most people don't share their reproductive difficulties or decisions with the whole world, so be aware that your questions may open an emotional minefield for people when you least expect it.

Monday, November 05, 2012

candlelit dinner

A weekend or two ago, Bunny and I had a real treat. My mom was out of town with friends for the weekend so we had the house to ourselves. It was probably the most refreshing thing that's happened in awhile, even though I was still in the grip of a really deep fatigue and we literally spent half the weekend sleeping.

There were lots of lovely things we did but perhaps the best was a dinner at home. It's been a long time since we've had a dinner at home, just the two of us. Usually my mom's around (note: this is not a complaint) and so dinner revolves around trying to have something ready when she gets home from work, or whatever she's made or requested. Which is fine, but it's not how we're used to doing things and we end up eating at times that we otherwise wouldn't, and things that we'd otherwise prefer not to.

So Bunny got it in his head that it was a good day to make a big dinner at home for the two of us, and who was I to argue. We went shopping for special ingredients, and because we'd slept in till noon and had a very late lunch we didn't start cooking until after nine. We were able to eat super late for no other reason than we wanted to. That was a treat. Then while I was making up some spicy green beans to go with the steak (a take on these beans, in fact) I decided that it was time to up the ante. So we cleared off the table, gathered a handful of candles and got some nice, matching cutlery out. Turned the tv off and just focused on being with each other over our meal.

It's the little things like that which have such an impact on a relationship in my mind. Choosing to cuddle on the couch while we're reading that than going to separate corners of the room. Having very different hobbies, but finding ways to do them in the same space, at the same time when possible. Making a point to be good to each other and focus on each other, even if it's just over a simple dinner.

Friday, November 02, 2012

intersection points

My major in university was philosophy. For people who don't know me very well this often seems kind of odd, but people who do know me and my weird little brain often use this aspect of me as a defining trait. They introduce me as "This is Sher, she's a philosophy major" as if it tells people who I am. And it does sometimes say a lot about me.

I haven't been reading or writing a lot of philosophy lately, although often my head buzzes with the philosophical questions that pushed me into that major. Reading Salman Rushdie's autobiography lately has intensified this for me. Specifically it's the strange intersection between not identifying as a religious person and yet being so utterly interested in the meaning and history of religion.

The best explanation of why I majored in philosophy comes down to a deep, internal yearning within myself to understand existence. Why is the world? What caused it to be? What does it mean to be human, and to live, and how do those things distinguish us? What does it mean to exist within the world, and what all does that entail? Do we actually have souls, and if so what does that mean? Is there a higher power, and what is his/her/its existence like? What are its motivations, if motivations are even a word to be applied to it? How do all the bits and pieces of the world intersect together? Does consciousness only exist on a human scale, or can larger or smaller entities (like galaxies, or like atoms) have awareness of their own existence? Can they think? Why do they exist? And in this grand scale of existence, where we and our lives are nothing but grains of sand in the whole of eternity, does anything we think or do even matter anyway?

I'm pretty sure I'll never be able to answer all of those questions even if given a dozen human lifetimes. Maybe I wouldn't even be able to answer one of them. But isn't there still value in asking the questions and reaching towards possible answers? Maybe that's the whole point of being. Eventually maybe one question and one theory will lead to an answer on some of the essential human questions.

Philosophy wasn't the only path open to me that I felt would help me answer these questions. It probably isn't even the most likely path to yield any results. It felt the most right for me, though. If I were a religious person and somewhat sure in my beliefs, I would probably have embarked on either a personal or professional exploration of my questions in that context. If calculus didn't make me cry, I would probably have gone into physics. Philosophy for me marked the point where religion and science collide. It was a bridge between the concrete and the spiritual. Without personal faith I have always been somewhat weary about stepping too concretely into a study of religion (although philosophy of religion is the area I'm most drawn to), and so philosophy was the route I took.

What is it that draws someone with no faith into the study of religion? What makes me so interested in the inner workings of religion, and so pre-occupied with questions that by their very nature are related to religion. And how is it that while these questions drive me that I am without any concrete, discernible faith of my own? (Oh, I have my own ideas and even my own beliefs but they are rather vague and nebulous, and certainly don't fit into any religious framework I know of.)

Thursday, November 01, 2012

book review: divergent

I'd been meaning to pick up Veronica Roth's Divergent for awhile now, after a few coworkers strongly recommended it to me. I figured it would be some light reading for when I needed a break. Instead what ended up happening is I devoured it in the brief periods of consciousness while I was sick with a sinus infection the other weekend. (And man did that sinus infection kick my ass!)

Divergent plays with the dystopian theme that's been going around teen literature lately and it does it in both an interesting and engaging way. It's kind of like Hunger Games meets Harry Potter (but no magic). Basically the world has divided itself into five "factions" based on character traits their members aspire to embody. Individuals are supposed to somewhat neatly fit into one of the five factions, but humans being humans that's not really the case. At the age of sixteen, everyone is subject to a test that helps them decide what faction they should belong in (which may or may not be the faction their parents are part of) and they then choose to join one of the five factions. In Roth's world faction loyalty comes above all else, even family loyalty.

The story centres around Beatrice, or Tris, raised in the faction Abnegation, and who tests as having equal leanings towards Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless. By testing this way Beatrice is what is known as "Divergent". She must choose to either stay with her family in Abnegation, where she has never really felt she fully embodies the ideals, or to choose one of her other aptitudes - but she must never, for fear of her life,tell anyone that she is Divergent.

There are several beautifully interwoven storylines here, such as Beatrice's struggle between the choices she makes for herself and what her family wants and the very real danger of being Divergent. There's a touching romantic storyline woven into the plot that's less trite than many teen storylines. This is the first book in a planned trilogy, so of course the plot doesn't completely tie up at the end but everything is fast paced and Roth's writing is engaging.

What I find so interesting about these dystopian novels is how they dissect the human condition and really force the reader to think about what it is that makes us human, allowing equal weight to our good qualities and our bad.

Next up: Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, a Memoir. Twenty four pages in and I'm already captivated.