Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Carpe Lanam?

I should probably have a post where I explain the blog title.  Carpe Lanam is a riff on "carpe diem" (seize the day, an altered version of a quote by Horace).  It is also my internet username on such sites as Ravelry, Library Thing, and Etsy.  It means "seize the wool," and I thought it up after realizing belatedly that most people on Ravelry don't use their real names as their usernames.  It works brilliantly well on Ravelry, which is a social networking site for knitters, but since I talk about a lot of other things besides knitting here (and there as well, truth be told), I've decided that "seize the wool" can be interpreted metaphorically to cover all types of woolgathering.  I'm just too interested in a wide range of things for my blog to be anything but eclectic, as you've noticed if you've read more than one post.  Or even more than one paragraph.

The other day I was reading in bed when I noticed a ladybug crawling on the ceiling.  I'm much more compassionate towards the ladybugs than the flies, so I climbed up on the bed to scoop up the bug so I could give it its freedom outside.  But it fell off my hand and onto this quilt:
and I haven't seen it since.  This is another quilt from Kaffe Fassett's Passionate Patchwork.  It's a few years old but I love the juxtaposition of so many different reds. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pad Thai and salad rolls

Okay, I usually don't get up to this on a Friday evening after a week of school.  But here's what we had for dinner:
Pad Thai!  And salad rolls -- the kind with rice paper wrapped around lettuce, mint, cilantro, carrot strips, tofu and noodles.  And two sauces for dipping, peanut sauce and sweet-sour.  My favorite 3rd grader helped with the assembly line for the rolls, which are really easy if you can find the rice paper wrappers.  The Pad Thai is basically the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook -- the newer editions anyway.  Thai food is now mainstream.  This is my birthday dinner request every year and Steve cooks it like an engineer.  I made it without measuring anything very precisely, and it was still great.  If you want to try it, you'd need to have a few unusual ingredients -- mainly fish sauce, rice noodles, and chili paste.  Cilantro, bean sprouts, peanuts and limes also.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sturm und Drang

This is the shawl known as Damson, made in lovely MadelineTosh Merino Light in the "thunderstorm" colorway.  The yarn and pattern were a gift in a Christmas exchange among my knitting circle.  The knitting of it was more frustrating than a simple pattern like that really had the right to be.  I cast on New Year's Day but ripped back at least 3 times before really getting started at the end of January... and then there was the little adventure of running out of yarn for the last 5 rows.  I had to substitute some of my homespun in a similar value but with a thick-and-thin texture, so the border edging is not going to lie perfectly flat.

But then, I got rid of my perfectionism years ago or I would no longer be doing handwork at all.

Snow day today.  Yes, that's just 2 or 3 inches of snow and the roads were fine, but that's how things go here.  It makes a  nice background for my photo shoot.

Despite what you might think would be optimal conditions for knitting, I have done none yesterday or today.  Quilting either.  Yesterday I blocked the shawl and did some cooking: Mexican lasagna for dinner last night with plum cobbler for dessert.  Tonight it will be Gumbo Zeb from the freezer, with hot sausage.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Map of the world

1500 pieces, $2.99 at Goodwill.  No pieces missing!  A keeper.  With Steve's love of maps and my love of Latin, this is possibly the perfect puzzle for us.  That's Julius Caesar in the top left corner.  You know, "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres..."

In knitting news, I finished my Damson shawl with the Tosh Merino Light (and supplemental handspun when I ran out of that).  It's blocking now... pictures later.  Still on sleeve island on two sweaters.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spring is coming!

You can tell by the quilt Grandma made.  Isn't it adorable?  The bunny tails are stuffed with batting to make them poofier.
The yardwork season begins.  Loading the new wheelbarrow (my Christmas gift to Steve) with brush.  Of course there were a few rides for the girls as well.
 ... and Daphne odora.  It will be extremely fragrant in a few more days.  I discovered in December that you can cut the twigs and force them to bloom in a vase of water, but they are very messy and drop petals and leaves all over.
Those daffodils may look very sedate right now, but just wait a week or two.  They'll be taking over our front yard.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: Children of the Lamp

The Harry Potter books, of course, paved a broad motorway through the landscape of children's fantasy literature and inspired countless authors to join the gold rush.  Some of these books are derivative and forgettable; some, like the Percy Jackson series, have become phenomenally popular in their own right. 

If you are looking for a good read in this genre with at least a little literary merit, you could do far worse than the Children of the Lamp series by P.B. Kerr.  Start, please, at the beginning with The Akhenaten Adventure, which introduces the hero and heroine, John and Philippa Gaunt, 12-year-old twins who discover they are not human, but Djinn.  A rollicking adventure quickly follows with their Uncle Nimrod, who instructs them in Djinn lore and the proper appreciation of the Romantic poet Keats.  The series has 6 books at present; I believe the author is aiming for a total of 7 in the grand tradition of other British children's authors with two initials instead of a first name.  It helps to read these books in order: although they could be self-contained, the world of the Djinn is unusual enough that it requires more exposition than normally found in children's books.  Book 2 is The Blue Djinn of Babylon; 3 is The Cobra King of Kathmandu; 4 is Day of the Djinn Warriors; 5 is The Eye of the Forest

The latest installment is The Five Fakirs of Faizabad, in which John, Philippa, Nimrod and his insular butler Groanin encounter an alarming decrease in the world's luck and must take extraordinary measures to correct it.  Kerr's plots are incredibly inventive, possibly reflective of authorial ADHD, but in a mostly good way.  In this one novel we encounter philosophical introspection about the nature of happiness, a fearsome grizzly bear, a Jinx who is really a Sasquatch, Nazis engaged in a quest for eternal life, a steely elderly woman known as "Mu" who is one of Britain's foremost spymasters, and the legendary Shangri-la.  After all that imagination -- and more -- it is a bit of a disappointment to come to the ending of this book.  Without dishing out spoilers, I'll just say that the Eastern mythology from which the author draws is more circular than linear.  But we are in good hands and Kerr is more than qualified to bring the series to a satisfying conclusion when he finally gets around to it, whether that's one book or many books away.

Cautions: Some parents may share the same types of concerns as have been voiced about the potentially occult elements of the Harry Potter books.  It may actually be a bit more troubling to some because of the associations with Eastern mysticism.  Personally, I'm willing to suspend disbelief and accept that the author is using concepts such as reincarnation and spirits temporarily leaving the body or possessing other bodies as plot points rather than religious propaganda: it helps that Kerr treats religion with respect and frequently lampoons the kind of new-agey goofiness that passes for modern "spirituality."  But it's a fine line and if you're uncomfortable with the witchcraft and wizardry of Harry Potter you will likely have the same reaction to these books.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Grammar 4 St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 2011

It was a typical Monday in the 6th grade Latin classroom.  Sally Brown* raises her hand.  "Could you repeat number 17? I didn't hear it."  "How could you possibly have missed it?  Mary Ann* just finished giving the answer, and you had your hand in the air while she was talking," I respond.  Over-usage of hand-raising is a constant with Sally Brown.  Bertie Wooster* sneezes.  Not just a polite "kerchoo," quickly covered and apologized for; no this is more like "AH CHOOOOO!"  followed by a musical Burururururururur!" while shaking the head vigorously, as if to communicate a great disturbance in the Force.  Ferdinand* raises his hand and asks to go to the bathroom, and I, supressing the cynical mental comment, "What, you couldn't wait the 10 minutes until the bell?" let him go, trying to make a mental note to mark down his participation grade for the day, while still trying to keep focus on the review of events in Rome from 75 - 27 B.C.  Cneius Pompey, the pirates, Mithridates VI, Spartacus, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Gaius Julius Caesar.  Ferdinand is back before I know it.  This stuff is really fascinating, at least to me.  I never get tired of the complexity of Caesar's character, bloodthirsty and ambitious yet loyal, patriotic, and possessing mastery of a fine straightforward prose style.

A giggle, somewhere behind me.  With one deaf ear, it's hard to localize sound.  I turn quickly and there is movement, very slight, as Ferdinand shifts a piece of paper, very small, from one hand to the other under his desk.  Time and space become very still and quiet suddenly.  "Ferdinand, is that a note in your hand?"  Thinking fast, Ferdinand comes up with the only possible answer.  I take the note and place it on my desk.  Sally Brown, sitting next to Ferdinand, is the most obviously flustered .  "Sally, what do you know about this?" I ask.  "Well, there were several of us passing it along..." she begins.  "Who, exactly?"  With more glibness than I would have thought possible for one who frequently forgets what question she was going to ask, she implicates Fred Weasley*, the Cat in the Hat*, Willie Olson*, Bill Gates*, Taran*, and the Tin Woodman*.  With Ferdinand, this makes up half the class.  And I notice that she has not named any of her girlfriends; Olivia*, Madeline*, Smurfette*.  Hermione* and Bertie Wooster* are loud in their insistence that they knew nothing of this.  Mary Ann, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm* and Hans Brinker* at the other end of the class are very quiet.

"Well, I guess you are all dismissed," I say, and they silently pack up and troop out, 3 minutes early.  Only then do I read the note.  In feminine printing, it says, "Pretend 2 shoot Mrs. Chapman when she turns her back."  I'm suddenly very glad I didn't read it before talking to them and sending them out.  Anyone who lived in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 would feel the same way, I think.  Sent a quick email to the homeroom teacher and the headmaster.  The Cat in the Hat returned to grab his notebook and was very cagey about how much involvement he had with note-passing.  I got through 7th grade pretty well -- 3 girls gave me cookies! and 8th grade was okay too, although I'm a little fuzzy on the details.

By now I think all the dust should be starting to settle.  Not looking forward to tomorrow morning, though.  I'll have to make them do their own research on Julius Caesar.  I'm not turning my back on them again for at least a week.

*Names have been changed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Quilting status

Pretty much nonexistent right now.  But since we have our internet speed bumped back up for the moment I'm going to add the photo I wanted to add the other day.  It's my version of Kaffe Fassett's Shirt Stripe Boxes from Passionate Patchwork.  I'm using -- you guessed it -- Steve's old shirts.  I have almost all the squares pieced and maybe 1/4 of the whole quilt. 

It's fun work but I took a hiatus sometime before Christmas to clean the craft area, which never got completely done, so I've been feeling guilty about how messy the craft area is and not going back there at all.  I need to excavate it again.  As it is, whenever I do the ironing I'm shoving aside 3 1/2", 6 1/2", and 9 1/2" mitered squares.

On the agenda today: violin lesson, shopping for clothes and a birthday present, a birthday party, a Starbucks appointment, dinner preparations for tomorrow, a library run, and I'm getting tired just looking at all that.  The fun things just require me as a driver, not a participant!  The chores I acutally have to do myself.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Customer service

Well, yesterday we were told our high-speed internet access wasn't so high-speed, and the solution to the outages was to slow it down even more.  It feels like a few clicks faster than dial-up.  Steve says it's actually ten times faster than dial-up, and that this is within the legal limits of what Quest can call "high-speed internet."  Which is depressing, because it's awfully slow.  We are taxing the limits right now, with Steve researching 1980's era folk songs on the main computer, me blogging on the laptop, #1 son watching a video interview of the 13 dwarves actors in the Hobbit movie, and #2 son playing Uncharted online on the PS3.  He's frustrated because if the game freezes, he's a sitting duck for someone else to shoot.  (What a lovely domestic scene!  At least the two girls are reading... I think).

We live in a 104-year-old house.  First house in the neighborhood, last to get internet access.  Ironically, the box that services us is a about 1500 feet up the road, but the phone lines travel over 3 miles in other directions before they reach us.  And the box is old, definitely due for an upgrade.  A closer box is 1000 feet down the road, and of course it's newer.  We found out yesterday pretty much for sure that it is not a problem with the line inside the house.  While I was at work this morning, Steve got the obligatory call from the Quest follow-up people about yesterday's service.  He told them what is perfectly true: the technician was knowledgeable and courteous and did his best, but we are frustrated with the situation.  No, we did not want to talk to the customer service department anymore, because all they ever say is to check our filters on our jacks, and we're way beyond that.  Apparently he made enough of an impression that he was given the super-secret phone number of the technical support people that the real squeaky wheels get, and he ended up calling a lady who, from Boise, turned off our DSL line and rerouted it through a newer sequence of junctions that actually brought up the speed for a few minutes.  Until yesterday's DNR order kicked in and the speed reverted to the new slow normal.  But this was at least a little promising.  Before the nice techie lady had to leave for the day, she promised to call back tomorrow morning.  And said that the old box is scheduled for upgrading sometime "in the next several months."  Stay tuned.  I'll try to have pictures of all the knitting I'm not getting done when the internet can handle them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

They've Amputated our High-Speed Internet!

So, the first thought was that our intermittent connectivity issues were because of a faulty modem.  So we got the new modem.  But the outages still continued.  So then the Quest guy came out to look at the line.  Just the line outside the house; because it would cost us actual money to have them change the line inside the house.  He took some measurements and said, basically, we have the low-end of high-speed internet, we're the farthest house away from the junction box (or whatever they call it, I have no idea), and he changed things so that all phone and internet signals enter the house through one main jack.  Apparently it wasn't set up that way before.  Things were fine for a few days; then the outages started up again.  It seems like all our neighbors are tapping into the internet before the signal gets to us, so it's all used up by the time it gets to our house.  Of course, that's not the technical explanation.  The technical explanation is impossible for me to understand.
Another Quest guy came this afternoon.  It was supposed to be yesterday; I stayed home all yesterday afternoon so he could come.  But anyway, he came today.  This guy says (and believe me, I am paraphrasing heavily) that the problem is in the outside line, not the house line, but somehow we're still stuck with a problem that's not our fault and no one can explain why it started so suddenly, and the best solution is to further slow down our internet access so that the connection has a chance of being stable.  Even if slow.  But not nearly so slow as dial-up.  Just almost.
I am not a patient person.  I always thought electrons moved at the speed of light, and therefore, high-speed internet access should be just slightly slower than that.  Apparently our high-speed has never been that high, and now it's even less so.  Much less so.
So this post is something of a test to see how much more slow our connection is, and partly a rant about the inadequacy of modern technology.  I mean, I take pride in being a dinosaur, but that's only when I want to be.  So, while I test the limits of slow-speed internet, please enjoy this picture of a quilt I'm working on.  If it even loads.

Edited to observe that the ability to load a photo is apparently the first thing to go.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Persona non Grata

As a Latin teacher, I find myself drawn to historical fiction about the ancient world more than any other period.  Even if I never use it to enrich my teaching, I figure it's always worthwhile seeing what other classically-minded people come up with.  There seems to be a boatload of ancient Roman inspired fiction out there right now.  If the fiction produced by all the classically-educated Britons alone were actually true... for one thing, there would have been so many murders in the country houses and villages of Britain that it would be depopulated by now, and for another, you could be virtually assured, if you happened to be transported back in time, of meeting numerous fascinating and eccentric characters with enough subtle modern sensibilities that you would not feel too out of place -- presuming you could speak the language, of course.  (Okay, whew, really long sentence.  Promise I won't make you diagram it!)

Such a character is the endearingly cynical Gaius Petreius Ruso, created by Ruth Downie in Medicus.  An army doctor stationed in desolate Britain during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, Ruso just can't seem to get ahead in life's dormouse-race, and isn't really sure why he's trying.  He accidentally finds himself involved in a murder mystery and the owner of Tilla, a slave girl he rescues from her abusive master.  Neither of these developments will help him in his attempts to restore his family's fortunes.

Ruso's adventures are continued in Terra Incognita, set in the remote northern frontier of Britain; and in my most recently finished book and favorite so far, Persona Non Grata, in which Ruso returns to his family in southern Gaul to deal with looming bankruptcy.  The eccentricities of the characters are more believable in this installment than in previous ones, and Ruso's wry internal commentary is delightful.  It's believable and enjoyable both as historical fiction and as a whodunit with modern sensibilities.  I haven't read many of the other authors this is compared to, but find it hard to imagine finding an equivalent book with characters I enjoy more.

Highly recommended.  Cautions: adult situations, violence.  Of interest to: people like me, I guess.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Latin Olympika

No, they're not meerkats.  That's my favorite 8th grader second from the right, with other members of the Silva Jucunda ("pleasant forest") team from Cedar Tree, who placed first in the Latin I level of competition at the regional Latin Olympika.  They narrowly edged out the other CT team in the final round.  Cedar Tree also swept the Intro level.  What can I say?  I'm very proud.  They are competitive and eager to prove themselves, but without taking themselves too seriously.  "Bis vincit qui se vincit in victoria."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ancient Ballads

I have always loved traditional Celtic music.  In college I read up on the Child ballads: collections of ancient British Isles songs in all their numerous variations, preserved by wandering bards through the centuries.  This is where you find all the different versions of "Scarborough Fair."  As a young single woman I listened to folk music programming on Friday and Saturday nights on the Washington D.C. public radio airwaves, and especially the Thistle and Shamrock.  The souvenirs of those days are a series of (ahem) slightly irregularly obtained, taped off the airways cassettes that I have loved to death over the years.  Now, with our latest children's audiobook finished and needing something to fill the commute time, I trotted them back out.  The kids have been listening to me singing along with these tapes for the last few weeks, and are either developing an appreciation for Battlefield Band or learning to suffer in silence.

However, the audiocassette format means that we will not have them forever, and so Steve has begun a massive project combining some of his favorite things: internet research, ancient music, and spreadsheets.  The net result may be, finally, legally purchased MP3 files of all my favorite songs.  It gets a bit tricky when some of the artists and pieces have incredibly obscure, Gaelic names that were impossible for me to spell phonetically 20 years ago, and then the pen faded, too.  But I'm telling you, the internet is amazing.

In the course of re-listening to old favorites, I noticed that Annachie Gordon, by Mary Black (above, on Youtube) and Glenlogie, by Danny Carnahan and Robin Petrie, are two versions of the same story; the first with a sad ending, the second with a happy ending.  Both have the strong-willed teenage heroine, Jeannie, who knows the man she wants -- and it's not the rich man her father wants for her.  The surname Gordon shows up in both of them, the object of her affections has duties that take him elsewhere, both contain a scene where she threatens her father she will die if she doesn't get the man she wants; both contain a scene where the hero returns to the dying girl, either just in time or just a little too late.  Even the tune and meter are a little similar.  Annachie Gordon is more what we expect of an ancient ballad -- both good and bad: dying of a broken heart is just so 13th century, you know!  Whereas the Jeannie of Glenlogie is the kind of modern grrl-power heroine we all recognize from chick-lit: manipulative, determined, and shallow.  The last two links take you to the two Child ballad sources, so you can judge for yourself.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

There and back again. And puzzles. And games.

I'm playing catch-up this week after a weekend flight down to Arizona to visit family.  I hadn't seen one sister for 5 years, and had never met my little niece, who's now almost three and impossibly cute. 

My nephews are big on playing board games; I came up with a simplified set of rules for Risk for the 5-9 age range.  We eliminated the cards altogether and played only one army on every country, with 2 attacking dice vs. 1 defending die.  Except if you held onto an entire continent for a whole turn, you got a little city to put on any country you wished, which when attacked would require 2 higher than your highest number to conquer.  And any time you defended a country on your continent, you got to roll 2 dice.  It actually worked out fairly even, but my 6-year-old nephew shows good aptitude for world conquest.

The puzzle craze continues ... the Lord of the Rings one is not missing any pieces, and will be saved for another time.  It was also popular because it was colorful.  By contrast, the puppy puzzle, purchased at Goodwill, was missing about 8 pieces and no one but me really enjoyed the odd shapes and monotonous color scheme.  The poor puppies had to be euthanized.

First week of the third quarter in school -- so I have just finished a furious frenzy of lesson planning and grading.  Also fast approaching is Saturday's Latin Olympika at Veritas School in Newberg, at which my students hope to win undying glory in a quiz-bowl type contest.  I don't really have to do anything for it but watch it, now that I have divided the students into teams of four and given them clever names.  I will also hope no one gets lost on the way or comes down sick.

Since I have so much fun inventing games, here's a favorite classroom game for any of my fellow Latin teachers who might read this.  It's called "Thumbs up/ Thumbs down," and is used to turn correcting an exercise of Latin-into-English sentence translation (which is pure drudgery, trust me) into something students actually enjoy and learn from.  Here's how:  Say you have 10 students.  Make sure your assignment has at least 10 sentences (or get creative about having 2 up at a time).  First student up dictates his translation of sentence 1 to Magistra, who writes it on the board, confirming the spelling and other nitpicky details: "Is this what you wrote?"  Then the other students have a 5-count to vote thumbs up if they think the sentence is correct, thumbs down if they think it is incorrect.  If the sentence is actually completely correct, every student who voted thumbs up gets one point; the student who was up gets one point for every correct word (et, in, de, ex, etc. do not usually count).  If the sentence contains one or more errors, the students who voted thumbs down get one point; then you go around the room in order from the person who was up, and give each student a chance to correct a word (and explain his correction) until no more corrections are necessary.  If it is a correct correction, that student gets one additional point; BUT if he makes an incorrect correction, he must also forfeit the point he got for the thumbs-down vote.  The "it" student gets one point for every correct word.  Students who voted thumbs down but never got a chance to make a correction still get their one point.  Play continues in sequence around the room until all students have translated one sentence.  Then, if there are any extra sentences in the assignment, there can be a bonus round: Magistra writes the correct sentences on the board and students get one additional point for every correct word they have in their homework, but take away a point if they put in an extra incorrect word.  Student with the most points wins a Lemonhead, or whatever Magistra has in her candy box.