Monday, June 24, 2013

W25: The English Lake District

In yet another twist of fate, this week’s book delved into a subject that was a point of conversation recently before arriving at the Biblio-Mat.
One of five photos in the entire book that shows a lake.
The English Lake District, by Molly Lefebure, first appeared to be something akin to an atlas but outside of the map preceding chapter one, the 212 pages contained photographs but no other cartography. Instead, it billed itself as an exploration on everything that is “most characteristic about the Lake District”. Published in 1964, the book actually seemed like it dated earlier due to the subject matter and the topics covered. The traditional naming of the water bodies may also have contributed to this.

Could not locate Winterfell.
A day before this book came out of the Biblio-Mat I had a long discussion with a friend about taking advantage of the Working Visa program where, as a Canadian under 30, I could receive a work visa for the United Kingdom with minimal paperwork. Nomadic in nature, this appealed to me greatly except for the fact that I would be leaving the great Canadian outdoors behind for the questionable English countryside. When The English Lake District fell out of the machine it was like an answer to my internal queries of whether the nature in Britain can compare to my motherland. Unfortunately, this answer was mostly useless as the Biblio-Mat seemingly derives pleasure in giving you what you want but not what you need (it is located in a shop of books and curiosities named ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, after all).

The first lines in The English Lake District read, “You will search in vain for lakes. Meres and waters and tarns abound, but strictly speaking there is not a genuine lake from Ennerdale to Mardale, from Bassenthwaite to Coniston.” One wonders how many people have purchased this book based on the title then given up after these two lines. However, what followed was one of the few bits of useful information contained within the pages – the word ‘lake’ apparently did not exist in this area until fairly recently as it is not an indigenous term. Sadly, the educational value of this book only went downhill from here.

But no way out.
 The eleven chapters in this book were divided up into coverage for the various regions in the Lake District. Beginning with Kendal and Kentmere, Lefebure described the countryside in brief but hammered in that to fully experience the beauty of the Lake District, one must walk rather than ride in motorcar. I am all for walking great distances, but eleven regions may be a tad ambitious. After the second page, though, the tone of the book shifted and it became a history book describing the different nobility that lived in the area and their lineage. Most surprisingly were the offhand remarks on various ladies of high society, specifically which ones provide pleasant company and which ones you should avoid unless you wanted your ear talked off. Rubbing shoulders with the upper crust appears to be as easy as simply showing up outside manor doors on foot.

After trekking through the Shire.
Just when I thought I had the premise of this book nailed down, it shifted again in the next chapter. Focusing on the second region of Furness, it unexpectedly drops all talk about nobility and lineages and delves into the history of monks and monasteries in the Lake District. The chapter after talked solely about the military in the region, followed by a chapter on the geological creation of another region. It seemed that each chapter was a separate topic on England that was loosely tied to something contained in that region. Wasdale Head appeared to have gotten the short end of the stick as its nineteen pages were filled with descriptions on sheep and herding.

Ewe mad, bro? (Sorry.)
Funny enough, after reading through all 212 pages, I had a good understanding of the rural English culture and history of the Lake District surrounding all the waterbodies but still have no inkling on what these lakes and meres were actually like outside of being pretty to walk to. Unless there are no other flora and fauna outside of crops and sheep, this text has utterly failed to present the supposed majesty of British nature. If it indeed does only just contain farms and livestock, I’m staying in Canada.

Lake Ontario from my patio. Not trading this for farmland.
Book rating: 4/10 (For what it’s worth, the names of many areas did evoke the more entertaining world of A Song of Fire and Ice)

Random quote: “But for some time now I have noticed that you are becoming restive, reader, and at last I can feel you nudging me, politely but nonetheless with determination.” (There’s something to be said about knowing your audience)

Monday, June 17, 2013

W24: Understanding Children’s Play

When this week’s Biblio-Mat offering fell out, I was excited. It seemed right up my alley. It wasn’t until I arrived back home that I realized I had misread the title of the book and it became much more unappealing.

Battered, like how I felt after plowing through this.
Upon first glance, I had read the title of this book as ‘Understanding Children’s Plays’, which was of great interest as I have a soft spot for theatre of any sort. It’s incredible the difference one letter makes. Having a dull blue dustjacket with faded brown patches of the cover peeking through, Understanding Children’s Play by Ruth E. Hartley, Lawrence K. Frank, and Robert M. Goldenson screamed 355 pages of dryness. After reading it, the conclusion was that the most interesting aspect of the book was the fact that the text was first published in 1952 but this particular printing was the first Indian edition, published in 1967 and sold only in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. How this book made its journey to Toronto would be an infinitely more fascinating read.

I'd hate to see how long it took to make it to the rest of Asia.
Understanding Children’s Play was essentially a text that studied the way children develop through playing with various objects and games and documenting scenarios where a child’s inner nature came out. Having worked at Toys ‘R’ Us for the four years I was at university, I can provide the same information summed up in a nutshell (namely that as a whole, children are mostly evil and not to be trusted) with far better anecdotes and sources.

Can't place all the blame on the kids.
Split into various chapters that covered the different aspects of children’s entertainment in the 50’s, the book began by looking at the state of make believe with the modern child, then moved onto the fascinating world of building blocks, then the benefits of water-play before delving into the virtues of clay and what it can do for a child. It followed up with a section on graphic materials, twenty-eight pages on finger painting, and ended with a study on music and dance. The majority of these pages were filled with case studies where the authors watched children playing from a distance in a manner that felt less like a petri-dish observation than a predator stakeout.

I'm imagining their portable lab to look like this.
It would not have been as bad if the authors linked the scenarios to specific theories but most of the case studies followed the formula of 1) observing children playing 2) documenting the fact that they go crazy at some point 3) watching them go back to playing. The gist of all nine sections appear to be that a busy child is less likely to cause trouble, which one would assume was common sense even in the 50’s. The only truly interesting aspect was the gender studies that actually may not have been deliberate. Reading about the researchers touting the merits of having the girls play the role of homemakers taking care of dolls whenever they play pretend in the presence of boys speaks so much more about society in those days than about the actual children themselves.

The deathtrap of a fort also says a lot about that era.
While the book did present some useful information in choosing which type of toy would suit which type of developing child, the notion of relevancy sticks out as the text dates itself in referencing objects that could be considered antiquities by now. If you are looking to give a child a 50’s upbringing, building blocks and Plasticine would appear to be the toys of choice. If you are looking to give the child a sporting chance at modern life, something requiring batteries would be a better idea. I recommend a DS.

eBuilding blocks - one less thing to step on.
Book rating: 3/10 (Child psychology that goes nowhere)

Random quote: “What is there about blocks that can tame a young hellion like Lonnie? Can it be that they are the only part of his environment which he can control? Are they the only materials that do not evoke memories of punishment, of painful and confused feelings?” (They’re really pushing these building blocks)

Monday, June 10, 2013

W23: Good Food for Bad Stomachs

I thoroughly enjoy food in all aspects. I love shopping for it, I love cooking, and I love eating. Although I usually cook using knowledge and theory that’s been ingrained into me over the last twenty odd years, I don’t mind cracking open a cook book every once in a while to try something someone else has perfected. After this week’s Biblio-Mat book, I will probably not be as trusting of cookbooks anymore.

There are at least four things wrong with this cover.
Written in 1951 by Sara M. Jordan, M.D. and Sheila Hibben, Good Food for Bad Stomachs is supposedly a cookbook for people with sensitive stomachs, particularly those prone to ulcers. At 243 pages long, it contained five hundred recipes “carefully selected” under consultation from a doctor. Coming into this, I had assumed that it would be five hundred different ways to boil chicken and vegetables. I was wrong.

Well, not completely wrong.
The recipes in the book were essentially a list of ingredients and short paragraph descriptions on how to turn those ingredients into proper meals. As you imagine, they are not very informative. What is more interesting, though, is that a good deal of these recipes calls for heavy cream and almost all of them use at least a tablespoon of butter. There were a grand total of eight beef recipes in the entire book, but twenty pages worth of seafood dishes, including ten recipes on oyster alone. It also had a recipe for beef tea.

If that doesn’t make you question the viability of this book in helping those with sensitive stomachs, ninety of the two hundred odd pages were recipes on desserts. If I had any enemies who suffered from chronic stomach pain, this book would find its way to their doorsteps.

Nevertheless, I decided to try some of these recipes out, for if I’m to criticize something, I should probably suffer through it first. Of the recipes, I chose two that seemed the simplest to make with what I had in the fridge: the borsch and the beef stroganoff.

Easy enough.
The borsch was a fairly straight forward recipe. I knew how to make consommĂ© already so that was half the battle. Once again, I was fairly puzzled by the inclusion of butter and sour cream, but seeing how my stomach is pretty much a cast iron bottomless pit, I was willing to let it slide. The only thing that threw me off was the step of straining the potatoes. I had never heard of this phrase and assume it means to push it through the sieve as a search on Google on “straining potatoes” just lead to random euphemisms about relieving oneself.

Apparently every family owned a double boiler.
The beef stroganoff was a bit trickier as it called for smashing the meat into thin steaks. It also called for a double boiler, which in this case meant balancing a small pot inside a bigger one and praying that the Ikea handle didn’t melt. Stoves in the 50’s apparently only had an on and off switch as none of the recipes in this book referenced what type of heat you were supposed to cook on. Since there were no suggestions on what to put the stroganoff on, I choose quinoa as I did not have any noodles on hand and I don’t believe in rice.

The finished result was mediocre but acceptable. The borsch came out well, but then again it’s fairly difficult to go wrong on vegetable soups. The mushroom sauce on the stroganoff tasted like a slightly less processed version of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup and outside the taste of salt, the beef stroganoff itself was a bit bland and seemed to lack the beef flavor one would expect from, well, beef. Must not have pounded it enough.

Things I learned about cooking in the 50’s:
- People loved to pound their meat with mallets
- Butter was pretty much a food group
- Boiled lemon juice was a common ingredient
- Don’t trust chefs from this era

Also, I ended up making the beef tea:
Really, seriously?
No, I did not drink it.

Book rating: 5/10 (Pictures would have been nice)

Random quote: “Now meringue glacĂ©e has a French name, which is bad, and it is an ornamental concoction, which is bad. It sounds and looks evil. The meringue constituents of it look, in fact, almost as evil as a couple of macaroons, which are made of almonds, which are oily, and hence evil.” (Butter, though, is like the best friend that keeps lending you money)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

W22: Patterned Backgrounds for Needlepoint

When the book popped out of the Biblio-Mat this week, I was excited. Given half a chance I will always jump at the oppourtunity to try something new in the arts and crafts field and pick up a new skill. Especially if the alternatives are textbook sized tomes on outdated child psychology.

How could this possibly go wrong?
Patterned Backgrounds for Needlepoint, by Sheila Marton and Mimi Selick was published in 1977, and it shows. The entire book consisted of 24 pages of text and 73 pages of patterns. Patterns of needlepoint backgrounds. Four of these pattern pages contained colour photographs of finished work but the other 95% were simply black and white grid filled with dots, forming repeating patterns one could use for needlepoint.

Needlepoint patterns or the most intense bingo sheets ever.
Having never done needlepoint before, I decided I would undertake a project to create a piece. Partially because it’s always amusing to learn something new and partially because writing a review on 73 pages of repeating grids would be incredibly boring. After a quick search online, I procured the materials I would need: embroidery thread, a piece of cross-stitch fabric, and needles.

Came out to $10.01, or five times the cost of the book.
Learning the actual process took a good hour but the techniques were simply enough to absorb. It pretty much came down to drawing with boxes and stitching diagonals. Being of the age that grew up on the NES, drawing 8-bit art came pretty easily so I doodled up a design that I felt captured the scope of this project. Stitching the outline took an hour and a half. It was then that I knew I was in trouble.
Awesome designs? The book will tell you how to make the backgrounds!
For those who have never tried needlepoint, it is the delicate art of using thread to create an image on fabric one pixel at a time in the form of a stitch. The kicker, though, is that the stitch has to line up with the holes in the weave of the canvas. Those holes are very very small. And there are very very many of them. Yeah. I was basically a human dot-matrix printer, complete with the whining.
Five hours in.
I consider myself a fast reader. I can plow through most novels in a day with ease and I usually budget out roughly six hours in my week to read through whatever the Biblio-Mat throws at me. Five hours in I was finally out of the top portion of the piece. Starting on the part with the green thread, the resemblance to watching grass grow was uncanny.

Seven hours in. Kill me now.
Currently the piece is barely halfway completed. Being 3am already, I will choose to strategically take a knee on this one and temporarily suspend this project till next week. My inherent stubbornness makes me want to keep going. However, the notion of explaining the reason that I was sleeping at work tomorrow is due to staying up all night doing needlepoint is keeping that at bay. So after ten hours of needlepoint, this is the end result:

Ten hours worth of work. Even the canvas looks miserable.
On the plus side, I did catch up on an entire season of The League, two episodes of Game of Thrones, and three films on my Netflix queue.

To be completed.

Book rating: 4/10 (At one point in time this may have been a useful book. That point in time is not now)

Random quote: “Each can be read in many ways: 1) hold book upright 2) hold book upside down 3) hold book sideways 4) enlarge or reduce pattern 5) change proportion 6) reverse squares and circles.” (Rocket science at its best)