How to cook a hot dog

When I think back on the glory days of my adolescence and young-adulthood — those magical years when we were all far more beautiful and brave than we had any idea of at the time — I don’t think about any particular athletic or academic prowess. I think about the hot dog skit.

Thursday or Friday nights at camp are beach supper nights, one of the last things to happen before everyone goes home on Saturday. We stay down at the lakefront for an extended swim in the afternoon and then it’s always the same: the cooks ride down from main camp, the truck full of hotdogs and buns, baked beans, huge coolers full of juice and water, s’more ingredients and sliced watermelon for dessert. Someone starts the fire and the campers slide here and there around the bleachers, trying to avoid the smoke as it shifts in the wind. There is a stick that is used to draw a circle around the campfire, inside of which campers Must Not Stand. And there is the hot dog skit.

There are always two of you: the safety-conscious one, and the idiot. Play the idiot; it’s more fun. Start in the boathouse and scavenge anything you can to make yourself look weird. Shove a tub up the front of your shirt or a beach-ball up your back. Gird yourself in three or four life-jackets, bedeck yourself in goggles and whistles and pool noodles and whatever is around. Put on a stupid, vaguely-German accent. Brandish your roasting stick as if it were Excalibur as you rush towards the bleachers, yelling that it’s okay! You have arrived! And now you will teach them all how to cook their weenies! (Never a hot dog: always a weenie. No, sorry: veenie.)

There is always a vague script to these things. The idiot puts the hot dogs on sideways; Captain Safety shows her how to put them on lengthwise. The idiot stands too close to the fire, puts her stick in the wrong place, sets her hotdog on fire (if she can) or drops it in the coals (if she can’t). Captain Safety blows her whistle in alarm and corrects all of these blunders. The idiot says veenie about six times per sentence because it never fails to get a laugh.

If you’re the idiot, you know where this is going and you are glad your stomach is strong.

You do it just like you did last year and the year before. You and your skit-mate have this down to a science now. After your hot dog has been set on fire and/or dropped in the coals, you drop it in the sand on the beach and give it a good stomp just to make sure all the flames are gone. But now there’s another problem: your hot dog is sandy. You look Captain Safety in the eyes — morituri te salutant — and then you dunk your hot dog in the lake. By this time there is a low rumble of dismay rising from the bleachers. Is she really going to –?

Oh, yes. You really are. You grab a bun from wherever you’ve put the props, or maybe someone hands you one. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you slam that bun where it belongs and then you take a big, slow-motion bite of your charred, sandy, lake-glazed frankfurter as eighty tweenaged girls cry out in horror. It is disgusting. It’s the grossest part of your week but you chew that sucker and since you’re already this committed, most of the time you swallow it too. In for a penny, and all that. Somewhere deep down inside you hope that you don’t pick up anything weird from the lake water, but you know that it’s worth it, just like it was last year and the year before, just to hear them scream.

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Weekend Reading: oh yeah, this is a thing I used to do

Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

That should probably say published on “some” Saturday mornings, since the implication as written is that it’s published on every Saturday morning… which hasn’t been the case since, oh, last December or so. I do like having somewhere to stick my random links to interesting things (without a facebook feed, what else is a girl supposed to do?) and so I am planning to start posting these again. Probably not every week, unless I surprise myself — but certainly some Saturdays.

1. The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan (Wired.com)

I was on an epic walk, 620 miles alone across Japan, over six weeks. I set out on this walk not knowing what I was getting into. I didn’t know that I’d meet this guy or see his amazing toilet. But I did and, because I’m human, I wanted to share that serendipity. Look! A man who is almost 70 and has run a cafe almost every day since 1984 has built a toilet for the simple purpose of bedazzling his customers! But sharing today means using social platforms like Instagram or Twitter or Facebook. And once you open those apps and stare into the maw of an algorithmically curated timeline, you are pulled far, far away from the music and the toilet or wherever it is you may be at that moment.

I have configured servers, written code, built web pages, helped design products used by millions of people. I am firmly in the camp that believes technology is generally bending the world in a positive direction. Yet, for me, Twitter foments neurosis, Facebook sadness, Google News a sense of foreboding. Instagram turns me covetous. All of them make me want to do it—whatever “it” may be—for the likes, the comments. I can’t help but feel that I am the worst version of myself, being performative on a very short, very depressing timeline. A timeline of seconds.

2. Finnish artists creates life-like crocheted people (mnn.com)

Not only does she make life-size crocheted people, you can see them with their real-life models. It’s amazing and weird. Here is the artist’s website.

3. The Dressing Rooms of Broadway: 33 Photos Over Nearly a Century (New York Times)

More often, though, dressing rooms are other things: nurseries, clubhouses, makeshift trysting spots. Conference centers for hash-outs with agitated authors. Publicity offices with stacks of photos that still need signing. Impromptu rehearsal studios. Kennels. Napatoriums for two-show days. Ramen kitchens, botánicas, graveyards for humidifiers.

More pertinently, they are assembly lines for reinvention. Even if actors arrive solo, sometimes hours before curtain, they aren’t alone for long. Here come the wig handler, the dresser, the sound technician with his condom-wrapped microphone packs. Knock, knock: It’s the director’s assistant with a performance note. The co-star complaining about last night’s stepped-on joke.

But at some point, dressing rooms are places of silent, solitary work. Except for the Elphabas of “Wicked,” who need mechanical green-spraying, most actors put on their own makeup; it’s part of a tradition going back to the ancients. A designer will usually have provided the template; many’s the facial diagram I’ve seen perched on the mirror showing exactly how the transformation should happen.

4. ‘The stories are a bit sinister’: the secrets of London’s hidden rivers revealed (The Guardian)

Although the bank of the Thames is now well south of its Roman line, the Walbrook still dribbles onto the foreshore from a pipe just upstream of Cannon Street station, past a yard that was a dock until the 1950s and where London’s rubbish is still craned out onto barges for disposal in landfill.

Mudlarks, the licensed scavengers on the tidal shore, still find medieval and earlier pieces every week. As we stood on the slimy waterstairs – a favoured spot for a quiet drink, evidenced by the litter of bottles and cans – Sumnall produced from her bag a Roman dress pin, and the base of an expensive imported Samian ware jar, which she picked up on the shore a few days earlier. So much material is being collected from a spot the mudlarks nickname “the Roman hole” that she suspects it is being washed out of a well that became a rubbish dump more than 1,500 years ago.

5. X is for… (The Public Domain Review)

In 1895, the physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovered x-rays, a groundbreaking moment in medical history that would lead to myriad improvements to people’s health. Perhaps one overlooked benefit though was in relation to mental health, specifically of those tasked with making alphabet books. What did they do before X-rays? Xylophones, which have also been a popular choice through the twentieth century to today, are mysteriously absent in older works. Perhaps explained by the fact that, although around for millennia, the instrument didn’t gain popularity in the West (with the name of “xylophone”) until the early twentieth century. So to what solutions did our industrious publishers turn?

Reading Round-Up: May 2019

Here’s what I read in May:

  1. I’ve Got Your Number (Sophie Kinsella)
  2. Early Riser (Jasper Fforde)
  3. Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People (Michael Frost)
  4. The End of Education (Neil Postman)
  5. Trust Exercise (Susan Choi)
  6. The Wealthy Barber Returns (Dave Chilton)
  7. Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe (Stuart McLean)
  8. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Gregory Maguire)
  9. Kilmeny of the Orchard (Lucy Maud Montgomery)
  10. The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)
  11. After Many Days (Lucy Maud Montgomery)
  12. I Owe You One (Sophie Kinsella)
  13. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (John M. Gottman and Nan Silver)

The book that has most stuck with me is probably Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise. It is set at a competitive arts high school in the 1980s, following a class of drama students as they form and lose romances, friendships, and alliances under the supervision of their brilliant and demanding drama teacher, Mr. Kingsley. The brilliance of Trust Exercise is in the way it works to reshape our understanding of the truth or falsity of its depicted events. The narrative is divided into three sections. there is a major shift (in perspective, in understanding) about halfway through the novel that asks us to re-evaluate what came before, and yet another in the short third section that in turn reframes the contents of both the first and second sections. I coudn’t stop thinking about it after I finished. I’m still thinking about it.

The other novel that especially stood out to me from May’s reading is Jasper Fforde’s Early Riser. Jasper Fforde writes weird, fascinating novels set in alternate-universe earths. Early Riser is set on an earth — in Wales, to be precise — where humans hibernate through the winter, humanity is facing a global cooling crisis, and under-population is a constant threat. Also there are viral dreams that may or may not be becoming real. And zombies. It’s all completely bonkers and you should read it.

I also made some progress on the resumption of my Lucy Maud Montgomery reading project. Kilmeny of the Orchard had its own post here. After Many Days is a collection of rediscovered short stories, collated and edited by Rea Wilmshurst. There are a few of these collections now, all arranged thematically. The stories in After Many Days all had to do with the resolution of things long put on hold: long-lost lovers finally reuniting, family reconciliations, chances for a long-anticipated revenge, someone returning in the nick of time and un-mortgaging the family farm, and so on and so forth — happy endings all round, of course. I enjoyed them.

Besides After Many Days, I read one other collection of short stories: Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe. The Vinyl Cafe was a long-running CBC radio show, hosted by the late Stuart McLean. It featured music and essays, but the heart of the show was its stories, especially the “Dave and Morley” stories about a middle-aged Toronto couple and their family, friends, and neighbours. I grew up listening to The Vinyl Cafe on Sunday afternoons, and I either own or have read most of the story collections. (It may or may not be possible to listen to some of them on youtube, possibly including my personal favourite, Polly Anderson’s Christmas Party. Shhhh.)

Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister was a fairly enjoyable read, setting the Cinderella story in Haarlem (Netherlands) during the Tulip mania years. The title doesn’t match the tone especially well.

Last, but not least, on the fiction list for May: two novels by Sophie Kinsella. In I’ve Got Your Number, Poppy Wyatt loses her engagement ring — a heirloom! — and her cell phone in a hotel fire-drill mishap; luckily, she finds a cell phone someone left in the trash and can leave its number with the hotel in case her ring turns up. But the cell phone belongs to someone — the ex-assistant of Sam Roxton, high-powered businessman, who wants his company phone back. This one was genuinely funny, and very of-the-moment with a lot of text messages breaking up the narrative. In I Owe You One, “Fixie” Farr saves a stranger’s laptop from water damage at a coffee shop, setting off a chain of I-owe-yous between her and Seb, the laptop’s owner, while she tries to juggle running her family’s shop and the reappearance of Ryan, and old crush, in her life. It was definitely not as strong as I’ve Got Your Number.

I’ve already forgotten what the Five Habits of Highly Missional People are. Um… eating together is one. Honestly, I’m drawing a complete blank. I suppose I could always read it again since it’s a teeny, tiny, seriously short book.

Neil Postman’s The End of Education was a helpful read for me as I think about the kids’ educational choices. If education is a means to an end, Postman asks, then what precisely is that end? And, if we have determined what the end of education is, how does the means of education — here he is chiefly considering the public school system, but the question applies more broadly — serve that end? Or does it serve it at all? And if the means don’t serve the end, what must change?

I tried to read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking some years ago, and couldn’t get past the first few pages; the book begins with the account of her husband’s sudden death, and I don’t know what it was — it was just too sad for me, at least then, and I couldn’t go on. But I went on this time. It’s a sensitively written and beautiful little book, but yes, sad, especially at its end, where it concludes on rather a hopeless note.

My husband and I both read The Wealthy Barber Returns last month, mostly on the recommendation of r/personalfinancecanada. It’s a funny, easy read, and gave us a lot of good discussion points now that we’re finally done with school and paying for school, and thinking about things like investments and retirement and university costs for the children and all that good stuff. It’s a good overview, I think, and we may go back to it in the future.

Finally, the Gottman book. A few years ago I read a profile of John Gottman’s work in The Atlantic that was making the social media rounds: The Secret to Love is Just Kindness. It stuck with me, and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is a great introduction to his research — which includes longitudinal studies on thousands of couples over multiple decades — and, I think, very practical and wise. If you’re married this one is probably a must-read.

Phew! I think half the “writing” time for these posts is spent doing things like googling character names I can no longer remember… I need to start making notes as I go.

Old jeans, new jeans

Lately I haven’t been able to crochet much, due to a persistent arm injury I’ve been dealing with since our move. But that creative itch still needs to be scratched, and so — partly inspired by Rebecca doing the same — I’ve been slowly tacking my mending pile. A few weeks ago I patched our wedding quilt. Today I decided to deal with my favourite pair of jeans, which recently blew out a knee.

Poor knee. It didn’t look quite so gaping before I started; this is after I trimmed off most of the extraneous bits. These jeans came from a thrift store, and I don’t know how old they are. I do know that they’re the best pants that have ever fit my weird mom body (seriously: ever), and so I wanted to preserve them if at all possible. And since that size of a hole would be impossible to repair invisibly, I decided to embrace some visible mending and see if I could funkify them a bit while I was at it.

I started with just a quick blanket stitch around the edge of the hole, to reinforce it against further tearing (I hope!). I used regularly embroidery thread for this. Sidebar: remind me to buy a needle threader one of these days because shoving six strands through a needle at once is awful. After the hole was reinforced, I cut a patch out of some scrap denim and used safety pins to hold it in place. The patch is disproportionately large compared to the actual hole, in part because the fabric around the hole is also weak, and in part to have more room for some decorative elements.

I kept the jeans inside-out for all of my sewing, doing a running stitch back and forth across the fabric. It helped to be able to sew ambidextrously here! That meant I could just alternate which hand was sewing and which one was inside the jeans supporting the fabric, without having to constantly turn the jeans around whenever I got to the end of a row and changed direction.

Above is a progress shot. You can see that I kept the stitches very loose; since this is all going over a knee I didn’t want things to get too tight and start pulling more holes as I bend and move.

And finally, the finished jeans! I love how fun they look and the patch feels extremely secure (I’m wearing them now). I’m very pleased to get more wear out of these pants. We’ll see how long it is before I have to do something with the other knee, though…! Perhaps I will reinforce it with some decorative sashiko stitching before it comes to that. We’ll see.

Reading Round-Up: April 2019

Back in the reading saddle! But not in the blogging saddle, apparently, so here is April’s book list, better late than never. April was our transition month; we began it in one country and ended it in another, with a lot of packing, unpacking, cleaning, arranging, and etc. in between. Here’s what I read:

  1. The Complete Stories (Dorothy L. Sayers)
  2. Charity Girl (Georgette Heyer)
  3. Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven (Fannie Flagg)
  4. The Appeal (John Grisham)
  5. The Whole Town’s Talking (Fannie Flagg)
  6. Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy (Gareth Wronski)
  7. As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto: Food, Friendship, and the Making of a Masterpiece (ed. Joan Reardon)
  8. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  9. The Green and the Gray (Timothy Zahn)

As Always, Julia was featured in its own post.

Dorothy Sayers’s The Complete Stories was what I read over the actual week of our move, and it was probably the perfect choice; the book is seven hundred pages or so, so I wasn’t going to run out of material quickly, but the short length of the stories and the fact that they were not especially interconnected meant that it was easy for me to put it down and pick it up without having to keep track of very many threads. Or any, really. There was enough to keep track of already!

Pride and Prejudice — a perennial favourite of mine — was also a mid-move read, despite its position a little further down the list. I listened over the course of a few weeks to about the first forty chapters via a LibriVox recording, and then finished the rest in paperback form while I was waiting in all those places you need to wait after a move: government service centres, the auto shop for our provincial safety inspection, etc. This was the first audiobook I was able to stand listening to (ever), although it did take a few chapters to get the narrators’ voices out of my head once I did start reading the book myself. I’ll try LibriVox again.

I don’t have much to say about Charity Girl — I really read it back in March, mostly, but it was due back to the library at our old place right before we moved, and I didn’t get a chance to finish it then. So then after we moved I was able to get a copy from the new library, and finished the last couple of chapters… but so much had happened both in reading life and real life since then I had completely lost track of what was going on. I know I enjoyed what I read in March — I do like Georgette Heyer very much — but I will have to read it again sometime to be able to do it justice.

Speaking of the public library, I was tickled pink to find a copy of Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy on display there on one of our first visits. I’d been hoping/meaning to to read it for a while; this is the debut novel of a former classmate of mine. Gareth and I had several classes together over the first two years of undergrad and so I was pretty excited, after losing touch for the better part of a decade, to see his name on the cover of a book. (Gareth, are you reading this? Hello!) This is a super-fun middle-grade space romp, narrated by a sarcastic storytelling robot who refers to the readers as sacks of meat… on page one. Also there are pirates. It was marvelous.

Also marvelous: Timothy Zahn’s The Green and the Gray. Zahn is a sci-fi writer I first encountered through the Star Wars extended universe novelizations. He writes a lot more than that, though! In The Green and the Gray, married couple Roger and Caroline are suddenly thrust into the middle of an ethnic war between two alien tribes who had (separately) fled to New York City — neither group knowing the other was there until a chance encounter awoke all the tensions they thought they had left behind. I nearly read this one through in a sitting; it’s that compelling a story-line.

I’m not sure what to say about The Appeal besides that John Grisham is John Grisham and the book ticked all of the expected boxes. Not super memorable, but good brain candy in the moment.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven and The Whole Town’s Talking are two loosely related novels — I wouldn’t quite characterize them as a series although they are thematically linked and share a number of characters — both set in the small town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri. Both are concerned with the question of what happens to us after we die. In Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, senior citizen Elner Shimfissle falls out of a tree and is pronounced dead at the hospital — the book deals with the aftermath of her death among the residents of Elmwood Springs, alternating with Elner’s after-death experiences which include meeting her hero (Thomas Edison) and God (who takes the form of a married couple who used to be her neighbours). It’s a strange book, and sweet. The Whole Town’s Talking reaches back to Elmwood’s Springs’s founding, and tells the stories of its prominent inhabitants reaching forward to the present day. Most of the book is set in the town cemetery, where it appears that “resting” place is a bit of a misnomer as the plot concerns the dead as much as the living.

And that was it for April!