29 November 2009

200 word review: 'Four Letter Word: New Love Letters' edited by Rosalind Porter and Joshua Knelman

I borrowed this book from my local library mainly out of shock that they had it –a few months ago, I read an article about it in The Big Issue so I was surprised to see such a current book. It’s a collection of fictional love letters from modern authors, some more famous than others but all with excellent literary credentials.

The problem with collections like this is that there are always bits you love and bits you hate. Some of the letters really caught me – some were endearing in their innocence, others deeply moving, and others simply entertaining. But there were a few that were just a bit, well, smutty for my tastes. Maybe I’m a prude, but a number contained crass references which didn’t seem to have much to do with love.

The variety of letters represents well the depth and diversity of love. There were examples of love for someone (or something) other than a lover. Many letters expressed the pain of love gone wrong. Some were historical, others current (one based on Hurricane Katrina almost had me weeping on a commuter train). Overall, this is a generally enjoyable book which effectively shows all areas of love.

14 November 2009

Generous Journal: Catching up

I've been rubbish at blogging in general, but my Generous Journal has particularly suffered. That's not to say that I haven't been plugging away with my efforts to live more generously and more greenly; here's a few things I've been up to:

Now, I'm really not a 1950's housewife despite what my craft habit would have you believe, but ... I've got into baking recently! It's so satisfying to bake your own cakes and biscuits rather than buying them from the shop, and it means you can ensure the ingredients are ethical. I only use free-range eggs and try to use Fairtrade/organic chocolate and cocoa where possible. I've also found the best way to use up over-ripe bananas - Banana Bread! And not being wasteful with your food is very important, particularly with bananas - if you're going to fly something halfway across the world, it's not very good if half of it ends up in the compost bin. Here's an example of my yummy Banana Bread:

Mmm. Baking is also good for warming up the flat a bit whilst still using the heat for something else. The weather has suddenly become very cold here, so we need as many opportunities to heat up as possible. Now I have to admit we are using our central heating (I know hardened eco-warriors would string us up for that!) but we are trying to find ways to avoid it where possible. When I'm watching TV in the living room, if I get cold I'll cover myself in a throw. I'm layering as much as possible - I've even bought thermal vests!! And we're trying to eat warming meals like soup and casseroles. Our biggest problem is our bedroom though - easily the coldest room in the house, and that's where you really want to feel snug! We might have to rearrange furniture to see if there's any way of maximising the heat, but I don't like change!

Another Generous thing we've done recently is join Freecycle - and I've been waxing lyrical about it since! We've already got rid of a mirror and a cat feeder that were taking up space with minimal effort, and we managed to get a new lid for our compost bin too (the old one blew off in the gales a few weeks back, despite being very difficult to take off - that's how bad the weather is!) It's incredible what people give away on there, I've seen double beds and freezers listed, so check your local one out!

Our veg-growing has now stopped for winter, but hubby has planted cauliflowers for next summer. He's also been reusing stuff creatively in the garden - using our old broken bedframe to create a frame which, with some plastic over it, will keep our caulis warm over winter. He's also been cutting an old pair of fleece pyjamas and stuffing the sleeves with old socks today for use in the garden - don't ask me what they'll be doing, I'll just have to trust him on that!

The next Generous challenge is Christmas - I always try to make it as ethical and eco-friendly as possible, but it can be challenging. I fully intended to make cards but I'm not convinced I'm going to have time. We're cooking our own Christmas dinner this year (eek!) so we can be more conscious of the food we're buying. Other than that, the usual tricks of shopping locally and in charity/ ethical shops for presents, using gift lists so I don't end up buying wasteful, unwanted presents, and making what I can will come into play. Any more ideas for an ethical Christmas?

Stash Wars: Defeat?

Ahh, just as I'm coming to the end of my stash, it all goes a bit wrong.

The tabletop sale I was preparing for in September didn't go too well. As well as the cupcakes and brooches I've posted about before, I also tried to sell these hairpins, catnip-filled toys and Christmas decorations:

Unfortunately, I only sold two things in three hours at the sale - a cupcake and a mouse. Not much money raised for charity then. I managed to double my sales last weekend when my Mum visited though - she bought a cupcake, a mouse and two stockings. I think she felt sorry for me.

As I had some green cotton left from the shrug I made recently, I used this to make some baby stuff - no, not for me unfortunately, but for a friend of my brother:

Soo cute! Unfortunately the socks turned out bigger than I'd hoped so they can't be worn with the top, but still, I think it's sweet. Still got some of the yarn left though ...

Speaking of my brother, he very kindly bought me some black Bluefaced Leicester as a belated birthday present, which I am shortly going to use to make myself some gloves as I've lost my old ones:

It's lovely and much appreciated as I am in dire need of some warm gloves, but I am a bit worried about how much I'll have left over.

Then came the biggest blow to my Stash War:

A work friend has been clearing out and found a bag of crocheting cotton, which she very kindly donated to me. I'm delighted with it - anything that will fuel my obsession with anything crafty is gratefully received, but I think we can safely say that the war is over and the stash won!! I am excited by this crocheting cotton though, mainly because I don't really know what you do with it. As you can see, it's been used to make a few doilies, but I'm not really a doily girl, so I'll have to get creative with it.

So there, I'm defeated. But hey, I couldn't have lost to a better opponent!

200 word review: 'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad

Something strange happened to me when I read Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ – I didn’t feel gripped by the plot, I wasn’t particularly interested in how it ended, and yet I couldn’t stop myself reading it. Something about the novel cast a spell on me, and without me even noticing, I was enthralled.

It is a story about a seaman named Marlow, who travels to Africa on trade business and embarks on a journey to find the mysterious ivory trader Kurtz. Marlow himself tells his tale to fellow seamen on a boat on the Thames as evening turns to night. This gives the whole novel a sense of gloom, and the growing darkness of the night is paralleled by Marlow’s journey deeper into the jungle. The identity of Kurtz is gently hinted at throughout, and even when he appeared I still felt that I had missed something about him. The whole novel feels unresolved, but deliberately so. The words ‘heart’ and ‘darkness’ recur like a heartbeat, alluding to something never quite revealed.

I wish I could write more than 200 words on this occasion, because this novel is a masterclass in narrative – subtle, yet engrossing, with quietly wonderful use of language.

02 November 2009

Sorry ...

... I've been a bit rubbish at posting recently. I actually have loads to post, but life is getting in the way. Watch this space for an update on my craftiness, my Generous journal and a review of Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' - as soon as I find the time!!