Thursday, 5 December 2013

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Art of Acting Hostess

It seems to me, that hosting any gathering (no, we're not talking hostess in the airline or twinkie sense) has become a more complex affair in recent years. As fad diets, new eating preferences, and new food allergies emerge, today's hostess is challenged to be more aware of the needs and wants of her guests than ever before. If she wants to be successful, that is.

[An aside: Yes, this is a gendered post . . .no, I'm not saying that men can't host gatherings. I was inspired to write this post by this little book from the early 1900's offering up some guidelines for proper hostessing, and the book itself was, interestingly, written by a man named Paul Pierce :]

While the hostess of yesterday was concerned with producing an endless flow of dishes that would "occupy in part the attention of the guests and tend to promote the success of her favorite dish by allowing her to proceed in its preparation undisturbed by haste or excitement," today's hostess has to worry about what sort of bloating, rash, physical discomfort, or ultimately gruesome death she may potentially be inflicting upon her guests. 

Mr. Pierce ridicules those who are anxious in the kitchen, jesting "why there should be so much excitement over the cooking of an ordinary rarebit, a creamed chicken, a souffle of oysters or all this terrible excitement about a lobster Newberg or a simple cheese fondue is beyond comprehension." Arguably, today's hostess experiences the same sort of anxiety in deciding upon something as simple as which cookie to bake -- should it be gluten free, low in fat, vegan safe, sans nuts, and diabetic friendly? 

I know, I know, we give credit to the woman of the past for her ability to pull off elegant and complex dishes in multiple courses over the duration of a long night without a dollop of gravy on her frock. But really, what the modern woman does, or attempts to do when she entertains is just as impressive. Not only are we attempting to bring together in a social manner a group of people who have become unused to social interaction unmediated by a touch screen, but we are attempting to do it on our one day off of a week of working. Shopping for quality ingredients, prepwork, actual cooking, and of course the weekend ritual of cleaning house (something the old "American aristocrat" of Pierce's time didn't have to do) can eat up an entire day before anything resembling actual eating even begins. Any woman who does all this, even if her dinner isn't as complex and has a few less courses than those described by Pierce, should be proud of her work.  And it IS work, as anyone who as ever tried to cook more than three things at once can attest to.

It is comforting to know, however, that we do share some of the same aspirations and concerns as our century-separated counterpart. Themed dinners were as popular a hundred years a go as they are now (and presumably just as fun to put on). Pierce poignantly explains the difficulties of a young woman wanting to entertain in a small space (a section of his book I might need to go back and look over more thoroughly -_-u) saying: "there are some people to whose distorted vision the tiniest molehills are magnified into veritable chains of mountains, rugged and insurmountable; and if, in addition to their other woes, they happen to be unfortunate enough to dwell in a flat, their desolation is complete." The same is very much true today. There is something isolating about living in a small space by oneself--a problem which grows as more and more people resolve to spend their lives alone in the modern day. 

I could go on and on comparing this witty little book to our present day entertainments, but I suppose instead I will leave you with these compelling words from Pierce: some women " have a perfectly inexplicable talent for making life livable" and " bring[ing] forth into the bright sunshine the many opportunities which everyone's life contains." I think that this is something we should all strive for--be it by having friends over for an evening of good food and company, fixing our boyfriend's car, or just smiling at a random stranger. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

This is War

The battles begin once again, nature's forces descending upon us with bitter cold steel drawn naked, prepared to cut. We draw our weapons too, don goose-down armour and hack at frost with scrapers bought at Canadian Tire or makeshift from old Tim Horton's gift cards. We carry shovels like standards into battle, carve out a path through the endless forces of our enemy before they overwhelm entire.

Charging into the wind, pom-poms leveled lance-like at the elements , we press forward. Toques for helms mittens for gauntlets, and thick rubber soled shoes for purchase on home lands turned treacherous in the enemy's icy grip.

Politicians penguin-waddle in parkas and tell us we are prepared, this time. This war will not be like the last, they say. Our forces are organized. . .we will reclaim the frontiers of our streets and sidewalks with clattering monstrous beasts of our own invention that split the night with roars and beeps. I remember that you cannot trust politicians, as I slide sideways on snow-packed roadway, four wheel drive or no.

I am certain this years war, like last year's, will end. But at what cost? How many fenders bent, arms broken, and tears shed at the voidlike blackness of ten in the morning?

Vaguely, I remember a time when this was not a fight. Too young to understand the threat the enemy posed, I embraced it instead. My enemy was then my ally, providing me with ammunition against other, then more important enemies. My enemy and I clutched eachother and shrieked laughter as we slid down hillsides, danced across glistening floors of ice. My enemy could take a form very much like my own, but with a carrot nose, an old scarf, two rocks for eyes. My enemy was my friend.

Is there an opportunity for peace, after all?

Oh Hell no.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Carport Olympics

Carports: Things we don't have a lot of in Canada save for in front of hotels. Or to shelter that boat you wish you'd never bought that won't fit in the garage. Probably the biggest reason carports aren't popular up here is the obvious one: its cold  and despite all our bluster, we're wusses. Going out into an unheated garage to start up the car in the morning is bad enough, and at least when you park your car on the street you're fairly certain you can get the car off and driving thanks to midnight snowplows (barring a blizzard, in which case you're probably allowed to stay home anyway). Carports have the dual disadvantage to us northern dwellers of lacking walls to block the icy cold winds, and being vulnerable to snow that will not be happily removed for you by any civic snowplow--or any hand but your own mittened one frozen to the shovel.

So, we don't really use car ports. But then, does anyone excessively? Unsure. Haven't traveled enough. Moving on.

Regardless of the lack of applicability of the carport to my own culture, I thought I'd throw up a few pictures of some interesting examples of these under-appreciated architectural sidebars. So here goes, in no particular order:

1. The Overhang - Villa Midgard, Stockholm
 Villa Midgard by DAPstockholm in architecture  Category

Because nothing screams "its safe to park your car here" like a concrete overhang. Concrete is indestructible, right?

2. The Solar powered bike rack

This solar powered beauty can at once charge your electric car and store your bikes while taking up minimal space. I call this a pretty cool little wonder of technology. It looks fairly easy to set up too, considering what it is.

3. The Green Rooftop-port

C'mon, for a warm climated place, you gotta admit this is a pretty cool idea. My only question is how/if you can get on top of it.

4. The Hollywood Hills 

Something sort of Jetson-y about this lean-to design, circa 1972.

5. The F**k You Gravity Carport, Lithuania

The cars are actually serving an important role in keeping the house up. Making this carport an essential part of the design. Really.

6. The Camouflage Dream Carport


A great, easy to set up, portable guestroom for your car. Because putting it in this is way safer and less conspicuous than parking it on the street. And it doesn't look ridiculous. AT ALL.