Reading Corner: Chalice

Reading Corner: Chalice

Several months ago I was introduced to the author Robin McKinley. I moderate (not very well, unfortunately) the LiveJournal community Lolita Bookclub. and her hauntingly beautiful novel Deerskin was suggested and selected for one of the monthly books. I enjoyed the tale, a retelling of a fairy tale aimed at a young-adult audience, despite the fact that I typically dislike the fantasy genre. I do, however, love fairy tales–and that is exactly what enraptured me. It was a fairy tale with depth and details.

After that I read Spindle’s End, because I love the tale of Sleeping Beauty, and was even less disappointed despite my higher expectations. Recently I placed a hold on a great deal of books from my local library, and while I was browsing the catalog, wondering if I ought to add anything else, Robin McKinley’s name came to mind. My library has a fairly wide selection of her books–they must be popular among their intended audience–so I decided on the first cover image I spotted: Chalice.

The cover of my library copy isn’t in perfect condition, but it’s still quite pretty~

I placed it on hold without wondering what it was about or doing any research, and picked it up the next day without having given it further thought. I idly opened it yesterday evening, but wasn’t able to read more than a paragraph before receiving a series of telephone calls. Tonight, after dinner, the cover caught my eye and I supposed it would be nice to see exactly what I had brought home. By the time I finished the first page I literally couldn’t put it down. I read the whole thing, pausing occasionally only to brew more tea. (I love reading while drinking tea–it’s soothing and relaxing. ♥)

Chalice is one of those stories that has come up with a detailed cultural structure, but doesn’t blandly explain it to you. Instead, you’re thrust immediately into a world that isn’t much like your own, picking up on context and hints to orient yourself. I always appreciate that in a book; I don’t very much like the dullness of explanation. A story should do more than literally tell me something.

The writing style is clearly intended for a younger audience, but not dumbed down to an entirely simplistic level. It flows quickly, without much breaking or awkwardness, and without moments of overbearing or underwhelming. It’s certainly no Ulysses, but makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read–the perfect sort of thing for curling up with a hot cup of tea and a bear dressed in a bunny hood.

The story itself tells of an ordinary girl with an extraordinary task–a beekeeper who is told she must fulfill an important role in her kingdom without any guidance. She must become Chalice, the one who calms and binds the land and those who support it. Typically Chalices are apprenticed and taught from very young, but she does not have this luxury, as the former Chalice was killed in an accident and had chosen no successor. Further complicating things, there is also a new Master of the land–as the former perished with the previous Chalice–and he is not merely unexperienced…he is no longer human.

My favourite parts of the entire story–the parts that made me giggle or squeal gleefully–are anything involving Mirasol’s bees. I’m not particularly nature-loving, nor do I enjoy insects. Reading about her hives of large, fuzzy, adoring bees makes me want to set up a hive and get to work! (Not that my building manager would be very pleased!) Whenever honey was mentioned I wanted to get up and make something honeyed, but I knew that the honey in my kitchen cabinets could not compare to the shining image and impression of the story’s honeys.

There’s always something soothing to read about normal people making the best of their situations and trying to do what they can in times of need. It’s the sort of thing I like more than any dreamy escapism. I like heroines that aren’t sure of themselves, more beautiful than the sun, or ceaselessly even-tempered. I like heroes that aren’t dashing figures with no personality. Even if it is a world with big and friendly bees, I like characters that make me think of actual people I know–not just a single amplified trait.

A prominent theme in the story involved setting a precedent: doing something other than just following tradition. I think that is something that too few people are willing to do–more often we follow what we learn from others without trying something new. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it stifles creativity and can prevent growth. Change isn’t always a bad thing–sometimes it’s only through change that we discover the better way to do something. There won’t always be someone to show you what you ought to do; sometimes you just have to take the initiative and try, even if you don’t succeed. When that happens, you must learn from your mistakes and fix what you can. It’s not easy, but it’s very important.

I also like happy endings~ ♥ (I wasn’t disappointed.) I’ll have to read one of her other stories…maybe after I finish some of the other books in my new pile!

On Being Lolita: In Defense of Bloomers

On Being Lolita: In Defense of Bloomers

When I started wearing lolita fashion, bloomers were a highly-touted staple. Tutorials and requests for tutorials popped up frequently in the main community, and lower-priced pairs from Metamorphose‘s seemingly-endless stream of lucky packs disappeared from sales posts almost instantly. Most lolita seemed to struggle internally between owning really lovely bloomers or spending as little money as possible on something that should hopefully not be seen. The now-closed online lolita clothing shop “In the Starlight” was a good source for relatively inexpensive bloomers, something they were known for besides their infamous petticoats. Wearing bloomers beneath one’s petticoat was considered to be of tantamount importance; an outfit was incomplete without that undergarment.

Now, it seems that the tide has shifted. I’ve spotted numerous discussions or commentary expressing dislike for bloomers–some saying they’re too babyish, annoyingly uncomfortable, or simply unnecessary. The popularity seems to be falling.

However, bloomers play an important role in lolita fashion: shielding your undergarments from prying eyes.

Admittedly, that doesn’t necessarily sound very important. That’s not something commonly worried about with other fashion styles. Most of the time paying attention and not behaving rambunctiously is enough to keep from flashing friends and strangers. Unless the wind is extremely gusty, modesty is pretty much up to your discretion.

This is actually not true in terms of lolita fashion, and the primary reason for this is the petticoat. When wearing a petticoat, it pushes the hem of your skirt further from your body. This provides an angle that makes even a knee-length (or slightly longer) skirt not quite long enough. A slight bend at the waist or hips, even less than 45-degrees, can be enough to provide a clear view of everything beneath one’s skirt. Traveling up or down staircases or escalators, or merely standing on a higher level than another person, provides the same opportunity. Although I am never consciously looking for it, I am usually aware of who is and who is not wearing bloomers–because unintentional actions can flash your undergarments at those around you!

Some lolita don’t mind showing their skivvies to strangers and friends, but I am not quite that at ease about it. If bloomers themselves just rub you the wrong way–so much that you can’t bear to put on a pair–there are other substitutions. Maybe you feel it’s too weird to wear something poofy like bloomers, or maybe you find the leg elastic uncomfortable. Bike shorts, exercise shorts, or boxer shorts can serve as stand-ins for bloomers. Opaque tights are another option, although that can be somewhat oppressive in the summer.

It’s simple to overlook the usefulness of bloomers. That doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself a ¥7900 pair of long bloomers from Metamorphose. Bloomers are a very simple staple to make yourself; you don’t even need fancy fabric or trim, although bloomers don’t use very much of either. You can pretty them up as much as you like. Bloomers patterns are easy to find in the costume selection of most fabric stores, and there are always patterns for bloomers in the GosuRori pattern books. There might even be patterns floating around on the internet~

Additionally, longer bloomers with a pretty lace or ruffled edge can be a nice outfit accent, particularly with shorter skirts. It used to be common for lolita coordinations to feature bloomers peeking out below the hem of a skirt, although that has fallen out of fashion recently. If Angelic Pretty keeps raising hemlines the style might be revived!

Whether you wouldn’t dare wear lolita without bloomers or vow to never place one leg into something so ridiculous, don’t forget that most undergarments are worn for a particular purpose. Bloomers aren’t just for looks–they’re for preventing them.

Photo Set: Pearl Ballet

Photo Set: Pearl Ballet

One of my earlier brand-name lolita items was a skirt I purchased from Kinokuniya Bookstore in New York. It was in 2007, when the store was carrying lolita fashion goods they had intended to sell at a local anime convention. However, sales had not been as promising as they anticipated, and the excess stock was placed in the bookstore. When I arrived there wasn’t much of a selection, but I immediately fell in love with a BABY, the Stars Shine Bright skirt. I spent everything I had on it and insisted on wearing it during the rest of the trip–despite having brought no lolita clothing with me.

It’s been spending a lot of time in my closet, however. I don’t wear skirts very frequently, but I often admire the pattern when I open the closet door. On Mother’s Day I found myself trying to assemble a not-jeans-but-not-overwhelming outfit, and my attention focused on it. The skirt features my favourite kind of print–the artwork is gorgeous and elegant. The colours compliment each other so well. I wish I could wallpaper my house in this print!

The print is inspired by the ballet Swan Lake, with ballet slippers, tiaras, swans, and dancers amidst ribbons and pearls. It’s so pretty that I decided to take some pictures of it. I don’t plan to ever part with this skirt, but just in the event that happens in the future, I’ll have something to remember the splendor of this beautiful art. ♥

BtSSB Swan Lake I

BtSSB Swan Lake VI

BtSSB Swan Lake VII
BtSSB Swan Lake V

BtSSB Swan Lake III

I hope that someday I am lucky enough to own other pieces of this series. The jumperskirt and purse are so lovely~ ♥

Rose-Tinted Living: Cutest Cupcakes

Rose-Tinted Living: Cutest Cupcakes

I have a weakness for cupcakes that has occasionally preceded me. (It can be a bit strange to introduce oneself and hear in response, “Oooooooh, you’re that cupcake girl!” That has happened on more than one occasion.) Although I like to stop at bakeries or cupcake shops, I also enjoy baking at home. My kitchen windowsill stores my cookbooks, half of them cupcake- or tea-related! I own one cookie sheet, but four differently-sized muffin tins; my preferences are pretty clear.

If I host a gathering at my home, I usually bake cupcakes. The last time I hosted we had an assortment of lemon-lavender cupcakes with lemon glaze and honey-chai cupcakes with cream cheese frosting~ Lately I’ve been thinking of Earl Grey cupcakes with violet frosting or fresh strawberry cupcakes layered with whipped cream. Of course, I’ll probably test out my newest acquisition with some funfetti cupcakes (the white kind with multi-coloured sprinkles), as I’ve received several boxes of mix from my mother.

When I spotted the pink box, showing a white teacup filled with a cupcake and topped with pink frosting, that was it. I could not resist.

I spotted these adorable cupcake molds while shopping for thank you notes. I’d spotted these on Fred Flare, but wasn’t swayed enough to buy them online. The TEACUPCAKES are made by Fred & Friends, a company that regularly produces really adorable home goods. They make many, many things I’d love to have in my kitchen!

Although these cupcake molds were easy to resist in pictures online, it was not quite the same when I saw them in the store–especially because there was a display of the cups out of the box, so I could see just how large they were and how completely adorable they are. I wound up coming home with thank you notes, these cupcake molds, and some tea–the “teacupcakes” made the subsequent spotting of dessert-inspired teas impossible to resist.

The TeaCupCake
The creased “folds” of the cup and the swirl at the base of the handle are adorable touches!

The molds are essentially reusable cupcake liners. They appear to be about the size of a standard cupcake, and there are four per box: four baking cups and four display saucers. The plastic saucers cannot go in the oven–they’re for serving only. The silicone teacups are pretty stable, despite being made of a bendy and floppy material, although some of mine seem more oval at the top due to how they were packed in the box. Sitting out has given them time to restore themselves to a more rounded shape.

I’m not usually fond of silicone cupcake molds, but these are so cute I’m more than willing to give them a chance. I’m thinking about making cupcakes soon, although since I’m go out of town before the end of the week it’s probably not best to make too many.

The contents of the box displayed with the box. I love how pink that box is!

The only thing I could ask for is to have more of the molds. Four isn’t really enough–a standard batch of cupcakes typically makes twelve or more. If I wanted to use them for a meetup, it would be unfair to only let four people get the cute cupcakes! However, at the price (roughly $20), it’s not really feasible to buy lots and lots of sets of these at once. Maybe I can try collecting them over time? (I hope they stay in production for a little while…) I’d love to serve these adorable teacupcakes at a tea party!

Honestly, they’re so cute even empty…but they’d be even better with tasty cupcakes~

TeaCupCakes Box
I appreciate the warning not to serve tea in the cupcake molds! It is a little bit tempting…

And, I thought I’d include a cupcake recipe (for the aforementioned honey-chai cupcakes) to round this out:


Chai (tea bags, loose leaf, or concentrate)
2/3 cup water
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Make very strong tea with the chai and the water–either steeping tea/tea bags or mixing the concentrate until you have just 2/3 cup of the liquid. Let it cool to room temperature. (Don’t add sugar and milk! You want it to be just tea. If your concentrate already has sugar and milk you might want to use a different chai.)

Whisk the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Combine the honey, melted butter, buttermilk, and egg. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine–then add the tea and mix until well-blended.

Bake the cupcakes for 18-20 minutes.

12 oz cream cheese
6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tbs honey
Honeycomb (optional)

Beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and honey until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar until the frosting is a spreadable consistency.

And garnish with honeycomb, if desired~

Daily Life: Mother’s Day

Daily Life: Mother’s Day

Happy Mother's Day!

Dear Mom,

I’m never lying when I say that you’re the best mom ever; I proudly proclaim it to everyone I know. I’m eternally thankful to have such a wonderful mother. I know I don’t always show how much I love you. I’m not as affectionate as I could be, and I let myself get frustrated by stupid things. Despite this, I truly love you and couldn’t even imagine such a thing as a “better” mother than you even existing.

After all, it’s impossible to improve on perfection. ♥

Your Daughter

On Being Lolita: Errands and Lolita Fashion

On Being Lolita: Errands and Lolita Fashion

Today I had one of those moments that was so amusing that I very much wanted to write about and share it, but I couldn’t quite connect it into anything more than an anecdote. There’s not a clear lesson to be learned or theme to expand on. I find that sometimes even when I’m not actually wearing lolita fashion, it’s interesting how it impacts my life.

I insist on dry cleaning my lolita garments, even though many of them can be hand washed. When I voice my opinion on dry cleaning, I am often reminded that lolita clothing can be washed by hand. Why take it somewhere that uses questionable chemicals and incur additional expense? The biggest reason that I dry clean the bulk of my lolita fashion wardrobe is related to the fact that I have a really, really awesome neighborhood dry cleaner. My dry cleaner has been dealing with lolita fashion for years, even before I moved into the area, because a friend of mine has lived there and worn lolita fashion much, much longer than I have. She once wore it daily for a year without interruption!

When we were roommates I became acquainted with the dry cleaner when I would stop by and drop off or pick up her clothing, and eventually mine as well. I was always a little bit wary of dry cleaners, because there can be such varied results. (My grandfather has a penchant for taking his clothes to a place that doesn’t actually send them back clean because he likes talking with the employees there.) My dry cleaner is far more reliable! Everything comes back without damage, looking pristine. ♥ They’ve even brightened my bunny pochette, Mallow, who was looking a dingy from living such an active life.

For some reason, the dry cleaner always enters my clothing under my friend’s name, even though they are well aware that I am not her. Most of the employees recognize my husband and me before we’ve even walked through the door, and will ring out our bill before we’ve even asked. Whenever I drop something off there are always “oohs” and “aahs.” One of the employees has told me that she adores my outfits and is always hoping to spot me when she’s not at work.

Today when I stopped by to pick some things up after work, I noted that I didn’t recognize the employee in the shop today. When I pointed out my garments so they could be paid for, she was visibly confused and apologetically excused herself to make a phone call. I could hear her worriedly asking if the “costumes” were ready, if they had needed more sewing work, etc. She had to be guided through ringing them up, at one point exclaiming, “…But they’re costumes!” I couldn’t help being a bit amused, because she’ll be seeing more of me and my “costumes”–which were only there to be cleaned and pressed, no alteration or construction required.

It got me thinking about the kind of reactions I tend to get when I’m not attending an event, but just milling about doing mundane tasks in ruffles and lace. Sometimes the reactions are oblivious or avoidant; when I grocery shop in lolita fashion, almost no-one will look me in the eye and they often glance away hastily. My petticoat could brush against someone’s shopping cart, and they’ll stare juuuust over my head to avoid acknowledging me. Sometimes–such as at the post office–the attention is almost unbearable. And if I venture downtown for shopping, every tourist wants more information about the “show” I’m promoting…as if carrying a tote and browsing the shelves at a bookstore is promoting. n_~

It’s always interesting to me to see what people will try to do to justify or explain things they don’t understand. :3 It’s very difficult to just accept something as “unusual”–there’s always a quest for a deeper meaning or logical reasoning.

Meetup Report: Spring Zoo Picnic

Meetup Report: Spring Zoo Picnic

One of my favourite meetup activities is picnicking, because it’s an inexpensive way to sit around, have a discussion, and enjoy a meal. Most events last longer than a person can usually go without being hungry, so it’s good to build in a meal or snack–but stopping at a restaurant or coffee shop can quickly become expensive. I love picnics because everyone brings something, and it can be done potluck style or brown-bag-lunch style–either each attendee brings something to share or each person brings her or his own lunch. One of these days I very much want to have a tea-time picnic and croquet game. ♥ I’m sure there will be a summer day perfect for that kind of activity; I just need to find a croquet set I can borrow!

This Friday there was an impromptu picnic at the Lincoln Park Zoo. I adore the Lincoln Park Zoo because I live nearby and it is a free zoo. It’s like going to a park, but with animals–there are no turnstiles or ticket booths, you just wander in through one of the many gates in the fence that surrounds the zoo, and wander out whenever you’re bored. It isn’t the largest or most complete zoo, but I like how it operates. In fact, whenever I’m feeling blue I like to go and watch the penguins for a little while; they’re my favourite. ♥

I was the last one to the picnic because I had an eye exam that morning and baked cookies for the picnic when I got home, not realizing that wouldn’t give me enough travel time. I started to suspect that while the cookies were baking, but at the point I didn’t want to leave without the cookies, if they were going to make me late. They were still warm when we spread everything out for the picnic. I had a chance to use the picnic blanket that I received as a wedding present; it worked wonderfully! (And a good thing I brought it, too, as no-one else had remembered one~)

Several of the girls who attended were lolita I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting previously–it was very nice to finally attach a face and name to the comments on our local community. ♥ It seemed that everyone was having a nice time and enjoying the conversation. My poor husband was a bit out of sorts because he is afraid of wasps; he interpreted every piece of dust or leaf caught in the wind as a potential wasp.

Zoo's Lion House
Miss Lyz and me–the only one where my eyes aren’t half-open. We’re in the big cat hall~

After our picnic we packed everything up and entered the zoo. We criss-crossed it several times and saw just about everything, from the lions and leopard in the cat house to the penguins~ I also love the brush-tailed bettong, because it hops around. It’s so cute! I tried to take a picture of it, but it’s in the Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House, which is kept very dark.

We spent a lot of time over by the polar bear section! The polar bears have a very large pool, and their habitat is visible from two levels–one area that is higher up and allows you to see the ground level of the polar bears’ area, and another that is low and next to a glass window into the pool. The polar bears love to swim, so they’re usually underwater. However, when we were on the lower side the polar bears were hiding indoors, away from the public, probably due to the temperatures. We played around with the “life-sized” cut out of a polar bear that was on the wall next to a replica of a polar bear’s paw and other facts about them. A polar bear did eventually come out, and we did see it, but it didn’t go for a swim while we were around.

The polar bear section is very popular, especially for children, and often there is a zoo worker outside the glass viewing section ready to discuss polar bears with children. They tend to carry props, like polar bear “fur” or “claws.” Even without these workers, there are still the polar bear fact plaques. We played around with the “life-sized” polar bear chart. I didn’t catch very many pictures, because my husband was the one holding the camera, but I had my moment to play with it, too. The water in the polar bears’ pool looked so refreshing that I felt Lait probably wanted to be a polar bear at that moment.

Swim, Polar Bunny Bear!
I couldn’t resist making him “swim” in their pool. He is white and fluffy, after all.

When we had seen just about everything in the zoo, we finally started to part ways. I really enjoyed meeting some new lolita and spending more time with those I knew already. This weekend’s meetup was rather last-minute, but I want to plan another picnic for a future date–that many more lolita have the opportunity to attend. After all, we didn’t even head to the “farm” section of the zoo…or look in the conservatory. There’s so much to do for free in that area; I want to take advantage of it.

On Being Lolita: When Courage Fails–Keep Going

On Being Lolita: When Courage Fails–Keep Going

This weekend was a whirlwind of fun and lolita activities. I missed out on a very lovely tea with a lot of girls in the area, but did find a way to keep myself occupied in the meantime. A friend of mine has been continually reminding me that she owns a Hello Kitty waffle maker, which is basically one of the greatest things ever invented even though it isn’t a high-quality appliance. So Saturday, since I couldn’t attend the tea party with everyone else (the upcoming Dolpa, which I finally registered for yesterday, has made my pocketbook cry) I took her up on her offer and went over for waffles.

I carefully selected my outfit, styled my hair, and prepared to leave; everything was going well. Yet for some reason, when I locked the door behind me I felt afraid. Every step towards the train station made me nervous, despite the fact that I’ve worn lolita fashion in public alone for years. Sometimes, negativity gets the better of me and makes me ashamed and nervous about being myself. Before I started wearing lolita fashion I was extremely shy and perpetually frightened of just about everything. Finding the courage to wear clothing that wasn’t “accepted” brought me a skill that has impacted my entire life in a positive way.

Then sometimes, experience seems to melt away and I feel like I’m going out for the first time again, worrying fretfully about what strangers might say or do. There’s no easy way to deal with that kind of anxiety, but I refuse to let it get the better of me. I like myself more when I’m not terrified needless of everything around me. I have more fun and enjoy a more fulfilling life if I’m not holed up in my room. I want to wear my frilly clothing while enjoying the other things I like to do.

I absolutely adore the movie Dune, and recently read the novel by Frank Herbert. (Although I couldn’t come up with a sufficient connection to write a book review about it here~) Whenever I am afraid of something I always think of the often-repeated quote that states:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

In the book this is the Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear,” but it has a practical application even if you aren’t trapped in a moisture-deprived planet amidst possibly-hostile native peoples after the assassination of most of your family and closest friends while different warring political powers seek to destroy or control you for powers you may-or-may-not be bred to have. n_~

The thing that makes me most uncomfortable when I’m wearing lolita fashion are not whispers or shouted commentary, but laughter. Sometimes I will walk past someone or they will walk past me, and immediately I’ll hear a chorus of laughter. I always think they are laughing at me, and although I don’t value the opinion of a random stranger, I feel ridiculed and embarrassed. There’s a human tendency to assume that everyone else is paying attention to you and notices every mistake you make, since you notice it, but usually this is not the case and others don’t notice at all. However, it’s very hard not to notice something like lolita fashion, so I worry that my suspicions are correct.

But even if I am correct, it shouldn’t matter to me. I don’t want to limit myself to wearing lolita fashion only where no-one else might judge me. I don’t want to hide. So, even on those types of days, I look straight ahead and walk confidently–even if that confidence is entirely pretended. I’m very glad that I didn’t run back inside and change my clothes, because although I would have avoided the confused or disdainful stares, muffled commentary shouted from passing cars, and real or imaginary chuckles, I would have missed the broad smile and exclamation of “Look at your bad self!” when I stepped off the train near my destination.

There may come a day when I won’t wear lolita fashion, so I want to make it count and enjoy the most of it while I can!