Life Is Better When You Like More Things

I read that quote somewhere fairly recently. And I can’t find the original article any more, so I can’t attribute it; and to boot, I’m probably mis-quoting it (if you remember where it came from, let me know). However, when I read it, I realised that that’s been one of my base principles for a long time. So let me repeat it:

Life is better when you like more things.

I have a master’s degree in liberal arts; to be specific, in literary studies. That means that by definition, I’m trained in critical thinking. No, critical thinking doesn’t mean “criticising”… Well, actually, in practice it often does. It means looking down one’s long nose (and I have quite a long one) at a lot of things, and feeling superior because of it.

I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling superior. Feeling “better than” because I belonged to a certain group of people, subscribed to a certain set of beliefs; because I was intelligent and could critically evaluate.

And you know what? Superiority is so much baloney. It doesn’t add one iota of joy to your life. In fact, it goes hand in hand with its shadow side: I’ve spent the very same time that I felt superior in being plagued by feelings of inferiority. As much judging as you do, you know (or strongly feel) that you’re being judged yourself. And the more critical you are of others, the more you feel criticised.

I’ve given up a lot of my criticism over the last decade or so. It’s not worth it. And in turn, I’ve discovered so much more joy. When you stop feeling superior, you can start to belong. It’s wonderful.

Life is better when you like more things.

Life is better when there are more things you can say “yes” to, instead of raising your pointy noise, pursing your thin lips, and going “Oh. Eew. No, thank yew, not for moi.”

I used to be quite a picky eater when I was a kid; now, there are few things that I don’t like to eat (unfortunately, a few things don’t like me, but that’s another topic). It makes for great fun in travelling, because you can try out all these cool foods that you can’t get at home. Of course, there is a vast difference between a McDonald’s burger and an expertly cooked Jägerschnitzel (hunter’s schnitzel, topped with mushrooms in cream sauce – oh yeah!), but I’ll eat either if that’s what’s available; I don’t go hungry; and my taste buds are not unhappy. I’ve known folks who needed to find a McDonald’s wherever they went, and there are others who couldn’t eat at McD’s even if that’s all there is – either one lives a very circumscribed life.

The trailer for the new live-action Aladdin movie just came out. “Eew, Disney!” You know what? I’m really looking forward to seeing that film. My enjoyment of Disney fairy tale movies doesn’t take away one jot from the quality of, say, Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel, or Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête. Reading and enjoying a Harlequin novel doesn’t mean that Jane Austen is one smidgen less of a genius.

You see, that’s the problem with criticism: somehow we have the idea that if we enjoy something, it impinges on what’s better, so therefore we shouldn’t take pleasure from something that’s less than stellar. We need to criticise everything, because if we don’t, it means that we are less than superior.

But take it from me: superiority takes a lot of effort, and it’s not worth it. Enjoyment, on the other hand, opens up your life and lets it blossom.

Things I like

Things I like: Louis the Cat, books, knitting, candles, fuzzy blankets, audiobooks, my corner of the couch…

There are a lot of things I like: Small stuffed bears, Jägerschnitzel, folk music, fuzzy blankets, Agatha Christie novels, sunshine on fresh snow, lemon balm plants, fairy tale films … Yes, all right, even raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Actually, I’ll take the whole kitten, thank you, and keep him until he’s a fat grown-up tabby cat, and get daily pleasure from petting him and laughing at his antics. So many things to enjoy. You can keep your critical superiority; I’m too busy with the things I like.

My blog’s tag line is “Life, the Universe, and a Few-Odd Other Things” – Amo Vitam, “I love life”. Because Life Is Better When You Like More Things.

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“Beast”: A Fairy Tale Flash Fiction

BEAST

The snow kept falling thicker and thicker. Whirling, blowing, biting, cutting. Clinging to his whiskers, to his eyelashes, to the hair on the side of his face. His nose and cheeks had grown numb, his fingers so cold he could no longer bend them. When he tried to raise them to his face to brush the snow out of his beard, they felt like hard claws on the end of big, clumsy, fur-covered paws; claws that had no feeling in them and could not move to his will.

He tried to climb up the side of the ravine, reached for a snow-covered branch. Could not close his hands on it—where were his thumbs? He staggered on his clumsy legs, then dropped down onto all fours.

Like an animal.

A beast…

Keep reading this story on Enchanted Conversation Magazine

I wrote this last November during NaNoWriMo, when I was doing a retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red“. It was sort of a prologue to the story, the moment when the “prince” turns into a “bear” – except in my adaptation, he’s not a real bear, just a very hairy guy (and he’s not a prince either, being an ordinary 21st century Canadian). But then it occurred to me that this could work as a standalone Flash Fiction, a regular adaptation of the regular fairy tale, so I sent it to Amanda at Enchanted Conversation. And here it is.

You can decide for yourself if you want to take the transformation as an actual guy-turned-into-bear thing, or keep it metaphorical. I’m not entirely sure yet which one I prefer.

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#amtravelling: Chainstocking Feet

I’m on a few weeks’ family visit in The Old Country (hence the long radio silence). Here, for your delectation, is a random and interesting little thing I noticed while stopping in at the Stiftskirche (Collegiate Church) in Stuttgart for a break during a shopping trip the other day: Chainstocking Feet.

This guy is one of a profusion of Eberhards and Ulrichs, Dukes of Württemberg, pictured along the side of the choir. The sculptures are from the late 16th century, but I assume the depiction of medieval armour is reasonably accurate.

Some of the others have plate-armour shoes, but this guy (he’s an Eberhard; to be precise, Eberhard I the Illustrious, 1265-1325) and his immediate neighbours have chainmail stockings all the way to their toes. I guess they wouldn’t have been much good on foot.

Also, the lions they’re standing on look thoroughly unimpressed. I guess having a dude in full armour planted on your head doesn’t feel all that great, whether they’re wearing steel shoes or chainstockings.

In brief, that’s Life, the Universe, and Travel Time. Keep your chainstockings dry!

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Bear Sweater

Steve got cold. So I made him a sweater. Actually, truth be told, I wanted to practise a few new knitting stitches I just learned off the all-knowing Internet (see below in italics), so I started this knitting swatch** – and then I thought, I don’t want to just make a random useless piece of knitting, so I turned it into a bear sweater. Steve seems to appreciate it.

So, in case you’re wondering, here’s a very rough pattern:

  • knitting worsted yarn, 3.5mm needles (I purposely use smaller-than-intended needles, else my knit is very loose)
  • Back and Front:
    • 24 stitches (sts) cast on in “flexible German cast-on stitch” (which in German is called “Norwegian”)
    • 6 rows in rib stitch
    • 18 rows in stockinette stitch (I did all the purl in Eastern stitch, for a Combination stitch*)
    • Front: shape collar a little bit by leaving the middle stitches on the needle in the last couple of rows instead of knitting right across. It’s not a very good system; you could just not bother with the shaping, too.
    • Join 8 sts on each shoulder with Kitchener Stitch
    • There are 8 sts left each on the front and back. Pick up 8 sts between them across each of the shoulders for a total of 32; divide onto double-point needles. Knit 2 rounds.
    • Bind off with the Stretchy bind-off.
    • Join the side seams from the bottom about half-way up with Mattress stitch.
    • You now have a sleeveless sweater that you could make your bear wear as is, or you could carry on to add
  • Sleeves:
    • Pick up 20 sts along sleeve hole (I ended up picking up 18 and making a couple of extra in the first round)
    • Knit 8 rounds stockinette
    • Knit 4 rounds rib stitch
    • Bind off with stretchy bind-off
  • Tidy up loose ends, make bear model sweater for social media feed.
  • (*A note on “Eastern stitch” or “Combination stitch”: I discovered it by a fluke quite recently, courtesy of one of the Offspring. I despise regular purl stitch and avoid it as much as possible, as it’s both awkward and I can never get an even tension on it. The Eastern purl does away with both of those problems for me. However, it makes the stitches lie backwards on the needle, so you have to adjust the corresponding knit stitch by knitting into the back of the loop instead of the front. Easy enough to do, and the result is very effective.)

So there you are – now your bear, too, can have his very own stylish winter sweater. For Steve, it was just in time – the thermometer suddenly dropped by some 15° over the weekend, and the winter we thought we weren’t having this year hit us in the back of the knees with a vengeance. Warm sweaters and socks are mandatory.

Life, the Universe, Stuffed Bear Sweaters and New Knitting Stitches. Keep warm out there!

**Another note: so you don’t get the impression that I’m some kind of amazing knit-wit who regularly crafts fantastic stitchery, let me just say that my knitting is haphazard and goes in very irregular spurts. I’ve been known to take years to get a project done, because often I won’t touch it for months on end (I’ll tell you about the nine-year-sweater some other time…). Then suddenly, usually with the onset of cold weather, I might get bitten by the knitting bug, and off I go again for a little while, until my knitting enthusiasm fizzles out for another stretch. Also, I do plain knitting – one colour (or preferably, lots of colours all in one ball of yarn) and as much basic knit stich as possible so I don’t have to pay too much attention. I’m a lazy and irregular knitter – but I have fun with it, which is the whole point. One of these days I’d love to learn how to spin…

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#WordlessWednesday: Disappearing Skill

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23 January 2019 · 15:39

Midnight of the Year

Steve is giving me dirty looks, guilt tripping me because I haven’t posted anything on this blog in, like, forever.

Steve and coffee mug and dirty look

Well, my excuse is that I was sick over the holidays. Two nasty bouts of flu in the space of a month. And then, somehow, I just didn’t get back on the horse…

Steve’s having none of it (stuffed bears can be so demanding!). But there I was yesterday, looking out the picture window at the view of the lake, a thick white cloud hanging so low over it it feels like I’m sitting in a kettle with the lid clapped on.

The cosiness of December has given way to cold, muck and dreariness, and it feels like I haven’t seen the sun or the blue sky in weeks. (“There is no sun. … There never was a sun,” said the Witch. “No, there never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children…) All I want to do is to curl up on the couch with my fluffy reading socks on my feet and my fluffy reading blanket over my lap, reading a fluffy novel.

And then it all of a sudden struck me: maybe that’s just what we’re meant to do this time of year? Maybe so many of us feel tired and unmotivated in winter because it’s the time when we’re supposed to sleep. This is, in fact, the midnight of the year.

Winter splinters

Or, rather, winter solstice is midnight. I learned in Physical Geography class some years ago that the hottest time is actually just after the zenith, and the coldest immediately after the nadir. So, the hottest time of day is around 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon, and the coldest time of night an hour or two after midnight – once the temperature has had time to catch up with the amount of sunshine the earth got (or didn’t get, as it were). If you correlate the cycle of the year to the hours of the day, then right now, January 18th, is about 1:50 AM.

Lake in shades of grey with lid on

And what else are you supposed to do at Ten-to-blinkin’-Two in the Morning other than sleep? Human beings are diurnal – we’re awake in the day, and sleep in the night. At least that’s what we’re designed for, notwithstanding Mr Edison and his light bulb which screwed us all over with its perpetual artificial daytime.

And so maybe that craving for fluffy socks and blankets and books is, in fact, quite normal and healthy, and ought to be indulged as much as possible. You know how, when your kids get up in the middle of the night, you roll over and just sort of grunt at them “Go back to sleep!”? Like that.

So bring on the socks and blankets and Pride and Prejudice. I’ll talk to you in the morning – umm, I mean in spring.

Life, the Universe, and the Midnight of the Year. See you when the sun comes up.

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Belated #WordlessWednesday: Light on a Winter’s Morning

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