So This Just Happened…

My very good friend E. L. Bates (aka Louise) advertised my books on Tumblr to someone who was looking for Domestic Fantasy (because she’s that kind of friend). And they went and bought them.

And then they MADE FAN ART ABOUT THEM.

I might have just burst into tears when I saw this… I love it so much.

So of course I had to join Tumblr in order to comment. I’m still kind of lost on that site, but I do think you can click on the image above to go straight to the artist’s page (I didn’t copy and paste, these are just the links to the Tumblr page).

Incidentally, one of the things I love about it is that they made Cat brown-skinned. I hadn’t thought of her that way, but she totally could be. In fact, I think she is.

This is a scene from the end of Cat and Mouse – if you haven’t read it, go check it out.

And here’s another one: Bibby.

Yes, indeed, isn’t Bibby adorable? And aren’t those sketches wonderful?

That’s Life, the Universe, and My Very Own Fan Art. I just can’t get over it.

Happy Bloggiversary to Us!

Ten years ago! Exactly ten years ago Steve and I put up our first blog post, here. Right after I’d taken a blogging course at the local college. The instructor said to be sure to post photos, so Steve offered to model, and, well, the rest is history.

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Historic image of Steve, Aug. 1, 2010

Hmm, looking back at that photo of him, Steve has aged a bit in the last ten years. He’s spent a fair bit of time smooshed into travel bags and riding around in the bottom of backpacks; that’s what you get for being a world-renowned cover model. His natty necktie is looking rather more crumpled these days, and his fur is a bit matted. But he’s still the feisty small bear that he’s always been.

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Steve, herbs, and the old watering can, Aug. 1, 2020

Speaking of herbs (we were speaking of them, weren’t we? Well, Steve was. The rosemary and green onions were tickling him in the nose), I actually put up two blog posts that first day ten years ago. The first one was the bloggy birth announcement. The second one was on – Surprise! – food.

Under the heading of “Joyful Eating”, I said this:

I’m reading Julie and Julia, which is surely required reading for any new-baked hopeful blogger (book contract, here I come? Uh… never mind).

Apart from the fact that Julie Powell is a whole lot more foul-mouthed, albeit also funnier, in her writing than Amy Adams portrays her in the movie, what strikes me about the book is the sheer pleasure Julie gets from her cooking. She cooks not from a vague sense of “shoulds”, from a desire to follow the latest tenet in the religion of “thou shalt/shalt not eat this-n-that”, but because it’s sheer, unadulterated pleasure. Well, the eating is, anyway; the cooking, not always so much (the story of her first extraction of marrow from a beef bone is rather entertaining. Even if she didn’t find it so at the moment).Here, listen to this:

“Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It’s not what I thought it was. … It’s joy. […] I didn’t understand for a long time, but what attracted me to MtAoFC [Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child’s book] was the deeply buried aroma of hope and discovery of fulfillment in it. I thought I was using the book to learn to cook French food, but really I was learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility.” (page 356 in the paperback edition).

She’s talking about a cookbook here, people.

In fact, that last quote reminds me of nothing so much as my favourite un-diet book, French Women Don’t Get Fat (Mireille Guiliano). It’s all about that: eat delicious food, in portions small enough so you can enjoy it, because it’s just so dang good. Because it’s all about life. Not about calories, not about “thou shalt”. The joy of eating, eating for joy.

Hmm. Maybe it’s time I re-read Julie’s book. Or re-watched the movie. Or both. Tap back into the joy of food, the joy of eating, the let’s-not-overeat-because-it-spoils-the-pleasure. Sometimes it good to take a trip down memory lane; you might find a few things you’d inadvertantly left behind.

Steve and I are a bit more crumpled these days, the fur a little matted, the hair going grey. We’ve accomplished some pretty big things together – university degrees, book publications, trips and events. And then there were long stretches of, more or less, curling up in corners wishing the world would go away.

But as you can see, in essentials we haven’t changed much. It’s still about “amo vitam“, “I love life”. It’s good to remind myself of it, because really, that’s never changed. Even the tag line is the same. Maybe it’s time for a new one? Naaah, let’s not fix what’s working.

So I’ll sign off with the old line from ten years ago – it’s still valid.

Life, the universe, and a grilled steak with greek salad, pita bread and hummus. Oh yeah.

 

Forgotten Gratefulness

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FORGOTTEN GRATEFULNESS

Gratefulness.
I’ve forgotten about gratefulness.
I’ve been standing in front of a full cupboard, starving.
Starving for joy,
My heart drying up into a hard, shrivelled knob,
Weakening to a limp, wilting shoot.
Gratefulness.
I’ve forgotten that joy
Is there for the taking,
That it is around me
All the time.
Gratefulness.

What shall today’s litany be?

I am grateful for, today:
I am grateful for today.
My celadon green mug.
Soft thick yarn.
The blanket.
The view (always the view).
The colour and pattern and texture of my kaftan.
A day without obligations, so I can finish my mugs.
My computer.
Books.
Movies to watch on my computer.
Good food – eggs and toast and butter and jam – to eat for breakfast.
A lovely kitchen to cook it in.
Air to draw into my lungs,
Lungs to draw air into.

And I feel my heart expand
And my head lift up,
Joy flowing back into my veins.

24.07.2020

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PS: Gratefulness.org: “A Heart with Wings”

#ThrowbackThursday: It’s a Mystery

This is a post from eight years ago, July 8, 2012, from my old blog over on Blogger. Still valid. Hmm, I think I could start rereading those M. M. Kaye mysteries again; I’ve probably forgotten whodunnit by now.

It’s a Mystery

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I really like mystery novels. It’s a little odd, that, as I loathe and abhor violence, and you pretty much can’t get any more violent that murder. But for some reason, reading about cranky old rich men being offed for their money doesn’t disturb me, probably because it’s not a fate that’s likely to ever befall me – I’m not a man, will (alas) probably never be rich, and as for being cranky and old, I’m hoping to stave those off for a while yet.

Actually, there is a weird sense of safety in reading murder mysteries – the kind I like, anyway, which are the English cozies, preferably the genuine “Golden Age” article à la Agatha Christie & Co. They’re set in a proscribed circle of people, in a time and place far removed from my own reality, and the sleuth always finds out whodunnit, so justice is served and peace restored. And if the story includes a charming romance between a pretty young girl and a handsome young man (amateur detective, part of “the Force”, or simply mysterious stranger, I’m not picky on that), then my satisfaction is complete. Ah, escapism.

However, there’s one thing that strikes me as being a genuine mystery, in reading mysteries. It concerns those aforementioned charmingly beautiful young girls. In addition to being charming and beautiful, they are usually also quite intelligent – it’s part of what makes them so well suited for being a focal point of the story. They see the clues, they sense that something is wrong, they shiver in the cold draft emanating from the sinisterly-left-open window and jump when the soft-footed tabby cat silently brushes by them in the darkened room where they sit, thinking about the handsome young man who is so disturbing to their tender feelings but might still be the murderer. They even almost solve the mystery, usually. However, they seem to be afflicted by a peculiar disability.

See, it’s like this: whenever one such girl is told, usually by said handsome young man of chiselled brow and masterful demeanor, that she should not, under any circumstances, tell anyone of her suspicions (which she has just voiced to him in the darkness of the night, leaning on the balcony railing overlooking the rose garden) – or, alternatively, that she should not, whatever else she may do, leave the house without informing him of it (this is usually accompanied by a look of more than usual seriousness from the grey/brown/deep-blue eyes of said handsome gent) – somehow or other it seems to cause the girl’s brains to trickle out of her pink and shell-like ears. Or something like it.

Because as soon as a directive of this kind is issued, the girl is guaranteed to do the very thing she was told not to do. She hears the command, fully agrees to it, but somehow always figures that it must not apply to Mrs White (who is, after all, only the cook), or Colonel Mustard (who is surely too pukka sahib to have done anything so sordid as commit the murder), with the inevitable result that she spills the beans to and/or leaves the house in the company of the murderer him- or herself. Of course, as anybody could tell her, it directly leads to her undergoing several pages’ worth of hair-raising suspense, being menaced by said murderer in the kitchen/conservatory/ball room with the revolver/rope/lead pipe while he or she monologues about his or her reasons for committing the murder and gleefully prophecies that no one will ever find the girl’s body, foolish thing. All of which she could have avoided if she had only paid attention to what she was told.

So what do you think – auditory processing disorder? Something that affects only one very small part of what she’s hearing? Because it can’t be stupidity; the whole rest of the book establishes very clearly that the girl in question is not stupid.

Ah well. It doesn’t really matter all that much, because, fortunately, in the nick of time, just as the murderer is about to pull the trigger/tighten the rope/swing the lead pipe, he of the chiselled features comes bursting (or, alternatively, stealthily creeping) through the french doors, incapacitates the villain (having taken careful note of the monologued confession which clears up the remaining questions about the murderer’s guilt), then roughly pulls the girl into his arms while angrily exclaiming “Don’t ever do this again, darling!” and presses a hard kiss on her trembling lips, thereby removing the last vestiges of doubts that the girl had about her feelings for him, and/or making her realize for the first time why she always went weak at the knees whenever he glared at her (which she had previously taken for a sign of dislike). D’oh. The End.

Life, the Universe, and Mysteries. It’s a mystery, what?

Yours Truly @ Enchanted Conversation: On Spindles and a Pet Peeve

I recently let off a rant about spinning wheels and one of my pet peeves, and Kate on Enchanted Conversation Magazine kindly consented to publish it. Here you go:

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On Spindles and a Pet Peeve

Enchanted Conversation recently republished an older post by Elizabeth Creith, a highly informative article on flax that is aptly entitled “STRAW INTO GOLD.” As a fairly new convert to spinning, it caught my interest—and it reminded me of one of my pet peeves where “spinning and fairy tales” is concerned. 
 
Full disclosure: I let my fascination with “Sleeping Beauty”—my favorite fairy tale—led me down the garden path into learning to spin. First it was a drop spindle, then a little castle wheel, and now I own an old Ashford Traditional, which is one of those really classic items that look exactly like what you’d expect to see when you hear “spinning wheel.” You know, a big flywheel; a treadle; a thing that whizzes around; sharp pointy bits sticking out at every angle for unwary princesses to prick their fingers on and fall into hundred-year sleeps… 
 
Actually, no. My spinning wheel, which is one of the earliest iterations of this model of wheel, has no pointy bits on it anywhere. None. Zero. Nada. It does have the flywheel and the treadle and the thing that whizzes around, though. The latter item is called the flyer, and it contains, right in its center, the spindle. Which, on this kind of wheel, is a hollow tube. Did I mention “no pointy bits”?
 
So what, then, did the princess prick her finger on?
 
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it.
Life, the Universe, and the Pointy Bit on Spindles. Hop on over to EC and leave a comment!
 

Straw Berries

I was probably in my teens, visiting relatives in the Lake Contance region, the fruit basket of Germany, close to the Swiss border. We were going for a walk, and came by a large strawberry field. All along the ground beneath the plants was spread a thick layer of straw.

And all of a sudden the penny dropped: strawberries!

I was already familiar with the English word, which I had learned in school. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “[t]here is no corresponding compound in other Germanic languages”; the German word is Erdbeere, earth (or ground) berry – presumably because they grow so low to the ground. But seeing that straw spread under the berries suddenly made sense of the English word.

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“What’s the straw for?” I wondered. Somebody explained (or maybe I figured it out myself, I don’t remember): it’s to keep the ripening berries from sitting and rotting directly on the damp soil.

It makes sense that in rainy England, it would have been common practise to protect the precious crop that way, and so have given rise to the name. Strawberries are extremely susceptible to wet: they can rot in a matter of hours on a rainy day, right on the vine, and even after they’ve been picked. (So if you’re picking strawberries, do it when the sun is shining; and if you’ve brought home a flat of strawberries from the farmer’s market on a soggy, dreary day, better get them into those jam jars or freezer bags ASAP, or you’ll lose half your purchase. Yes, I know that from experience.)

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I have no idea if “strawing” the berries is common practise anywhere, or is even done anymore back in the Lake Constance region. However, in my own garden, I actually got some strawberries for the first time this year (I don’t have much of a green thumb, so this is a triumph). And, well, I didn’t “straw” them, but I had a cardboard box of wood shavings around (I think they were left from somebody’s project). So I “sawdusted” the beds between the berries. Or one of them, anyway – I didn’t get around to the other one in time. And sure enough, the berries in the bed with the wood shavings were nice and clean; the other ones had dirt stuck to them and weren’t as happy-looking. I’m going to have to see about doing this again next year – I think grass clippings would work as well, or maybe even bark mulch.

And meanwhile, we’re going to enjoy this year’s strawberry harvest, the whole pound of it.

Life, the Universe, and the Straw in Strawberries. The best fruit ever.

PS: Old-fashioned strawberry jam: 1 kg of strawberries, 800 g of sugar. Mash the berries, mix with the sugar, bring to a rolling boil, boil for 10 minutes. Put in clean jars and cap to keep from drying out (doesn’t need to be sterilized or refrigerated; the sugar is preservative enough). Very sweet, very tasty, keeps in the cupboard for a long time (except it doesn’t because it gets eaten so fast).