Category Archives: life

News from the Writing Trenches: #amtravelling, #amwriting

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I know I’ve been really quiet on here lately – well, it’s because life happens. Steve and I are on the road at the moment, and will be for most of the rest of the summer, visiting friends and family, and doing a little bit of sightseeing – no, sorry, research! – on the side.

But I thought I’d let you know that writing is still happening, in a manner of speaking. Some of it is just thinking about it (long drives in the car are perfect for that); some is editing of previous work; some is writing in short bursts in a little notebook. The latter is a new one for me – I do all my “serious” writing on the computer. But maybe this very “being not serious” that writing longhand in a tiny book entails is what I need at the moment.

So, writing still goes on. I’ll let you know when there’s something to let you know. Meanwhile, I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for new experiences, scenes and ideas – writing material is everywhere.

Now Steve’s got his backpack on and he’s ready to go for another day, so I better get on with it.

Life, the Universe, and News From The Writing Trenches. Happy Summer!

PS: If you do Twitter or Instagram, you can follow me at @amoffenwanger – I’ll be posting the odd picture there.

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Jill of All Trades

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Way back, when I first started blogging, I took a blogging course. If you want readers, the teacher said, make your blog be about something. Have a focus! But I didn’t. Because I can’t.

There are lots of blogs that are about one thing, and one thing only. I have friends who write about sewing or knitting. There’s several blogs I follow that are all about fairy tales (like this, or this one). Writers, of course, have blogs about writing. There are great blogs about food (incredible numbers of them! reams of them! mountains of them!). Or Jane Austen. Or photography. Or Norfolk in the 18th century.

To be honest, I feel a bit inferior to those bloggers, if not a bit jealous of them. They’re serious about what they’re doing. They have lots of followers. They know their stuff; their blogs are interesting. But mine… Well, there’s food. And fairy tales. And photos. And Austen, and writing, and pottery and soap-making and history and gardening and cats and herbology and musings on mental health; and then the occasional interlude with a small stuffed bear (he’s been there from the very beginning).

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Chive vinegar I made yesterday

Stick with one thing? I’m sorry, I can’t. Never have been able to. No, I don’t have ADHD (Squirrel!) – more like CCS, Chronic Curiosity Syndrome. There are just too many interesting topics out there for me to restrain myself to just one. I’ll get bitten by an interest bug, and then I’m utterly passionate about it for a while – and then I lose interest, and move on to something else.

Some fifteen years ago, I was crazy about fish – as in, aquaria, not the kind you cook. I’d haunt the pet shops, drooling over the nice setups with the 30-gallon tanks and live plants. A few years before that, it was heirloom sewing and embroidery – hand-stitching clothes with no sewing machine whatsoever (I made some tiny little night gowns for my new baby, and a couple of rag dolls). Cooking. Quilting. Bread making. Soaping. Painting (both walls and pictures – the latter in watercolour, oil, acrylic, pastels…). English history. Calligraphy. Jewellery making. Dollhouses. Furniture building. Art history. Guitar (and recorder, percussion, harmonica; even a tiny bit of piano and pan flute…). Growing herbs, and using them for food and medicine. Been there, done that, all of it; and plenty others besides.

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“Very Small Ink People”, 2011. Ink & Watercolour, 8×10″.

I am, indeed, a Jill of All Trades. But you know the rest of that saying, don’t you? Jack of all trades, master of none. That’s because Jack never sticks with anything long enough to get really good at it.

That’s me – there’s a lot of things that I know how to do or know something about, but it’s all at the level of a first-year apprentice. I play guitar quite well, but nobody would come to hear me in concert. I can paint, but no one is beating on my door begging me for another piece to add to their collection. I’m a darn good cook, even if I say so myself, but I’m not about to open a restaurant. I can make pottery dishes, but they’re none of them exactly the same size or shape, or else great one-off pieces of art. I’m a mine of trivia on history and Jane Austen and fairy tales and herb lore and folk customs, but I’m not going to write books on any of those topics.

Well, maybe not books – but I can write blog posts. Snippets of any and all of these things. That’s why this blog is called “amo vitam” – “I love life”. Some of everything. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Actually, I do have a Master’s degree. But guess what it’s in? I’m a Master of Arts, in Integrated Studies. I got a degree in not making up my mind; I’m a Master of Some-of-Everything-Please. Jill of All Trades, Mistress of Mixed Pickles.

And so that’s what this blog is, too: a great big crock of mixed pickles. (Hmm, crock. Sauerkraut. I want a Sauerkraut crock, one of those straight-sided buff stoneware ones, for making and storing homemade Kraut like they did in the Old Country. I should make myself one. Let’s see… Oh! Oops, sorry, where were we? Right, blog. Mixed pickles.) Yes, I know that it won’t make my blog one of those go-to ones for expert information; that it won’t be one of those sites that people quote in academic papers. And you know what? I think I’m okay with that.

Life, the Universe, and Everything. It’s always been about that.

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Steve and some patriotic flowers.

 

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Too Many Projects, Too Much To Do – Really?

I was going to post this collage yesterday for Wordless Wednesday. Overwhelmed with too many projects, with too much to do.

But then I remembered something I recently saw scrolling past online:

People compete over being busy; it’s about showing status. “If you’re busy, you’re important. You’re leading a full and worthy life.”

(Brigid Schulte, in this article)

Gah. Is that what I’m trying to say here? Am I trying to show off how terribly busy, therefore terribly important, I am?

Actually, no. That wasn’t my intention when I took those photos. It was really more by way of an excuse: See, because I’m already so very busy and so very overwhelmed, that’s why I still haven’t finished Star Bright. Why I haven’t read all of your blogs and left profound comments. Why I don’t post more fascinating articles on fairy tales, or Jane Austen, or How To Be a Better Writer and Human Being In General. Why my front (and back) yard is a mess (never mind the inside of my house). Why I haven’t had you over for dinner, or sent you birthday cards on time. Why, in short, I haven’t done all those things that I think I ought to be doing, that I think all of you are doing (I have proof, from your blogs and Facebook and Twitter and all), that would make me an accomplished and worthy person.

It was a plea for validation: Look, I really am busy! I’m not a slacker, honest I’m not!

Brigid Schulte again:

Psychologists treat burned-out clients who can’t shake the notion that the busier you are, the faster you work; the more you multi-task, the more you are considered competent, smart, successful. It’s the Protestant work ethic in overdrive.

Being overwhelmed as a status symbol – as a sign that I am, indeed, a worthwhile person, as valuable as you.

Really?

That is not how I want to live my life. And not the image I want to project outward here.

But what, then, is the way to live?

Maybe a small first step is to become aware of this attitude, and consciously reject it. Slow down. Slow food, slow life, slow writing. Slow gardening? Staying put instead of running.

Maybe it’s a start.

Life, the Universe, and Being Overwhelmed. Will you join me in rejecting that status symbol?

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Following My Heart’s Desire

A reblog from Helen Jones. What she says here about painting and writing, I could have written myself, word for word (including the “sold a few pieces, been exhibited once, have some on my own walls”). Writing has indeed let me find my passion. I’m still working on finding that daily groove like Helen has, but like her, writing is here to stay with me.

Journey To Ambeth

img_3702I published this post in October 2014, back in the early days of my blog. I came across it the other day and realised that it still rang true. So I thought I’d share it again.

As I walked home from school after dropping my daughter off the other morning, I pondered, as I usually do, the latest plot twists in the book I’m writing. Then it struck me that this is what I do now. I thought back to a couple of years ago, before I started writing about Ambeth and all the other stories coming through me and was amazed by how my life has changed.

‘Will I always be like this?’ I thought to myself. ‘Is this it now, or will I look back in a few years time, shaking my head at how obsessed I was, how writing was a compulsion, a daily requirement?’

You know…

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Comfort Tunes

I had the flu last week. After an exceptionally busy weekend, bam, it knocked me out. Nothing dramatic – no more than a cold with benefits – but it just really dragged me down. In old books (Agatha Christie, say), they sometimes talk of people going into a depression “after a bout of influenza”; that’s not something you hear about often today, the concept that an illness can do more to you than give you a few coughs and sniffles.

So, point being, I was better by the beginning of this week, but only in a manner of speaking. I’ve still been dragging my emotional butt all week. The sunshine we had for a few days certainly helped (see Wednesday’s “Wordless” post), but then today, as per the promise of the weather forecast, the clouds fell down on us, and it started snowing again.

img_20170203_111135328So here I am, socked in at my house. I can’t even see the lake from the windows, it’s 9° below freezing, and the fine powder snow is relentlessly drifting down onto the world. And thoughts and feelings snow down onto my mind, piling up, pushing down; the ticking of the clock slicing my thoughts into slivers.

But then I reached for the CD player, and I took out the Sense and Sensibility soundtrack, the one from the 1995 movie, the score by Patrick Doyle. I put the disc into the player, pushed “Start”, and let the sound of the violins wash over me. And almost immediately, I felt better. Calmed, soothed, uplifted. The slivered thoughts reassembled themselves into a jigsaw puzzle – or perhaps they didn’t; perhaps they suddenly just didn’t matter so much. The music flowed around them, washing their jagged edges into rounded softness.

img_20170203_110932259The sounds lifted me out of this snowed-in, cold February day in 2017 North America, and in my mind I was in Austen’s (and Ang Lee’s) England, among green fields and sunshine, ladies in soft pastel gowns and gentle men in boots and greatcoats. Patrick Doyle’s musical genius never fails to move me, the half hour of the soundtrack taking me through a speed version of the film, of the story; and when the final, triumphant track “Throw the Coins” surges into its upswing, I know once again that the world can be all right, that heartbreak and darkness make way to love and sunshine.

Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said that music “soothes the savage breast”? It does. And it brings comfort to a cold, dark day. A day where now the falling snow outside is once again just cosy, the ticking of the clock a calming heartbeat to my life.

Life, the Universe, and Tunes That Comfort. What music do you reach for on those days?

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Taking Risks

Our local NaNoWriMo group is engaged on a new venture: we decided to take things a step further and form a Critique Group. A week ago we had our first meeting, and we decided that every month, everyone would submit few pages of their work, and we’d all read it and give each other feedback. Sounds great, right?

Now, in the week since, two of our group members have put up posts on their blogs, saying basically the same thing, namely how scary it is to stick out your neck and hand over your work to someone else to criticise. And the reaction I had to both their posts was nothing so much as, “You feel that way, too?”

See, in the group, we’re all very self-assured, poised, and articulate; we have things to say and opinions to state; we’re writers; we’re cool. But, as it turns out, when we go home and look over our material for something to send to everyone, we want to pull in our little snail antennae and cower in our shells, quietly whimpering. Because sending our stuff out there into the world is risky!

So as I was sitting here this morning thinking about this, beside me on the kitchen floor played out a little drama: Louis the Now-Very-Large Kitten was stalking a stinkbug. (Don’t ask me what the stinkbug was doing in my kitchen in January. Maybe it hitched a ride into the house on a piece of firewood on which it was trying to overwinter?)img_20170123_085236161

Now Louis is the kind of cat who, whatever else you can say about him, is not a tim’rous wee beastie. He’s curious. And persistent. The bottle caps and walnuts in the shell that he has slain number in the dozens, and the corpses are accumulated in the corners of the living room and under the kitchen stove drawer. So when there was this new and very interesting black little thing moving about the kitchen floor all on its own, Louis was mesmerised. He stared at it. He put out a paw and batted it. He stared at it some more, and batted at it some more – and so on.img_20170123_085107300

After quite a while of this, he decided on a different approach: he tried to take a bite. And the inevitable happened: the stinkbug sprayed.

Well! Louis jerked back. He made faces. Pt pt pt pt! he tried to spit the icky taste out of his mouth. He climbed on a cardboard box to get the high-ground advantage over this unexpectedly dangerous thing, squinting down at it with eyes that were obviously stinging with stinkbug juice. He blinked and blinked again, went pt pt! a few more times – and then he went right after the bug again. More cautiously this time – he stayed well back for a few minutes, stalking it from a distance – but he kept at it. He crawled between the potted plants, flipped over the patio door mat to find it – he wasn’t going let that funny black thing get away from him. Even though it squirted icky stuff in his face, Louis was determined to get that bug. He took a risk – he got burned – and he went right back to risk again.img_20170123_094659458

How very metaphorical, isn’t it? Louis the Cat and the Stinkbug. Now, I’m not saying that us writers are stinkbugs – uh, no. But that large orange-and-white fuzzball was rather inspiring this morning. He exuberantly takes risks, gets results that sting, then goes right on risking.img_20170123_091837762

So even if getting feedback on your stories can sometimes sting (and sometimes stink, as well), it’s worth going back to risk it again. And the good thing is that as writers we know we all feel the same – sharing our work is scary. But we do it anyway.

Life, the Universe, Stink Bugs and Writers. I think Louis would say that the exhilaration of the hunt is worth the sting.

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Keeping Food for Winter

A reblog from William Savage, whose blog I discovered recently.
This post is quite fascinating. I’ve never eaten purslane, just pulled it out of my garden as a weed; it’s supposed to be quite good. Pickled asparagus, however, you can even buy in the grocery store here. Storing lettuce in sand for winter – never heard of that, but again, sometimes you can get “gourmet” lettuces here – little butterhead ones – with the roots still attached, which I guess is the same principle.
As for the word “walm” (check the footnote), I bet that that’s where we get “overwhelmed” from!
I want a copy of that “Compleat Housewife” book he talks about. Wonder where you could get it.

Pen and Pension

pickled-purslaneIn the days before refrigeration and canning, different means for keeping foodstuffs edible over the winter were an essential part of every household’s routine. If you didn’t pay attention to this, much of your harvest would go to waste. Besides, if your own stores failed or were inadequate, you couldn’t easily make up the deficit through purchases.

Some fruits, like apples and pears, could be stored for several months by setting them on racks in a cool place. Others had to be cooked with sugar and preserved in jars, sealed with butter or fat — no rubber seals yet. Pickling could work for others, or even drying. Quite a few fruits were dried, many we would not think of drying today, like gooseberries.

Unusual Choices

You quite often find unusual or surprising recipes in cookbooks from the eighteenth century. All the ones in this post come from “The Compleat Housewife”

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