Catching Up (“All the World’s a Stage” etc.)

Yes, I know. It’s been a while since I put up a proper post.  It’s been such a busy spring and summer, with all those summery things like harvest, and trying to keep up with the garden (I didn’t), and food processing, and several major family events/travel opportunities. (As I said on Twitter a while back: while having your family living a long ways away can be a pain in the rear, visiting them does make for good #amtravelling occasions).

I’ve been back home for almost a month now, but it took me several weeks to feel I’d “arrived home” again. I landed, and hit the ground running – well, stumbling-staggering-falling-on-my-nose, more like. But eventually, I got caught up on the jobs that were waiting for me, processed another couple of boxes of peaches (and fended off the clouds of fruit flies that inevitably moved in with them), did a massive grocery run to refill the depleted freezer, wrote a new chapter of my latest WIP for my critique group, and so on and so forth – in short, sort of settled back into normal life, whatever that means.

But it’s been a lovely summer – so many great memories. If you’re connected with me on social media (Instagram, Twitter or Facebook), you’ll have seen some of the pictures of our adventures (yes, Steve was there all along, too). I just got the newsletter from the Globe Theatre in London – yes, “Shakespeare’s Globe” – and in my mind I was right back there, standing in the yard with the other groundlings, watching Pericles

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In fact, we went to the Globe twice, the Travelling-Companion-Offspring and I, on our three-day stop in London on our way to the aforementioned family event. We’d met with my friend Helen Jones – you know, the writer! – and had lunch at a pub just a few steps over from the Globe. Then we traipsed through the pouring rain over to the afternoon performance of A Comedy of Errors. When we booked the tickets before our trip, I was being wimpy and didn’t think I wanted to stand on my feet for two hours, watching the show. So we’d shelled out big £££ for the privilege of having seats, under cover, while the groundlings (standing-room tickets) in the open yard had the rain dumping down on them (many of them had on cheap rain ponchos from the gift shop that said things like “Hey, Ho, the wind and the rain” on the back). It was a wonderful performance. There’s something to be said for watching Shakespeare the way it was meant to be played, on a stage jutting out into the open yard, no curtain, no fancy scene backdrops – just the actors doing their thing, and doing it so very well indeed.

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Then the next day, I got to hang out with my wonderful friend Louise (E. L.) Bates, who came up from Cambridge for the day. We went to the Victoria & Albert Museum; then had a lovely tea, with scones and everything, in a tea room across from the British Museum; then on our way back to King’s Cross Station took a detour and found Bloomsbury Publishing (which took a bit of hunting, as their premises don’t look any different from any of the other houses in the square), and took selfies in front of their door. Yeah, well, writers, you know. No, we don’t fancy ourselves J. K. Rowling, but hey, we had fun. (Louise being from the States originally, and me from Canada, we tend to spend a lot of time going “We can’t believe we’re doing this! In London! Eeep!”)

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I dropped off Louise at King’s Cross, and met up with the Offspring again, and we looked at each other and said, “Should we go back to the Globe?” The groundling tickets only cost £5… So, yes, we went back. The tube train we went on got stuck (some accident on the line), so we pulled up Google Maps on our phones and figured out what other route to take (the Circle Line, getting out at Southwark), and we arrived at the Globe ten minutes after the performance had already started – but it didn’t matter. We paid our £5, snuck in the side door, and stood under the warm, darkening summer sky not ten feet away from the edge of the stage, letting the company take us away to Tyre and Tarsus and Pentapolis… I forgot about my aching feet, forgot about the sandwich I had in my backpack (there hadn’t been time to eat supper before the show), forgot about being jet-lagged and exhausted. This 400-year-old play, in a replica of a 400-year-old theatre, has as much power to move as it did when it was first written and performed.

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The next day we went to see Buckingham Palace, just because I wanted to be able to say I’ve seen it. Okay, now I’ve seen it. It’s BIG (bigger than it looks in books and TV shows), and the crowds of tourists milling around in front of it were very touristy. Well, rocks and glass houses, dontcha know, so, enough about that.

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And then it was already time to head out to Gatwick Airport for the next phase of our journey, which involved family, and friends, and cake and bread and cheese and meat and Sauerkraut and shopping and cider and scrubbing bathroom tiles and riding a tandem bike around Munich and celebrating and conversations and coffee and cooking and… In short, all those things that a family visit usually entails.

And after three weeks of that, back on the plane, and a head-first dive back into our everyday Canadian lives…

SCENE: Western Canada, a living room.

AMO, sitting on couch with laptop computer. Enter stage left, STEVE, a small stuffed bear.

STEVE: Why dost thou waffle on incessantly?

AMO: ‘Tis needful, small and fluffy animal.

Yon readers, waiting there with bated breath

For great effusions of my warbling wit

These many moons have been deprived.

I must…

STEVE: Oh, whatever.

Yeah, I don’t think the Bard had to contend with a Steve in his life. But the bear has a point – I think this is enough for now. So here’s me, exit stage left, pursued by a bear.

Life, the Universe, and a Summer full of Living and Travels and Shakespeare. All the world’s a stage…

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.

#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!

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…

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.