New Beginnings

It’s a bit of a cliché, that. New Year’s Day, time for new beginnings! New goals, good intentions! If the calendar wasn’t already telling me that it’s that time of the year, a dead giveaway would be my social media feed, which is once again bristling with ads for exercise or weight loss programs (I ususally mark those ads as “inappropriate” or “offensive”). A friend of mine once stated that her goal for the new year was to stay fat and enjoy herself doing so – I can go with that, that sounds like an obtainable goal. (In other words, it’s a way of saying “My goal for the new year is to stop beating up on myself.” Alas, as with pretty much every other goal, it’s hard to stick to.)

However, having said that, I do have a liking for calendar markers. There’s something satisfying in having things happen at a specific day in the calendar. My nice DSLR camera decided yesterday, on New Year’s Eve, that its SD card had about as much as it could take – four years’ worth of photos filled it to the brim – and it quit just as I was trying to film a panorama shot of the last sun rays of 2021. So the next SD card and round of photos will start right at the beginning of 2022, and there’s something about it that tickles my fancy.

The sun going down on the Old Year
The last photo on the SD card

So all that to say, here we are, making a new start on the blog. I don’t think I need to say much about 2021 as a whole – it’s been pretty crazy all around the globe. Personally, I’d had all kinds of grand plans for what I was going to do during this year without blogging – finish books, publish books, build a big body of artwork for exhibitions, etc. Haha. Much like everything else during this year, that didn’t go according to plan.

But then, other things happened. I did a lot of knitting (aka thumb-twiddling with a purpose). I read a lot of books (most of them re-reads of old favourites – I’m almost finished with Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn series, and it’s been interesting reading them in order, front to back. I have things to say about them… but that’s a topic for another day). I took a lot of pottery classes and workshops, a not inconsiderable number of them online. In fact, that’s one of the advantages that Covid has brought to the world, the proliferation of online offerings. Clouds and silver linings and all that jazz.

But I’ll stop boring you with the non-saga of our lives. I didn’t actually have all that much to say for this first post back in the saddle, so I’ll stop saying it. Just this for now:

This is Life, the Universe, and a Rebooted Blog. See you again soon!

Sunrise on a midwinter’s morning. (You can pretend it’s rising on the New Year.)

#ThrowbackThursday: The Power of Music

I was looking at my old blog, amo1967.blogspot.com, and this post from Sept. 12, 2014, caught my interest. I clicked on the embedded Youtube video, and once again, the music lifted my spirits. It struck me how little has changed – replace “our province” in the first paragraph with “our world”, and this could have been written today. So I thought I’d share it with you.

I was feeling kind of down this morning, for a number of reasons. It’s morning, it got cloudy, the political situation in our province is not good at the moment. Especially the latter. Politics really gets me down. And much as I try to stay away from it, in this case it directly affects me, so I can’t. Ergo, frustration and depression.

And then a friend shared a video clip on Facebook (I’ll try to embed the link). It’s a group of orthodox Jewish men singing, a capella, around a table (at Seder, maybe?). It’s a five-minute movie, and it hit me straight in the heart. Hit me, and lifted my spirits. I don’t understand the words to their song, don’t even know what language they’re singing in – Yiddish, probably – but the sound cut straight through the gloom that surrounded me today. I don’t know what it is about those minor keys and the strong beat of Jewish music, but it grabs me like no other and makes me want to start dancing the grapevine.

And that’s the power of music. It bypasses all those intellectual barriers, the thoughts and ideas that crowd around us, and goes right for the emotional solar plexus. It crosses international, cultural and linguistic boundaries. And it has the power to soothe, to cheer, to comfort. Martin Luther said that “Once sung is thrice prayed” (which is why he wrote a great number of hymns for the purpose) – it’s that powerful. It can express our hearts like nothing else can, even, or perhaps especially, when words fail or when we do not even know we need the expression. That’s what I experienced today. I needed to hear that music today, and I didn’t even know it.

Life, the Universe, and the Power of Music. It lifted me out of the clouds today.

Addendum: after I posted this to Facebook, another friend of mine managed to track the singers down on Youtube. Apparently it’s the Shira Choir, from the States, and the song is called “Im Hashem Lo Yivneh Bayis” and was sung at a Bar Mitzvah. And here it is on Youtube:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckVYO9oI8vc&w=560&h=315]

Rearview Mirror on a Summer

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Long Beach, Vancouver Island

September has come, it is hers / Whose vitality leaps in the autumn…*

Except that my vitality ain’t doing too much leaping at the moment. I’m still scrambling to catch up with the long, busy, and, above all, “away” summer – you’ve seen a few of the pictures. We left home on July 9th; spent two weeks in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island; came home; then after all of two days I hopped on a plane (or rather, a series of them), and headed for Europe for a month. A few days of sightseeing in Munich; three weeks of family stuff (helping with a move, to be precise); then to cap it off, three glorious days in London.

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Marienplatz, Munich, with Mary’s Column and Old Town Hall

Six weeks, 1500 photos, a wealth of experiences and memories. My house and garden, meanwhile, went to pot. As for my writing – well, I was going to say that nothing happened on that front, either. But that would actually be quite untrue. No, I didn’t really put any words to paper (or screen, as it were). But among those 1500 photos are quite a few that I took specifically as references for my WIP (that’s short for Work In Progress, for the un-artsy of you). The whole time in Germany I was soaking up atmosphere, sounds, tastes, sights – all with a mind to how that could be put to paper. My hotel in London was a converted Regency townhouse – inspiration pure (I might just have to write a Regency novel one of these days just so I can set it in that street; it was called Burton Crescent in those days).

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Cartwright Gardens, Bloomsbury

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I want to go back…

One street over, Tavistock Square, was where both Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens lived for a while and wrote To the Lighthouse and A Tale of Two Cities, respectively. Five minutes walk up the street was the British Library – I got to see original manuscripts by (i.e. stare in awe at the notebooks of) Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Oscar Wilde; my jaw literally dropped when in one of the gorgeous glass cases I saw the Lindisfarne Gospels, and in another the Codex Sinaiticus… But I didn’t just revel in high-brow literature – I stopped in at King’s Cross Station and took a look at the Platform 9 3/4 store with its trolley stuck into the wall, too.

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The one and only portrait of Jane Austen, by her sister Cassandra. National Portrait Gallery, London.

I drank Bavarian beer in Munich, Württemberger wine in Stuttgart, and English cider in London; I ate pork roast with dumplings in the Hofbräuhaus, lentils and spätzle in the old part of Stuttgart, and beef-and-ale pie in a pub by King’s Cross. I got claustrophobic in the Bloody Tower as one of the bloody masses of tourists and sat in silence in the Stiftskirche in Stuttgart among a few other visitors stopped in to pray. I revelled in train rides and was moved to tears by world-famous paintings. And in between, I packed boxes and unpacked boxes; walked to the grocery store, walked to public transit, walked to visit people, and on Sundays went for walks by way of recreation.

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Beef pie and Symonds cider, in honest-to-goodness London pub

And now I’m back home in the land of peaches and salsa and grapes, where one has to take the car even to buy a jug of milk. I have limitless wi-fi again, so I’m catching up with what I’ve missed on the internet (which I haven’t actually missed that much – I’m considering making this a lifestyle). And I’m bound and determined to get back to writing. I have great good intentions to regularly sit down and work on my, well, work. One can always be optimistic, no? I certainly have enough inspiration to carry me along for a while.

Life, the Universe, and a Long Busy Travelling Summer. Now to process all those impressions…

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Franz Marc, “Birds”. Lenbachhaus, Munich. So beautiful it made me cry.

*opening line from a poem by Louis McNeice, Autumn Journal

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.

 

How to Handle Writer Jealousy

This is such an excellent post by Kate M. Colby, I had to reblog it to share with you all. Her advice is actually good for all kinds of jealousy, not just that of one writer for another (so don’t think you have an excuse not to read & apply it). I shall now try to stop feeling jealous of Kate’s writer & blogger success, and do something about mine instead…