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.

 

It’s Been a While

It’s been a while, hasn’t it. More than three months, to be precise. Steve and My Man and I went to Europe at the end of February for another family-event-with-stopover-in-London-on-the-way. While we were there, Covid-19 started ramping up, which did spoil the fun a bit, so when we came home in early March, we hunkered down with the family and pretty much stayed put.

I’ve been spending a lot of time ever since making things. Getting my hands into clay and garden dirt and bread dough (not all at once, silly! I do wash my hands in between) helps my soul stay grounded and cope with this very, very strange and disconcerting time.

Here’s a few pictures:

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The British Museum,
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where I saw 5000-year-old spindle whorls from Troy. (Five! Thousand! Years! Old!)
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At the Tower of You-know-where. (The Yeoman Warder was hilarious.)
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Random kettle on London sidewalk. Because you never know when you’ll need a cuppa.
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Seven Dials
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Way Out
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In Germany it was spring.
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Then we came home.
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I made pots
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and I spun yarn
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and I grew seedlings
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and I made bread
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and I had glaze failures
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and I drew wonky pictures
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and I delighted in birds
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and I made weird poetry.
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Steve was there, too.

And now it’s almost summer; the garden is growing and so are the dust bunnies in the corners of the house; I’ve almost run out of good clay and need to reconstitute the dried-up stuff I’ve been saving up for several years; I’m part-way through editing a novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo a few years ago; and Steve is telling me I ought to get back to writing some stories with bears in them (he’s a stuffed animal of a one-track-mind).

So now you know. How’s things been with you?

Life, the Universe, and Coping in the Time of Covid-19. Making things helps.

Gratuitous Imagery

This poor blog has been rather neglected lately, after the flurry of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (if you’ve not read that one – a Christmas story in twelve instalments – go do so. You’ll enjoy it. I think.).

Part of the reason for the long silence is that it’s been taking me longer and longer to write posts. I’ve got away from the fine art of knocking out a post and putting it out there in short order, and one of the reasons for that is that it takes me so long to find the right image to put with the post. Because, you have to have a photo with a post! It’s a rule.

I’m serious(ish) – I talked about that in my first blog post ever, which, now that I think of it, was almost ten years ago (hmm, tenth bloggiversary… might have to celebrate). “Never have a blog post without a picture,” my blogging course teacher said, so in that first post, I put in a gratuitous photo of my stuffed bear.

“That’s Steve,” I said. “He’s better-looking than me, not to mention more photogenic, so he gets to have his picture in the blog first.” Here’s the picture in question:

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Steve in 2010. He hasn’t aged a bit, has he?

But finding images for blog posts, even gratuitous ones, take a lot of time – you can’t just use any old photo off the Internet, there are copyright issues. I’ve been mostly using my own, and well, there are only so many that work. But then I found out this morning that WordPress has a library of free searchable stock photos, courtesy of Pexels. Thousands of free pictures! How great is that?

So to try it out, I did a search for (of course) “fairy tales”. What came up are several ethereal-looking blonde girls with flowing-maned horses – cliché much? But then there’s also a couple of lovely pieces: 

gray bridge and trees


One that made me scratch my head a bit is this:

Because, steam engines are an integral part of classic fairy tales, yeah?

And then of course there had to be Neuschwanstein. Sigh…


But, there you have it – gratuitous imagery, readily available for the time-crunched blogger. I’ll be making use of it.

Life, the Universe, and Gratuitous Imagery. Let’s hope it’ll help wake up the blog again.

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…

#WordlessWednesday: What I Did On My Holidays

 

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.

This and That and Bears

Mornin’, all. Steve’s been reminding me that it’s been a while since you all had an update on how he’s doing, so I figured I’d better humour him.

His big news is that he just had a labelectomy. What’s that, you ask? Oh, it’s this thing that happens in Stuffed-Animal-Land, when you have your manufacturer’s labels cut off your rear end. Steve didn’t mind them so much, but they did make him self-conscious about his back view:

amovitam: Steve with labels

So we finally took the plunge and gave him the snip. He’s hanging in there.

amovitam: Steve hanging in there

In other news, he’s pleased about this year’s choice of NaNoWriMo project: an adaptation of “Snow White and Rose Red”, a fairy tale that prominently features a bear. Originally I was going to work on Septimus Book 5, but then a friend suggested that we both do an adaptation of a fairy tale – the same fairy tale – so how could I resist? I think my friend is doing a SciFi; mine is going to be a contemporary mystery/romance (I hope). Needless to say, my Snow White and Rose Red are not going to be a set of fraternal twins, one blonde and one brunette, who are so sickeningly sweet and good and domestic they should have the Diabetes Association called on them.

amovitam: NaNoWriMo notes

Oh, if you want to join us in doing a “Snow White and Rose Red” for NaNoWriMo, please do! We could have a whole SWRR club.

Otherwise, in honour of #Socktober I finally got back to the socks I had on the knitting needles for the last year or so, and even finished the first one of the pair:

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I was watching “Snow White and Rose Red” movies while I was knitting, so it counts as research. Youtube has quite a few Sonntagsmärchen – Sunday Fairy Tales – to watch. Did I mention the blonde-and-brunette convention? Urr, yeah – and in the 1955 version, the prince is called Prinz Goldhaar (Prince Golden Hair) to boot, and looks exactly how you’d expect him to with that name. Bring on the insulin. Good thing he spends most of the story in a bear suit! It’s still a fun movie, though. The 2012 version isn’t bad, either; in that one Rose Red swings a freshly-sharpened axe (which the actress apparently has never done in real life, judging by her completely inefficient grip on the thing), and doesn’t want to get married but travel the world and have adventures.

One of things that’s fun about fairy tale movies is that barring the changing definitions of “handsome” (coughPrinceGoldhairCough), they’re timeless. Which is exactly what a fairy tale ought to be – what a fairy tale is. “Once upon a time” is now, is never, is a long time ago or just last week, or maybe tomorrow. Somewhere in the woods, there is a cottage with a mother and two sisters, and during a winter’s storm there comes a knock on the door, and in stumbles a big black bear…

Steve says I better make the bear the hero of the piece, that’s what it’s all about. I’ll have to have a talk with him; he has a one-track mind on these matters. But that’s bears for you.

Life, the Universe, Bears and Socks and Labelectomies. And fairy tales, too.