I’m Leaving On a Jet Plane…

…for a couple weeks’ worth of visit to the Fatherland. Checking in with you from the airport, waiting for the first leg of the flight.

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Here’s Steve, yesterday, waiting in the bag for me to stop fussing with such unnecessary things as which clothes to take, and get on with packing him up already.

Posting might be somewhat intermittent in the next bit, but we’ll try to keep you updated.

Life, the Universe, and Travels. See you later!

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Excuses

We interrupt our spate of regular blog postings for these messages, uh, reasons, uh, excuses – that’s it, excuses:

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calendula oil

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tomatoes

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peaches

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an early stage of zucchini salsa

Life, the Universe, and Harvest Season. See you on the other side.

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Perspective

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I was all upset this morning about having my walk ruined. The person who owns the property at the end of the road, where the pavement ends, completely blocked off access to the forest road where I like to go to the lookout. I think there’s new owners on that property; the previous owners put a big gate across the road to stop vehicles, but still allowed locals to skirt around the edge of the gate so they could go for a walk. This morning, there are bars nailed across the side of the gate. No Trespassing, Private Property.

I was so pissed off I cried. Just when I was starting to develop a habit of going for a walk in the mornings (I desperately need the exercise)… I even called the town hall to see if there was maybe some rule about public right of way to get to crown land, something that would force those curmudgeonly curmudgeons  to let me walk across their driveway and up the hill to where you get that stunning view right over the lake. But no such luck – private property is private property.

IMG_20150729_112224I almost posted a snarky status on Facebook about it, complaining about this mean-spirited injustice that was done to me. Almost, but not quite.

And then I was browsing my Facebook feed, and all of a sudden perspective struck me a blow right across the face. You see, I read a post by the husband of a friend who died of cancer just a few months ago. And as I was reading his outpouring of pain, of how desperately he misses his wife, of his struggles in being both father and mother to their children, of the gaping, aching hole that her death left behind – my own irritation and disappointment shrunk down to its proper size.

IMG_20150729_112153Yes, I’m sad about my cut-off walk. But it’s such a small issue in comparison. So not a big deal. This upset that filled my whole vision an hour ago all of a sudden has become a small dot on the radar screen of reality. Yes, the irritation remains (and I still hope that the property owner can be induced to let us neighbours walk through once in a while). But really, it matters so little.

Life, the Universe, and a Reality Check. I’m thankful I had my perspective adjusted.

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Ocean Soul

ocean (6)ocean (2)I’m an ocean soul. At least once a year, I need to get myself down to the sea and stick my feet into the water. Yes, I live by a lake (several, in fact), and yes, it’s incredibly beautiful and I’m fully appreciative of that fact. But there is something about the ocean that lakes don’t have to offer – something about the salt water, the tang of sea air in the wind, the raucous screech of the seagulls, the tides rolling in and out over shells and sea weed and little tide pools, the driftwood logs and rocks and sand – something that feeds my soul. I’ve had some of my best moments of insight, of personal clarity, when I’m walking along the shore, wading through sea water, the gentle surf breaking over my feet. I don’t know why, but there seems to be a connection between sea water, my feet, and the well-being centre of my brain (maybe a reflexologist would have something to say about that – minerals absorbing through the bottom of the feet and triggering useful thoughts? Uh, yeah, whatever).

ocean (3)ocean (7)The coast is about five hours’ drive away from where I live, and I’m fortunate enough to have family there on whom I can drop in whenever I like. So this weekend, I did just that – I took a spontaneous mini-holiday. I’d hoped to get some time to do a bunch of writing – work on the next book – but that didn’t materialise. Instead, I went shopping, did a bunch of visiting, experienced an orthodox church service (never been to one of those before – it was beautiful), and today, had my trip to the ocean beach. Steve came along (see pictures), and I stuck my feet in the water, walked over the ebb sands, let the mud squash up between my toes, picked up a pretty shell and dropped it again, picked up another and set it sailing on the water, sat on the sun-warmed sand leaning on a driftwood log and drew a picture of a seagull (the darn thing wouldn’t sit still), let the wind blow me about (it was almost cold – bliss!), and all around got my fill of the pleasure that being by the ocean is for me. And yes – once again, I have greater clarity of what my life is, and where I am meant to go; for the next little while, at least. I let the ocean wash over my toes and over my soul, and I feel better for it.

ocean (5) ocean (1)Life, the Universe, and an Ocean Soul. I will be back again – soon.

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Guest Post: Baby Groot Interviews A.M. Offenwanger

amo:

I did a guest post! Baby Groot, who is Kate M. Colby’s writing mascot, interviewed me. Honest, he did! Ask Steve, he was there.

Originally posted on Kate M. Colby :

I’ve never done a guest post before. Is that kind of like being a guest speaker, where you get bottles of water and an honorarium? What, no honorarium? Drat. Water bottles, at least? Oh, thank you, Baby Groot. [Takes a sip] So how do we go about this?

<I AM GROOT.>

You’ll ask me some questions, and I’ll waffle on from there? Sure, no problem. Let’s do this thing. [Squares shoulders, makes an intelligent face.] Go.

<I AM GROOT.>

Yes, thank you, I’m very glad to be here, too, and to get this chance to talk to your esteemed audience. So what would you like to ask me?

seventh son<I AM GROOT.>

Where do I get the ideas for my writing? Ah yes, that’s a question Us Writers get asked a lot. [Takes on faintly supercilious facial expression, then wipes it off again when she realises…

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Medieval Marriage, or, I Thought I Just Made That Up

The things you find out…

I was watching a really cool BBC documentary yesterday called Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage, Death.  Specifically, this one was episode 2, “A Good Marriage” (at the moment you can watch it here, although it might not stay up forever. Canadians can also stream it off Knowledge Network, which is what I did). And I learned something really interesting: up until the 12th Century in Europe, all it took to get married was for two people to make a commitment to each other. That’s right, you just said to each other: “I take you as my husband” and “I take you as my wife”, and bingo, you were married. It could be anywhere – a pub, a hedgerow, a cottage…

And I was sitting there, watching this, and started to sputter: “That, that, that – I made that up for Seventh Son!! That’s my idea! And it was actually real!!” The marriage customs of Ruph, the place where Cat and Guy live, are exactly that: they say “I marry you,” and that’s it, they’re hitched. But I just made that up – and now it turns out it was exactly like that in medieval Europe! I had no idea. It’s kind of cool when you find that your fiction inadvertently copies reality.

medieval peasantsSo, yes, according to that documentary, the meaning of marriage was two people committing to each other. They didn’t even need witnesses, although if you had some, that helped if the marriage was ever contested (by your spouse who wanted to get out, or by anyone else, say, your parents because they wanted to hitch you to someone with more money). If you had witnesses, your friends John, Joan, Robert and Roberta could confirm that the Thursday after Whitsun, you (Joseph) and your sweetheart Margaret had pledged your troth at the Blue Hare in front of all of them (after you’d quaffed about five pints of ale each, Margaret’s eyes had sparkled exceptionally bright, so you figured it might be a good idea to officially tie the knot. Fortunately, John and Joan had only had about two pints each, so they have a clearer memory of the event than you do). And that was entirely legal.

medieval marriageIt was only from the 12th century onwards that the church figured it should put a bit more of a control on this marrying gig, so they could keep tabs on folks a little better. However, it really was just an extension of the old custom, with the priest serving as the witness and delivering God’s blessing on the union. Legally, it was still the same thing; the priest didn’t have any actual powers – the marriage was in the vows, not in the priest’s role or a legal document. (Apparently, also, the marriage – the spoken “I take thee…” commitment – took place outside the church, in the porch, so the couple was already married by the time they crossed the threshold into the church for the blessing service).

So then I got to thinking: it’s almost like we’ve come full circle again in this day and age. From where I sit, it looks like that in the Western world, a large proportion of marriage-like relationships take place on an informal basis – two people make a commitment to each other, they move in together, and they’re a couple. In the most telling phrase, they’re in a common law marriage. All it takes is a commitment.

The one great, big, ginormous difference between medieval marriage customs and ours today, though, is not the way marriages are contracted – formally or informally, common law or regulatory law. It’s the fact that today, marriages can be un-contracted. If the common law marriage doesn’t work out, you just move your stuff out of your girlfriend’s house; if the formal law one goes sour, you go to divorce court, and (at least in Canada) after a year you can start all over again with someone else. That, in the Middle Ages, was very much not happening. A marriage was a marriage, whether contracted in a hedgerow with just the sparrows and the odd bunny rabbit as witnesses, or in Westminster Abbey with the Archbishop of Canterbury presiding. And they took that “til death do us part” thing deadly serious. The only way you could ever get out of a marriage while your spouse was alive was to establish that it hadn’t actually taken place – get it annulled, in other words. Didn’t matter if your wife turned out to be a vicious shrew or your husband a jerk who knocked you about; if you’d slept together (proof positive: children), you were stuck with them for good.

I have to say, I prefer our way of doing things today. Divorce sucks, but at least it means you’re not permanently trapped in a relationship you contracted in the heat of the moment (see “five pints of ale”, above). Could you imagine if you were bound for life to your first boyfriend, the one you thought you couldn’t live without and swore eternal faithfulness to back in grade 10? Urgh, yeah. Mind you, “for life” in the Middle Ages was a considerably shorter time period than it is today. But still.

Incidentally, I hadn’t considered it before, but I do think that in spite of their medieval marriage style, the people of Ruph do have divorce as a last-resort option. It hasn’t come up yet in my stories, but it might, some day. I wouldn’t want anyone to be stuck in a horrible relationship, you know? But I’m sure they’ll think long and hard about it before they call it quits. People are like that in Ruph.

Life, the Universe, and Marriage. The things you find out…

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The Old Villa

I just ran across this quite interesting article and video: a mini-documentary on abandoned houses in Europe (filmed in pursuit of a book trailer for the filmmaker’s new book).

And it brought up a memory.

When I was a teen, we lived in a Bavarian mountain village, right across the street from a house just like this – a small country villa with gables and ivy, yellow-stuccoed with a red tile roof, on a large property completely overgrown with trees. It used to be the weekend country house of some rich person whose heirs were uninterested in the place and just let it fall to pieces. My neighbour’s son and his friends reportedly used to go in and set off molotov cocktails in the windows, just to hear the glass shatter, and do target practice on the jars of canned plums that were still in the cellar. (Young hoodlums! Actually, they’ve grown up to be quite respectable men. I’m not sure what that proves – nothing, probably.) That was before we lived there; so I never did hear any of the booms and crashes their vandalism would have produced. By the time we got there, there weren’t any intact windows left, and the rooms pretty much looked like the ones in the video.

We went into the house a couple of times, feeling very daring and trespass-y. Once a visiting cousin wanted to see it – I was probably twelve or thirteen then. We snuck in, trembling, through the servant’s entrance, and got about halfway up the back stairs when we thought we heard a noise from the upper floor – we turned tail and fled, terrified.  I don’t think there was anything there other than our keyed-up nerves; but regardless, I don’t think I ever did go back in after that.

However, now that I think of it, I realised something: that villa is the house I picture in my mind whenever I read a historic novel and come across a description of the rich house of the protagonist – the hallway and drawing room, particularly. You walked up the big front stairs, and into a two-story hall with a staircase going to the upper floor with the bedrooms (I only once snuck up those stairs, the first time I went in the house; later the staircase had broken down. You could still see a bed through one of the open doorways). Downstairs, to the right of the hall was the living room, or drawing room; I seem to remember it having a bow window or alcove across the room opposite the door, and on the long side large windows looking towards the street – or rather towards the trees that were obscuring it from the street at that point. The interesting thing is that the image of the layout of this house, of its front room with the bow window at the side (I think that alcove might have been large enough to have a table in), the staircase rising to the upper floor – that image is stamped on my memory, and shapes the stories I read even now, decades later.

I wonder who they were, the people who lived in that house. Some wealthy industrialist’s family from Munich probably, who spent their summer holidays in the mountains, and perhaps a weekend here or there. Houses do tell stories; and the story of that place is long gone. Sometime in the 1990s, after I had moved away, the house was torn down, the property divided up and a few nice modern holiday homes put in its place. I suppose that now it’s their turn to build their stories.

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