Saturday, December 10, 2016

Lazy cats

A Margaret Atwood Christmas

Atwood is a great subject for my PicMix art because every one of her images on Google is a posed, professional author photo. That means lots of blank space in behind - either that, or walls of books, and both of them gif up really nicely. As it turned out, there was a minimum of silliness in these (a little disappointing, really, but these aren't meant to be mockery). At the same time, the greatest weakness of these photos is that they are posed, professional author photos, meaning they are virtually interchangeable.

You have to try on all sorts of background effects for these things. One of them had her entire library in flames, and her in it. I didn't use it. This has some sort of vibrating Santa in the background, but that part doesn't show. The feverish, shifting stars are a nice touch. The animation is so bad in these that it's a kind of poetry.

Atwood as Santa was just too tempting to resist. 

In this one she looks uncannily like Barbra Streisand. I think the background of exploding roses is, if anything, restrained, so I had to use puppies and kittens to balance it.

This will cause seasickness if viewed for longer than ten seconds.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Icelandic horses: disaster on ice

I saw a gif of this a few years ago and quailed. Yes, I quailed. Not to be confused with kvelled. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. There is a complete version in the video below, but I am not sure you want to see it. I watched it - the parts of it I could watch - through my splayed fingers.

It soon becomes apparent that the water is not terribly deep, only coming up to the horse's backs, but that poses problems of its own. Trying desperately to gain a footing, the horses flail violently. Broken legs and hypothermia were a dread here, because these horses are small - ponies, really, though accustomed to harsh conditions and thick-coated. This is ice water, however, and they are soaking in it for God knows how long.

I want to tell you, and I WILL tell you, that all of them were rescued, though no one was remotely prepared for this sort of thing. There was much criticism of having this many horses run on the ice at the same time. It's some sort of traditional race held every year, but with global warming - well, never mind. I promised never to write about that again.

The shock and horror of this tiny clip still resonates. It seems like a disaster without a solution, but these horses are plucky and tough. They must have good grips in their hooves, too, or the ice would have proven too much for them.

It's a wonderful cookie: classic Christmas shortbread

Christmas Shortbread Cookies

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup icing sugar
1 cup flour
3/4 cup butter, room temperature

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Cut in butter, then mix with your hands to form a soft dough. Shape into 1 inch balls or roll out and make shapes with Christmas cookie cutters. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet 1 ½  inches apart. If making balls, flatten with a fork. Bake in 300-degree oven for 10 - 15 minutes. Watch very carefully, as these can turn brown in seconds! 

I've kept this blog for - I don't know how many years, and I am not sure I want to check. I do it mainly for myself. It hasn't helped me sell a single copy of my three published novels, though I was urged to start it by a publisher. And after more than three thousand posts, I am finally doing the thing I swore I'd never do.

The lowest of the low points in a blogger's life.

I'm posting a recipe.

But hey, it's a really simple one, and my mother used it before me. Her shortbread always came out better than mine, with a light texture, not flaky, but better than flaky - sort of velvety, like her pie crust. Yet I use the same ingredients for my pie crust, too.

This time of year sucks big-time in a lot of ways, and yet, when I'm not abysmally low and almost despairing, I find myself getting all frisked and sparkly like the Grinch's little dog. And I want to clap myself down in the same way.


You guess why. This ain't a good world, and please don't tell me about the kindergarten program that makes Christmas cards for homeless people, and how this act redeems all the ugliness and hate in the world - nay, totally negates it. Things haven't been good this year on the world stage, and no matter how chirpy and Jiminy Cricket-ish some people are getting (as a form of denial or, perhaps, whistling in the dark), I can't see it getting much better. To say the least.

That's as much as I am willing to say about it.

So I take what comfort I can - and it's considerable - hell, it's the best I've ever had - from my family, who have always been the best anyway. Nothing else is even close. No matter what kind of failure I think I am as a writer (and it's not that I think I'm a shitty writer, as everyone assumes - it's just that I sold three copies in 2015, and that ain't good no matter how you look at it), I know I am an awesome Grandma. How do I know? To differentiate me from the other one, who by the way is a lovely person, the kids call me "Awesome Grandma", and I don't mind, no, I don't mind at all.

I don't even use the word awesome, or I use it very sparingly, and only when something is truly worthy of the term.

So there!

Bracing for the avalanche

Having grown up in Southwestern Ontario, where a few feet of snowfall and minus-40 temperatures aren't that unusual (OK then, minus-20, but it was minus-40 in Alberta), I find the snow phobia in Vancouver somewhat laughable. 

All week, and even last week, people have been anxiously talking about the horrendous blizzard which was about to hit the Lower Mainland on Thursday night. When I went to ask the pharmacist at Walmart about vitamins, she said, "I don't know about vitamins. Everyone wants to talk about the snowstorm coming."

The anxiety was palpable. Could we risk driving into the city to go to Ryan's Christmas concert on Thursday night, when the disaster was supposed to hit? We weren't sure. Everyone was telling us not to. Everyone told us cars were skidding all over the place and colliding, because nobody around here has ever heard of snow tires. (It's also hard to text and drive at the same time.)

So here's today's report for Friday, December 9, one day post-blizzard (emphasis mine):

A snowstorm that was expected to hit the Metro Vancouver area failed to materialize Thursday evening, but snow was beginning to fall across the region early Friday morning.
(OMG - look at that thing! What is it? Is it a snowflake?)

After a witheringly cold, clear couple of days in Metro Vancouver ("better wear a jacket today, hon"), a major storm was set to hit the area late Thursday. While the weather was relatively clear Thursday night (oh come on, guys, admit it, you were WRONG about this!), another wave of precipitation is expected Saturday, though that will likely fall as rain at lower elevations. (In other words, it will rain. In Vancouver.)

With the entrenched Arctic air mass over southern B. C. and the looming (! Let's get some menacing language in here) Pacific storm, Metro Vancouver is bracing to respond to the weather challenges. (I see a good half-inch of snow on the ground outside my window.) 

Insurance companies are bracing for another avalanche of calls (avalanche??) as the region braces for another snow storm. ("Bracing, braces - " was this written in a hurry?)

This week's icy and snowy weather has caused the city to burn through more than double the amount of salt and brine that it used last year (and OK, so it didn't snow last year - AT ALL! Some editor told this reporter, "For God's sake try to make this sound dramatic, so we won't feel like total fools!").

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Wrapping your cat: Bentley says NO!

My doll's eyes are MOVING!

Christmas waterfall

The most amazing light display at Lafarge Lake was the waterfall, reflected in the lake. I've never seen anything like this. I want to go back just to see this again and get a better shot of it.

Christmas Wonderland at Lafarge Lake!

This video does not begin to reflect the beauty of the light display at Lake Lafarge. We nearly froze to death, but it was worth it. No longer do we need to drive all the way in to Stanley Park to see an impressive light display! The reflections in the water were particularly beautiful.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Happy Birthday, Dear Bentley!

Bentley is a very brave cat. He's special to me because he is a survivor of considerable adversity: lost, homeless, attacked by a dog and left to die. It amazes me how much animals endure without becoming bitter, angry, resentful. They are simply grateful for everything they have.

The Glass Character: a celebration of Harold Lloyd

I went and tweaked the title of my Facebook page for the novel. Let's face it, nobody knows what a "glass character" is! Harold's name probably should have been there from the beginning. It has morphed into more of a fan page now, so I guess I'll keep it going for a while. 

Steve Buscemi - Hitler has only got one ball

In keeping with the festive season, a historic song (they really did sing this during World War II, and no wonder!) sung by the incomparable Steve Buscemi. He has a nice voice, too, and has probably done some stage work, like so many enduring character actors. It's true that Hitler had an undescended testicle, and also really terrible teeth, but I will leave that for a later post.

My lack of "real" posting is due to the stresses of the season. Do you want to hear a whole lot of depressing stuff? No? I didn't think so. Here's Steve Buscemi.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Click on this!


Yes! Yes! Click on this to see the most gorgeous horses from Spain, doing all those things Spanish horses do. 

I love the Latin breeds. The Paso Fino is a proud-bodied horse who holds his head half an inch higher than any other.  He is imbued with a quality which horsemen call "brio". 

There is something of the war horse about him, the fullness in the chest, the massive neck. In motion, he becomes liquefied.

I am glad such creatures are alive in the world, that I share the same planet with them. This boosts me up when I am discouraged (and I am often discouraged). I think of this dark thing with the proud head, the look of eagles.


The most exotic cat I've ever seen

Jingle cats: UNPLUGGED!

I was amazed to find actual videos to go with my all-time-favorite cheesy Christmas album, The Jingle Cats. Predictably, the videos are just as lame as the CD, which I haul out every year and play. No one wants to hear it. Since my brain has turned to jello in recent weeks, and I am capable of writing nothing except doomsday predictions since the election, here are some mercifully-mute Jingle Cat gifs!

Believe me when I say, this is a lot better with the sound off. The high-pitched, irritating, autotuned, synthesized meows on the album are excruciating. They bother cats, too. Cats normally leave when the Jingle Cats are on.

There are touches of surrealism in these things that elevate them beyond the level of total cheese. But not much. 

The Jingle Cats videos have an '80s mentality to them - if it can be said that they HAVE a mentality. I keep thinking about MTV when my kids were in high school. Weird Al Cat-ovic, or whatever.

It's kind of sad to think that this kitten has probably died of old age by now. Kind of like watching It's a Wonderful Life, or thinking about your old high school teachers.

Aren't they pretty cats, though? I've always liked that blinky thing they do.

This isn't really a Jingle Cat, but it's too cool not to put in here. 

Somebody spiked the catnip.

Do you meow what I meow?

Aren't you glad you only have to watch ten seconds of this?

A mood piece. Cat is obviously chewing something.

I have to assume the videographer filmed hours and hours of footage of cats yawning, eating, horking up furballs, etc. and then edited it all together into these minor masterpieces.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cats versus Christmas trees!

Saaaaaaay  - I was about to post some swell gifs of cats in Christmas trees (and I might still post a few of them) - then I found this! Probably the best compilation to date.

The hardest thing to wrap for Christmas?

Honestly, I am thinking of trying this on Bentley. If he's sleepy enough, if he is plied with enough Little Friskies (seafood medley only), he might just be coerced. He LOVES lying down on paper, especially paper I am trying to write on. He likes being rolled up in blankets. Stay tuned! Video to follow, maybe.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Cats in Christmas trees

Cool and creepy: the wonder of Facebook

There is so much about social media that pisses me off that I often don’t know where to start.

I don’t even do Twitter. I’m not likely to start doing Twitter because of all the negative things I hear about it, the way it has gone sour, the way people attack each other. The Steven Galloway debacle is a case in point. Margaret Atwood casually swiped at a huge sector of the literary community, calling us frail maidens on fainting couches, claiming that firing Galloway because of his chronic sexual abuse of students was a “witch hunt” and “McCarthyism”.

Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet.

It gets worse, but it’s morning and I can barely get my brain around what I want/need to say. I’ve always had problems with people cadging sympathy on Facebook: “oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter that I'll have a migraine when I pick up my Giller Award tonight”, “Sick this week, don’t know how I’ll make my five-week holiday in Greece”, etc. There follows a chorus of sympathy, dozens of comments: “Oh, Diddums, just take care of yourself and I am SURE you’ll be in those Greek isles running around in your bikini before you know it.”

And then there is the “PLEASE, everyone. I am nearly at the 5000 Facebook friends limit and need to pick those last few precious spots myself, so don’t try to friend me! You will only be disappointed. I am so, so sorry, I know it's a hardship for you. But these last few names are absolutely crucial for the promotion of my next novel and might get me a spot on Ellen.”

Yesterday I saw “why do we only get to see posts from, say, fifty of our friends among the thousands we have?” As if it would be possible to see posts from 3500 people a day.

Such problems!

I know there are other things, but the one that is bugging me most right now is “I’m taking a break from social media, guys”. I see this one over, and over, and over again, and NOT ONCE has the person actually taken a “break” of more than two days. Recently it was a woman harmed by the Steven Galloway affair – bruised by a former friend who lit into her for thinking Galloway might actually have done some harm.

I can see this, can see being hurt. I’ve been hurt over and over and over again on social media, and in life. But what she said next, “I’m stepping back from social media for the rest of the year,” was remarkable, because somehow reality changed and the months of November and December collapsed down into two days, which is how long it was before she went back to posting on Facebook every day. But these posts may not even have counted: if she only posts three or four times a day, and the posts aren’t too long, is she somehow, mysteriously, still “taking a break”? Or was it all due to that Greek chorus of voices begging her to come back? Anyway, I am cynical enough now that I kept an eye on that situation, and it went exactly the way I predicted.

Am I in a sour mood? I don’t know. In a December mood, I guess. I’ve had worse. Lots worse. But this is the time of year one’s psyche adds it all up, and - BAM. I wonder what it has all amounted to.

I don’t know why I do Facebook anyway, except to put time in. It’s grey and wet out there, lousy even for taking a walk, and I am “behind” on Christmas preparations which I do not want to make.

I have people in my life, yes, precious and few, and given my family history it’s a good thing I’m not being treated like a punching bag every day. It was unlikely I would ever help co-create something this amazing (though there are those who’ve claimed it just dropped into my lap, undeserved). In truth, I would not change anything about it, or them. But they are growing up, growing away from me steadily. I am no good at loss.

Call it reality. I can’t take a break from life (then come back to it in two days!). It just keeps lumbering along. Already, atrocious things (I won't say what, but you already know) are seemingly normal. We have to do this, I guess, to stand it, to keep trying to enjoy our lives. I enjoy what I can; I honestly do, but they are all such small things.

Facebook reminds me that I will never achieve the big things I dreamed about for so long, though others did, and do. They endlessly shimmy around in their bikinis, Giller Prize in hand, to remind me of it.  Holidays. Awards. New babies. New friends. Exotic recipes that always turn out. And never a family fight. Never an alcoholic in the family. The smooth shiny facet is always kept turned towards your “friends” - but who knows what is on the other side.

Must be kind of exhausting, when you think about it.

BLOGGER'S NOTE. While thoroughly disgusted, and wondering whether I had already posted the Abbie poem and not wanting to look it up (but no one reads this anyway, so who cares), I stumbled upon something remarkable.

I cut this image out of the TV guide, the paper one I mean, back when it still existed. This was probably around 1990:

And I kept it, not knowing the provenance of the picture at all. I couldn't find anything about it, though it haunted me. It was in an ad for some sort of Billy Graham-like religious crusade. I put it in a book somewhere, not able to throw it out but not knowing what to do with it, and that was all, until it emerged again 15 or so years later, and I scanned it.

And then.

I found this, just now, just this minute! This. Is. The. Same. Puppet. It popped out at me on Google images while I searched for disaffected, desolate illustrations for this post.

Years, and years, and YEARS later, this anonymous, strange, unknown thing is now called "Cool Creepy Marionette". That is ALL I can find about this exquisite work of art. On site after site after site, the same image, replicated. 

It HAS to be the same! Even the eyes, even the mask, even the position of the hand - it's all the same. But why can't I find out anything about this except "cool creepy marionette"?

It's because the internet no longer cares about the provenance of anything. It's some sort of ultimate global Communism, everything held in common, nothing owned, least of all works of art that someone actually made - carved - imbued with a soul.

All I know is, this marionette, which looks fairly new, isn't new. In fact, I don't know how old it is.  It means something. Maybe if I keep digging, and digging, and digging, I'll find out - but I don't think so.

I don't know how to feel about this. In part, it filled me with amazement and joy - here he is again! Rediscovered: our puppet of sorrow. But then I wondered where he came from. Another lost boy? And does anybody besides me really care about it?