Mammoths!

Sharon Ashwood
June 15, 2016  •  No Comments

2016-06-11 12.13.00Our local museum has a special exhibit this summer, “Mammoths! Giants of the Ice Age.” It’s done in partnership with The Field Museum in Chicago. Among the things to see is Lyuba, a 40,000 year-old baby woolly mammoth discovered frozen in Siberia. Apparently she drowned and through an accident of ice and bacteria, the poor thing stayed pretty much intact until discovered in 2007 by some reindeer herders.

Lyuba was remarkable but sad. The exhibit as a whole was fascinating. There were bones and artist’s recreations of heads of mastodons and mammoths (who knew there was a difference?) and lots of other elephantine relations. It’s a wonderful exhibit for kids because there are lots of interactive activities. Even as a non-kid, I enjoyed the straightforward presentation of the material. It reminded me of how much I loved biology in school–and how much of this stuff could be applied to a fantasy novel, because these critters were BIIIIGGG!  There were some life-sized statues I took photos of. The short-faced bear made a grizzly look small and I couldn’t get the whole mastodon into the frame.

If this show comes to your museum, I recommend the trip.2016-06-11 12.13.39 2016-06-11 12.13.292016-06-11 12.13.19


The Tinder Box

Sharon Ashwood
June 12, 2016  •  No Comments

Sometimes people ask me what my favourite fairy tale was growing up. There is a lot to choose from–I read all of the fairy tale, ghost stories and myths I could get my hands on. Andrew Lang’s fairy books loomed large (The Red, Blue, Yellow etc Fairy Books) as well as the usual Grimm and other European trad stories. Tinder BoxThen there were all the Marvel and DC comics about superheroes. I didn’t differentiate much between the old stories and the new. The very best of course, was what happened when you combined fairy tales and comic books! And so my love affair with a ragged copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinder Box was born.

I don’t know why the story isn’t better known. It has all the great elements: a kidnapped princess, a clever but poor young man who saves her, and talking animals! The plot is simple–young man sets out to rescue the princess and ends up saving the day, but only through the help of three magical dogs summoned by the tinder box. The only reason he gets his hands on the box is because of his generous and helping spirit. Yes, he does his fair share of manly-man swashbuckling, but it’s the fact that he’s a good guy that wins the day. He’s somebody we feel sure will look after his princess.

There are a number of versions of this story throughout the fairy tale universe–one is a very old Welsh tale that has the hero saving ants from a fire and they later play a part in helping him along. The message of the story is clear: no matter how humble someone is, they have something to offer the world and should not be left to perish. I think that’s a tale for everyone, young and old.


Ten no-fail procrastination technique, personally tested

Sharon Ashwood
January 17, 2016  •  No Comments

Ten no-fail procrastination techniques, personally tested to ensure no writing happens

10 Obscure recipe ingredient. Must have it.

9 Coupons are expiring!

8 Distant relations haven’t heard from me since the 90s.

7 My car is overdue for servicing

6 Financial planning! Right now!

5 Flyers! Must. Read. Every. One.

4 My sinks are dirty. Someone might see them. Like my mother.

3 Computer gags. Software update.

2 Must Google for new reviews. Then the aftermath.

1 Can’t possibly write without the perfect tea.


We need to have a chat about the kibble

Sharon Ashwood
January 14, 2016  •  2 Comments

The Demon Lord of Kitty Badness in conversational mode.
DLKB relaxing


Feline Disruption Unit

Sharon Ashwood
December 27, 2015  •  No Comments

Feline disruption unit

Those who know computers and cats will know whereof I speak. I’m on deadline for Enchanted Guardian, and I have a stiff daily page count to make.  However, the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness can’t go half an hour without an adoration break. He considers this his contribution to the writing process: ensuring that I take those important moments to bend and stretch (as when tossing a nerf ball, filling a food dish, or removing him from some small instance of destruction). Without his input, I’d become overly focussed on unimportant work goals. Also, the type of progress I’m seeking is a mundane, unenlightened human measurement. Frequency of cuddle sessions are a far better performance measure.

Everything is teamwork when you have a cat. Important safety tip:  the cat is the team leader.


Merry Christmas!

Sharon Ashwood
December 24, 2015  •  No Comments

ChristmasKnight2_500dpi


The chair is not your friend

Sharon Ashwood
September 17, 2015  •  No Comments

2015-08-15 13.56.00It’s become one of those irritating truths that if I don’t make an appointment with myself to move, I won’t.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate exercise. I’ve never been into sports per se, but I like  walking, low impact aerobics, and even mild weightlifting is quite fine by me. Sweat is good. I walk a half hour to and from work. I belong to a gym.

Getting to the gym is another matter (it’s not fair, because really owning a membership alone should magically keep me in shape). Like so many people, I sit in front of a computer at my day job and then in the evenings, too. Everything seems to be connected to a screen these days, and that means sitting, sitting, sitting. Unfortunately, writing requires more of the same. Current medical wisdom claims sitting is as bad for one’s health as smoking, and I’m inclined to believe it. It’s not just about burning calories; I don’t sleep if I don’t get at least some physical activity during the day. I need exercise to burn off stress.

It’s the new fall season, so I’m making a new commitment to being healthy. I got new gym shoes to replace the pair that I’d worn through (nothing but plastic left in the heels!) and I have my gym clothes ready and waiting for the early morning treadmill. Wish me luck!

I wrote this post because making a commitment out loud is supposed to make us accountable. There, I’ve done it!

 


Lunchtime obsessions

Sharon Ashwood
September 16, 2015  •  No Comments

I have a terrible obsession with containers. I deeply believe that if I owned the right organizers and boxes, my life would run smoothly. There is some truth to that: if stuff has a home, it’s less likely to be toppling off tabletops and making mountains on the floor.

But mostly I think I like pretty colourful toys. The trend toward brightly coloured lunch kits pleases me enormously.  I love these GoStak containers for holding nuts, dressings, and other spillable items. The bottom of one jar forms the top of the next and the top one has a handle.

I pack a lunch for work pretty much every day (I hardly ever escape my desk for a restaurant meal). The other consideration for good containers is therefore how light they are.  I managed to tear the muscles in my shoulder from carrying too much in my tote bag day after day, which has taken months to heal.  So, lightweight is good. These are made of a tough but light (and toxin-free) plastic.  The other find I made lately is from Sistema – they make a range of containers that have the cutlery built in and clipped inside, so if you forget a fork there are no worries.  They also have sections that segregate wet and dry ingredients, so the granola for your yogurt doesn’t turn to rubber before you eat it.  A small consideration, but texture is part of what makes food enjoyable!

I bought a few of these containers when I found them to replace old ones that were past their prime. They aren’t the cheapest on the market, but I know I’ll get the value out of them since 5 lunches a week x 52 weeks a year means plenty of mileage. By packing my meals, I’m eating better, spending less, and keeping waste out of the landfill.

On the whole, though, I think I was drawn by the bright colours and the fact that there were lots of clippy-snappy bits to play with. Maybe what I really want is an edible Lego set?

 


Mystery box holiday

Sharon Ashwood
September 15, 2015  •  No Comments

IMGP0163So earlier this summer (it seems ages ago) I went with two dear friends to the west coast of Vancouver Island. We rented a cabin in Ucluelet, which is about as close to the wide open Pacific as you can get without actually falling in. It is truly wild and beautiful out there, with a few touristy spots but far more unspoiled beauty. There are lots of hiking trails that range from “suitable for couch potato” to the kind that requires helicopters and alpha heroes. You can guess which one I was on!

Yes, I took my writing but didn’t spend all the time at the keyboard because a) I wanted to spend time with my friends and b) look at that view! We walked a lot, ate a lot, and in the evenings . . . well, we had cable and a mutual obsession with cooking shows in general and Masterchef in particular.

Yes, we went to the ends of the earth to sit in a cabin and watch Gordon Ramsey turn red in the face and yell about the proper sear on steaks. And we loved each other because we could enjoy this guilty pleasure without having to apologize for it.  That’s what old friends are for. And the best part?  Since the cabin had a fully equipped kitchen, there was plenty of opportunity to make some terrific meals ourselves. I’m not a big fan of barbecued food, but I’m slowly being converted by the excellent meals I’ve been served lately.

So why the fascination with Masterchef and its mystery boxes, challenges, and personalities?  I think for me it’s the opportunity to reclaim the rituals of sharing food. I love cooking, but the pace of life makes it too easy to cut corners.  Learning the language of cuisine, what makes something good, and a little bit about how to elevate one’s own meals is a kind of mindfulness exercise. Now I pause–at least sometimes–to think about presentation, the balance of flavours, and how to assemble ingredients in an interesting way. And when I’m with similarly-minded friends, we talk about cooking far more than we did in the past. I appreciate having something new to enjoy with them, even in a remote holiday cabin.

 

 

 


A Visit to the Wild Arc

Sharon Ashwood
April 7, 2015  •  No Comments

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The Wild Arc is a very special place, set on a 10 acre site west of the city. It’s run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but its specialty is caring for our wild friends instead of domesticated animals. I was lucky enough to get to visit recently and see the indoor “hospital” as well as the outdoor places where wild critters stay wild while they’re getting back on their feet/wings/paws/flippers.

Because the object of the game is to keep the patients from getting too habituated to humans, we weren’t introduced to many of the furry guests. However, there was a bald eagle there (Huge!) and a wee hummingbird who had got accidentally bundled up as part of an Easter bouquet.  There were also a few raccoons who let me take a picture.

raccoon close up

What I found most interesting was the fact that wild baby animals need to be taught how to feed themselves, whether that means foraging or fishing. Many of them are also smart enough to get bored, and that means building habitats that have lots of challenges and learning opportunities. The staff refer to this as “enrichment” and it sounded as if the volunteers have a fine time coming up with games and puzzles for the animals.

 
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We got a tour of different areas, including some with water features. Shore birds and mammals both take advantage of this.  Not that long ago they raised some baby otters here, taught them to fish and then released them up the coast far away from human habitation.

The staff at the Wild Arc made a point about being careful when approaching baby birds and animals that appear to be in distress. Many kind-hearted people try to “rescue” them when in fact they are perfectly okay and just waiting for their mom to return. The best thing is to call someplace like the Wild Arc who can provide guidance. That way, babies are not accidentally separated from their mothers and those that do need help are given speedy care.

It was a wonderful opportunity to learn something about this organization. IMGP0018

 

 

 


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