Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

February calendar

I’m hardly the first person to observe, with a certain sense of irony, that February is the longest month.

I might (you never know, the internet is both a Small World and a Big Place), be the first to observe that having a not-really-official-but-hey-I’ve-been-doing-them-since-last-October-haven’t-I? sort of post of monthly observations hanging over one’s head will only make it seem longer.  But also shorter, in that “I’m February, and I can be both” sort of way.

But, leap year, right? That’s a whole extra day in which to… procrastinate.

It was a month for projects that just never quite came together.  I didn’t actually abandon the kitchen completely (despite what I might have said last month), but, well, February.  There were a few successes that I simply lacked time or energy (or daylight) to document; on other projects, I took photographs that I’m happy with, but the recipe itself needed work.  And then there was that one recipe that was a resounding success, absolutely scrumptious, that I did spend a lot of time photographing, but failed utterly to find any way to make it look like something you would actually want to eat.

I did get a lot of reading done…

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” is the phrase that usually ran through my head whenever I tried to come to grips with a February post.


So long, February.  I know we haven’t exactly seen eye to eye, but, while I can’t say I’ll miss you, thanks for the memories.  I think we made real progress, and I’ll try to make the most of our time together when we see each other again next year.

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Slow as… January

Bears and molasses: slow in January

“Slow as molasses in January” is a phrase I often heard my grandmother use when I was little—one of those phrases that lodged in my memory, but without any real comprehension of the significance at the time.   Now, I ‘get’ it, of course; I use molasses in recipes not infrequently, and I understand the effect of cold on syrups.  I suspect, though, that the phrase predates electricity and central heating—when a lot more people had a much more direct experience of molasses and cold.  Our house is old and poorly insulated (I’m wearing a coat as I type this), but it’s still nothing to how cold I imagine it would be if we had to rely on the fireplaces for warmth. (Assuming they were working, that is—they are all long-since closed off, but the mantles remain to show where they once functioned.)

I feel a bit like molasses myself, in January.  There are those who like to jump right into the new year with both feet, and I find this a wholly admirable approach; if the year only started in May, I might try it myself.  But my idea of what to do in the winter is very much a bear’s idea.*  Hole up, and wait it out.  Comfort food (since I haven’t mastered that storing up three months of fat thing—nor, come to think of it, do I want to), and minimal commitments.  Getting holiday messes cleaned up is a good start (I’ve started, does that count?), maybe a bit of virtual housekeeping, such as archiving the 12+ gigs of photographs from 2011 (arg), finally watching those Sherlock DVDs I was given some months ago (loved it!).

Last night we had hot chocolate for dessert.  I am the sort of person who likes to make these things from scratch, but this time I started with a pouch of cocoa mix that had arrived as part of a holiday gift (and made it as far as the kitchen counter, where it was showing signs of putting down roots).  Warmth, sustenance and tidying up after the holidays—now that’s my (January) idea of multitasking!

*Although, truth be told (and money no object), I think the birds have the better plan.

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Oh, look.  Another month year snuck by me.

As predicted, back in October, it’s been a blur.  I’m robbing January to pay December at this point (heck—I might even be borrowing time into February by now), putting off all sorts of things that I shouldn’t be, because there are a hundred others needing to be done now, now, now.  Yesterday.

Almost (but not quite) too busy to notice the cold.

Almost (but not quite) too busy to appreciate the little things that make the cold worthwhile—all the little things that I would miss about Winter if I never saw it again…

The sky was wonderfully crisp last night.  Oh, to be sure, my teeth were chattering, but the sky was gorgeous.  And the sun, to make up for its brevity, shows up in unexpected places now, like painting the pantry with tree branch shadows. We see (and hear) hawks a lot more in the Winter—I could hear one calling outside as I was taking pictures of the tree shadows in the pantry.  And if it weren’t for Winter, I’m convinced that the bugs would have taken over the Earth by now.  And then there’s citrus.  Citrus is not a little thing.  It’s a Big Thing.  You will be seeing more about citrus in the coming days.

I love having seasons, really I do.  I just always seem to be ready for Winter to leave a lot sooner than it’s ready to go.  But for now, there are still a hundred things to do.

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Homemade syrups, ready for lids and labels.

I like giving homemade gifts—especially food gifts; I feel like I’m giving something that stands a better chance of actually being used and bringing joy.  And, let’s face it, I’d rather spend time making something from scratch that I know is good, than spend that same time trying to find and acquire a bauble of dubious usefulness, thereby demonstrating that I spent a requisite amount of money.  Do I sound like a curmudgeon?  Maybe I do.  But, money is an unavoidable issue—especially these days—and I know that I can make gifts that will be of better quality than I could afford to give otherwise.

Making wax paper candy cups to hold truffles.

There’s still a certain amount of research and forethought needed, though.  Not everyone likes sweets, enjoys spicy things, or what have you, and food allergies and other dietary concerns are more prevalent than one might realize.  Perhaps that’s why homemade gifts can sometimes have a bit of a reputation, like the oft-lampooned fruitcake. I’ll confess, ever since I began contemplating a post on homemade gifts, I have not been able to get the Pink Bunny Suit from A Christmas Story out of my head (this is a problem, because I don’t type well as it is, and the giggling isn’t helping).  But, if Aunt Clara had only done a little research, she would have known that Ralphie was neither four years old, nor a girl. Just imagine if her present had been a Red Ryder costume instead.


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No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! — 
Thomas Hood

Aging jack-o-lanterns watch the November sun slip away.

It’s pitch dark when I go to work in the morning lately.  Then, when I’m finally off for the day, I get that look in my eye that you’ll sometimes see on the squirrels this time of year—right before they make an ill-timed dash into traffic.  Which, of the hundred things that I wanted to accomplish today, should I do in the little daylight remaining?

My inner squirrel screeches, Just hurry up and do something, because tomorrow will only be shorter!  And colder!

So, this afternoon, I was stirring up a batch of sweet potato bread, when a movement outside the kitchen window caught my eye.  It was a squirrel heading up the driveway, and he was so clearly Up to Something, that I walked over to the window to watch.

He was in no particular hurry—not him.  He zigged, he zagged.  He moved with a singularly purposeful purposelessness.  He stopped often, sitting up to look around—looking everywhere but where I knew him to be heading.  You see, I had only just put the aging jack-o-lanterns outside, not an hour before (best to get them out of doors before they go completely feral, I always say).

Finally, with a last “Who, me? Not me,” look around, the squirrel disappeared from view behind the brush pile (which, coincidentally, happened to be where I’d left the zombie punkins).  I expect they’ll be looking considerably more ragged in the morning…

Before the squirrel came along, the sun had just skulked through the kitchen in much the same fashion.  It moved slowly, casually, but it didn’t linger, and it was only too obvious that it had somewhere else to be.  I knew where it was going, too—Australia.  I can’t say I blame it for being in a hurry.

The sun was still wonderfully warm in the mid-afternoon today, but it wasn’t the same warmth it had in October.  In November, the sun takes its warmth with it.  The chill is always right there in the edges, as close as the nearest shadow, as close as sundown.  As close as winter.

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Magpie's Selection of All Hallow's ReadingsSweet dreams, and happy reading.

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Affehaus of Jaded Monkey was inspired by my All Hallow’s Read eBook, Bedtime Story, to write one of his own, but suggested (correctly) that turning it into an eBook sounded like a lot of work.  I thought it was a cool story, and offered to do the design and formatting in exchange for bananas promotional considerations (and hey, look, I’m not just using that Graphic Design degree for cultivating mold in the shapes of letters of the alphabet)!

The story is called Jackanapes, and you can pick up your very own digital copy over at Jaded Monkey.

Edit: It seems Jaded Monkey is having some technical difficulties.  Meanwhile, you can download you copy of Jackanapes here. (He’s baaaack.)

Cover art for Jackanapes (design by M.J. Pyle)Artwork by M.J. Pyle for the short eBook, JackanapesArtwork by M.J Pyle for the short eBook, Jackanapes

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Bedtime Story, All Hallows Read 2011

When I was small, I was drawn to ghost stories.  Like a moth to a flame, you might say, since I inevitably scared myself up-all-night silly—to my parents’ chagrin.  Every oddly shaped lump of laundry, every bit of bric-a-brac would metamorphose into something terrifying, as soon as the lights went out.  Nowadays, I’ve gotten a little better at not letting my imagination completely carry me off, but also, and more importantly, I’m the one in charge of the light switch.

I’m still a moth to that flame sometimes, though.

Like the time (when I was not-so-small), that I sat down in the cozy late afternoon sunlight to play a bit of Resident Evil, and became so engrossed in the dark and scary digital world that I didn’t notice the light slipping stealthily out of the room.  The very real room.  Where I was sitting.  Until I suddenly realized that I was sitting in the dark, with zombies, and the nearest light switch was yards away, across what was sure to be zombie-infested darkness.

Just imagine if there was no light switch.

I know, no light switch, no Resident Evil, you say.  We’re somewhat distanced today from the coming of night, but imagination is still with us. We can still imagine what it would be like to have every day slide inexorably, inevitably into darkness. Once, we lived our lives in that balance, in the struggle between Light and Dark, Life and Death, Summer and Winter, and we planted Halloween at the crossroads.

Halloween is a celebration of imagination, and we often share that imagination by telling each other stories.  We’ve always been telling stories for Halloween—stories about the future, and the past.  About who we are and who we want to be.

But especially stories about what we’re afraid of.

Recently, author Neil Gaiman (someone who knows about imagination) proposed that we make it a formal, informal tradition— that we give each other scary books, the week of or on Halloween.

This is a tradition that I will be happy to leave a light on for.

So here, to celebrate, is a short, spooky eBook (a story previously posted, in two parts, in this post and this one)—my All Hallow’s Read present to you:

Bedtime Story

Cover Art: Bedtime Story, M.J. Pyle

pdf eBook: click to download

Happy All Hallow’s Read!

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All Hallow’s Read is fast approaching.  Below is the second half of Bedtime Story (the first half is here, in case you missed it).  Next Monday, I’ll post a .pdf of the complete story.

Bedtime Story


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Halloween is a fantastic tapestry of traditions from many different cultures and times.  Recently, author Neil Gaiman proposed a new tradition be added to the arras: All Hallow’s Read.  I love books.  I love Halloween.  What’s not to love?

According to the oldest traditions, this book-giving is supposed to take place the week of or on Halloween.  But like so many others before me, I’m adding my own little spin to the celebration.  To mark All Hallow’s Read this year, I’ll be posting a spooky story.  It’s a short story (a very short story, actually), in two parts.  Part One is below the fold.  Part Two will be posted next Monday.  The following Monday, one week before Halloween, I’ll post a .pdf of the entire story, neatly formatted in (tiny, tiny) book form.  On the day itself, I hope to have photos of how my own “book” version turned out.


Sometime, thousands of years ago when Night still ruled over half the Day, and fire was our only weapon against the darkness, we evolved language.  With language, we began to tell each other stories.  With stories, we unleashed imagination, a power both wondrous and terrible…


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