580 articles later – the evolution of a blogger

After 580 + articles, I’ve been thinking about the evolution of a blogger. More precisely, the changes I’ve made to the structure of this website and the content that drives it. It’s interesting going through older posts and re-editing them. That act has provided some insight into how Bitter Grounds Magazine has unfolded over the decades.

Evolution of a blogger – 1994 to Catpaw’s Blog

I started in 1994, or there abouts, with a simple one-page website. This was in the Netscape 1, pre-tables days. I wasn’t using the Catpaw moniker yet, that came shortly after I set the site up. I tried to find it on the Wayback Machine, but unfortunately it seems to have melted into the ether. As I was writing this, I realised in 2024, I’ll have been blogging for 30 years. I’ll have to throw a party. At first, it was simply a fun little space to post random thoughts and silly things. That’s back in the tilde days when most of our sites were attached to an internet provider and looked like this www.internetprovider.com/ ~catpaw. The addresses weren’t elegant.

I was among the first customers to sign up for the shiny new internet service. The fellow who ran the ISP was good. He helped me get my first design job and taught me a lot about the basics of the both the Internet & the fledgling web design business. He loved sharing his knowledge with anyone who wanted to listen. Total, wonderful tech geek.

I purchased my first full-fledged web site sometime after the turn of the century. It was at that time I switched to using catpaw, a name I acquired during my BBS days.  It took me awhile, but I found the site on the Wayback Machine and scooped my old logo.

Original logo for Catpaw Chronicles, the precursor to Bitter Grounds - Evolution of a blogger

I was damned proud of this logo

I don’t use the venerable cat silhouette any longer but occasionally think I should dust him off. He no longer fits into the format though. It was at this point I was trying to structure the site and bring a bit of planning to both the design and content. This was pre-WordPress days, so each post was created as an individual page. It wasn’t as simple as the big backend database holding and sorting all the content and formatting, we use now. It was all done manually.

Lot of content was lost because every change meant deciding what to do with older stuff. Websites could quickly descend into an unwieldy mess.  I knew I wanted to run a magazine format but couldn’t quite get there. The content remained static until I tried Blogger for a while. It allowed me to setup a fledgling structure and play around with the vision I had for a website.

I also dabbled in WordPress, but at the time it lacked flexibility. I wanted multiple categories with constantly changing content. WP didn’t allow for it. We didn’t have the option to post to multiple categories. It was around 2008 I discovered Joomla and its amazing abilities to let me setup a magazine style site. I never really mastered it, but I had a hell of a lot of fun. Over the next couple of years, the content began changing. I was doing more than posting periodic thoughts and explored topics I loved to share with people.

Bitter Grounds is born & nothing happens

Oh, and the name Bitter Grounds? I had just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Bitter Grounds and thought “that would make a great name for a magazine”. It can be interpreted in several ways. I was sure the title was taken, so colour me surprised when I found out no one had. I paid my money and switched everything over to bittergrounds.com sometime in 2014. I think. Time has a habit of playing games with memory, so I might be a little off in my dates.

One odd thing happened. By 2015 I stopped writing about politics. By nature, I’m a political animal. but it had become too exhausting and divisive. I guess, it ceased being fun discussing. In the process, my writing started to become erratic. I’d get a big surge of energy and write like mad and then peter off. Consistency is important if you want a successful website and I just couldn’t maintain momentum.

I started rethinking what I was interested in writing about – stamps, history, technology, design and eventually photography.  I remember sitting on the balcony mulling over my limitations when it came to creating a magazine. It wasn’t Joomla, it was my lack of skills with the backend of the software and time commitments to master it.

The crisis that triggered change

In the summer of 2016 Mom was diagnosed with cancer and everything turned upside down. If you’ve ever dealt with a cancer diagnosis, then you know it’s like being swept up in a tsunami. Life is no longer your own, it is dictated by endless visits to hospitals and appointments. I stopped writing for a long time. I just had nothing to say.

Looking back on the past four years has made me rethink a lot of my views. I’m surprised by the combination of inertia and despair and what a toll it took. Now? I have lots to say, including what I was thinking at the time but couldn’t put it into words. I think, for the first time in my life, words were not available to me during that time span. And that’s a scary thing for me. Words are something I always found strength in, a source of joy. When I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted, I felt like a large part of me was missing. So, I stopped trying.

In 2018, during a good period in Mom’s cancer care, she suggested I start getting serious about writing again. She knew something I wasn’t fully aware of – that I’m happiest when I’m writing. I still laugh when I remember her telling me I get grumpy when I don’t write.

Once again, Mom was crucial in the change. It was her suggestion that I try to be more personal, bring more of myself into the site. No, not the politics, which I well and truly torpedoed in the re-design. She meant, express more excitement about things I loved. Allow readers to “hear” what she hears when I talk about various topics. Also, let people know who I am, make the website more personal. She was right. Things became fun to again.

I wanted a magazine. Not a site where I complain about shit in life. I wanted to explore ideas and share my excitement about drawing, photography, stamps – oh the stamps I love – and technology. That’s what had been missing, that sense of exploration and unbridled joy at learning something new.

Was it too much to tackle?

Onwards to a Bitter Grounds Magazine remake & 580 articles later

I sat down with paper and pencil and drew up how I wanted Bitter Grounds Magazine to look.  All fine and dandy, but I felt that old sense of frustration with Joomla creep back in. I lacked certain skills in using it and quite honestly, was too tired to try and learn how to change the back end. It felt cumbersome. I wasn’t happy with ready-made templates though because they didn’t share my vision.

Then a friend stepped in. Cory suggested I try WordPress again but use Divi to make it create the structure I so desperately wanted. He’s a skilled craftsman who gave me a lift when I needed it. Website Creation, Design, Maintenance, and More – MidState Design <- that’s him. He doesn’t know I’ve added this, but he was instrumental in kick starting Bitter Grounds Magazine back into life.

Devastating loss & an epiphany about the website

2019 started off badly but there were still rays of hope. 2020 came and blew that out the door. When Mom died in April, I was crushed. I still haven’t gotten over it. I still cry. And feel lost at times.

While I sat by mom’s bed, I debated about ending the website permanently. The idea of continuing seemed impossible. I kept thinking why bother. It’s funny the things your brain latches onto when it’s trying to anchor itself. I emailed back and forth with a friend throughout the long week and she told me “NO” that was not acceptable. That’s what friends are for – to stop you from doing stupid things.  I kept it and wrote sporadically, and quite honestly, half-heartedly throughout spring and summer.

Categories come; categories go

You may notice how many posts are shorter than in previous years. I stopped trying to write War and Peace and started working towards producing, briefer, focused articles. (Except for this one.) I have 28 drafts ready for formatting and proofing, so I always have something to post even during those periods when I’m not in the mood to write.

I also made changes in categories and altered the design … again. Oct to Dec were productive months. I kept tweaking the design until I felt I was approaching what I have been looking for. Some categories were merged, and a few new ones created.  I’m not afraid to change things up now. If something isn’t working don’t hang onto it. Remove or change it. What’s the sense in keeping a format or category that no longer fits?

Final thoughts

It’s nice to have that sense of joy in writing return. I didn’t realise it was missing until it was nearly too late. The most powerful tool a blogger has is insight into why they create. Had it not been for friends, I would never have achieved it. So, to all of you, thank you.

4 Construction site photos – Hardhats and diggers

4 Construction site photos – Hardhats and diggers

I love taking construction site photos. I was digging through my archive, looking for something interesting to share and remembered a series I took a few years back. St Clair W, here in Toronto, has had its share of building projects. I haven’t gone back to them lately to see the progress. Maybe when I stop feeling so lazy, I’ll check them out.

Learning to make do with a kit lens

Photo of a church on Avenue road undergoing a condo conversion

Church to condo

I took this series in 2018 and didn’t do much with them. I did a better job than I thought on capturing the clouds. I had to do a little adjusting to bring out the brickworks and highlights, but other than that, this is the shot as it came out of my Canon. Not a clue how I managed to do it. The camera was still new and I just trying to master holding it steady. The details are outstanding. The photo is a little on the dark side, but when i tried to adjust lights and darks, the highlights blew out and destroyed the symmetry.  I like the light bouncing off the roof and windows. Without that, this would be a bit generic.

Occasionally I wistfully look at camera lenses and dream about buying them. I had budgeted to purchase a good quality lens, waffling between a 24mm lens or a pricier zoom lens but the lockdowns and mom’s death put the kibosh on that. Priorities changed.

After looking at these earlier photos, I’m not so disappointed. I need to continue working further with the basic kit lens and explore how I can get strong photos with it before obsessing about upgrading. It’s easy to get wrapped up chasing new hardware and neglect the basics. More attention is needed on gaining a stronger understanding of light and dark settings. Right now, taking a good photo is still hit and miss. Although I’ve progressed (despite the past few months idleness), there is so much more to master.

Diggers and hardhats – Construction site photos

Digger at a construction site photo

Diggers and hard hats

I stood outside the fenced area to grab a bunch of shots of the site. I went so often some of the workers waved at me when I walked by. This was one of the better ones. Most photos were garbage – not in focus, askew or distorted, the usual sins. While looking at the 2018 photos, I realised how often I get a tilted image. I still do and I’m not sure how to correct the problem. Even the recent balcony photos have a noticeable lean. Everything looks fine in the window, but when I process the photos, they list to one side. It’s annoying, to say the least.

Photo of a gutted church being turned into a condo

Just a shell left

These photos were taken before I began to understand how the camera settings worked. Although I’m still shaky in my comprehension, I primarily use full manual now. Photos are crisper, more vibrant, still tilted, but oh well. The last couple batches of photos required fewer adjustments before posting them. I’m getting there.

Night lights on a crane

Construction crane lit up at night

Construction as art

Different construction site this time. The crane has long gone from the landscape and a nice-looking condominium replaced it. I do miss looking out the window to watch the work. It took about 10 photos at this spot before I got the light correct. If I’d used the tripod, the crane would have been sharper, but a decent shot none the less.

I get weirdly self-conscious when I use the tripod. Maybe it has something to do with the hassles I’ve had with officious types who have demanded I “move along, no photos in this area” (with no tripod, just my Canon) all the while people around me are madly snapping with their cell phones.  The idiocy of these encounters discouraged me for a bit.

Last thoughts

I bought a couple of filters over the last few months and hope they will mute the glares and increase colour intensity. I know what I’m looking for, what I’m trying to express in my photos. They aren’t just random shots; each has a reason. Sometimes it takes upwards to 20 attempts to get what I want, but it’s been worth the effort.

Want to see more?

4 Construction site photos – Hardhats and diggers

 

 

About a flu shot and web sites 2020

About a flu shot and web sites 2020

Get your flu shot!

Went for a flu shot the other day. Yes, I am one of those who diligently toddle off to get it every year. Normally my arm has a powerful reaction, the spot heats up and the entire arm aches for days but not this time. I do, however, feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. Hell of a trade-off. This too will pass.

But it’s left me feeling whiny and a bit childish, so I think I’ll bunker in the apartment today and avoid humanity. Not sure I’m up to dealing with people. I feel like I have low grade malaise, just no energy to do a thing. I shouldn’t be complaining. It’s better than a case of flu. So, yea, I’ll take a flu shot over the alternative any day.

A masked emoji encouraging you to get your flu shot

Mask up & get your flu shot

Website organization

Instead of working on articles, I’ve spent the last 24 hrs thinking about this site. It’s time to rationalize the categories. I’m going to amalgamate Photography with the Typography and Design section. It makes more sense to have them together. They are related in themes and will be easier to keep the content fresh. It’ll be re-labeled Photos & Design.

Whither now philately?

A lot of time has spent on sorting out newsletters as well. I’ve begun to sign up for stamp related news releases from post offices around the world. It’s time to shake off the Canadian centric view and look at the glorious offerings around the world. Let me tell you, it’s a trip and a half. Some sites don’t translate well. I had to tap a couple of friends for help with a Hungarian translation. Between the two of them, they sorted me out.

I’m playing with an idea of doing a retrospective of stamps around the world from 2020, but that might turn out to be too big a project. But I did manage to line up topics for approx. 100 stamp articles for 2021. As well, I have a number of Christmas themed stamps ready to post. Keep watch in the Philately section them.

What about the rest of the world?

In my travels, I came across a superb website:

Logo for the website "Rest of the World"

Rest of the world – reporting global tech stories

Rest of the world breaks out of the annoying western obsession with Silicon Valley and North America. It offers coverage of important tech and social media issues affecting the world. Well written and insightful. I spent about 3 hours yesterday cruising their website. Subscribe to their newsletter and get the latest news delivered to your mailbox. You won’t regret it, especially if you are like me. I have had a growing dissatisfaction with the smug navel gazing of most tech news sites based in North America. They all report the same news, over and over. That’s partially why I haven’t posted a lot on the tech section of the website. I’ve become bored with technology. Too many sites offer what feels like breathless anticipation of the most insignificant changes but missing the bigger picture.

I’ll have to give thought to the Tech section. It needs a serious boot in the typeface. I will continue to write little reviews and offer advice because I enjoy doing it, but I need to look at tech issues beyond my borders. So many exciting things are happening around the world, it’s a crime to ignore them. I’d be grateful for any ideas pushed my way.

A wee bit of art news

I also discovered a new bit of software – Adobe Fresco and played around with it off an on. So far, I like what I see and will explore it further with my mighty tablet. If I continue to enjoy the software, I’ll drop a few articles about it.

Also, in art news, I am arranging an interview with an artist friend. She’s the real deal and I’ve always loved her artwork. When things settle down a bit, we’ll get together for an interview about her work and the thought process behind it. I’m hoping she will discuss with me how she’s evolved as an artist over the years. Will be FUN.

finis

So that’s the roundup of my week so far. I originally started out writing about food. The article sat at 50 words for the last 3 days and didn’t get anywhere. I was despairing a bit that I’d never be able to finish it. But here I am. Sometimes you have to let you brain meander where it wants.

Still contrary at 60 years old

Still contrary at 60 years old

I’m now past 60 years old. I always feel like I should start these posts with “Dear Diary, You’ll never guess what”.  Anyway. With my birthday firmly in the rear view mirror, I have a confession to make. I’m surprisingly content.

Been a horrible couple of years, with stress beyond belief and I’m still grieving hard for mom. I miss her every day. I have the odd cry when I lean over to tell her something funny and she’s not there to laugh with me. But over the past few months, a sense of peace has caught up with me. I realise saying this in 2020 is a certifiable act, but I’ve hit a sense of equilibrium. The years have been a frenzy of hospital stays, doctor appointments, helping mom with her exercises, making sure she ate properly etc. Anyone who’s taken care of an aging parent gets it, without further explanation.

Now, I have time to .. do nothing. Sit on the balcony and just watch the sun set or prop my feet up, with a glass of wine one hand and a trashy novel in the other. All knowing I no longer worry whether mom is okay. Don’t misunderstand. I would give anything to have her back. I miss her so much, it physically hurts at times. But that isn’t what reality allows. Mom had fun. We had fun. Together. We muddled along through her illnesses and had a lot of laughs along the way.

It’s just me. Me and the million thoughts that run through my brain all the time. Mom had things left unsaid. She wanted to share her thoughts with you and she was cheated out of that chance. I’ve been reflecting on that a lot over the past week. It seemed so unfair. But, as mom would say, no one promised fairness in life. She was very much a working class philosopher, in her own way. I was lucky. I had to chance to listen to her and understand her life and struggles. So, I’m going to share my thoughts on what mom told me over the years, especially the last 4 years. Much of it will be seen through my personal lens. I’m not as kind hearted as mom so much of what I say may be a little more cynical than mom would have been.

Mom had a soft heart. Well, except when it came to Trump. Whoa! Talk about swear like a sailor. My mom, at 83, would rail against her contemporaries for being blind and selfish fools for supporting his style of politics. She was more concerned with the younger generations and what kind of world they will have, than she was herself. If she could have, Mom would have put on a pair of steel toed boots and kicked a lot of asses. She was peculiar.

And funny.

And fierce.

Life dealt her a pretty crappy hand. But she was able to be something I’ve never managed. Despite it all, she remained a contrarian optimist. I know, sounds like a contradiction, but stick with me over the weeks as I tell you about her, myself and our world view. I’m debating about keeping the vlog portion. I’m not very patient when it comes to editing. It was something mom really wanted to do but cancer had the final say in the matter. I’ll likely keep it, for mom. I tried scripting out what I want to say in the videos, but that’s just boring. You can listen to anyone read to you. I’ll have to figure out a balance. Something between me editing everything down into a  bland pudding to a full on me glaring at you through the camera lens.

I tend to get mouthy when I’m off script. I’d love to say I’ve mellowed with the years, but the opposite has happened. I’m to the point where I simply don’t have many fucks left to give. Mom had a lot left. She was the optimist in the house. I was the pessimist.  We balanced each other nicely. Guess I’ll have to channel a bit of mom’s better nature before I turn the camera back on. Tap into this sense of contentment I’ve acquired. So mask up folks. Take care of the people around you and buckle up. I have a lot more to say before I shuffle off my mortal coil.

Photo of the writer at 60 years old wearing a mask with black cat faces on it

Buckle up, I have a cat mask and no fucks left to give.

 

Still contrary at 60 years old

Ok, here’s the new plan for turning 60

Drinking beer in anticipation of turning 60

Portrait of a blogger

I’ll be turning 60 in a few days. Unlike many, I’m not dreading it. My opinion has always been, the further I get away from my teen years, the happier I am. I don’t see each decade as a dreaded milestone, but an event to savour.

I’ve come up with a plan for turning 60

I don’t intend to “grow old gracefully”. No interest in that notion, whatsoever. Instead, I’m going to be as opinionated and irritating in my senior years as I have been most of my life. I’ll kick more shins (yes, I’ve done that), raise an eyebrow at stupid people and continue to be a pain in the ass.

Learning isn’t just for young people

Every day I want to learn something. Maybe a little thing, maybe a new skill. But I will keep learning and exercising my brain. Turning 60 years old means it’s more important than ever to keep my brain working. New ideas, challenging old thoughts, learning a different skill are all important.

What the hell happened to my knees?

Knee bends. Boy do I ever have to do more. Don’t know when they became so creaky. When mom was recovering from her various surgeries, I bought her a little set of purple weights to help get her arm strength back. I would often see her, at 2 in the morning, Kindle in one hand, a weight pumping in her other, exercising her arms. It always amused me. She’d walk too, for miles. Even at 83, with cancer closing in, she still managed to walk 3 miles without resting. I need to be more like that.

Be open to different voices

I will continue to say I don’t know everything.  It’s not a weakness to admit it. There is always more to learn. That means being quiet and LISTENING to people. It’s not always easy, but there it is.  BLM, First Nations, Women of colour, immigrants, millennials – all have stories to tell.  It isn’t their job to teach me, it’s my job to learn. The older I grow, the less I know.

Challenge people who blame millennials for everything

One thing that pisses me off is the constant “you millennials, you young people are destroying everything” crap coming out of the mouths of my peers. Seriously? You don’t remember the dumbass crap we pulled? You haven’t looked around and seen what the mantra “greed is good” has done? We were lucky, there weren’t cameras taping our every move. We didn’t have helicopter parents telling us what a terrible world we live in. For any young person reading this – carry on, be a pain in the ass and change the world. Just because that’s the way it’s always been, doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be.

Don’t forget the food

Lots of and lots of food. From every corner of the world. There are still undiscovered corners of the world to be explored. I want to start with Canada and work my way around the world on a culinary adventure. There will be disasters in the kitchen. But it’ll be fun.

Oh and more beer. There is always time for more pints of good beer.

And wine. Definitely wine too.

And pizza on the balcony with a friend, watching the sun set over the city.  Much more of that.

Final goal?

Work less in the real world and chase subscribers and donations for this site. I am haunted by something mom said, shortly before she died. While preparing to make YouTube videos for her and she said “I have a lot to say about the world, and it’s so different from what I used to think”. She died before she could share her thoughts with the world. I’m not waiting. Mom discovered late in life how to be “pushy”. Funny how a tiny 82-year-old woman was considered pushy when she refused to be treated as an invisible person.

I’m going to be pushy.

REALLY. FUCKING. PUSHY.

Come along for the journey. Enjoy the ramblings. Get irritated occasionally. Tell me what you’re thinking too. Lots of room for comments.

Love
Catpaw