November 30, 2011

December 2011

Photo by Kris De Curtis
Welcome, one and all, to the Christmas edition of the "Read Your OWN Library!" Challenge.  What's so Christmas-ish about this particular installment?  Well, this is December, and isn't this picture of a Christmas ornament beautiful?  So there you go.

For those who are new to this perpetual challenge, we're thrilled to have you along!  Please tell us a little about how you got buried so deeply beneath your own library of unread books.  Let us know which level of the challenge you're signing on for, and which book you're requiring yourself to finish before December gives way to 2012.  Henceforward, you can link up a new post at the beginning of each month, reporting how you did, and what you'll read next.  Returning readers, welcome back!  How did November go, and what are you planning on reading in December?

As for me, I squeaked my way through my assigned book for November--a non-fiction work on Egyptology called Red Land, Black Land--with only hours to spare before I ran out of November in which to read it.  I DID conquer it, however, and it now lies in my Victory Garden.  I must confess, I feel pretty pleased with myself.  You can read my full review of the book here, but the short version is that I really enjoyed it, and recommed it to anyone who is interested in ancient Egypt.  If that very specific subfield of non-fiction isn't a major fascination for you, then you might want to skip this one.

Regarding my required reading for December: I don't know about you, but there's quite a lot going on in my non-internet life as well as in my corner of the blogosphere this month!  I think a little good old-fashioned double-dipping is the order of the day.  I'm going to rely on my book from The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge--The Chimes, by Charles Dickens--which also meets the requirements of "Read Your OWN Library," so isn't that helpful?  Can't wait to hear from you all!

Review of "Red Land, Black Land"

by Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels)

Yes, I finally finished this book!  After some five years.  And it did NOT "go gently into that good night," let me tell you.  Don't get me wrong; I really enjoyed this book.  I just mean that Red Land, Black Land makes you fight for it every sentence of the way; this book is not fluff, and your attention can't waver if you want to keep up with what's going on.

I love Barbara Mertz, and have ever since I stumbled upon my first Amelia Peabody mystery novel.  Murder mysteries set during the dawn of European Egyptology, written by an actual modern Egyptologist!  Forget "What's not to love?"  We can now move straight to "I can die happy!"  So when I discovered that my favorite sleuth-maker had written a duo of non-fiction Egyptology books, I had to own and read them.  I flew through Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs, as I imagine most readers did; it's an unrepentant orgy of all things pharaonic and monumental that still exist of ancient Egypt, all those things that stand out as most flashy and memorable in peoples' minds.  Red Land, Black Land is sort of the antidote to all that, covering the little we can reliably say we know about every aspect of the average ancient Egyptian's life.

This book really does have a very slow start, and I'm not surprised that it took me a couple of tries to get into it.  It's definitely worth it, though; even the beginning material is interesting--if you like Egyptology, anyway--it just feels rather haphazardly arranged, which is why it took me a little while to settle in to Mertz' style of organizing her topics.  It's a riveting read, once you're into it, though, and well-illustrated with line drawings of Egyptian art.  The author makes no secret of the fact that she doesn't know the definitive answers to a number of questions laymen often ask.  Indeed, she reveals that NO Egyptologist can answer all those questions; I don't doubt that some of her colleagues weren't too thrilled with her!  She baldly announces that most learned scholarly theories are at best just the considered guess of an intelligent person.  This is actually one of the most satisfying aspects of the book--Mertz' legendary caustic wit created some priceless one-liners here.

I've been a (decidedly amateur) armchair Egyptologist for years, so much of what Mertz had to say only built on things I've been reading about for years, or brought me up to date on theories that have changed or been rejected since I last read about them.  The only thing I wonder about this book is whether it would be that useful for the true beginner who knows nothing about the topic at all, but is just curious.  I think a little bit of previous background would be useful, though just reading the first of the pair of books before reading this one might be enough.  Barbara Mertz does an excellent job of avoiding overcomplication; Egyptology is just an inherently complex subject.

Pharaonic Words

This Wondrous Words Wednesday post was supposed to go up SO MUCH EARLIER in the day.  Sorry, all; I got wrapped up in the unbelievable drama of watching police herd American citizens through the streets of LA last night, and time got completely away from me.

ANYWAY, all my words today come from the Egyptological tome Red Land, Black Land, by famous Egyptologist and novelist Barbara Mertz, of the beloved nom de plume Elizabeth Peters.  Ever read an Amelia Peabody mystery?  If not, you simply MUST; they're fabulous.  All my words come from only one book this time--which is unusual for me--because I am trying desperately to meet the requirements of my own "Read Your OWN Library!" challenge and finish it before midnight tonight.  At this particular moment, my hopes are not that high, but Goonies never say die!

1.  corbel--Basically: ever seen a shelf with a bracket built into the bottom of it to hold it up?  The bracket piece underneath is a corbel.

2.  serdab--I'm happy to finally know what the name for this is, since I've seen pictures of them many times, and even saw a real one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  (I LOVE the MET!!)  In Old Kingdom ancient Egypt, tombs contained a walled-up room with a tiny viewing window built into it, through which one could see a statue of the deceased.  That room is called a serdab.

3.  shank's mare--Had any of you ever heard of this before?!  It was certainly a new one for me.  All it means is to walk, the implication being that you're having to travel a long way on foot.  "Some places could only be reached by water, and boats were a lot more comfortable than donkey back or shank's mare."

4.  exogamy--I had never encountered this term, but it made perfect etymological sense once I saw it.  An exogamous marriage is basically just a "mixed" marriage--marrying outside one's own race, religion, tribe, whatever you parents told you never to do and thereby made a whole bunch of new people groups look like a really attractive place to find a mate.

5.  soi-disant--This one is clearly French.  It means "self-styled," as in, to give oneself a nickname, epithet or title.

6.  peripteral--Lots of architectural terms in this book.  This one means, according to Wiktionary, "surrounded by a single row of columns."

7.  clerestory--More architecture.  Clearly, this one sounds like it's related to "cloister," at least to me.  "[T]he upper part of a wall containing windows to let in natural light to a building, especially in the nave, transept and choir of a church or cathedral".

So, there are my words for the week.  And I DID get the book finished!  (I always forget to check how much of the remaining content is index and bibliography when I'm reading an e-book.)

November 28, 2011

Top 10 Winter Reads

Top 10 Tuesday once again--how the week just flies when you're enjoying a holiday!--and this time, those brilliant folks at The Broke and The Bookish have asked what's on my winter TBR pile.  To be perfectly honest, the list mostly consists of books required for a challenge, so they've been mentioned in previous posts, but I figure, recording them all in one place for everyone to see like this keeeps me accountable to get through them, you know?  Well, that's the theory, anyway.

Books for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge:

10.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens--I've already finished.  Click to read the review.  5 Stars--big surprise, right?

9.  The Chimes by Charles Dickens

8.  The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens--I originally only signed up to read two of these three books, but I enjoyed the first so much that I've decided to take three--they're short.

Books for The Regency and Victorian Reads Challenge (several of which I've already finished, so I've only listed the ones I have left):

7.  Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen--I'm determined to finally read the last two Jane Austen books that I've never gotten to yet.

Other stuff, some for challenges, some just for fun:

5.  The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle--What better to do on a long winter evening than curl up in my recliner with some Sherlock Holmes adventures?

4.  At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon--I am determined to finally plant this book in my Victory Garden.  I have started it TWICE before and never gotten through it yet.

3. Village Christmas by Miss Read

2.  Christmas Mouse by Miss Read--which, of course, is not the author's real name.  Have you ever read any of the Miss Read books?  Delightful accounts of the adventures of a British schoolmarm of yesteryear, with enough piercing insights into human behavior to make them anything but sappy, I assure you.  I've read one of her Christmas books.  This winter seems an excellent time to get to the others.

1.  Harry Potter and the (Fill in the Blank) by J.K. Rowling--When am I NOT reading the Harry Potter series YET AGAIN?  Right now, I'm into Half-Blood Prince, so I've almost finished them for the 7th(?) time.  Seriously, my motto in life is pretty much, "When in doubt, re-read Harry Potter."

It's a "Silent Night...All is calm" kind of list, I know.  I don't go in for anything too hard-core at the best of times, but when I'm still on the pre-Christmas side of winter, I pretty much like to stick to books that are soft, pretty and gentle on the nerves, like a freshly-falling snow.

November 27, 2011

December's Nightstand

First things first: Welcome, Thailand and Finland!  The newest countries on my blog world map.

Now then, on to the latest news bulletin from my ever-messy nightstand.  Looking back over last month's post, I can report some success.  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes eventually submitted to my determined efforts, as you can see in my review by clicking on the title.  Likewise, I finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix--again!--and have plunged straight ahead into the next, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  I haven't much time to work on it at present, though, because I'm neck-deep in other things for reading challenges.  Chief among those being Red Land, Black Land, which I'm reading feverishly because I'm supposed to have it done by December 1st for my own "Read Your OWN Library!" Challenge.  I'm over half-way through it now, though, and utterly captivated, so no worries about not finishing it this time, like my former failed attempt.  At present, however, it is STILL prominently displayed on my nightstand.

The newest addition is my copy of three of Charles Dickens' famous Christmas Books, i.e. A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth.  Obviously, these are my chosen holiday reads for December, which I'm reading for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge.  I have already completed the first of these (click above for review), and as soon as I finish with the Egyptological tome mentioned above, they will be my constant study until I finish this challenge--with some Sherlock Holmes thrown in for variety.

November 26, 2011

My Tiny Little Inbox

I only got one book to report on this week.  I confess, that makes me feel just a bit sorry for myself.  Wait!  This is actually an omnibus volume, so I really got FOUR books this week!  There now; I feel better already.  Anyway, let me just say that I'm getting VERY impatient for one of the publishers for whom I review to get SOMETHING available that I have even a remote interest in reading; their failure to do so is cutting into my supply!  I finally gave up waiting on one of the others, and just requested something of theirs that I wouldn't normally read at all.  That's probably healthy for me, though; it helps broaden my horizons.  It hasn't arrived yet, but at least I'll have something to write about next Sunday.

SO, enough grousing.  With the arrival this week of The Betsy-Tacy Treasury: The First Four Betsy-Tacy Books, I now have the entire Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Once again, this is a Christmas present I ordered for myself, which means that it will be wrapped and opened at the proper time, so I can't read it now.  That's just as well, however, since I've got two Christmas books to read before January 6th, and I'm also hoping to finish my requirements for The Regency and Victorian Challenge as soon as possible, in order to start off fresh on the challenges of 2012.  My friends Betsy, Tacy and Tib will have to wait a while for me to come play on the Big Hill.

Do You Speak Quote? (2)

It's a quiet, lazy Saturday afternoon, which is perfectly lovely.  Good Man Michael is sitting in his recliner, Brigid the SuperToddler is watching the 80's classic "A Claymation Christmas"-- AAAAAGGGGGAAAAAIIIINNNNN!--and I'm computer multitasking.  Guess what?  I'm bored!!  And we all know what THAT means!  Time for another installment of the semi-regular feature around here, "Do You Speak Quote?"  I give you a quote, you give me your best guess as to the source, and somebody gets a free (VERY gently used) book.  (One owner.  Low mileage.  Only read once.  That kind of thing.)  Are you ready?

In which book would you see someone referred to as being "of the race that knows Joseph"?  Hint: the answer is NOT the Bible, or any book of the Bible.  Leave your answer in the comments, and invite your friends to do the same.  Good luck!

Review of "A Christmas Carol"

Oh, good grief!  How can anyone still offer a review of "A Christmas Carol", as if this story hasn't been done to freakin' death?!  Yeah, I know.  But I read it for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge, and my policy is, if I read it, I get to review it.  Especially a book that I have this much history with.  It was fascinating to compare my view of it now with what I remembered of it from having last read it when I was about 11.

by Charles Dickens
(Completely useless side note:  Did you know the man had 10 children?!)

Do we REALLY need a synopsis of this one?  I'm kind of doubting it.  Stingy miser.  Four ghosts (total; think carefully).  Change of heart.  " 'God bless us every one,' said Tiny Tim the last of all."  Let's move on.

My strongest overriding impression throughout this book was, "I read this when I was ELEVEN?!"  I have a pretty clear memory of what my vocabulary and field of experience contained at that point in my life, and I have no idea how I got past about page 5 of this book at that age.  There are just so many historical and cultural references to everyday British Victorian life that I know must have sailed right past me.  However, I have some vague memory also of plunging straight on, knowing that I was alreay familiar with the outlines of the tale from television and films, and that it didn't really matter that much to the story what a "cravat" was.  (Now that I know what a cravat is, it still doesn't matter that much to the story, frankly, so I guess I was right.)

Still, I enjoyed the book a lot more this time, when I could grasp so many more of its subtle nuances.  Those of you who participate in Wondrous Words Wednesday will know that I dedicated an entire post to the number of English words which have changed meaning since Dickens penned them, which was educational in itself and also quite fun to investigate.

Believe it or not, this book did contain one big surprise for me, as I had completely forgotten some of the more nuanced elements.  My beloved husband, aka Good Man Michael, often complains that Dickens was the beginning of the end of the Western world seeing Christmas primarily as a religious holiday.  He used to insist that good old Charles made us all think mostly of social justice issues, rather than the birth of Christ, around this time of year.  I can fully understand why he thought so--he's never read the book!!  He's only ever seen the same 40,000 adaptations of it that we've all watched over the years.  Even I had begun to think he was right, until I read the book and discovered that Dickens makes his views of "the Reason for the Season" extremely clear.  (I really kind of hate that phrase, by-the-way--it's so kitsch and cliche and smarmy.  But, in this case, it gets the point across.)  He also has a few choice words for those religious leaders who were actually contributing to the misery of the London poor. 

A Christmas Carol is both feel-good Christmas story and harsh indictment in pretty much equal measure.  I think maybe that's why we all go back to it year after year.

November 25, 2011

5 Minutes of Gratitude

By definition, the day after Thanksgiving will always be a 5-Minute Friday, so long as The Gypsy Mama keeps hosting this meme.  Thus, through the long Thanksgiving weekend--for which we are all CERTAINLY grateful!--we are reminded to continue counting our blessings, and that is a good thing.
At 12:55 in the afternoon, I begin.

I have a lot to be grateful for, and don't think I don't know it.  This list could be very long.  But I'm not going to write that list, because one thing stands out so firmly in my mind that I was grateful for yesterday.

To many, this will seem a bizarre thing for which to be so grateful: I turned off my cell phone on a major holiday.  Telephones and I have been uneasy allies since the moment I answered one at about 4 AM during my junior year of high school and heard on the other end of the line my brother's voice announcing that my father had been taken to the hospital with a massive heart attack .  From that time on, the ringing of a telephone always caused me to stiffen a bit, to jump into action, to wonder if the time to pick out a suitable black dress had finally come.

I adored my parents.  I thought losing them was the worst thing that could ever happen in my world.  I realized yesterday that waiting to lose them, and the suffering that they endured while they waited for Christ to gather them home to Himself, was in many ways worse than the natural process of grief could ever be.  Last year at this time, I was still recovering from having finally gotten the call about Dad a few years before, and waiting for the call to come about Mom, who was in a hospital she would never leave.  This year, I turned my cell phone off, knowing that none of us were waiting anymore, and enjoyed a lovely dinner with my husband, my daughter, and my wonderful in-laws, my new family, all of whom are in robust good health for their age, I am happy to say.  I am grateful.

November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

The following is the final sermon given by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, patron saint of many hearts and spiritual father of all who graduate from St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary.  It was to his memory that we were drawn in attending the seminary, and it was for him, for our fellows in arms, and our Christ that we stayed.  He gave this homily in the SVS chapel on Thanksgiving Day in 1983.  I was a 6-year-old raging Pentecostal from rural southern Indiana at the time.

"Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.

Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.

Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the 'one thing needed'; Your eternal Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to worship You.

Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.

Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.

Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.

Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.

Lord, it is good to be here!  Amen."
The Orthodox Church, Vol. 20, No. 2, February 1984, p. 1:1

And God Bless Us, Every Word

Another Wondrous Words Wednesday is upon us--which in this case means that another Thursday is almost here, and this particular Thursday will be Thanksgiving!  I usually try to hold off on all references to Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving, but with a SuperToddler in the house who is super-psyched for Christmas, aided and abetted by her grandmother, I have given up all pretense, and we are happily watching Christmas movies on DVD.  A LOT.  Besides, with the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge in full swing, I'm neck deep into Dickens' Christmas books and loving every minute of it.

I'm also getting a profound verbal education from my first re-reading of A Christmas Carol in many years.  When I was younger, I just skipped over words I didn't know; looking back, I wonder now how I got any sense of a story from this book, since so many of the terms--though not new--have changed meaning so drastically that I'm looking them up as if it's the first time I ever encountered them.  I think you'll see what I mean as you read your way down the list.

1.  rime--a thin sheet of ice or hoarfrost over something, especially when the freezing occurred very rapidly.  This, of course, was a reference to Scrooge's "cold, cold heart," as it were.

2.  Union workhouse--Apparently, charitable provision for the poor in Dickensian England was regulated by what was called the New Poor Law, and that law created Poor Law Unions in parishes, under whose auspices workhouses were created to give shelter, food and jobs.  The workhouse got its awful reputation because they weren't exactly encouraging people to want to stay there if they were fit enough to do any other job on Earth.

3.  treadmill--Did YOU know that there were once mills powered by humans walking on, well, giant hamster wheels?  Because I did not know that, nor that such mills were the origin of our term for the modern piece of exercise equipment.

4.  link--See what I mean?  Of course, I know what a link is; in fact, I have a couple of meanings for it that would have been utter nonsense in Dickens' time.  However, to him, it was a torch.  How the English language does change!

5.  genius--Here we go again.  Before this was a mental wunderkind, it was a guardian spirit.

These last two I had encountered many times in my life, but had never actually looked them up to discover the precise meaning.  I just assumed a rough guess would suffice.  Both my guesses were wrong.

6.  misanthrope--I cannot BELIEVE that I never worked this one out based on simple etymology.  It means someone who hates human beings.  An apt description for pre-ghoul Scrooge if I ever heard one.

7.  fain--This actually means to enjoy or be pleased by.  I had a vague idea that it meant to be willing to do something, or to take an action out of simple necessity.  Nope.  Much more positive than that.

So there you have it, a feast of words from dear old Mr. Dickens.  I wish you and all yours a happy Thanksgiving.

November 22, 2011

Low-Fat Grande Escutcheon

I for one feel that it is high-time I indulged myself in a geek-out on my blog, and a nice, unseasonably warm November day just before Thanksgiving seems like the perfect time.  Everybody's taking a little time off from the usual grind; even my Good Man Michael should be home any minute, and doesn't have to go back to work until Monday.  Yay!  Anyway, I believe I'll take a holiday pause and introduce all of you to one of my favorite hobbies.  For those of you who already know all about the topic, hope you enjoy the refresher.

So, the first question is, of course, "What the Hell is an 'escutcheon', JNCL?"  Well, it's just another word--in this case, the Latin word--for "shield," and is often used to refer to our topic for today, coats of arms.  "Okay.  Clear as mud.  What's a coat of arms?"  Maybe this crudely drawn visual aid I created will help.

Illustration 1
Coat of Arms

Ring any bells now?  You may know this device as a "crest," but as you can see from Illustration 1, the crest is actually a piece of the whole coat of arms, not its proper title.  (By-the-way, just for the information, "supporters" are not normally big, gray ovals; they're normally some kind of animal literally holding up the shield in their paws, but my artistic skills weren't up to that, so you'll just have to use your imaginations.)  As a subject of study, coats of arms and everything relating to them are referred to as "heraldry," and those in countries around the world whose job it is to create and register coats of arms are called "heralds".  In medieval Europe, heralds also had the job of ensuring that no one was cribbing someone else's arms, and announcing the identity of their master in a tournament.  ("Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing!"  Haven't you always wondered what that meant?  Well, now you know.)

As an American whose ancestry is mostly Celtic and Anglo-Saxon--not to mention a completely obsessive Anglophile--I tend to prefer my heraldry constructed according to the rules established in the UK.  I can recognize the styles of numerous other countries on sight, as many of them are quite distinctive, but when I design a coat of arms myself--yes, I dabble with it on occasion as gifts for friends and such--I tend to follow the British guidelines pretty closely.  With one HUGE, glaring exception.  In the United Kingdom, women don't have their own coats of arms.  Ever.  Except on the rare occasion when every male heir in a family has died, leaving only her.  Or on the even rarer occasions when a woman becomes the sovereign.  Elizabeth II has arms that are hers, and will be inherited by her son when he becomes king.  Most British women don't get that privilege.

No, women get to use their father's coat of arms "by courtesy," and they don't get to use a shield, or the helmet, because such military symbols are supposedly inappropriate for ladies.  Nor does she get the motto, which was originally just a sort of battle cry.  Obviously, these rules have been around a LOOOOOONG-ass time.

Illustration 2
Arms of an Unmarried Woman

An unmarried woman bears her father's arms on a diamond-shaped, um, something, called a lozenge.  (Since we're not allowed to call it a shield, "something" sounded better than "blob.")  To show that she's single, or "eligible" for us Jane Austen fans, she has a "true lover's knot" on top of the lozenge, which goes away when she gets married. 

Illustration 3
Arms of Fictitious Husband

And that's not the only change; her husband's arms get added to her father's, so now her identity is a mix of two men, instead of just one.  How flattering for her.  On the upside, though, she finally gets a shield, once again "by courtesy," because she gets to borrow her husband's.  There are a few other ways to arrange the two arms, but this one is pretty standard.

Illustration 4
Arms of Married Woman

However, when he dies, she'll have to give it back--to their son, her husband's heir.

Illustration 5
Arms of Widow

So, there she is, back to a lozenge-thingamy, with two halves of two coats of arms smushed together, usually with visually unimpressive results, and occasionally, an outcome that is just flat ugly.  My personal favorites are the ones where a bird's wing or something is sticking at random out of the other half of these hybrid arms.  "Always good [entertainment] value," as Ron Weasley would say.

And if you're wondering if anyone on Earth gives a flying fart in space about this anymore, I refer you to the arms of THE FATHER OF Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, granted on 19 April 2011, drawn in Illustration 6 as they were borne by Princess Catherine before she married Prince William.

Illustration 6
Arms of Miss Catherine Middleton
Artist: Sodacan 

Of course, her lozenge-blob has to be special, because she was the prince's fiancee.  When she finally became a princess by marriage, her arms "by courtesy" became this.

Illustration 7
Arms of HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
Artist: Sodacan

Unlike all other women in the United Kingdom--except those rare, chosen few who actually own their own arms because they ran out of male relatives--those closely related to the sovereign by birth or marriage get "courtesy" supporters.  Such "courteous" people, aren't we?

Now, the final question is this: now that they made women fully equal heirs to the throne of the UK and the Commonwealth Realms, will they FINALLY be able to receive arms in their own right?  And to all you lucky women out there who are Canadian citizens, you are ALREADY entitled to be granted arms, so if you have the money and the inclination, apply for some!  The more armigerous (meaning "owning a coat of arms") women the better!

November 21, 2011

Top 10 Thanksgiving Guests

For this week's Top 10 Tuesday, the gang at The Broke and The Bookish have asked us which authors we would like to invite to our Thanksgiving dinner.  An interesting question, and certainly one I hadn't given any thought to until they mentioned it.  I thought it would take me longer than it actually did to come up with 10 names, but once I got started, the ideas flowed pretty freely.  To invite most on my list to a dinner, I would have to turn the meal into a seance, complete with medium and Ouija board, but since we're dreaming, lets dream on a COLOSSAL scale, shall we?  I'm completely astounded at myself that I DIDN'T think of Jane Austen until I read Tahleen's list, but I didn't, and my list is already full, so we will carry on with it as I originally compiled it.

10.  Stephen Fry--I just watched a documentary special he did for the BBC called Stephen Fry in America, in which he visited all 50 states and observed us wacky Americans in our native habitat for the benefit of his compatriots.  He discussed us with a great deal of patient and bemused sympathy, and I know that he makes a witty, pleasant Thanksgiving dinner guest, because he actually went to such a dinner while on his travels.

9.  Michael Palin--The Python who pioneered the sort of tongue-in-cheek travel documentary that I described above is also hilarious, a very intelligent and entertaining writer, and would no doubt lighten up the tension wonderfully if any family holiday drama broke out.  Besides, I'm just aching to meet a Python before they all drop off the twig!

8.  Fr. Alexander Schmemann--From the ridiculous to the sublime.  Schmemann was one of the greatest Eastern Orthodox theologians of the 20th century, and it was his writings, in part, which helped me through the process of conversion.  However, it is for a simpler and more beautiful reason that I would particularly like to have him visit for Thanksgiving.  He gave his last homily on Thanksgiving day, in the chapel at St. Vladimir's Seminary (from which I graduated), and it is a sermon which echoes the overpowering voice of God in its spare, elegant phrases.  The homilist is obviously a man who knows he will soon die and can honestly say, "It is well with my soul."  I read that sermon aloud every year when we pray over the meal, but I'd love it if Fr. Schmemann could be here to read it himself just once.

7.  St. Gregory the Theologian--Known in the Western church as St. Gregory of Nazianzus, this partiarch of Constantinople could write a festal oration like nobody else in the history of Christianity.  I would love to hear the homily he would write for the occasion if he could be present at a modern Thanksgiving celebration!  (Although, he'd probably rip the metaphorical flesh off our figurative hides with a blistering indictment of commercialism, consumerism and over-indulgence, and that would likely put quite a damper on things.)

6.  Douglas Adams--Whatever else you can or cannot say about the author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, he certainly would make one lively conversationalist over a good meal, and could easily fill any awkward silences with something worth hearing.

5.  Ellen Raskin--The Westing Game has been one of my all-time favorite books since I first discovered it at the age of 10 (by which time the author was already the LATE Ellen Raskin).  I would've loved to have just one evening's conversation with the woman, who had a fascinating mind and knew how to keep me spell-bound with everything of hers that I've ever read.

4.  Chaim Potok--With so many great writers to choose from, I know just how bold this statement is, but if I could resurrect any one modern author and meet him or her, I would probably choose Chaim Potok.  The profound impact this man's books have had on my life--at least, on my internal/mental life--can hardly be overstated.  He was an extraordinary writer, with an almost supernatural power to his words.  If you've never read My Name is Asher Lev and its sequel The Gift of Asher Lev, you must read them once before you die.  It will be time well-spent, I promise.

3.  Nathaniel Hawthorne--I must confess, the author of The Scarlet Letter is basically on the list for two reasons: 1) He knew enough about his Puritan ancestry to be able to entertain us with some interesting stories about the "first Thanksgiving".  2) This knowledge he had was also extensive enough that it led to his famous disgust with and guilt feelings over the religious behavior of his forebears.  He could set my Fundamentalist in-laws straight if they wax rhapsodic about the "good old days" of Puritans building their "shining city on a hill" and colonizing the New World in order to flee religious persecution.

2.  J.K. Rowling--Is there ever a time when you DON'T want to meet J.K. Rowling?  (Except maybe if you've just gotten accidentally covered in mimbulus mimbletonia juice.)  Don't we all want to have a one-on-one chat with her for a while?

1.  Charles Dickens--For my holiday reading this year, I've chosen a couple of Dickens' famous Christmas Books.  Given that he had a reputation during his lifetime as an awesome vocal performer of his own works, what better way could there be to celebrate Thanksgiving and kick off the Christmas season than by listening to Charles Dickens give a recitation of A Christmas Carol?

Fall Back and Regroup

The title of this post is one of Brigid's new favorite phrases; she heard it on a Veggie Tales video in which the Veggie Hebrews were trying to bring down the walls of Jericho.  You see why I call her the SuperToddler?!  It's disconcerting sometimes to have a child who is not even potty-trained yet randomly call out impressive phrases like, "Fall back and regroup!"

Anyway, I know I had a point here just a minute ago ... Ah, here it is!  My point is, this weekend kind of sucked.  My Good Man Michael and I had a lovely few hours out together having lunch and getting supplies at Wal-Mart, but after that, the weekend took a nose-dive.  Just to give you one example, I was eating some potato chips when one of my teeth--wait for it--CRUMBLED!  Not a happy experience, and unfortunately, not the first time I've had it.  I just have bad teeth; it's a family trait, I'm afraid.  I have an uncle who had to start wearing dentures when he was 25!!  At least my teeth have outlived his by a decade.  I hope to God that the SuperToddler inherited her FATHER'S dental genes.  Yep, roamed right away from that "point" thing again.  Dammit!  Okay, I've spotted it!  I'll try not to let it get away from me this time.

Photo by Matt Kozlowski

SO, what I'm TRYING to get around to saying is this: After a rather yucky weekend, I have fallen back, regrouped, and am ready to jump back into reading and blogging with renewed verve!  One reason for this is that today, I FINALLY get to begin the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge.  I got my books picked out weeks ago, and have been very impatiently waiting for the starting date to get here so I could crack them open.  Mr. Dickens, I'm inviting you over for Thanksgiving!

Don't you just LOVE Currier and Ives?

November 20, 2011

Glutton for, well, BOOKS!

I'm pathetic, I know.  No self-control whatsoever.  Another book blogger admitted to me in an e-mail the other day that she loves the challenge BUTTONS almost as much as she loves taking on the reading challenges and feeling the sense of accomplishment once they're completed.  Seeing someone else admit it in print freed me up to bring my button predilection out of the closet as well, and so, here I am with another challenge on my hands.

Honestly, I like the fact that this is a long-established challenge, that I'll be joining a community of people who enjoy this event, but really--isn't the button just so sweet?  I was tempted when Bev at My Reader's Block started talking this one up, but when I saw the button, I was hooked, and there was no escape.  So, on to the paperwork.

Six books will be required this year (and perhaps that's always been the number; I don't truly know), in the following categories:

~A book with a topographical feature in the title, e.g. hill, mountain, valley  No Man's Land
~A title featuring something you'd see in the sky, i.e. cloud, bird, sunset  Clouds of Witness
~A book with a creepy-crawly in the title--insect, worm, snake
~Something with a type of house in its title, be it wigwam or mansion At Home in Mitford
~A title containing something you would carry in your purse, pocket or bookbag, like a book, office supply of some kind, or your laptop 13 Little Blue Envelopes
~A book with something you'd find on a calendar in the title--day, month, year, or for the less prosaic, "pin-up" would work  Fenway 1912

There it is, and the count continues to climb for books read in a year that hasn't even started yet.  Double- Triple- Quadruple-dipping, here I come for sure!

November 19, 2011

World Eclecticism

This is something I've been wanting to do for a while, and tonight I just decided there was no time like the present.  I know it probably makes me a semi-pathetic blogger, but I can't help but get excited when I'm notified that someone from an entirely new country has just visited my blog for the first time!  So, I present to you the map of The Beauty of Eclecticism (as of December 12, 2011).

Click to Embiggen!

If you've visited and your country is not yet lit up in color, please let me know in the comments, and I will rectify the situation.  And by-the-way, to all you dear members of the Commonwealth Realms, yes, I do know that you're independent countries with HM QEII as your sovereign; I didn't mean to imply that you're all just part of the UK.  However, I was quickly running out of colors, so I gave all Her Majesty's realms the royal red.  Hope you don't mind.

Welcome, Cyprus, our newest visitor to the eclectic chaos that is my mind!

To the under-represented continents let me just say, South America, we hope to see you soon!  And Africa, I'd be honored to hear more from you in the coming days, as well.

Update on December 12, 2011--Welcome, Brazil!  And thank you for putting South America on my map.

November 18, 2011

Do You Speak Quote? (1)

I'm sitting in my recliner, being rather bored, while my SuperToddler is dancing around the living room, being rather giddy, because she's watching Frosty the Snowman.  So, while Frosty and little Karen the blonde-headed girl try to find some way to reach the North Pole, I randomly decided to introduce a new periodic feature on my blog called, "Do You Speak Quote?"  The object here is to toss out one of my favorite book quotes at random and see if anyone can identify the book it's from.  I warn you now, I offer no guarantees that these quotes will make a bit of sense, but they'll be fun.  In that spirit, here's my first quote.

"Skies Am Shining Brother"

Photo by Suguri F

Ring any bells?  Comments, please, if you have a guess.  What the Hell!  For the first comment I receive with the right answer, the commenter will get to take his/her pick from my small stash of very gently used giveaway books.  (I'll send you the little list, and hopefully one will take your fancy.)


This quote is from the puzzle mystery, The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin, which is an awesome book, by-the-way, and one of my absolute favorites of all time.  If you haven't read it, I recommend it; it's a quick read.  And I promise I wasn't cheating and just picking four words at random out of the book; those four words, in exactly that order, appear just like that on the page.  It was the first quote that went through my head, so I used it.  Next time I post one of these, I'll try to choose something that actually follows the rules of English grammar and wild stuff like that.

5 Minutes of Growth

Once again, it's 5-Minute Friday, and our word for today is "Grow".  It seems a bit odd to me, since we just did "Growing" on September 23rd, but it inspired a completely different post in my head this time, so what do I know?  Maybe that proves the point of thinking often about growth, right there.

With gratitude in advance to Joni Mitchell, The Counting Crows, and William Nicholson, author of the screenplay for Shadowlands, I begin.

"It's comin' on Christmas/They're cuttin' down trees..."
"A long December/And there's reason to believe/Maybe this year will be better than the last..."

Last year at this time, I was calling a hospital back home in Indiana from my apartment in Washington state nearly every day to get a report on my mother from nurses I never met.  My brother was dividing his time between a lot of work, occasional meals, occasional sleep, and sitting at my mother's bedside.

I was hoping against hope that what I knew was happening would, indeed, not happen, and rejoicing that the Reaper had held off at least for one more holiday, so grateful for that on Thanksgiving that I was practically giddy.  He continued to remain at bay until just after New Year, for which I was also thankful.  No more Christmas funerals.  I've attended too many.

No relationship in the world is like that between a mommy and her child, and two adults, each arrested at the moment when they first realized that lupus was fatal, are still wondering, finding their place without her.  After several years, we found our place without Dad; I assume that we'll eventually stumble into peace without Mom, as well.

Growing up hurts like Hell.

"But you learn.  My God, you learn."

November 16, 2011

Apres le Deluge

Well, it's the day after Brigid the SuperToddler's sad "fall from the couch, chip a tooth" incident, and life continues apace.  She seems to have completely forgotten her harrowing experience, even though she gets a funny look on her face when she brushes her top front teeth with her little toothbrush.  Mommy, on the other hand, will take a bit longer to fully recover from the trauma, I guess, but it helped a lot that the day had a very exciting start.  When Brigid and I woke up, we discovered the first snow of this winter, already in progress.  It didn't stick--it briefly turned into sleet, and then to all rain as the temperature rose above freezing--but you'd have thought we were BOTH toddlers, running around in a foot of snow and periodically flopping down to make snow angels, we were so giddy!  We set her high chair right in front of the sliding glass patio door, raised the Venetian blinds, and watched it snow while she ate her breakfast.  She tried to count snowflakes, though she wisely gave up at five and just said, "Five snows!  Yay!", clapping her little hands for sheer joy.  I told her the "story" (as I have every morning for about a week now) of what we would do when Christmas gets here--ham, and cheeseball, and family, and a birthday party for Jesus, and presents for us--and when I finished, as she always does, she announced, "The end!"  A little chip off a tooth didn't dampen our enjoyment of the snow or our anticipation of Christmas one bit.

Whacking Great Words

I just have to say, I love this weekly meme.  Since I discovered Wondrous Words Wednesdays hosted at Bermuda Onion, I find myself excited every time I come across a word throughout the week's reading that is new to me, or even one that I've heard but never bothered to look up before.  It adds a little extra zest of excitement to the reading I would be doing anyway.  So without further ado, to the words!

1.  distrait--"absent-minded, troubled, distracted", according to Wiktionary.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used this word at least three times in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and though it was clear from the context the general territory of mental distress we were in, I was glad when I finally looked it up and got it settled to my satisfaction EXACTLY what he was saying.

2.  ecarte--the name of a specific card game.  Wikipedia says it is similar to Euchre.

3.  pannikin--a drinking vessel or the beverage it contains.  I don't know why "cup" didn't suffice, but then this is Sherlock Holmes we're talking about.

The remainder of my words this week come from a book on Egyptology, hence the sudden shift in topics.

4.  puerperal fever--is apparently an infection of the uterus, and is usually contracted through childbirth.

5.  uxorious--So the Latin word for wife is uxor.  Who knew?  Anyway, where I come from, our synonym for this term is "hen-pecked."  Another phrase that describes the condition, of which Wiktionary helpfully reminded me, has to do with a man who is ruled by a certain female reproductive organ.

6.  marcel(led)--to put lots of intricate waves in something.  Apparently, the waves or ruffles for which two famous brands of potato chip are so well-known are actually marcel waves.

7.  parure--a lavish set of matching jewelry that could literally allow one to be draped from head to toe in pieces that were all coordinated together.  I'll take mine in sapphire and silver, please.

8.  lappet--It's easiest to explain this one with a visual aid.  No doubt you've seen this shimmering fellow before.

Photo courtesy of Aikon at nl.wikipedia

On his head, he's wearing the famous nemes headdress.  See the material hanging down on each shoulder?  Those are lappets.

I Demand a Re-do!

The day just ended was certainly a momentous one.  Let us be perfectly clear--one aspect of it was a decidedly bad thing.  Nevertheless, it was momentous.  Let's get the bad news out of the way first, shall we?

St. Apollonia,
Patroness of Dental Sufferers
It's the kind of thing that rends a mother's heart.  My beloved Brigid the SuperToddler chipped one of her two front teeth today.  She was blissfully playing on the couch, laughing at the adventures of her latest Nick, Jr. crush, Pocoyo, when she fell off the couch literally teeth-first.  Dammit, why does it ALWAYS have to happen when they're enjoying themselves the very most?  It makes such a sweet moment--listening to the giggling with utter abandon that only a toddler can do--instantly become such a sad one!  I count my blessings that she did not injure her mouth in any other way, no bleeding or swelling, and based on the dentist's phone advice, she seems to be fine.  I have some signs I have to watch for, but if none of them occur, we just let her go on about her merry way.  Within half an hour, she was laughing again and showed no signs of the tooth being tender, or indeed that anything negative had happened at all.  Still, it was most of the day before I could let go of the guilt that we mothers are so good at flailing ourselves with, even though there was absolutely nothing I could have done.  I can't bear to think that tooth will be that way for another three or four years, but all I can say at this point is, THANK GOD for baby teeth!!!  When I was a kid, I kind of used to think of this system as one of the Almighty's more cruel jokes; after all that trouble of teething, then I had to lose them, bleed and freak out and everything, and grow new ones AGAIN?!  (It probably would've helped if my parents hadn't banned all mention of Santa Claus and Tooth Fairies from our house.)  NOW, I understand the wisdom of His plan on the whole teeth issue.

But, on a lighter note, I took a bold step into a brave new experience today, and finally opened a Twitter account.  I have to say honestly that I don't see myself using it nearly as often as I do Facebook, but then I refused to get involved with any social media outlet for years and cannot imagine living without them now.  So many bloggers are on Twitter, it seemed like it was high time I got involved.  However, I'll completely come clean and admit that I'm hoping to increase my Klout score, not so that I can say I know how to win friends and influence people, but because I'd like to be eligible for some of the major book perks!

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