30 September 2011


It has come to my attention that there's been a certain dearth of comments on my blog posts lately. I thought it was because my esteemed readers were too disgusted with my babble to deign to reply, or else overcome by a certain sense of ennui as to the topics covered. However, as it turns out, there was (perhaps still is, now) a glitch in the system, and all the great multitudes of you who have been dying to leave a comment have been prevented from doing so by technical difficulties.

Apparently the error message one is sent runs as follows: "We are sorry, but we were unable to complete your request. The following errors were found: Input error: Cookie value is null for FormRestoration". Now, what in bloomin' blazes does that mean? The only thing I can figure is that they think you've been trying to join some weight-loss site. They're telling you that if you're trying to get back your pre-pregnancy (or pre-college, or pre-marriage, or pre-learn-to-cook-real-food) figure (= "FormRestoration"), you shouldn't consume any cookies (= "Cookie value is null"). Or, perhaps, only have really worthless cookies in the house, because they taste so awful they won't present any temptation. But you know that already, don't you?

Or, perhaps, it's actually something to do with carpentry. I usually set my "Language Preferences" to "English, UK" (it's Euro snobbery, okay? You don't have to follow suit). Now, in the UK, "cookies" are known as "biscuits", I believe. And "biscuits" are also what carpenters call little round flat disks of wood which can be used to join two pieces of wood together, provided one cuts a suitably-shaped slit into those pieces first. Then you have a biscuit joint, as opposed to a mortise-and-tenon, dowel or dovetail joint. I know about those because I learned a bit of furniture-making some years ago; alas, my jointing capabilities never progressed any further than the butt joint. (Quite. You can stop snickering now.) But I read all about the other joints, so I feel qualified to pontificate thereon. (What do you mean, reading library books isn't the same as actually doing something? C'mon!) So, I conclude that the error message about the cookies was meant to say that without cookies, or, in proper Queen's English, biscuits, the joint falls apart.

Well. The fact of the matter is that some of you did still get through to my blog commenting form, if not others. (Please, please don't tell me that you haven't actually been trying. It would just be too discouraging, and destroy all my carefully cultivated illusions of how tremendously large my readership has been growing in the last couple of days, and how all of you are clamouring to leave witty and erudite contributions. Leave me my fantasies - and leave a comment while you're at it.) So, I wonder if those of you that got through have something special going on? Perhaps an immunity to cookies. You're probably also really skinny, and your favourite food is green salad without dressing. I hate you. (Oops, sorry. That's not the way to build a following, is it? Okay, I mildly dislike you. No, not even that. In fact, you're my best friend, and you can come over anytime I've baked a fresh batch of cookies. More for me. Muahahahahaaaa....)

Ahem. Okay, I pushed a few buttons in the Blogger Dashboard, and clicked "Save" a couple of times. Maybe that fixed this problem? If not, I'll have to do some calisthenics to get blogger to do something about this. Can't have these comment-less blog posts; I don't like having my cyber voice echoing in an empty space. Cookie -kie -kie -kie -kie -kie.....

Life, the universe, and cookies. Uh, biscuits. Ah, whatever.

29 September 2011


I was very tempted to go off on a rant today about people who speed on the highway, tail-gating me and making me feel pressured to get out of their way so they can get ahead and wait at the next traffic light about two seconds longer than me. But then I thought, no. There are better things to talk about: such as today's Feast Day. It's St Michael's and All Angels today! Happy Michaelmas. Just in case you didn't know, that's pronounced "Mickle-muss", not "My-kal-mass", just like Christmas is "Kriss-muss", not "Cry-st-mass". I found that out from repeated watchings of the definitive film version of "Pride and Prejudice", the one with Colin Firth: "Mr Bingley is to take posession by Michaelmas!" There's lots you can learn from classic films (handsome actors in wet shirts have nothing to do with any of that, of course; I watch them purely for the educational value).

Michaelmas is one of the four quarter days of the year, the other three being Christmas, Lady Day (March 25th) and Midsummer or St John's Day (June 24th), which of course roughly correspond to the solstices and equinoxes. Quarter days are when rents were due, and servants hired (or paid, I suppose). So when Mr Darcy says that "Bingley means to quit the place entirely at Michaelmas", that translates to him moving out at the end of the rent term (The bum! But then, he didn't, after all. He married Jane instead. So we're all good. Aah, romance...).

It's kind of an interesting to look at which important personages of the Christian faith got their names appended to the old seasonal festive days. Christ to the Winter Solstice, Mary to Spring Equinox (which would make sense, it being nine months before Christmas), John the Baptist to Summer Solstice (oh yeah - he was Jesus' cousin, half a year older than Christ! More sense there.), and Michael the Archangel to Autumn Equinox. I wonder why they attached the angels to autumn.

The name Michael means "Who is like God?" It comes from a beautiful legend of how Lucifer, the Angel of Light, challenged God, wanting to be like Him. The Archangel took him on, calling out the battle cry "Who Is Like God?" (somewhat by way of a rhetorical question, as I understand it). After a big struggle between Lucifer and Michael and their followers, Lucifer was defeated, and he and his minions cast into the outer darkness, henceforth known as Satan and the devils.

I don't remember where I heard that story - it's not from the Bible, as I had assumed; as a matter of fact, I think its origin might be Milton and "Paradise Lost". But as I've never actually read more than an excerpt of Milton (have you ever tried him? He makes the Victorians look downright concise. And that's saying something.), I must have been told the story as a kid. Anyway, that story is why St Michael is usually shown as a warrior, having it out with a dragon-like creature; sort of like St George, but the latter tends to wear plate armour, being the original Knight In Shining Armour, whereas the Archangel has the standard wing outfit.

In Bavaria, where I spent my teen years, they have Michaelmas Markets, which are country fairs where animals are bought and sold, ribbons handed out, and good times had by all. I remember one year seeing a classmate playing in the brass band by the beer tent, wearing the full outfit, Lederhosen and all, which was a bit surprising as he didn't look like that in school. Oh, and I had another classmate whose birthday, I believe, fell on or around St Michael's Day, and he was called Michael even though he wasn't Catholic. I think he's got a PhD in chemistry now, but that probably has nothing to do with any of this.

Life, the Universe, and Michaelmas. Now you know all about it.

27 September 2011

Diana Wynne Jones

So when I wrote that last blog entry, about my book stacks, I found out that Diana Wynne Jones is, alas, no longer with us. She passed away in March of this year at the age of 76, of lung cancer. Sad. Sad to think there won't be any more stories coming from that so-very-gifted pen of hers.

I first read one of her books in the early 80's, when it was still quite new. The German title was "Wir sind aufs Hexen ganz versessen"; it's a translation of "Charmed Life", the first book she wrote in the "Chrestomanci" series. Some fifteen years later I picked up a book called "The Lives of Christopher Chant" from a Canadian library, and in reading it kept having flashbacks to this other book I'd read as a young teen - there are nine worlds, all parallel to each other; one of them is ours, the others just like it except a bit different (one, or maybe several of them, use magic to manage their daily affairs). And I thought how interesting it was that two authors had come up with the same idea of these parallel worlds. D'uh... "Charmed Life" came out in 1977, "Christopher Chant" in '88; the last of the six Chrestomanci books, "The Pinhoe Egg", was published in 2006. I devoured them all as I could lay hands on them.

When I first read the Harry Potter books, which I picked up sometime between the publication of "The Prisoner of Azkaban" and "The Goblet of Fire" purely to find out what all the fuss was about, I was actually rather unimpressed - oh, I liked them alright, but my main thought was "What's the big deal? These are just like Diana Wynne Jones' stuff!" And I still stand by that opinion, although I've now pretty much become a die-hard fan of Rowling's world and her young wizards. Diana Wynne Jones is every bit as good as Rowling, and I'm fairly certain Harry Potter's creator would agree with me (not being of the conceited sort, from what I can tell). Jones' work is much more varied than Rowling's, and there is considerably more of it - not surprising, as Diana Wynne Jones was some thirty years older than J. K. Rowling and had that much more time to produce good fiction (I'm sure in thirty years' time we'll have lots from Rowling, too).

My favourites of Diana Wynne Jones' stories are the "Chrestomanci" and the "Castle" series - the latter known to anime fans through Miyazaki's version of "Howl's Moving Castle" - and the set "Deep Secret" and "The Merlin Conspiracy". Some of Jones' books are pretty much written for adults ("Deep Secret" is one of them; "Fire and Hemlock" another); others are classified as "easy readers" or "chapter books" by the library (for example "Wild Robert"; it's one book I didn't like, as the story feels unfinished to me). I have yet to read "Enchanted Glass" - it's left in my bedside stack of mean-to-read's - as well as the Derkholm Series and "The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land", which form a set. Her last book, "Earwig and the Witch", only just came out in July; my library hasn't even got it yet (but they will soon; I suggested it for purchase).

So I still have a few Diana Wynne Jones' left to read, and when I'm done those, I can probably start over again on the older ones. It's been a long time since I read most of them; I can enjoy them all over. And I will - they're that good.

It's sad when a good author leaves us readers, and we can no longer look forward to more gripping tales from their pen. But then, there are new writers, fresh voices, for us to discover. I'm sure that somewhere in the Mythosphere (that's the Land of Story, as you'll find out when you read "The Game") the Chrestomanci is shaking the hand of a young wizard with a lightening-shaped scar on his forehead, and, I believe, is getting ready to pass him the baton.

25 September 2011

Quick Trick Book Stacks

I realized this morning it was time to clean up the book stacks again. They keep growing beside my bed. Three current library books, two of them on cooking and French diets (ah, deliciousness!). One note book. Two classics, several Pilcher, Heyer, and Diana Wynne Jones. Most of them sort of migrated there, from the basement shelves, or the book case on the other side of the bedroom. When the stack gets so high that it reaches the top of my (admittedly low) mattress, and interferes with making the bed, it's time to have the books re-migrate back to their proper locations.

So, one pile over to the book case. But, unfortunately, there's no room there either. The Heyers in the second shelf from the bottom have become obscured behind sideways-stacked books I've been meaning to read; most of them I picked up at last year's library book sale. (Oh dear, it's almost book sale time again! Where am I going to put the new ones?) Ah, but there are also quite a number of books there that I'm done reading! They can go back to their homes on the basement shelves. One paperback set of "Lord of the Rings". Several small German novellas about Lorenzo de' Medici. A Maeve Binchy. An assortment of mystery novels, and a copy each of "Emma" and "Pride and Prejudice" (I got nicer copies that match the rest of the gilt-edged set, so these ones can go downstairs for now). Okay, pile those up. Add the ones from beside the bed that are destined for the basement. Pick up the stack, carefully pinching down on the top book with my chin. (The worst is when you pinch too hard, and the books from the middle of the stack pop out- clatter bang ka-bumble! The whole stack goes. Do not try this at home, people, you have to be a trained librarian to treat books that badly.) Now, two flights of stairs down to the basement. I hope nobody's left anything sitting on the stairs for me to trip on, I can barely see where I'm going. Down in the rec room, I don't feel like sorting the books into their proper places, so I'm going to just leave them on the cabinet for now. Who knows, one of the kids might like to pick up one of those books to read, and they wouldn't notice it if it was neatly filed on the shelf, would they?

Back up the two sets of stairs (who says book worms don't get any exercise?). Okay, so now there's space in front of the Heyer books where I can pile a couple more of the books that have sat beside my bed in the mean-to-read pile. A mean-to-read shelf, it's somehow much tidier that a loose stack beside the bed, don't you think? Steve thinks so; probably partly because the books aren't as likely to fall on him from the shelves as from the book stacks (splat, flat teddy).

Quick trick book stacks. Somehow they just grow around here. Incidentally, that phrase is a corruption of Fox-in-Sock's "quick trick brick stacks". If you have young children in your life, and you haven't read them Dr. Seuss' "Fox in Socks", you absolutely must do so. Forget the Cat in the Hat (he's annoying and inconsiderate anyway), go with Fox in Socks. I dare you to read that book through in one go without tripping over your tongue at least once on the way.

Life, the universe and quick trick book stacks. What's on your mean-to-read pile?

20 September 2011


My crystal fell from the kitchen window. The suction cup that holds it on the window pane let go, and the crystal clattered to the window sill. Now, it's done that lots of times before, no harm done - I just wipe the spot on the window, moisten the suction cup, and stick it back on, maybe after polishing up the crystal a bit to make it sparkle again. But this time, I was quite sad to see, the crystal got chipped. Too bad. I've had it for years; don't even remember where I first got it - a hand-me-down from someone, I believe. It's hung in my kitchen window, which, in this house and the last one I lived in, faces East, and it has painted rainbows on my walls and floors even when there weren't any to be had outside.

So now it's broken. My first thought was where I could get a new one - perhaps the gift shop in town? They used to carry things like that. I don't know if they still do, I could check next time I'm down there. But then I got to thinking: maybe a chip isn't the end of the world? Maybe not even the end of the rainbow. (Wait - the end of the rainbow? Isn't that meant to be where the pot of gold is hiding? Ah, whatever.) Regardless, the chip is a fault, a serious flaw in the beautiful faceting of my crystal. I can't tell if it has impacted the rainbow-painting yet; the sun hasn't been at the right angle to shine through it. But, it occurred to me, perhaps the chip, the flaw, might become an asset instead of a liability? Perhaps there will be new rainbows, different ones - not as straight as before, more curved, more (dare I say) interesting?

As I said, I don't know yet. I have to wait for the right morning, preferably a winter day when the sun's angle is low enough to send the colours dancing over my cupboard doors. Just one more thought, though: the chip on the crystal is not unlike the tiny chip that's missing from one of the diamonds on my engagement ring. You need a jeweller's glass to see it, as the diamond itself is already really small (0.1 carat, I believe); I know the chip is there, but most people couldn't tell. And it certainly hasn't impacted my marriage in any way. Rainbows do not seem to care about chips, in crystals or in diamonds.

Oh, and just so you're clear on that, none of this has anything to do with rainbow chips, those frighteningly multi-coloured concoctions of sugar, strange fats, unpronounceable whatsits, and food colouring, which people sometimes put in their innocent and unsuspecting cookies. It might, however, have a whole lot to do with such topics as "Autistic Pride" (a movement that seeks to make the diversity of human life more widely accepted among humankind), which uses rainbow colours as its symbol. I leave you to figure out the connection for yourself.

Life, the universe, and chipped rainbow-makers. It's all in the angle of light.

18 September 2011


It's a slippery kind of day. No, not the kind that slides around when you  try to grab it, the kind that makes you want to wear your furry slippers. The air suddenly has turned cool; it's rainy, and summer is definitely over. There's this lovely poem I found a few weeks ago:

September has come,
It is hers whose vitality leaps in the autumn
Whose nature prefers
Trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place;
So I give her this month and the next
Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already
So many of its days intolerable or perplexed
But so many more so happy;
Who has left a scent on my life and left my walls
Dancing over and over with her shadow,
Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls
And all of London littered with remembered kisses.

-Louis MacNeice, "Autumn Journal"

"...hers whose vitality leaps in the autumn"- oh yes. I'm just a cold-blooded European, I suppose; you won't find me at my best in scorching, blistering summer heat. Fires in fire-places make me happy (in forests around me,  they don't- which is another reason summer is not my most favourite season around here).

Incidentally, I'm sorry I can't state a better reference for that poem  (MLA style, anyone?); I just pulled it off the web, someone else's blog, I think. But I first ran across it quoted in a Rosamunde Pilcher book. Yes,  I read Pilcher - so sue me. I know the high-brow-literature intelligentsia would turn up their noses at her, but she's actually a really excellent writer, with her intricate interweaving of so many interesting characters. And even though not everything and everyone ends happily every after, it generally ends satisfyingly ever after. The poem made me pull out her  novel "September" again, which is a sequel to the award-winning "Shell Seekers"; one of the characters from the first book is part of the ensemble cast of the second and gets something of a redemption in it.

My only quibble with Pilcher is that she lumps in Georgette Heyer with Barbara Cartland as scribblers of romantic claptrap that she in turn sneers at. How dare she? Heyer is the Grande Dame of the Regency  romance - she invented the genre, for crying out loud - and her meticulously researched historic fiction, romantic though it may be, bears practically no resemblance to Cartland's drivel. Incidentally, Heyer, who  was a contemporary to Agatha Christie, also wrote quite enjoyable whodunits; her husband, a solicitor, helped her with some of the plot details.

So now I want to read Heyer again. Off I go, padding upstairs in my  slippered feet, to find my copy of "Envious Casca" (I've got one, don't  I?) to add to the growing pile of books beside my bed which I've been  meaning to re-read.

Life, the Universe, and slipper days. Time to put the kettle on.

16 September 2011


Apples and peaches and pears, oh my! Yes, all at the same time. It's been a really weird growing season this year hereabouts; everything seems to be about two or three weeks behind schedule. I've just made a batch of apple jelly, have half a dozen pints of apple sauce simmering in the canner, and a dehydrator full of pear slices humming away on the counter. Yet just last week, I was canning peaches! There's even still some available at my favourite local produce store, and it's the middle of September.

In fact, I think I might go back tomorrow and get some more to attempt yet again to make a batch of peach wine. I tried it last year. But in my infinite wisdom, I decided that to exactly follow the recipe was too tedious. It calls for crushing the peaches, then adding sugar, yeast, and warm water, until it's at the right temperature for fermentation. I figured that I could hasten that process by just chucking everything together in my big stockpot, and cooking it until the peaches were soft and everything was nice and warm (I can hear the wine makers among you snorting in disbelief as I write this...). Well, it didn't work. Oh, the stuff's alcoholic alright- in fact, if running a still wasn't illegal in this country, I could probably turn it into a pretty decent paint stripper. Also, it never clarified, but stayed cloudy even after months in the bottle. I'm afraid there's no better name for my brew than hooch. Peach hooch. I dumped most of it down the drain; it really wasn't worth keeping. I suppose that's what you get from undue haste.

So I just cracked open the last bottle I'd kept, and tasted some of it. For some reason, the flavour brings up a memory of my favourite aunt, which is decidedly odd as she was a confirmed teetotaller. After a few sips, I figured it out: there's something about the aroma that reminds me of her favourite scent, the original Eau de Cologne. Not unpleasantly so, I might add; it's possible that 4711's secret recipe includes something like peach distillate. It definitely has alcohol in it, that much I know.

Well, we'll see if this year's batch (when or even if I make one) has that same elusive perfume. If the wine turns out undrinkable, it might still be useful as a scent. It certainly is attractive to bugs- there were plenty of fruit flies buzzing around the glass, and a wasp actually went and committed suicide in it. I believe it was the same one that checked out a ripe, fresh peach not five minutes earlier. I suppose he didn't want to wait for the peach to ferment into something tastier, and just flung himself into the glass- "Goodbye, cruel world!" Had he consulted me, I could have warned him that haste makes hideous hooch.

Life, the universe and peach hooch. If you come by next year this time, I might be able to offer you a glass.

13 September 2011

Ink People

Just for some visual silliness to go with the usual verbal kind, here's my latest painting. It's called "Very Small Ink People Playing in a Field of Colours", and it shows, well, very small ink people playing in a field of colours. Watercolours, to be precise. The whole thing is about 5x7", and was just splashed about this morning.

In case you're wondering, this is, of course, High Art. With a capital A. The kind you're supposed to study carefully, and then you nod wisely and make some erudite comments about composition and complementary colours. Not a lot of chiaroscuro to be had, I'm afraid; you'll have to find some other fancy words to throw around to impress the unwary. (Incidentally, I used to pronounce that word chiaro-scuro, thinking the o's were the ending of each part of the compound word, and feeling oh-so-clever for saying it that way; but then I learned that it's actually chiar-oscuro, clear-obscure. It means, of course, the light-dark contrast that people like Rembrandt do so fantastically well, and people like me can only dream of. But at least I can pronounce the word right, and now you can, too.) Oh, you could also draw some really intelligent inferences about the deep meanings of the ink people's poses, and how it reflects the inner state of my being at the moment of drawing them. And most likely it's also a scathing indictment of the social realities of twenty-first century life.

On the other hand, you could also look at this, and quietly chuckle at it, or briefly grin, or even just vaguely twitch up the corner of your mouth or left eyebrow. That would be quite sufficient for me, thank you very much.

Life, the universe, and ink people. I have a feeling there's more where those came from.

12 September 2011


Oh, very well. Bonnie Heather says I should start blogging again. Steve

agrees; he's got bored with sitting on my bedside table watching me

sleep at night. Yes, of course he can do that - he can see in the dark.

Stuffed animals have excellent night vision, in order to fulfil their role as

protectors of the innocent and the bane of bogeymen. You didn't know

that? Well, now you do.

Steve and I have been to California a couple of times in the last few

months, visiting with my man who's temporarily living in Geekville (aka

Silicon Valley). It was interesting getting to know a different part of the

world, and especially seeing the variety of the ethnic mix of people. You

know what surprised me? Black people- they talk "black"! And here I

thought that was just movie stereotypes. I even saw some that were

"acting black", you know, doing the "Yo, what's up, my man?" with

complicated hand slap. Really! I was thinking "Wow, they actually talk

like that! Who knew?" which is almost verbatim (in translation) what I

thought as a ten-year-old in Germany, having had a few months of

English instructions, overhearing an American mother in an

Autobahn rest stop saying to her little boy: "Come on, let's go back to

the car!" I was quite astonished that English-speaking people actually

use the word "car" for an automobile; here I'd thought that was just a line my teacher was feeding me.

It was actually quite funny, my surprise, and a bit embarrassing. I mean,

good grief, why shouldn't a distinct ethnic group have a distinct dialect?

Why was I so surprised at that? Sheer ignorance, I'm afraid. I frequently

shake my head at my own silly presuppositions. Up here in rural

Western Canada we don't have many black people, more's the pity; so

my experience with hearing the dialect has been mostly limited to TV.

Besides, I don't know if Canadian blacks use that dialect as much, or if

it's more of a US thing. (Incidentally, pardon me for the non-PC

terminology. It's mostly laziness; I prefer using the one-syllable

shorthand, "black" and "white", to the multi-syllable "Af-ri-can-A-me-

ri-can" or "Eu-ro-pe-an-Ca-na-di-an" etc etc. If it offends you, feel free

to substitute the polysyllabism of your choice as you read this.) I like

dialects, don't you? They're the auditory equivalent of skin tones and

hair textures and nose shapes. The world is so much more interesting

when there's variety.

And to prove he really did come along, here's Steve waiting at the airport for our connecting flight.

Life, the universe, and dialects. It's good to be back.