31 January 2012


I don't usually post about what's on other people's sites, but today I have to make an exception. That's because in yesterday's xkcd comic, Etymology Man, I have found my new identity. Oh yeah.

Etymology rules. Here's one case where the internet has brought me the fulfilment of a long-harboured wish: an etymology dictionary. Back in the 80's, when I first conceived of that wish, they cost over $100, hardcopies being the only thing available; of course that was utterly out of reach for a perpetually-broke teenager. Now, thanks to the wonders of cyberspace, all I have to do is type in etymonline.com, and I have full access to all the obscure histories of all the obscure words my heart could possibly desire. Go ahead, try it: type "etymology" into the search box on the top of that screen, and see what you get. Ooh, for some reason the third thing on the list is "cockroach"- where does that come in? Ooh, rabbit trails...

And now I'm going to go make a pot full of marmalade (late 15c., from M.Fr. marmelade, from Port. marmelada "quince jelly, marmalade," from marmelo "quince," by dissimilation from L. melimelum "sweet apple," originally "fruit of an apple tree grafted onto quince," from Gk. melimelon, from meli "honey" (see Melissa) + melon "apple." Extended 17c. to "preserve made from citrus fruit."). And after that, go and read Marx (Marxist (n.) 1886, "devotee of the teachings of Marx," from Fr. marxiste, from Karl Marx (1818-1883), Ger. political theorist. The adj. is attested from 1897. The adj. Marxian (1940) sometimes is used (e.g. by Groucho) to distinguish the U.S. comedic team from the Ger. political philosopher).

Life, the Universe, and Etymology. I gotta get me a cape.

27 January 2012

Voices In My Head

Yadda yadda yadda yack yack. My Master's program involves online discussions with other students. I have a feeling I'm being the jabbermouth of the group; they're probably all sick of seeing my profile picture pop up beside yet another post. And sometimes, I get really sick of hearing myself talk. Yes, I do hear it, even when I don't speak it out loud - I say in my head as I type. Does that mean I'm talking to myself? You bet it does.

It can be inconvenient, being a verbal thinker. Because there's always this voice jabbering on in my head, outside input can sometimes come into conflict with it. I can only have one conversation at a time, and because most of what I do involves having a conversation with myself, I can't necessarily talk to someone else at the same time. Or even just listen to them without needing to respond. Several members of my family are very fond of listening to audiobooks, but I usually ask them to turn off the book when I'm around. I don't even have to be following the story; having that voice generating words, and sending them out into the room, where they get into my ears and then brain and mess with my thought processes, is more than I can stand. It's like having a little kid tugging on your sleeve, going "Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!" Doesn't make for very good cake-baking, that.

So I'm actually not a very good multi-tasker, when it comes to doing anything that requires thought. If the tasks are brainless, though, I can easily talk and work at the same time. In fact, then I need some verbal input - which is why I don't do things like knitting very much, because there isn't enough interesting jabber involved with it. "Knit - purl - knit - knit-two-together - increase one - knit - purl" does not make for very scintillating conversation. So whatever knitting I do do is usually plain garter stitch, or stockinette stitch in the round; when the thought process becomes "knitknitknitknitknit" I can tune it out and get other input, like the aforementioned audiobooks. I once lost a whole chunk of "Bleak House", though, because I had to turn a heel; by the time I was able to pay attention to the audio voice again, I had no idea if we were talking about Esther Summerson, Lady Dedlock, or the dastardly Mr Tulkinghorn.

Steve can't understand why I have these issues at all. He says his head is stuffed with fluff, and for the most part he thinks woolly cottony thoughts. Mumblemumblefluffedy. He's very restful to have around.

Life, the Universe, and Voices in My Head. I do wish I'd shut up sometimes.

24 January 2012


Well, the cold snap snapped out of it very quickly. After just a few days of blistering cold and snow, we're back to temperatures just above freezing, and the ice on the lake is turning to slush. They've even got the weed whacker out already! Yes, there's a lake weed trimmer. It looks like a cross between a barge and a tractor, and sails around on the lake, trimming the water weed down to manageable proportions. Usually, I've seen it out in the spring, but I guess winter is really a better time to go after the milfoil, which is an introduced water weed that, if left to its own devices, will happily take over the lake. The weed harvester had to do double-duty today as icebreaker, though, so I'm not sure they'll actually go through with it.

Which brings me to what I wanted to talk about today: quitting. Oh no, no, stop panicking! I'm not going to quit blogging (again). At least not right now. (That was what you were panicking about, wasn't it?) I'm also not talking about smoking, this time. No, this is a different matter. You see, I've gone back to school. Or, really, I'm staying right here in my comfortable computer chair, and am un-going back to school, as it were: I enrolled in an online Master's degree program. I started a couple of weeks ago, blithely getting myself into two full courses at once. And by the end of the first week, I was starting to panic.

Now, I've done online studies before; in fact, my whole undergrad degree was done without once setting foot in a classroom. I really like that method of studying. But, wouldn't you know it, grad school is harder than undergrad! Nobody told me that. (It's rather like when we moved from our mobile home to our nice big house - nobody told me that a house that's three times as big as your old one also takes three times as long to clean.) The nerve of them, leaving me ignorant like that! Well, actually, truth be told, they did tell me; I just wasn't ready to hear it.

So there I was, overwhelmed, stressed, and feeling like I was already falling behind, in my first week of studies. (Here is Steve, modelling what the overwhelmedness looked like.) And you know what I did? I quit. No, not the whole shot - I've waited so long to be able to take this Master's program, to finally get to play with the big kids, I'm not going to drop out! Not just yet, anyway. No, I just let go of one of the two courses I had enrolled in. The one that wasn't mandatory. It'll be offered again next year. And meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy myself in the one course I have left.

My pride had to take a bit of a hit on that one. I thought I could handle this - as I said, I'm well used to doing online studies. How different could this be? Besides, I don't have a paying job right now, I can really concentrate on studying. Most of my classmates do this stuff on top of full-time work. But, the fact of the matter is, I was getting stressed, and overwhelmed, and not liking it - and so, what's the point to keep on slugging away at something that's no fun, just in order to satisfy my craving for showing how much better I am than everyone else because I can handle this (with one hand tied behind my back, the other holding a mug of tea, and my nose doing the typing)? Forget it. I'd rather be happy than impressive. If I have to pay with burnout for satisfying my pride, it's not worth it. In fact, paying with anything for satisfying my pride is not worth it.

So I pulled up the form that said "Course Withdrawal" on the top, filled in my information (what's my student number again?), and hit "send". Phew. On with the course that's left. I'm determined to have fun with this.

Life, the Universe, and Quitting. I highly recommend it.

18 January 2012


It's cold enough today that the lake was steaming. If you take a close look at the picture, you can see some faint white smudges over the surface of the water. (I did have a sightly better picture, but then Steve insisted he had to be in the photo, because he hasn't been in a blog post in a while. So what could I do?) Now, the thing is, you see that white rim on the left edge of the water? That's not the shore - that's ice. In other words, we've got near-frozen water, and the temperature differential with the air is great enough that the water turns to steam. Up here, on the North end of the lake, the steam is quite faint, not very noticeable, but at the South end, by the tree where the eagles like to sit, the steam was rising in great swathes of thick mist. Just like your pot of spaghetti water when it's about to come to the boil.

So, it's -20°C out there today (I'd tell you what that is in Fahrenheit, but I don't know - it's 20 Below Freezing, you figure it out), and there's snow. And oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth one hears! You'd think this was unusual for this time of year around here. Well, it's not. This is what the weather is supposed to do in January. But this year, we've had a really warm, snow-free winter so far, since that first snowfall and cold snap in November. No White Christmas. I guess this week Winter finally remembered its job, and decided to make up for lost time.

And so this made me think of seasons, and seasonality. I actually didn't like that warm, green Christmas we were having. Rain in December just didn't seem right. Now, of course this bitter, biting, brutal cold, and the white stuff that goes with it, is inconvenient. For example, Moaning Myrtle (my van, which developed a moaning whine recently when she's cold, hence the moniker) has to park at the top of our steep driveway; if I'd bring her down to the bottom and put her in the garage I likely wouldn't be able to get out again, in spite of assiduous snow shovelling. Also, as I should have known would happen, the cold water tap in the kitchen is frozen again; one night of -15°, and we're getting our cold from the bathroom sink. But, really, it's no big deal. It's winter.

And there's nothing we can do about it, about it being winter, I mean. Or the frozen kitchen tap. We just prepare for it (or not, as the case may be), dress warm, park Myrtle at the top - and wait for the seasons to change again. Six months from now the conversations on the street or in the grocery store will be along the lines of "Sheesh, it's a scorcher today!", and I'll be trying to keep my eyeballs from sweating when I drive down the road instead of preventing my finger tips from freezing off.

I don't like the inconveniences that come with the changing seasons - but I love how every season has its joys and pleasures. A hot bowl of beef stew is never so delicious as when it's cold, dark, and snowy outside, the cooking food steaming up the kitchen windows. But it would be depressing if that's all there ever was; if I didn't know that in a few months, the greatest pleasure will be an icy-cool glass of lemonade and a big plate full of fresh, crisp, colourful salad with balsamic vinaigrette to go with a piece of chicken, barbecued on the balcony to the accompanying roar and whine of the speedboats on the lake. (Okay, forget the speed boats. They're NOT one of the pleasures of summer. In fact, they're... Oh, never mind. More pleasant things to contemplate here.)

Oh, and I don't know what Steve and Horatio have been plotting on my bedside table in the last few days. I think it probably has something to do with chocolate chip cookies.

Life, the Universe, and Steaming Lakes. There is a time for every purpose under heaven.

15 January 2012

The Stalking of the Marble Cake

I made a marble cake for Sunday this weekend. It was our standard Sunday cake when I was growing up; marble, or lemon, or raisin with rum flavouring, or plain with chocolate shavings. Saturday, one bakes the cake, and Sunday one has a piece with breakfast, and then some more for afternoon coffee. Or, in my case, tea.

So there I was sitting in the living room, with my eBook (a Carola Dunn one, Toblethorpe Manor), my cup of tea, and my piece of marble cake, enjoying the Sunday peace. (I almost typo'd that to "Sunday piece". Is there something Freudian about that? Tea and Cakes, the Set Sunday Piece. Hmm.) And then the cat started stalking the cake. No, really! Cleo the Superior Cat (who sometimes snores in front of the fire) eats cake. I have to be very careful not to leave any baked goods undefended on the kitchen counter overnight, or there'll be cat tooth prints in it in the morning. She once took a whole chunk out of a chocolate cake that I had baked for a nephew's birthday (We Were Not Amused). Elegant female that she is, she would probably eat her cake with a raised pinky, if she had one (either pinky or cake); failing that, she stalks it.

First she got her front paws up on the side table where I had my plate and cup, and sniffed. I told her to buzz off. Being a cat, she completely ignored me (and continued to do so during the interval that followed), but she could not quite reach the cake, especially as I kept picking it up and taking bites from it. So she climbed up on the table, craning her neck to see where the cake had got to. No success. Next stop, the spot on the couch beside me, which brought her nose to within a few inches of where the cake plate was now residing on my lap. Cruel human that I am, I kept taking bites from the cake, not offering to share. (I hear chocolate is poison for pets, so even though she already survived multiple instances of chocolate theft from the counter, I'm not going to tempt fate by giving it to her on purpose. Sorry, cat.)

So Cleo moved to a higher vantage point, on the back of the couch behind me, nonchalantly pretending to look out the window, and then, when I wasn't paying attention, climbing down onto my lap over my shoulder to get at the cake. Hah, I wasn't having any of that! So she sat back down beside me on the couch again, fixing the cake with a firm, feline stare, the same stare she has been directing under the kitchen stove the last few weeks, where, she is convinced, a mouse resides. I don't know what she expected the cake to do - dart out and run across the floor so she could pounce on it? No such luck. The cake just kept slowly moving from the plate up to my mouth, another bite gone, back onto the plate, yellow feline eyes tracking its every motion. Until, finally, I ate the last bit. And wiped up the crumbs with my finger, and ate those too. Oh cruel, cruel human!

However, the cat gave her feline equivalent of a shrug - "It was worth a try," she said - and loped off into the kitchen. Perhaps the mouse would be a more rewarding hunt.

Life, the Universe, and the Stalking of a Marble Cake. It's all in a Sunday afternoon.

12 January 2012

Historic Fiction

My cat is snoring. Well, actually, it's my son's cat, as he'll be quick to point out. But as I'm the one who buys the cat food, and is sat upon by the cat when he's not home, I think I can claim a fair share in her felinity. Cat snores are cute, sort of soft and hardly there. Just enough to give you the feeling you're not alone in the room, without having the fingernails-on-blackboard effect that human snoring can generate.

Today is another one of those days where I don't really have a lot to say. But, to make up for it, here is an interview with one of my favourite writers, Carola Dunn. She used to write Regency Romances, after the model of Georgette Heyer, and now she writes extremely well-researched 1920's Murder Mysteries with a sleuth called Daisy Dalrymple. I believe Carola Dunn's Regencies were what sucked me into the historic fiction genre in the first place, Lavender Lady being the first I read. Then a friendly librarian said "If you like those, you'd like Georgette Heyer!" and the rest is history. Early 19th-century history, to be precise.

And, actually (this might shock some of you; just don't say you haven't been warned), I started reading Jane Austen after I read Dunn and Heyer. I liked Dunn, then I got into the inventor of Regencies, then I got into the real thing. And then into all those non-fiction history books, because I wanted to know what really happened. And now I know all sorts of trivia about English history (I can recite all the monarchs of England from at least Henry VII downwards - really! Whaddaya mean, "So what?"), and it all started with a reading Regency Romances. Which just goes to show that historic novels can be extremely educational.

Incidentally, Carola Dunn's newest book, Gone West, is about to come out next month. I can't wait to find out what Daisy Dalrymple has got up to this time.
Oh, and the cat doesn't read historic fiction; they haven't yet put it out in feline format.

Life, the Universe, and Historic Fiction. Don't turn up your nose at it, you never know what you'll learn.

07 January 2012

Pollock vs. Mondrian

My artwork is going to be on display in the local library for the next two months. Whoot. And because I, of course, create High Art (note capital A), I had to associate myself with two of The Greats of the 20th century. I painted this piece a number of years ago, just to get it out of my system. It's called "Pollock vs. Mondrian", and it's acrylic on board, about 16x24". The note following is going to accompany the piece in the library. I fully expect a tremendous rush on all the library books about Abstract Expressionism, because people will be terribly eager to learn all about that stuff now.

"Jackson Pollock and Piet Mondrian were painters in the Abstract Expressionist and De Stijl movements, respectively, and were active in the 1930's and 40's. Mondrian is best known for his paintings consisting of grids of black lines with primary-coloured squares inside them, Pollock for his splatter paintings.

Their paintings used to drive me crazy - anyone with a paint roller and some masking tape can copy a Mondrian, and Pollock, well, all you need is a loaded paintbrush and a large drop sheet on the floor! I've since come to appreciate what they were trying to do, and, more importantly, the tremendous influence they had on the art world.

This painting is my nod to those two giants of the paint brush- or the paint roller and dip stick, as it were. Thanks for the fun, Mr. Pollock and Dhr. Mondrian!"

Oh, and the Ink People are going to be very much in evidence at the library, too. I've discovered that when I'm trying to be serious, I turn out lame stuff; but when I'm fooling around and having fun, something interesting might just come of it. Or not. But if not, I've not lost anything either, so it's all good. And that's not just true for art, either.

Life, the Universe, and Abstract Expressionism. Oh, that's so me, man.

04 January 2012

Forgotten Ornament

Yesterday being the tenth day of Christmas, I thought it was time to take down the Christmas decorations. Into the box went the Tyrolean carved Holy Family, the Swedish straw mobile, the raffia angel a friend made ten years ago, the ceramic church a neighbour gave me some years before that, the prosaically fake pine advent wreath, and all the Christmas tree ornaments. Lights, tinsel garlands, lots and lots of stars, a small wooden rocking horse - I thought I had got them all down. So I unscrewed the tree from the holder, pulled it out, and started dragging it out of the house.

I got as far as the hallway, when I suddenly saw that there was one I had missed. On the lowest branch, hiding behind the trunk of the tree, was one of the medallions I made sixteen years ago. There are three of them, made of cornstarch dough and painted with acrylic paints - I believe it was a project in an art class I was taking at the time. One has a snowy church on it, one poinsettias (or maybe holly, it's not terribly clear which), and this one is a little snow man, grinning cheerfully, sticking his twig arms out into the chilly December air.

So I parked the trunk of the tree on the hallway floor, shedding some more pine needles in the process, and fished Frosty off that branch. He might not be an amazing work of art, but that doesn't mean I want him getting rained on and ruined out in the backyard behind the garage, where the spent Christmas tree will live out the next few months before it gets turned into fireplace fodder sometime next winter. And so the medallion went and joined its siblings in the decorations box, where it will live out the year inside the garage on the shelf, safe and dry, until next year's Christmas.

And I was thinking, there is something rather poignant about that little forgotten ornament. Here it was, clinging onto the last branch, almost finding a soggy end to its decorative career merely because it was refusing to let go of a Christmas tree that had lived out its time. It's a bit like the fish in my aquarium: whenever I need to do a complete water change, get all the guppies out and into a bucket so I can rinse the gravel, scrub out the algae and put nice, sparkly fresh water in the tank, it's always the cautious fish that give me the most trouble. The dumb ones, the ones that want to check out every new thing that comes along (such as a fish net), are the most easily caught, gently netted out and put in the bucket to await their newly cleaned home. It's the ones that want to cling to the old, that hide behind the rocks, and, when I take out all the rocks and plants, vanish into the murky water in the corners, that force me to chase them around the tank, probably traumatizing them horribly, before I get them out of that murk and into the situation that is, ultimately, so much better for them.

Of course, this bears no parallel to my life whatsoever. I never cling to old ideas, whinge and whine about change, hide in the murk of the old water or hang onto pine branches that are dropping needles in the hallway. Oh no, of course not.

(Incidentally, if you're wondering about that cornstarch dough the snowman medallion is made from, it's like Baker's Clay or Salt Dough, but bright white, much more finely textured, and it sparkles! It's very pretty, and makes lovely little ornaments, even without paint. Here's how:
2 c Baking Soda, 1 c Cornstarch, 1 1/4 c Water; mix soda and cornstarch, stir in water, bring to boil over medium heat, stir until it begins to thicken, remove from burner, cover with damp cloth, cool, knead. Make whatever you like out of it; dry on foil-covered cookie sheet in warm oven for 1 hr, or at room temp. for 2-3 days or longer.
Do keep whatever part you're not using covered with a dampish cloth; it surface-dries much faster than Baker's Clay. It's so finely textured it can almost pick up the pattern of your finger prints! For the medallions, I just rolled it out 1/4" [about 5mm] thick, cut out circles, dried them [or baked them, I can't remember], then painted them with ordinary acrylic paints and added a bit of glitter.)

Life, the Universe, and Forgotten Ornaments. Let's not cling to what is over.