Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mabel, mabel, sweet and able...

Meet Mabel! Is she a lovely little thing or what?

Our dear old van, having very recently had its transmission replaced, and, actually, numerous other things as well, continued despite our most affectionate and extravagant care to behave with increasing eccentricity. Declining to change gears, stopping dead in its tracks, that sort of thing. We (well, Ed) tried various remedies, but… 

So, we’ve been looking for a “new” vehicle to trade the poor old van in on. We thought something more fuel efficient would be an awfully good thing, given the amount of driving involved with Travis driving to the community college in a town one direction and Katie being driven to the high school in a town the other direction. Actually, anything this side of a Sherman tank would be more fuel efficient that our van (a Sherman tank, in case you are curious, gets, optimally, approximately .91 mpg cross country, 1.72 mpg on the highway), but we set our sights on a Nissan Altima when we read that they are supposed to be safe, reliable, and get twice the mileage of the Windstar (which, in fairness, was about 16 mpg, so, substantially better than the Sherman tank). It took a while to find one that met our needs and our budget, but we think we found Perfection on Friday last!

And isn’t she a pretty color? When I explained to Ed and the kids Why her name had to be Mabel they rolled their eyes, pityingly. But, just look at her! She’s the color of…. Wait for it…. Mabel syrup! (And, yeah. All three of them, Ed, Travis, and Katie, have kindly, quietly said to me, “You Know it’s Maple syrup, right? M-a-p-l-e?” Well, yes, I do. But it’s close enough,and she Looks like a Mabel – all sweet and helpful. And she drives beautifully, and her radio works, and she even has one of those clever back up cameras, which I just love. She smelled rather dreadful when we brought her home – the salesman said it was the cleaning stuff or something – but it's dissipating already, and her windows roll down just fine, so that’s not a huge thing. And she goes along just like a dream!

 And it's starting to look spring-ish!

Finn has continued to show improvement in his behavior, though he's still not remotely trustworthy left unsupervised with the run of the house, but confined to the back room he is generally pretty good!

This is how he likes to keep me company while we read. The mess and box were Katie's, but she's since cleaned up and at the moment that space looks fairly respectable. Of course, you'll have to take my word for that.

Doesn't he look like a quiet old thing?

This is where he likes to be when I sit at my computer. It makes typing challenging.

Short cut off the couch in pursuit of Livy (you can just see the tip of her raccoon tail!).

That's it. We're all still ticking along, and I need to go finish "Daughter of Time" for the discussion at the library on Monday, just on the off chance that someone aside from Dad shows up to talk about it with me!

Monday, February 06, 2017

Enterprising Strangers and Cherished Family

Mercy, but it's been a while. Still, my brother and his lovely wife came to visit last week, and that is definitely worth dusting off the keyboard for (Okay, that was a big fat lie. My keyboard gets more than enough use; it's just not been This use.). But first, and on the topic of "writerly" honesty, I have a funny story to share! Not hugely funny, but it certainly has provided me with some entertainment!

So. I have an account at Goodreads, where I  chat with online friends about books, read friends' reviews, keep track of what I'm reading, and post my thoughts about what I've read. It's fun, and there are some really nice people there. Anyone can read reviews attached to books listed there, and recently I got a surprising message from a total stranger (who initially identified herself only as "M") regarding a book I'd reviewed. I was so amused by the message -- the sheer gall of asking a stranger to contribute to your research project, and also the effort that this person was going to to avoid doing the research herself (I assume she wrote to many, many people who had reviewed books on her assigned topic) are kind of impressive, in their own way -- that I shared the message with online homeschooling friends on Facebook. A FB friend asked how I was going to respond, which I hadn't really planned to do. But ...

(Hopeful stranger)
Hi Melora
I saw that you have read the book "SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard". Please can you tell me the types of social activities that were carried out in Roman towns? Thank you

Dear M.,
I would be only too happy to help you with your project! It's been a little while since I read Mary Beard's S.P.Q.R., and, sadly, my memory is not what it once was, but I am flattered by your request and will try to be of use. As I recall, social activities in Roman towns were not much different from those you'd find in American towns. After all, if you think about it, they were residents of a republic at the time of Mary Beard's book, and so, thankfully, are we! History, they say, is forever repeating itself, so it only stands to reason that the social activities we enjoy will repeat too. Now, as to details, and please remember that my memory is inclined to be a tad fuzzy... I am sure that I remember reading that residents of the Roman republic were keen bridge players. Scrabble, Monopoly, and cribbage were also popular. Young Romans enjoyed croquet, baseball, and other sportsy activities, while adults likely recreated with bowling and golf. Social activities involving dancing and drink are perennial favorites, and, unless my memory fails me, tea dances and cotillions were favored by the more bourgeois, while the more daring sorts participated in raves and disco-type events. Social clubs were important, of course, and Kiwanis, the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, and Junior Leagues were surely as prominent a part of the lives of Roman residents as they are for Americans today.
I hope this is useful to you and wish you the best of luck in your future scholarly endeavors!
Goodreads Member

P.S. While I'm sure your schedule is very busy, you may want to do a little research yourself to double-check this information.

(Hopeful Stranger)
Dear Melora, thank you for your response, it is helpful. Is there anything you know about social activities from any other books? What evidence is there that these activities took place - any archaeological evidence? Do you still have the book with you - it would be helpful if you could take photos of the pages that discuss the social activities. 

Thank you,
Em (Emma)
M (Goodreads user)

Dear M,
What an Enchanting idea! I am afraid, though, that we probably had better not hold our breaths while waiting for archaeologists to unearth evidence of bridge and croquet playing activities among the ancient Romans. As to my further research efforts on your behalf, I’m afraid that, regretfully, my schedule will not afford me the time. I wish you all the best, though, with your remarkably innovative research technique and hope you will enjoy the success you deserve.

Kind regards,

You'll note that I'm lying again here, as I could manage the time to unearth some more Roman facts for young "Em," but I feel that I've done enough. Probably more than enough. Unfortunately, I neglected to check on her location, and she appears to be a British slacker rather than an American slacker. So my justification for assuming that the Romans enjoyed baseball and all because we do will seem a bit less convincing. Maybe that's just as well.

And now on the the good stuff!!!
As is our "tradition," we went to Stone Mountain for a picnic. In the freezing cold. If you stood right beside the fire it was almost tolerable!

The lighting of the grill. A fraught occasion, but manly determination prevailed.

Here everyone is wishing I would scuttle back to the fireplace and leave them to freeze in peace. There was no dilly-dallying over the food, and clean up was impressively quick!

Phew! Back to the warm house! Where, rather than sit on comfortable chairs in the living room we hunkered around the kitchen table and peered at the side of my liqueur cabinet. My brother's cell phone has a nifty little projector attached to it, and he showed Star Wars 7 on it. Astonishing.

Happily (but not coincidentally), my mom's birthday fell during the visit!

I'm not sure that a seed cake (and one from a recipe I found on Allrecipes, not the lovely one she used to make, for which I don't have the recipe) was what my mom had in mind, but my dad says it was (probably still is, since they put things in the freezer and eat them very slowly) good. But anyway, I also made a batch of the raspberry truffle brownies that she liked many years ago, and turns out that she still likes them! So that was nice.

And we played lots and lots of Bananagrams. Our thoughtful guests brought us three new bags of tiles, so we played Big.

And I can't remember how he did it, but between my brother and my dad, they got my mom to laugh!

Kim, who is a joy in many regards, has the very fine quality of being a dog person, and Finny was So glad to have her to play with. I think she must have explained some things to him while they were out back, as he's been much better behaved (one dining room chair aside) since their visit!

And here's Mom supervising my work on a very sticky batch of herb rolls that Katie mixed up for me. Despite the stickiness they turned out just fine, and the batch she made since is perfect.

And the whole adorable crew, at the leave-taking. It was a very nice visit.

And now we're back to doing what we do around here! (The piles of paper and box are Katie's mess -- her life is such a wild social and educational whirl these days that she just can't keep up with being tidy too. Though she never was before either.)

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Snow! Snow! Little Finn wants to Play in the Snow!

Sorry. Ten years here, and I'm still a Floridian, and seeing all that white stuff just makes me think of "Froggy," with his "Snow! Snow! I want to play in the snow!" (Froggy Gets Dressed)
Anyway, we finally got the snow Ed's been longing for, and it's deep (for here -- probably at least five inches, I think) and powdery (so it doesn't stick!) and lovely. And Finn is absolutely Mad for it! The kids didn't much want to go out in it, except briefly, to humor Finn, but he had a marvelous time running around and around the yard, pouncing and playing. 

And this was yesterday's dinner. Ed made it, and I think it's very colorful and cheery. Wish I could eat some!

And these were actually taken after Christmas, but I missed them before.
Finny found this squeaky hedgehog. It rolls around making noises, and it makes Finn feel extremely predatory -- he actually flings it in the air, like a proper little hunter (here is a link to a picture of a coyote flinging a vole about, just to show what I mean. only you now need to picture Finn flinging a mechanical hedgehog.)

And this is Finn sweet-talking a doggy gingerbread man, right before he gulps it down like the fox in the story (the story of The Gingerbread Man, that is). My old college roommate's dog, Bart,  very kindly sent Finn a box of Trader Joe's Gingerbread Flavor Dog Treats along with his mistress's gifts to the rest of the family, and he loves his cookies. Thank you, Bart!

So, now we've had our snow and can get on to some nice spring weather, I think!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The 2016 Books

It's that time of year. The time when I think about what I read in the year just past, and what I hope to read in the new year. And when I list what I read last year just in case Goodreads goes down and my blog remains (you know, in a selective sort of internet-zombie-apocalypse) and I need to go back later and check to see if I read something.

2016 is a year that looks readier than it really was because my list has some short stories, and I don't think anything I read was super long. No Les Miserables in 2016 (well, technically I finished it in 2016, on Jan. 2, but I counted it on last year's list anyway). Still, there were a fair number of books, and quite a few that I really enjoyed. I'm leaving off the four DNF ("did not finish") books because, well, I didn't finish them, and if I put them on I'd be tempted to say something unkind about them, and that's no way to start a new year!

A Long Spoon, by Jonathan Howard
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, by Ted Chiang
Freddy and the Ignormous, by Walter Brooks
Billy Budd, by Herman Melville
On Conan Doyle: or, the Whole Art of Storytelling, by Michael  Dirda
Johannes Cabal, the Necromancer, by Jonathan Howard
Literary Genius:  25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature, by Joseph Epstein
The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, by Roz Chast
The Beekeeper's Apprentice, by Laurie King
Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body, by Jo Marchant
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
Latest Readings, by Clive James
The Iron Jackal, by Chris Wooding
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith
Jackalope Wives, by Ursula Vernon
The Art of the English Murder, by Lucy Worsley

Essays After Eighty, by Donald Hall
A Simple Heart,by Gustave Flaubert
The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald
Johannes Cabal, the Detective, by Jonathan Howard
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, by Lewis Buzbee
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
The Dryad's Shoe, by T. Kingfisher
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson
The Givenness of Things, by Marilynne Robinson
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes, by Zach Dundas
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Harry Potter and the Classical World, by Richard Spencer
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Huck Finn's America, by Andrew Levy
Not So Among You, by Kathy Jo DeVore
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher
The House of Twenty-Thousand Books, by Sasha Abramsky
The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler

Lit Up, by David Denby
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Doorways in the Sand, by Roger Zelazny
The Island of Knowledge, by Marcelo Gleiser
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
The Cruelest Month, by Louise Penny
The Story of Kullervo, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Pistols and Petticoats, by Erika Janik
Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers
Turn Coat, by Jim Butcher
Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, by Tim Whitmarsh

The Ace of Skulls, by Chris Wooding
Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond, by Richard Jenkyns
Theogony and Works and Days, by Hesiod
A Dark-Adapted Eye, by Barbara Vine
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, by Cynthia Barnett
When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
Wild Life, by Molly Gloss
A Natural History of Hell, by Jeffrey Ford
Hissing Cousins: The Untold Story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, by Marc Peyser
The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy
Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye
Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead, by Christine Wicker

The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Crime at Black Dudley, by Margery Allingham
Freedom is Space for the Spirit, by Glen Hirshberg
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
Gluten Exposed, by Peter Green
Creed without Chaos: Exploring Theology in the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers, by Laura K. Simmons
The  Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, by Stephanie Coontz
Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite: The Science of Monsters, by Matt Kaplan
The Fear Institute, by Jonathan Howard
The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells
One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson
Henry VI, Part 1, by William Shakespeare
Henry VI, Part 2, "                                      "
Henry VI, Part 3, "                                      "
King Richard III, by William Shakespeare
The Gates, by John Connolly
The Golem: A New Translation of the Classic Play and Selected Short Stories, by Joachim Neugroschel

Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin, by Ann Patty
E.B. White on Dogs, by E.B. White
The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy
The Brothers Cabal, by Jonathan Howard
The Thing on the Doorstep, by H.P. Lovecraft
The Witch of Lime Street, by David Jaher
The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
Ouroboros Ouzo, by Jonathan Howard
Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren
A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, by Mary Roach
Dimestore: A Writer's Life, by Lee Smith
A Study in Emerald, by Neil Gaiman
The Great Divide: The Conflict Between Washington and Jefferson that Defined A Nation, by Thomas Fleming
Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories, by Roald Dahl

Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett
Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, by David Randall
Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, by William Styron
Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Pickman's Model, by H.P. Lovecraft
Oh, Florida! How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, by Craig Pittman
The Lost Book of Moses, by Chanan Tigay

Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language, by Esther Schor
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
The Whisperer in Darkness, by H.P. Lovecraft
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, by Anne Lamott
Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff
My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South, by Rick Bragg
Best.State.Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland, by Dave Barry

This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, by Melody Warnick
$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance
The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson
The Annotated Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, by Colin Dickey
The Story of Egypt: The Civilization that Shaped the World, by Joann Fletcher
Mrs. Rosie and the Priest, by Giovanni Boccaccio
Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to Find Her Again, by Kimberly Williams-Paisley
The Gothic Tradition in Supernatural, by Melissa Edmundson
Let Me Finish, by Roger Angell
My Life in France, by Julia Child
The Fall of the House of Cabal, by Jonathan Howard
The Long, Long Life of Trees, by Fiona Stafford
The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters, by Emily Esfahani Smith

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People, by Thomas Frank
Ghosts in the Middle Ages: The Living and the Dead in Medieval Society, by Jean-Claude Schmitt
Midnight Riot, by Peter Aaronovitch
The Rook, by Daniel O'Malley
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevin Kruse
From the Dust Returned, by Ray Bradbury
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives, by Bernd Heinrich
Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories, by Robert Walser
How Much Land Does a Man Need? by Leo Tolstoy

I think that is one hundred and forty, but there are quite a few short works there. Anyway, it was a good year's reading. Jonathan Howard, with his Johannes Cabal series, was an exciting new "discovery" (many thanks go out to my sister, who kindly introduced me to him by giving me one of the short Johannes Cabal stories last Christmas!), and I'm looking forward to reading more of Peter Aaronovitch's "Peter Grant" series. The Tolkien estate has discovered a "new" piece, Beren and Luthien, , which I'm looking forward to, and Neil Gaiman has a new book coming out next month of Norse Mythology which really should be fun! And, of course, I got a couple delicious new piles of books for Christmas (many thanks to my generous family!) which will keep me going for quite a way into 2017. So, looks promising on the reading front, and I hope this new year will turn out to be wonderful in all sorts of ways, for all of us!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Christmas (and best wishes for a joyful Hanukkah!)

We had a lovely holiday here. Slept late thanks to a very late night out last night at the Christmas Eve service up the mountain -- it was 9 am when Travis stood on the landing and asked, "Are you all staying in bed ironically? Nope, just lazily. But given a wake-up call we all popped up cheerfully enough and trundled down to enjoy good food, thoughtful gifts, and general silliness. I made what I am told were exceptionally superb crepes for breakfast, and the rest of the day I coasted on Saturday's cooking, when my parents joined us for a turkey dinner with all the fixings. They came over this afternoon for a while for chitchat and dessert, which was low-key and nice. 

(Katie got Finny a sweater. He actually doesn't hate it!)

(Finny also got a new Benebone. These are his favorites. They are fancy, but the last one held up for more than six months, which makes it seem more reasonable!)

(Livy finds Katie's tiny new drone just fascinating.)

Travis got new video games.

Anyway, it was a very nice day, and I hope your holidays are also filled with laughter and silliness and love!