Monday, December 31, 2012

God Send Us a Merry New Year

The old year now away is fled,
The new year it is entered;
Then let us all our sins down tread,
And joyfully all appear.
Let's merry be this holiday,
And let us run with sport and play,
Hang sorrow, let's cast care away -
God send us a merry new year!
From Carol for New Year's Day,

And that, dear friends, perfectly sums up my attitude at present. I welcomed in 2012 with enthusiasm and misplaced optimism, and what I got was a year full of struggle  and disappointment:

I have been looking forward to the new year for months now, and tonight, I intend to stay up til midnight, as I usually do, only I will not so much be welcoming in the year 2013, but ensuring that 2012 is properly dead and buried - ideally, burning it effigy, and burying its ashes at a cross roads with a stake through what is left of its heart. In reality, I shall probably just go outside at midnight, play a few pipe tunes, including Auld Lang Syne and, upon coming in again, partake of a bit of whisky, which is all very right and proper behaviour for one conducting a wake. After that, I intend to shake the dust of 2012 off my feet, and set my face bravely to the new year. Nothing like a bit of pipe music to help with that:

PS. You'd be surprised how hard it can be to find a non-cheesy version of this tune to post. My long-suffering sister put up with 2 hours of me listening to the first few measures of various clips, only to have me say, "Good heavens, NO!!!"  and go back to searching. She also put up with me dissolving into hysterical laughter over some of the more truly awful covers of it that I came across.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

This post is a little late in the day, but I am going to wish you all a very Merry Christmas anyway. I want to draw your attention to this very interesting site concerning Christmas constellations. I have not had a chance to look for any of these constellation, because snow has been falling here, snow on snow, which is very Christmasy, and lovely, but very bad for sky watching. Besides, much to my own dissatisfaction, I am not much of an astronomer. I can find Orion, as well as the Great Bear (aka, the Big Dipper.) and I can use the Great Bear to find the North Star, but that is about the extent of my knowledge. Still, once the weather clears up a wee, I think I might see if I can go out and become better acquainted with the night sky.

Here is a beautiful poem by G. K. Chesterton, and here also is a picture I painted several years ago as an illustration for it.

A Christmas Carol

by G. K. Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all alright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold....

I have had the Misty Mountains song from The Hobbit running through my head for days now. I've lost count of the number of times I've listened to Thorin and Company singing it. I cannot seem to get enough if it. My only complaint is that it is not long enough. Two verses is not enough of such splendid music. It should be longer. Much longer. Ideal, I would love to hear Thorin and Company do all 27 seven verses of it.

This is not quite that, but it is the best cover of the song I've come across. And the video that goes with it tells a story too. One can almost imagine Thorin sitting and thinking, and singing like just like that, when he decided to retake Erebor from Smaug.

PS. I have just noticed that this is my  eleventy-first post! You may all may all now cheer me in proper hobbit fashion.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The World Did Not End Today

So, those of you that were hiding away in you Apocolypse-proof caves, it is safe for you all to come out
again now.

There was a great storm blowing in this morning, though, so I work to a red sky. I could see it burning through the twining black boughs of pine outside the window. Nerd that I am, I looked at it and thought, "A red sun rises. Blood has been spilled this night." The wind was sweeping down the mountains, and roaring through the pines.... So I have had this song stuck in my head all day:

I spent most of the day humming it to myself, and singing it in as deep a voice as I could manage. I sounded nothing like a dwarf, of course, but what with the wildness of the wind and the roaring of the trees, I wanted very much to run away from work, and go adventuring.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Spirit

I love Christmas, I really do. I love everything about it. I love the hymns and carols, and singing for Midnight Mass with my sisters. I love the Nativity scenes, and candles, and Christmas trees, with lights like stars tangled in their branches. I love the smell of pine, and the cinnamon-smell of baking. I love the snow - I am fortunate enough to live in a place which almost guarantees a white Christmas. I love the cold, and the cosy fires that banish it from the house, and chestnuts, and hot cider, and mulled wine.

That being said, I am now going to admit, a trifle shame-facedly, that I find this particular time of the year a bit frustrating as well. I am in love with the grand old traditions of Christmas, but I loath the materialistic frenzy that hangs about it these days. I detest the overwrought giddiness of the average holiday song, the songs that have nothing to do with Christmas, or any holiday at all, for that matter, but mention ice, snow, or the day itself, and therefore are played incessantly. And I take particular exception to the generic spirit of the season rubbish. Don't get me wrong. I believe there truly is a spirit to the Christmas season, but that spirit comes from the great miracle of God becoming man, and being born to us here on earth. Take out that, and the spirit doesn't really mean much. It is too vague to mean much. Miracles are worth celebrating. Generic feelings of good will -while good in themselves - are not. There is usually a point in the lead up to Christmas, in which I feel that I have had quite enough of all of that, and get a bit on the dour side.

I was at that point earlier this week, but I am over it again, thanks to a conversation I had with a grand old veteran Marine, who came into my place of employment yesterday. He had a stack of books to check out, and when I had helped him with that, I wished him a Merry Christmas. He grinned enormously at that, and fervently wished me the same. He also thanked me.

"Do you know," he said, with the air of man, burdened with grievance, "I was in the store today, and the lady at the counter said 'Happy Holidays'. Well, I told her 'Merry Christmas' and she said, 'No... Happy Holidays.'"

He gave me an incredulous look, "So I told her that if she didn't say 'Merry Christmas', I was going to leave my groceries there and I want my money back!"

He laughed, like a small boy who has gotten away with something. "I straightened her out!" he said with immense satisfaction, and went merrily on his way.

For some reason, that cheered me up to no end. So did this picture, which I found earlier today, when I was browsing about for something completely different.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It Was A Hobbit-Hole, And That Means Comfort

Hip, hip hurray! The Hobbit comes out tomorrow! I am in the middle of re-reading the book before going to see the movie. It is such a delightful book. I always forget how funny Tolkien can be.

So I totally want to own a house just like this one here:


Granted, my own wee cabin is only about as big as this one, and it is quite cosy and rather Hobbit-like. It is panelled with honey-coloured knotty-pine, and filled with books, pictures and mathoms in true Hobbit fashion. However, the doors and windows are earnestly rectangular and the exteriour is Log Cabin In the Clearing style, and not Hobbiton. It is sufficient as a Hobbit dwelling, but it is not this house!

A few more pictures of the Hobbit House can be found here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas is Coming

And coming quite quickly too. I am rather alarmed by its proximity, considering that I have bought exactly one gift so far. I intend to go out tomorrow and remedy the situation. However, since we are still, properly speaking, in the season of Advent, I am posting a carol suitable for this time of the year.

That is my sisters and I there. Last year, I mentioned a recording that we made for my dad for Christmas, and this song is from that same time. There is an English version of this called O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but we are singing the Latin version of it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

St. Nicholas Day.

Happy feast day to one and all! If any of you are looking for a reason to eat chocolate, or sugar cookies, or drink hot cider, or perhaps even mulled wine - if you dwell in a cold enough climate - then look no farther. Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas, and all the aforementioned goodies are traditionally partaken of on this day.

I have mentioned before on this blog, that I have a special affection for St. Nicholas. I like saints will a lot of character, and St. Nicholas was certainly that. What I particularly like about him, is that he is a complex, very human saint. I suppose the majority of the saints must be, but it comes through with particular clarity where St. Nicholas is concerned. He showed remarkable holiness from a young age. He endured imprisonment and torture for his Faith during the persecution of Diocletian. He was renowned as a wonder-working in his own lifetime. He performed great acts of kindness and charity to the poor and suffering. He was, in short, a very good, kind, holy man, who was much loved during his life time. However, he was also a staunch defender of truth and the right, who had a very low tolerance for falsehood. He also had a temper, as the story of St. Nicholas at the Council of Nicea shows.

It is a common misconception that that goodness and holiness are rather passive and boring. Nothing could be further from the case, as anyone who has ever tried to be truly good will tell you. There is nothing passive at all in performing good works, in praying when one would rather not, in staying true to a moral code, when it would be much easier to compromise, in putting God and others before yourself.  Goodness, and holiness are intensely active. Like soldiers locked in furious battle, one must give all and stand firm, for if any ground is given, it will lead to a route. The life of St. Nicholas is a perfect example of holiness that was anything but boring. He was a man who was fiercely good, and it was his uncompromising holiness that led to his legendary sympathy and goodness to other.

St. Nicholas is one of the most popular saints in the history of the Church. His feast day is celebrated all over the world. Here is a Slavonic carol in honour of him. (Listen past the English translation at the beginning. It is catchy.)

And here is my all time favourite Santa Claus picture, partly because it us just so darn Christmasy and cosy, but mostly because his study is absolutely packed with all sorts of bric a brac alluding to the life of St. Nicholas, and his role as gift-giver in various cultures around the world. I would love to poke around that room!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Quick Announcement

You might have noticed that the side bar now boasts a little bookshelf, with two books standing on it. I intend to start doing book reviews. Right now, I only have one review there, but as I read (or re-read) books, I'll start filling it out. Just so's ye know.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


First of all, while it is still November 30th, Happy St. Andrew's Day to all of you.

At present, I am sipping on a wee bit of single malt whisky, partly to celebrate St. Andrew's Day, and partly to celebrate completing Nanowrimo. If you had asked me how I felt about my chances of getting to 50,000 words on Sunday, I'd likely have burst into tears, for I was 8,000 words behind my count. Against all odd, I managed to catch up, and finish with 50,376 words, so I feel like I have earned a whisky. I also feel that I have bragging rights, so here. I've won:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Who Knew?

For all you Whovians out there, today is a very special day for you:
I'm not sure how one is supposed to celebrate this; perhaps by eating fish sticks and custard, whilst wearing stripy scarves? Having a Dr. Who watching marathon? Purchasing a sonic screwdriver of one's very own? Anyway, happy Dr. Who Day!

(This post is dedicated to all of you - you know who you are - that insisted that I would love Dr. Who, and promptly showed me every single weak episode in season one!)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

This is going to be a very short post, as I am still behind in Nano, in spite of my furious efforts not to be, and I am feeling guilty taking time out of writing to do a post. I present a poem, by Sgt. Joyce Kilmer:


(For John Bunker)

The roar of the world is in my ears.
Thank God for the roar of the world!
Thank God for the mighty tide of fears
Against me always hurled!

Thank God for the bitter & ceaseless strife,
And the sting of His chastening rod!
Thank God for the stress & the pain of life,
And Oh, thank God for God!

Joyce Kilmer is my favourite American poet. He was quite a character, but a good man through and through. He fought with the Fighting 69th in the first World War, and he wrote some fantastic poetry during his time in France, though you will seldom find him listed amongst the poets who came out of that conflict - which is really a shame. I love the courage in poem, and I want to be like that too.

PS. For all of you who have been so nice about commenting, and to whom I have been so remiss in responding, thanks muchly. I appreciate the comments, and I will be better about it once November is well away.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Today would have been the 80th birthday of Richard Dawson. Apparently, he is best known for hosting the original Family Feud show. However, I know him as Corporal Peter Newkirk, who just might very well be my favourite character from Hogan's Heroes. I have no idea what Newkirk did for a living before joining the RAF and landing himself in a prison camp, but I suspect it was rather shady, whatever it was. Newkirk is the go-to guy for safe-cracking, pick-pocketing, conning and forging. He does card tricks, and when the situation demands it, the occasional imitation

Hogan's Heroes is one of my very favourite TV shows. Yes, it is very corny, it has canned laughter, it is wildly implausible. For all that, it had a great cast of characters, all very distinct, who played well off each other. It is genuinely funny, and the comedic timing is brilliant. There is a surprising amount of genuine history in it, and while the main conceit of the show - that POWs were actively working against the Germans - is played for laughs, there is a real-life basis for it. (The Great Escape, anyone?)And it occasionally sobers up enough to remind us that there is a war going on, and that there really are very high stakes invovled here. Furthermore, though it ran for six seasons, and there are a few weak episodes here and there, it is one of the few TV shows that never jumped the shark. It is, in my humble opinion, unjustly underrated.

For your entertainment I present the following clip, in which the boys trick the prison commandant into thinking that the Germans are losing the war: (That's Newkirk there, the fellow pretending to be Hitler.)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On This Day We Celebrate:

The Marine Corps Birthday

The United States Marine Corps is 237 years old today. Marines are very big on Tradition and Decorum (at least at official functions) and so this day is quite often celebrated with a fancy dinner and dress ball. OO-rah! Semper Fi, Devil Dogs!

Padraig Pearse's Birthday

He was an Irish patriot, and also a teacher and a poet, who wrote rather lovely poems in Irish Gaelic. Here is a translation of one:

The Wayfarer

The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun,
Or some green hill where shadows drifted by
Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown
And soon would reap; near to the gate of Heaven;
Or children with bare feet upon the sands
Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets
Of little towns in Connacht,
Things young and happy.
And then my heart hath told me:
These will pass,
Will pass and change, will die and be no more,
Things bright and green, things young and happy;
And I have gone upon my way

And I just noticed that this post makes my 100th post!

And since today was a beautiful cold day, with several inches of snow on the ground, a changeable sky that would be grey and foreboding one moment, and bright blue the next, and the last golden leaves of autumn still clinging to the bushes and the trees, I decided to take a picture of what I can see in the bit of yard outside my hobbit-hole of a house. Happy sigh.... I just love this time of year!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Autumn Is Changeable

My Dear Followers,

I know that you are not robots. I had no idea that Blogger thought it likely that great numbers of robots would be interested in a blog like mine, nor that it had taken it upon itself to sniff out these nefarious beings, and stop them at the door. I have had a stern talk with Blogger about it, and one should now be able to comment without having to prove one's humanity.

To my unspeakable delight I woke up to a world that looked like this today:

I am one of those odd people who absolutely glories in stormy weather. While most people are doing their best not to complain, I go about beaming from ear to ear, tromping about in the rain - I seldom go for walks in warm weather - and generally acting as though I have won the lotto.

The rain stopped for a bit in the afternoon, when a fierce, cold wind began to blow. The sun occasional peeked out from the clouds, and the air was full of dancing, golden leaves. It looked very Tolkien-ish:

If one cannot have storms, then a dramatic setting works nearly as well for keeping one cheery. The fierce, cold wind eventually drove away the sun, and by the time I was ready to come home from work, the world looked like this instead - but with more pine trees:

If there is anything I enjoy more than a good rain storm, it is a good snow, so my cup of joy was nigh to overflowing. It is supposed to keep on like this for the next couple days, which makes me feel very pleased with life at present, even if I am behind on my would count for Nanowrimo. I topped 10,000 words on it, in a fit of inspired determination, but it still lags. (So if the old blog starts looking rather unattended, it will be because I am attempting higher forms of literary abandon.)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

All Hail November

Eeeeek!!!! I am missing it! We are smack dab in the middle of Sherlock Holmes Weekend! Who knew, eh? According to Brownielock's handy site, Sherlock Holmes Weekend this year, runs from November 2nd to November 4th. I find this very exciting. I must take time out of my busy life life and read a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Or watch Basil Rathbone portray the famous detective. Or maybe even watch the second season of Sherlock. Oh, the possibilities!

November is also National Novel Writing Month, and I am writing a novel. Well, I am sort of writing a novel. I started bravely, and for one day, all was good. Then I had a devastating attack of writers' block, and ended up tossing out all of the work from the first day, and starting over from scratch. So now I am behind and having to write madly to get myself back on track for finishing by the end of November. At present, by handy word counter is informing me that I shall not finish until January. This is alarming. I need to get a move on.

However, before I go, Bella tagged me a post or two ago, and I have not had a chance to respond to her properly. Since I do not know when I am going to be able to write a decent post again, I am going to take care of the tag right now. Here we go:

Eleven Random Facts:

1.) According to the Urban Dictionary, the word twee has three meanings:
       1.) Something sweet, almost to the point of being sickeningly so.
      2.) To be obnoxiously sweet or quaint.
     3.) The sound a sparrow makes the moment it dies.
The first two definitions are obviously connected, but I have no idea where the last one came from. I now want desperately to write a sparrow's death scene into a story, so that I have a chance of using that word.
2.) I am wildly fond of Mumford and Sons' new CD.
3.) I am also wildly fond of piobaireachd.
4.) I can pronounce the word piobaireachd.
5.) I can sing the Cinderelly song the mice sing in Disney's Cinderella... and sound just like the mice do.
6.) Water does not boil at 212 degrees Fahrenheit if you live it 6000 feet. It boils at 201 degrees. So there.
7.) The United States Marine Corps has its own official tartan and pipe band.
8.) There was a piper at the battle of the Alamo.
9.) In the first draft of the Fellowship of the Ring, Strider was not a Ranger. He was a hobbit named Trotters.
10.) There is no good response when a homeless man informs you that he is going down to the lake to get a free manicure.
11.) I really must get back to my novel.

And Now For Bella's Questions:

1.) Do you like musicals?
I like Gilbert and Sullivan.

2.)What is your favourite musical?
The Pirates of Penzance.

3.) If you could step into a book for a single day, which one would it be?
It is a toss up. The Lord of the Rings is the one that comes to mind first. However, I would dearly love to be on the run with Alan Breck Stewart, so Kidnapped is giving that a run for its money.

4.)Do you know what a "Silver Tongue" is?
Here's one:

5.) How does this quote end? "There is evil there...."

6.)Do you like having your picture taken?
No. Nor do I like taking pictures.

7.) Do you like cold or warm weather better.
 Cold weather. Bring on the cardigans and kilted skirts!

8.)What is your favourite colour?

9.) Do you know how a war can be passed down for generations but only last 7 days?
 Um... does this have anything to do with the Campbells and the MacDonalds?

10.)Who are three of your favourite authors?
G. K. Chesterton, Patricia McKillip, Robert Louis Stevenson, but not in that order.

11.) Do you know what a jean jumper is?
I do my best not to.

Monday, October 29, 2012

In which I learn About Cars

Yesterday was the last Sunday in October, and traditionally, the date upon which the Feast of Christ the King was celebrated. It was also the feast day of St. Jude, the patron of impossible cases, to whom one might pray when faced with insurmountable difficulties. Furthermore, according to this website, it was National Chocolate Day. Talk about a day fraught with import! I meant to do a post yesterday, making a big deal of all of that. And, really I would have... but that was before my car overheated as I was coming up the mountain, home from Sunday Mass. And despite the addition of oil and coolant, and the 20 minute rest I gave it, it continued to overheat.

To say that I found this distressing would be a grave understatement. I was quite torn between a desire to swear like a sailor, and the compulsion to burst into tears. I did neither, which was sensible of me. Even more sensibly, I pulled open the hood again, and, undeterred by the tangle of metal, wires and hoses that make up the innards of a car, set myself about figuring out why exactly neither oil nor coolant had remedied the situation. After a brief perusal... "well, lookie there! There is a hole in that hose there..... and it appears that my coolant is leaking out of that hole!" Time to call in Dad.

Have a really great Dad. He came at once, armed with gallons and gallons of water, and the determination to get me and my car home in one piece. We tried the water first, and when the radiator could take no more, we tried driving home.... Five minutes later, the car was overheating, and Dad was looking at the hole in the hose. Water and the dregs of coolant were streaming out the hole, and there was considerable wetness, where wetness ought not to be. My Dad, who is handy as well as obliging, studied the situation for a bit, removed the hose, and hacked off about two inches or so - enough to get rid of the hole. The hose just  fit back on again, and to my great delight, we were able to get my car home with no trouble. By that time, I had been stuck on the mountain for nigh onto three hours. I had a headache, and could have eaten a horse. (Though maybe not the scabby horse my friend always swears he could eat.)

As a result of this, I have learned a couple things that make me much handier than I was previously. To begin with, I know what a top radiator hose is, and where it is located on my vehicle. I took the car over to Dad's house today, along with a replacement hose, and now know how to replace a top radiator hose, should this situation ever arise again. (Though I dearly hope it does not.) Furthermore, I learned that I should have been paying closer attention to those old MacGyver shows we used to watch. MacGyver always averred that a person should always have duct tape handy, and a Swiss army knife as well. Of course, MacGyver used those things, mixed with a dash of high school chemistry, to thwart the evil machination of various thugs, villains and warlords. The principle still holds, though. Had I been in possession of either one of those items, I could have patched my top radiator hose myself. I bought duct tape today.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Gallimaufry*

* Gallimaufry: a confused jumble or medley of things... which is what this post is going to be. 

Working in a bookish profession, as I do, and in the public sphere as well, can lead to some mighty odd conversations. I had one of those odd conversations recently. A very nice lady wanted help finding a book. Close interrogation of the matter revealed that she could not recall the title of the book. Nor the author, for that matter. She had even forgotten the main character's name. She could not remember anything at all about the plot. All she could remember was that this book was the first book in the series, and what she really wanted was the second book. Unfortunately, I could not help her. She was quite downcast by this news.

I recently came across an old Telegraph article about once common old words dying out of the English language. I found the article very sad, since I love words, and firmly believe that one can never have too broad a vocabulary. Therefore, in order to do my bit to stop this disintegration of my native tongue, I am sharing five uncommon but highly useful words, which would put a bit of colour back into daily exchanges:

   1. Soothfast: truthful or honest.
            Be soothfast; is this dress suitable for Lord Grenville's ball?

   2. Keelivine: a lead pencil
          Hand me that keelivine, that I may take notes on this fascinating article.

   3. Twattling: to gossip or talk too much.
          Stop your twattling and tell me the last time you saw Sherlock in here.

   4. Belike: with considerably certainty.
          If you keep making that expression, your face is belike to stay that way.

   5. Diversivolent: looking for an argument.
         Brace yourself, lads, the customers are mighty diversivolent today.

Rather to my surprise, there has been great interest in my remark about knowing the life cycle of a jellyfish. This being the case, I am posting this little sketch I did, laying out the cycle for all to see. (I shall be soothfast, and admit I had to look up the proper name for the ephyra.) And now you all know too!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Blog Award.

My, my. How very delightful! Teresa, over at Occasional Randomness, has presented me with the Liebster Blog Award. Aww. Thanks Treski!

So, according to the rules, I am supposed to do the  following:

1. Post eleven facts about myself.

2. Answer the eleven questions the awarder has given me and make up eleven questions for my awardees to answer in turn.

3. Tag eleven fellow bloggers

4. Notify them that I've awarded them

5. No tagging back

6. And the eleven blogs you tag must have less than 200 followers.

Well... I can oblige with the first two steps. Unfortunately, I do not know 11 people to whom I might present this award, and the few people I would normally pass it along to, already show up amongst Teresa's list. That being the case, I shall merely deliver myself of a good deal of trivia, and leave it at that. First, here, in no particular order, are 11 facts about myself:

1.) In case it is not obvious from this blog, I shall come right out and say it. I collect scores of pointless trivia. I am the Trivia Queen. Would you like to hear about the life cycle of a jelly fish? I can tell you all about it. From memory.

2.) I can knit. My very first project was an Aran Sweater. Yes, it was ambitious, but I figured if I had to go to all the bother of learning the craft (and I did have to, it was related to Work.) I wanted to produce something I would actually wear. Here is it:

And having achieved that, I decided that I had about all the knitting I could take, and have not completed another project since... But I can knit.

3.) I have a sword, and I know how to use it. Actually, I have two swords: the lighter foil, with the tip capped off, so that I may merely 'kill' my opponent, but not hurt him; and the hand and a half sword with a live point. I took fencing classes for a number of years, and got to be pretty good at it. My favourite style was to fight with two short swords.

4.) I am exceedingly fond of popcorn, lightly buttered and salted. I cannot resist the stuff. Do not ask me why. I cannot tell you.

5.) Coffee has no effect on me whatsoever. It does not wake me up, nor keep me awake. I can drink cup after cup of it, day after day, (and believe me, I do.) but if I give it up cold turkey - for Lent, for example - I do not suffer the usual withrdawls that afflict most coffee drinkers.

6.) I have a funny accent - a Canadian accent, apparently; and a Canadian once mistook me for a Newfie. When I am being particularly earnest, this accent thickens up a bit, and comes out as sounding like and uneasy compromise between an Irish brogue and a Scottish burr. It confuses people.

7.) I do not feel the cold very easily, and I love soft, grey days... and mist... and rain... and snow. I am happiest during wild weather.

8.) I have been known to gad about the landscape, draped in a long green cloak of my own creation. Cloaks are cosy and practical, and a lot of fun to wear. And they make a great off-hand weapon during a swordfight.

9.) There is a misconception floating about, that I can fix anything. This is Not True, and I thank you to crush those rumours wherever you hear them. However, if you are desperate, and ask nicely enough, I will give it my best shot... unless it involves computers.

10. I once translated The Song of the Sword of Alan (from Stevenson's Kidnapped) into Quenya. It seemed The Thing To Do.

11.) Rumour has it that I have a secret identity. Opinion is divided as to whether this alter-ego is a grey, gloomy creature, who knows all about the Grand and Glorious 'A', or a big-headed android named Marvin.

And now for Teresa's questions:

1.) Who's you're favorite musician and why? (Does not include singers this time.)
     Seriously? One single, solitary favourite musician who is not a singer? Goes through The List: James Galway, whose flute technique is so distinctive, you know you're listening to him before you here his name mention? Alasdair Fraser who does the same thing for fiddle? Mark Knopfler, who change my mind about whether an electric guitar can be beautiful? Paddy Maloney, who make the Chieftains what they are? The piping instructors at Balmoral School of Piping and Drumming, who are all insanely talented, but who treat us lowly students like equals, because we are All Pipers in a Glorious Tradition? I can't decided. Take your pick.

2.) Do you think the Beatles overrated?
     Definitely. I find the modern adoration of the Beatles odd and somewhat disturbing. I really, really, really don't care for John Lennon on any level. The heathen.

3.) Did you ever want to be a Ginger?
     Sadly, yes. But then I met a Ginger and got over it.

4.) QUICK! PICK A NUMBER BETWEEN ONE AND TEN! Now, why did you chose that one? Why!? WHY?!?
     Gah! Too much pressure! I refuse to participate.

5.) How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
     42. It is The Answer.

6.) Who started the American Navy?
     John Paul Jones. He was a Scot. It probably explains a lot: 

7.) What's your favorite music genre?
     Anything I consider Good Music, and opposed to that other stuff that is Not Good. But if you are going to pin me down to a definite answer, Irish and Scottish music - think Clancy Brothers and Corries, Chieftains and bagpipes. God save us from that generic "Celtic" stuff.

8.) Have you ever played baseball? (even in the backyard with friends works.)
     Yes. My Nono, after all, was largely responsible for the Little League program in town. It would be considered in Very Bad Taste, if I hadn't played it. Now that I'm grown (or as grown as I am going to get), I prefer football (non-American) and hockey. I like speed and violence in my games.

9.) What are your top five favorite books? (because I know that I can never chose just one)
     Oh, boy... I hate this question. I am going to presume that you mean fictional titles, which will cut out a couple of contenders. So, The Lord of the Rings obviously. The Sherwood Ring is one of my go-to books when I want something to cheer me up. I love Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Alan Breck Stewart is one of the most incorrigibly likable characters in fiction. The Outlaws of Ravenhurst has been a favourite since I was yea-high, and when I re-read it recently, I remembered why. It is good. The Hands of Cormac Joyce because it is a sweet, beautiful and wise book.

10.) What is your favorite accent?
     Ye canna tell frae a wee glance o th' blog? Actually, tis a toss up. Irish accents are lovely, especially South of Ireland. And then there are Scottish accents, and the Glasgow accent in particular... Ehm, if I am being honest, I will just out and admit that accent are never-endingly fascinating, and I love them all.

11.) Do you know the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything?
      Yes. But since I have not yet calculated the Ultimate Question, alas, it does me no good.

Friday, September 28, 2012

And Another Doodle

This is for Gina, who is very complimentary about my sketches, and also for Bella, who is tired of my post on the Battle of the Bridge of Stirling - a wee 18th century Highland Jacobite, complete with a white rose, to show where her allegiance lies:

Highlanders of this period wore the tartan as part of their regular clothing. Men generally wore a feile mor, or great plaid, which was the precursor of the modern kilt. A feile mor would be pleated, (or kilted to use the old word) and belted at the waist, with a long bit leftover, which could be used for a cloak, but which was generally pinned at the shoulder to keep it out of the way. Women did not wear a feile mor. Nor did they wear those dresses consisting of a lace-up bodice, and a full plaid skirt, which one often finds for sale in Renaissance clothing catalogues. No, what Highland women had was an arisaid, a great cloak of tartan material, worn over their dresses, often pinned at the neck, and belted at the waist, much as this young lady is wearing hers. Unmarried ladies also generally wore a little band of ribbons in their hair, and if you look closely, you can see that I put that in as well... Yes, I am aware of the technical flaws in the sketch, but I am still rather pleased with how it turned out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On This Day In History...

in 1297, the army of the great Scottish patriot, William Wallace, defeated the English at the Bridge of Stirling. It was a decisive victory, which went a long way to cement Scottish resistance against the English invaders. A good, brief account of the life of Wallace, and the battle can be found here.

William Wallace has always been a hero of mine, and on my first trip to Scotland, I had the good fortune to stay in a room that provided a glimpse of the River Forth, and I had to cross the Bridge to get up to the town of Stirling. The current Bridge is not the same one that the Battle was fought on, but I was still in my element.

There is a song called Stirling Brig which narrates the battle from the Scottish perspective. The Corries do a good version of it:

Monday, September 10, 2012

What Else Would I Draw?

I have only posted a couple of my own pictures on this blog so far, and both times they have been piper pictures. I draw a lot of pipers. I also almost always draw people in profile, so I have been challenging myself to draw from other angles as well - or so I fancy. However, looking at my more recent piper sketches, I notice with some puzzlement (since I always start thinking, I am going to try something diffent this time and genuinely believe that is what I am doing) that my go to position for pipers is a 3/4 view from the back. Very preturbing that. I had no idea I was doing that. However, to prove that I am capable of producing something besides 3/4 view pipers, here is a little sketch, inspired somewhat by the story, Peter Kagan and the Wind.

Friday, September 7, 2012

He's Pixelated....

A couple days ago, I saw an old Gary Cooper movie, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. I had never seen it before, and quite thoroughly enjoyed it. Gary Cooper, in the title role, plays the part of a somewhat eccentric young man, who comes unexpectedly into money, and whose native decency and straightforward simplicity are frequently mistaken for dim-wittedness by the more cynical and sophisticated men who try to ingratiate themselves with the newly-minted millionaire. The storytelling is solid, the protagonists sympathetic, and like many films from this period, there is a moral to the story, but one which is charmingly told, and therefore satisfying. I am ashamed to say, however, what sticks with me the most is a scene near the end, in which two little old ladies from Mr. Deeds' home town are called in to vouch for his character, and their solemn verdict is that he is "pixelated".  I thought I had mis-heard at first, but the words is said several times, and there is no mistaking it, Mr. Deeds is "pixelated". A short time later, the word is explained to be an early American word meaning that the pixies have gotten him; that he is, in fact, "barmy".

Well now, this was very interesting indeed. Up until that moment, pixelated had existed in my vocabulary merely as a word describing what happens to a small digital picture when you try to print it out far bigger than it wants to be. It turns in to a lot of little squares. It is pixelated. And yet, here is a movie, seventy years old or better, and there is the word with an entirely different meaning. I was intrigued. and I looked it up. It took a few tries to find a source that dug any deeper than the film for the origin of the word, but I came across a very fine site called The Word Detective, which features an interesting little article about the word's origin and history. It is a quick read, and well worth the time. I must say I am quite taken with the word, and am much inclined to re-instate the use of the word pixelated in its original and rather poetic meaning.

And here, for a chuckle, is the scene in question, which some joker has cleverly doctored:

Monday, August 6, 2012

I Emerge

My devoted followers - here meaning a pair of young sisters - are beginning to grumble about the lack of attention with which I am treating this blog. I have been feeling quite guilty about it for a while, and I apologise. What can I say? It has been One of Those Years. When 2012 came in, I stayed up til midnight, and greeted it with open arms and whisky, and in return, it has given me a good deal of bother. When January 1st comes round again, I shall wait for the stroke of midnight, not so much to welcome in the year 2013, but to be sure that 2012 is properly dead and buried.

In order to keep this blog from atrophying entirely, I am posting a little sketch I did recently, when I found myself unexpectedly at loose ends, and with very little at hand for helping to pass the time. I did what I generally do when I discover myself in such straights, and began doodling. The doodle turned out rather better than I expected, especially in view of the fact that the #2 pencil I was using was badly in need of sharpening. I still had some time to kill, so I cast about for some means of colouring the sketch. I had nothing in the line of art supplies handy, and so made do with an elderly red, fine point Sharpie; a green, felt-tip pen which was also getting on in years; a pen which laid down a very fine, albeit rather watery blue line in ink which the pen itself proudly informed me was "super ink" and good for signing documents; and a black gel pen. The result is as below - a piper. What else would I be drawing?

Friday, June 22, 2012

For Greater Glory

As I have mentioned before, I have been very excited about this movie, ever since I first hear rumours of it being made. However, I live in a place that rarely shows limited release, independent films, so I did not figure on getting to see it until it came out on DVD. It must be doing much better than expected, because it appeared in the local theater late last week, and my sisters and I, astonished, but terribly glad, took ourselves off to see it on Monday.

I must say I was very impressed by it. I am not going to do a review on it, since there are a great number of them about at present, written either by folk - mostly professional critics - who hated it; or by those who were deeply moved and inspired by it. I do not think I have read a single indifferent review. No, I intend to highlight a few of the things that particularly impressed my with For Greater Glory, which I do not recall seeing mentioned anywhere else.

 - Obviously, this is a very Catholic movie, which is unusual enough in our day and age, and it is Catholic on various levels. There is the usual Catholic imagery, which is reasonably common in both movies and TV programs. Most of the main characters are Catholics, and their faith is portrayed in a straightforward and respectful manner. This is not so common, particularly in movies that are considered "intelligent". Still, it is not so uncommon as to deserve more than a mention of it. What is particularly striking about For Greater Glory, at least to my way of thinking, is that it portrays commitment to the Faith, not as a cause, or an idea, but as a fundamental way of life. These people are not just practicing Catholics. They are Catholics. It defines them. Furthermore, all the main characters who are not Catholics, are gradually drawn towards the Faith, so that in the end, regardless of what sort of lives they might have lived before, or what sort of doubts they have been struggling with, at the vital moment that matters, they come down firmly on the side of Cristo Rey. And this is done, for the most part, without much discussion. One merely sees the Cristeros attending Mass, receiving the Sacraments, and fighting to the death for what they believe. It is attractive, and inspiring.

 - I like the fact that the movie portrays various aspects of the Catholic resistance movements. At the beginning of the movie, after President Calles has vowed to enforce the viciously anti-Catholic laws in the 1917 Mexican Constitution, we see numerous scenes of peaceful resistance. There marches, petitions and boycotts. There is honest discussion amongst the various characters, about the wisdom of taking up arms against the government. At one point, a character says, in support of the boycotts, that we can do without. It will be our Lent. I liked that. The film ultimately follows the fighters more closely than the supporting non-combatant, and the armed conflict is portrayed as a laudable thing. However, those who chose to resist, but not to fight in the battlefields, are portrayed as brave and honourable as well. I thought that was a nice balance.

 - I like the way they handled Fr. Vega's character. Priests are not supposed to fight. They may be attached to armies, so that they may minister to the spiritual needs of the fighting men, but they are not to take up arms themselves. Fr. Vega does, and is an officer as well. It would have been easy to slip here, and portray him as a hero for making the choice to fight, especially since there is a tendency these days to emphasise action. The mission of the Catholic Church is primarily the salvation of souls, and therefore must be concerned more with the spiritual side of things. As it is, Fr. Vega is portrayed sympathetically. He is conflicted, and struggles with his decision, but he is, as he says himself, a priest first. Furthermore, he is the only priest in the film who takes up arms. The others continue to serve their people as well as they can under the circumstances, and a couple of them suffer martyrdom for their brave dedication.

 - This movie has an R rating that I do not think it deserves... and this is from a girl who watches most of the grittier scenes in action/adventure movies out of my bad eye only, that way I can see what is going on, but miss the gory details. For Greater Glory is violent, there is not doubt about that, it can hardly help it with the subject matter. There are scenes of war, recrimination and martyrdom - including the martyrdom of a young boy. People are beaten, shot, tortured and hanged, and the movie certainly does not pull any punches. Neither does it, however, hit you senseless with it. There is a good deal of restraint and very little gore, even in the most brutal scenes. The point of this film is not, after all, to horrify the audience with the cruelty of the Mexican government, but to edify them with the courage of the Cristeros: men, women, and even children, who were braved all these things in order to stand up for the Truth. And in that, it eminently succeeds. It is an unabashedly heroic movie; a movie that comes down squarely on the side of courage, honour and the Catholic faith. It glorifies virtue even to the point of martyrdom, and it challenges the viewer. You say you believe this - how far are you willing to go to stand up for it?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

White Rose Day

As some of you might remember, I did a post on this holiday last year. I will, of course, be wearing plaid again - it is not quite tartan, but it is very similar to Dress Stewart, though with a bit more black to it, rather than green. I am wearing white roses in my hair, and I bought a little bush of miniature white roses, which are temporarily in a little pot inside, but which I will plant as soon as the Sierra summer arrives properly, and we stop having the occasion freeze at night. There is actually a strain of white roses - quite an old strain too - whose proper Latin title is Alba Maxima, but is also known as the Bonnie Prince Charlie Rose, and the Jacobite rose. If I ever get to be a reliable gardener, I would love to have an Alba Maxima in my garden.

Alba Maxima; Jacobite Rose;
Bonnie Prince Charlie Rose
This year, for celebration, I am going to partake of a bottle of Traquair Jacobite Ale, which I have been saving for today. I bought it at Traquair House in Scotland, where it is brewed. Traquair House is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, according to their website, but more to the point, for the purpose of this post, it is as staunchly Catholic and Jacobite house. There is a little semi-hidden room in the attic, that was where the priest lived, and a secret stair case, that descends from it, and empties one out the back of the building, where one can scarper off to the woods for cover. There is a lovely little family chapel there - with the original altar, no less, and no sign of any modernisation. Traquair House is particularly interesting because it is still owned by the family, and receives no funds from Historic Scotland for its maintenance. Therefore, there has not been any restoration per se done on it. It is simply kept up, so when you tour it, you get a much better idea of what a historical house was like, than you do at other places.

 Furthermore, I have made a wee small cockade to wear upon my lapel. It was quite easy: two loops of white ribbon, stitched into a cross shape. In the center is a wee pin featuring the rampant lion. The lion is an old symbol for Scotland, and the red lion on a golden field was long used in the Royal Standard, so it seemed particularly suitable to wear today.

I shall finish by posting quite an old video of the Corries singing The White Cockade. It is charming:


Friday, June 8, 2012

Corpus Christi

... Was actually yesterday, so I am a day late on this post. However, I meant to do a post, and was excited about the post I meant to do, so you are getting it today instead. I present to you, The Corpus Christi Carol. Hayley Westenra sings this on her Christmas album, and that is where first I heard it. Obviously, it is not really a Christmas carol, even though the word carol is almost exclusively associated with Christmas these days.

Lulley, lully, lulley, lully,

The faucon hath born my mak away.

He bare hym up, he bare hym down,
He bare hym into an orchard brown.

In that orchard ther was an hall,
That was hanged with purpill and pall.

And in that hall ther was a bede,
Hit was hangid with gold so rede.

And yn that bede ther lythe a knyght,
His wowndes bledyng day and nyght.

By that bedes side ther kneleth a may,
And she wepeth both nyght and day.

And by that bedes side ther stondith a ston,
"Corpus Christi" wretyn theron.

The medieval imagery is intensely allegorical. Most obviously are the symbols of the Wounded Knight, Who is a figure of Christ Crucified, and the weeping may (maiden) who is a figure of His most holy Mother. The barren, brown orchard is open to numerous interpretations: the desolation of the world after the fall of Adam; the emptiness of a soul in sin; death itself, perhaps. The colours too suggest meanings. Purple is the liturgical colour for Lent, and days of penance. Red is used for feasts of martyrs and symbolises blood. Gold is used for high feasts, such as Easter. The word mak here, is an old word for mate, or more specifically, love. The phrase itself is ambiguous, and lends itself to numerous interpretations, but it reminiscent of Mary Magdalene's cry, "They have taken away my Lord; and I do not know where they have laid Him".

The figure of Christ as a knight, or a warrior was very common in medieval allegory. So does he appear in the Old English poem, The Dream of the Rood. In The Vision of Piers Plowman, He appears as a knight, jousting for men's souls. There is a very old poem by William Herbert, Quis est iste qui uenit de Edom contains the line 'what is he, this lordling, that cometh in from the fight?' The imagery is particularly vivid - the Young Hero who dies love - and ties in very beautifully with the Sleeping King/Sleeping Hero myths that abound in mythology.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Today is the anniversary of the largest amphibious assault in history - to whit, the D-Day invasions of Normandy during WWII. Here are some facts about the assault you might not have know:

 - Although months of rigorous planning proceeded the invasion, the actual date of June 6th was selected at the last minute.Logistically, the action needed to take place at the beginning of June, the 5th being the preferred date. However, there were a number of variables that had to be taken into account during the planning. The bombers required a full moon, and a (cloud) ceiling of at least 5000 feet. The sea could not be too rough, otherwise the heavy transport boats would not be able to make the crossing. If the winds exceeded 20 mph, the paratroopers would be unable to land safely. June came in with one of the worst summer storms in twenty years. The decision to attack on June 6th was due to the weather report given by James Martin Scagg, predicting a 24 hour period or relatively decent weather in the midst of the storm.  You can read about it here and here.

 - The Scottish Highlands were used for a lot of training during WWII, including practice for the Normandy invasion. The British Commandos took intensive training courses there.

 - The actor, Richard Todd took part in the invasion. Nearly twenty years later, he appeared in the movie, The Longest Day in the role of Major John Howard, who was his commanding officer. Another actor, in a bit role, plays Richard Todd himself.

 - Tiny submarines, manned by Commandos, were sent to Normandy in advance of the invasion to conduct reconnaissance, and to lead the landing craft safely to the beach. They hid within range of the German guns for five days before the assault took place.

 - Bagpipes were used in the attack. Piper Bill Millin, under orders from his commanding officer, Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, piped his men off the boats and up to the beach, while enduring heavy fire from the Germans. You can read his account of the attack here.

Billy Millin