Friday, December 28, 2007

retreating for New Year's

Tomorrow morning I leave for the Olympic Peninsula (weather permitting ferry travel) not to return until Tuesday. I'll be travelling with Alicia and Halima, to a semi-SCA (ie non-official) scribal retreat organised by Tamlyn. Other people will be very busy and energetic, but I'm teaching a mere two classes, so I'll be for the most part treating this as a retreat (gasp!).
I'm taking a bunch of books from my to-be-read pile, my laptop and some mapping materials. I'm going to read, drink tea, and maybe get some writing done. I may get back to Tom's story while I'm letting Willow Knot lie fallow.
Mark the wonder husband scanned a heap of coloured pictures to use in the class on drapery in painting, and hopefully I'll come up with useful things to say about them. I've copied into a handout what Theophilus, Cennini and Dionysius of Fourna have to say about painting drapery, but my own observations will have to be spoken. I may revise the handout for next time, if this isn't such a specialised class that I never teach it again.
I made some very rough notes about looking at drapery as either calligraphic or sculptural, and as either revealing the body or hiding it, but I haven't built them into sentences and paragraphs the way I usually do.
My excuse is that I agreed to teach the course in November, when in the midst of Nanowrimo, and that in December getting my Christmas prep done (for once) in good time only left me about 3 evenings free, some of which I spent feeling too achey to concentrate on anything anyways. And that the first time I teach any course it's flawed. My first set of students are always lab rats, which is too bad, but can't really be helped, and usually they don't do too badly from it.
The road trip should be fun, though it won't be all that long. I've packed a few cds. The site has a tv and dvd player, but on reflection I decided that my Christmas present of the complete Sonny Chiba Streetfighter oeuvre might not be suitable for the other attendees, and hopefully I'll have a chance to watch it with Chris when I get back. That was one of his presents to me. Scanner Cop was another. I'm so looking forward to those.
There's a resolution for January. To catch up with my unwatched martial arts and horror dvds. Evenings are now reserved for that activity.
Happy New Year to my presumed readers. May your coming year be as full of wire-work and stunt doubles as you desire.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

unseasonal spasm of rage

You'll recall perhaps that my nanowrimo month was delayed by my having to prep and teach a survey class on medieval arts. By class I mean lecture, since this was for Ithra, the educational system in the Kingdom of An Tir, and all sessions take place on weekends, with each 'class' lasting, say, one to four hours.
You may also recall that I was dubious about teaching in Seagirt/Crickstow because the current baroness of Seagirt, whose name I forget, had blacklisted Mark, and I was tired of packing class stuff out to wherever, getting in costume, teaching, having no one interesting to hang out with between times, packing up on my own and traipsing back. Also that the blacklisting was in the best tradition of blacklistings, secretive, poorly-motivated, and unanswerable.
I was also dubious about teaching a core course, where the title and duration are set, but the curriculum and text are not.
But some people I like and respect, Alicia and Halima, had asked and encouraged me to teach it, so I agreed, and spent a few days in panic mode creating an outline and finding pictures, which my wonderful husband scanned and set up on his laptop to be shown as slides, and he and I put together a selection of real antiquities and facsimiles of manuscripts and artifacts that people could handle.
I narrated, and he made the slides work, and he covered the metalwork section, and despite the feast being set up in the next room, so that the class was several times interrupted by people fetching tables, and despite the innate boredom of a 3 hr slide and lecture class, it went off. We had a break every half-hour so people could stretch, wake up and come and look at the artifacts. The immediate in-person feedback was positive.
Oh, the other thing I don't enjoy about Seagirt/Crickstow Ithras is the rather adversarial feedback system, which I'm told dates from the same event that led to the blacklisting. The written feedback by the students must be done with the instructor out of the room, and the forms brought to the chancellor by a selected student, so the instructor can't see the forms, and (I suppose) fail the student who provides negative feedback by recognising their handwriting.
But still, feedback is useful, mostly to help me tweak my class descriptions so that students (at least the few who actually read the class descriptions) know what they're getting into.
A few days ago the results arrived, nicely typed out in different coloured fonts, unattributed unless the person signed themselves.
And, y'know, the heck with it. Really. I'm done.
I'm glad I did it, for Halima, and for Constance, and I'm glad they got something out of it, and I hope they get their Lector Artis thingies. But I am now right out of people whom I wish to help with that locally. I'm willing to teach it again (though I'll gripe, because it's a 3 hr. lecture class) in faraway places where they may have trouble finding instructors--I'm always willing to teach in faraway places, especially where they see the usefulness of bringing Mark out to teach as well and getting two instructors for the travel-cost of one.
But the heck with Seagirt/Crickstow and especially with the unnamed person whose feedback was given in orange italic:
Ms Kestrel would be fine doing the course w/o assistance. Some interjections by assistant were not helpful.
You know what? Anyone sufficiently clueless about both SCA and medieval terms of address and reference (you know, that would be the FIRST THING anyone teaches you when you FIRST ARRIVE at an event, to address everyone as My Lord or My Lady until directed otherwise) that s/he thinks Ms Kestrel is a valid term of address, is so clueless I'm surprised s/he can put the pointy end of the crayon on the paper.
This is how it works, Orange Crayon Newbie:
Ms is a title invented in the late 60s, which would be 1960s, not 1360s or 960s, which makes it a post-period, non-medieval title. It may be legitimately combined with my modern mundane name, so that you could address or refer to me as Ms Gordon, and I would answer you.
If you wish to refer to or address me within an SCA context, the legitimate forms include 'my lady', Linnet, Mistress, or Mistress Linnet. I'm not big on titles usually, but since you apparently feel compelled to use a title, my title is Mistress (cue dominatrix images here), never abbreviated as Ms. For weird SCA historical reasons, Mistress outranks Lady, which would confuse most medieval people.
Ms Kestrel is a monstrous construction. Anyone clueless enough to use it knows so little about the SCA, about the Medieval period and about me that s/he has no fecking idea whether I can teach the course by myself, because s/he cannot reliably assess how much I know, how reliable my information is, or whether I can handle the laptop-slide technology (hint: I can't). S/he cannot be assumed to have much fecking idea about anything else.
I should also mention that my 'assistant' would be my husband and my co-teacher, a Laurel and previous Kingdom Arts & Sciences Champion.
I would not have failed you, Orange Crayon, even if I'd read your comments at the time, since the only reason I would have failed anyone would have been for snoring. I passed Antony, who admitted to falling asleep, because he didn't snore and disrupt the class.
But I think you're an idiot, and possibly a snippy idiot, the sort who likes to lecture newer newbies about the horrible lese majesty of wearing belts with red or white on them. I don't know whether you're connected with Watserfais the Blacklisting Baroness, and it doesn't really matter. I'm sure you'd deal extremely together.

And that's my rage quota for the year. I will be nice again tomorrow. Here's a cute cat picture to take the taste away.

I never wanted to be a barometer

I'm no good at reading barometers as it is (cue someone popping in to explain how simple it is and refer me to a useful website on reading barometers) and I never aspired to be one of those weather-witch sorts whose left knee will tell you whether it's going to snow or rain. When M-- asked me whether my joints hurt according to the weather (much of M--'s worldview was formed by reading Lucy Maud Montgomery), I was quick to deny it. No, I said, it's entirely random. Entirely. No weather involved. Certainly not.
So how has December been, arthritis-wise? Cold, wet, windy, December? The month that last year convinced me there was something going on beyond a supposed rotator-cuff injury?
Um. Shoulders, one knee and then the other, left hand and then right hand, right hand inclusive of elbow and shoulder, all taking their turn. None of them too bad, but enough to return me to the two-Naproxen-a-day rate, when I'd been allowed since September to drop to one a day, and had even experimented with one every other day without ill effects. Christmas Eve was the real flare. My right hand went from being vaguely crampy to active pins-and-needles, so that I kept pinching my fingertips to wake them up. Then my right shoulder started to hurt, and eventually the hand cramps spread down to the elbow.
I'd been proud of getting all the Christmas prep done in time and not having to stay up past midnight wrapping presents or stuffing stockings, so I'd be well rested Christmas morning. Instead I had the entertaining mental challenge of remembering which of tylenol, ibuprophen, generic acetaminophen and acetylsalicylic acid, was an anti-inflammatory and which was just a painkiller. Because if you're taking an anti-inflammatory, you can't take another kind of anti-inflammatory or you will deflate entirely. At 2 am this isn't always easy to remember. It isn't much easier at midnight, 3, or 5 am, when the only clue you can remember is that the easy-open non-childsafe cap is ironic somehow. The guilt over keeping one's husband awake with the turning over and whimpering part doesn't help the mental processes.
But that's done, and I feel fine today, can close both hands completely with only a little effort, and slept well. So the weather has nothing to do with it. Nothing. Especially not the clear sunny skies Victoria has just now.
Anyone who wants to tell me how changes in air pressure affect joints is going to be met by a la-la-la sound and finger-plugged ears.

Accomplished: US Christmas cards mailed on the first weekend of December. UK and Canadian cards mailed on or before the third weekend, including cards with letters. Most gifts bought by the 3d weekend, all charitable donations (Operation Eyesight, Oxfam Canada, Amnesty International, Covenant House Canada, SOS Children's Villages, Unicef) sent. Gifts wrapped and stockings sorted by mid-week beforehand. Tree decorated Christmas Eve (tradition in my family).
Scotch shortbread, three batches rolled and cut, four batches (same recipe) as petticoat-tails by the method described in Cooks Illustrated.
roll cookies, three batches, iced with two batches of butter icing
chocolate shortbread, two batches
cheese shortbread, two batches (one in reserve in freezer)
pecan shortbread, one batch as drop cookies, two batches as freezer cookies (one in reserve in freezer)
glazed shortbread, one batch
domino cookies, one batch - a chocolate cookie cut into 2x1 bars and decorated with white chocolate chips to look like dominos
butter tarts, 3 1/2 dozen, filled with triple batch of filling, a capful of rum added to mix and raisins soaked in rum beforehand, which turned out nicely
sugared walnuts, about five cups (really simple recipe)
maple-pecan tarts, one dozen, using up some maple fudge that didn't set
lemon tarts, one dozen, which don't really count - store-bought tart shells and lemon curd passed on to me from a fridge-clearing
sausage rolls, one batch (26 rolls)
cheese straws from pastry left over from sausage rolls
butter cake with caramel frosting for my birthday cake.

You can probably guess which part of Christmas prep I really enjoy. Oh, and I can post recipes if anyone wants.
Butter tarts, for my American readers (all three of you) are a Canadian treat, like tiny pecan pies without the pecans. Instead there are raisins, or currants, or raisins and walnuts. The filling recipe varies madly. Here's a link with a nice picture, but the recipe is not the one I use. The recipe book that the McPherson library put together had, I think, five different recipes for butter tarts, which hints at the variety available.
Mine, found in a tiny privately-printed cookbook from the late '70s, uses 1/3 cup melted butter, an egg, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup corn syrup, 1 tsp vanilla and a dash of salt. But I usually make it up in triple batches and put it in the freezer

Other people baked. Chris baked the apple pie from Cooks Illustrated. He made a lovely pie with hardly any space between top crust and filling, all brown and sugary on the top. He says he's never doing it again. I'd say something wise and parental about starting before 9 pm next time, if I hadn't done the same for at least 3 nights. If I'd stayed up with him, I don't know whether my usefulness in knowing where the pastry-brush is kept would have outweighed the annoyance of having his mother in the room while he was working. Probably not.
Mark, besides being the cook generally, made a proper steamed plum pudding, consisting of raisins and currants held together by suet. We took it over to Paul's for Christmas dinner and set it on fire with rum - yay! pretty blue flames! - and played snapdragon with brandy-soaked raisins between helpings.

While we're on the subject of recipes, I have, by circuitous routes, received a tablet recipe, named 'Aunt Tot's tablet recipe'. It came with a fudge recipe and the observation that the fudge recipe (which uses condensed milk) is much nicer I haven't tried either yet, so can't comment, but here it is.

1/4 lb butter
1 lb sugar (granulated)
small tin evaporated milk (runny)
few drops of vanilla essence if desired

Melt all ingreds slowly
When sugar dissolved boil for 10 mins
Cool slightly
Beat till thick but not too thick to turn into a buttered tray
Mark out squares
Leave to cool

Monday, December 3, 2007

nanowrimo aftermath

I went off to Bremerton without my laptop. Intentionally. It felt odd to walk into the Coho caff without looking for a 3-prong outlet. Instead I tucked myself in a corner and wrote Christmas cards. What are you writing this month? This month I'm writing Christmas cards and letters.
All my US cards have been addressed, stamped (with the stamps on hand, lord knows if they were correct) and posted from Port Angeles. If I can get the UK and Canadian cards off this week, it will be an unprecedented achievement for me. Usually I send New Year's cards, or Epiphany cards. What may yet bring me down is the writing of Christmas letters, and over half of the UK cards require letters. One year I got all my cards off early, and never mailed the letter-included cards at all.
I'll have to offer myself some sort of bribe.

The drive back from Bremerton to Port Angeles was entertaining. The weather along the route varied from snow to sleet to rain, and all pretty much horizontal. Probably a dozen cars in ditches, including one lying right on its side on the shoulder, and two or three attended by police cars with flashing lights. I crawled along at 30 mph for much of the snow passages, keeping carefully in the tracks of the car ahead. I spent enough time behind a red pickup truck to wave goodbye to it with quite a feeling of regret when it took an exit.
Very scenic, though. Very winter wonderland calendar picture with the snow. The rain less so. Driving through falling snow is mildly hypnotic, for me at least, and just before I reached Port Angeles I was overcome with a conviction that I'd driven past it without noticing. Yes, I know it's next to impossible to drive through Port Angeles without noticing, but bear in mind that when I was driving the I-5 on a fairly frequent basis, I managed to drive through Seattle without consciously registering it. And Seattle is bigger than Port Angeles.
Do not underestimate my powers of abstraction.

Accomplished: Well, I didn't make the 50k wordcount target. But I had fun. My main character has caught a wendigo in a sack, been swallowed and disgorged by a monster, scared off the Bad Thing by exposing herself to it (there are folkloric precedents, yes), sulked her way into being allowed to witness the ceremony for restoring life to her murdered friend (motif J1955, in case you wondered) even though she isn't in the right clan, and is about to confront the Bad Thing again in a carnival Spook Ride, while dealing with distracting feelings about the Girl Who Might Be an Angel, as well as an old flame who works at the carnival.
Eventually I should stop dropping visual hints about the angel-aspect (dust cloud billows up like wings, light halos hair) and start just calling her that--there's still the question of what kind of angel she'd be. Bendy the devil is a devil, that's established, but I'm not sure whether his belly-mouth tells the truth more than his head-mouth does, and what about his arse-mouth? It hasn't said anything yet, but it could.
It would help if I knew what was really going on, but it's too soon in the story still. I have no idea where the unreadable book with the Library of Alexandria bookplate will come in, but maybe I'll figure that out.
1/3 of Christmas cards sent, 1/3 addressed but not sent.

Reading: things to do this month are finishing Christmas cards, baking, and reading. Harsh, mm? We don't do the tree until Christmas eve. Not much shopping, since most of my gift-list are adults now, and adults get charitable donations.
Read Blood Engines (great title) by T.A. Pratt, urban fantasy, published Bantam 2007. It took me a while to get wrapped up in the book, and if I hadn't been in a ferry lineup I might have put it aside. Pratt has taken the chance of starting with a somewhat off-putting main character, who does improve and learn from her mistakes as she goes. The secondary characters Rondeau and B carry the weight of reader interest for the opening. B in particular intrigued me. At first he seemed like a Tim Powers character who'd wandered in (which is a good thing) but he became more integral to the story and to providing an alternative way of being to the MC, Marla Mason. Once the chained god Chang Hao showed up, the story picked up greatly for me.
On the downside, it was another festival of infodumps. This time it was backstory for Marla and her colleagues. While I do very much like the idea that we've come into Marla's story partway through, and all these characters have a history, whether of their own or with each other, I don't necessarily want to know all about their history when they first appear. Seriously. For instance, Marla did a serious wrong to Rondeau when he was a 'child'. Cool, this is intriguing. It's not so intriguing when I'm flat-out told about it with no relevance to the story. Much later, Marla confesses the story to an ally - see, there it was relevant. And it would have been a shocker if it had first come up then, instead of having me going yeah, yeah, already know that.
This bugged me enough that I did not bother to read the teaser for the next book. And dude, I always read teasers. And prologues, and acknowledgements, and dedications, and appendices. But I couldn't face the strong possibility of yet again having every character's backstory dumped on me, plus, I suppose, whatever items of interest had been added in the first book.
There was a lot to like in Blood Engines. If the infodumps could have been trimmed out, I'd be almost certainly buying the next one. As it is, I don't know.
Second thoughts: I skimmed through the last part of Tinker, with a growing unease. Here's my issue. You've got the impossibly gorgeous long-haired Nordic-type elves, who have kind of a crap political system (I give Spencer credit, the elf social system gets some criticism), with whom our heroine allies herself, not entirely by choice (again, good for Spencer, I like uncertain and equivocal alliances).
The baddies, and are they ever bad, are another supernatural/alien race, the oni. And their slave-races, the kitsune and tengu. Spencer is obviously an anime/manga fan and that's cool too. However. One of the sympathetic elf characters says twice that the oni and associates "breed like mice". Anybody else catching ugly echoes here? Because I am.
The human baddies are the Chinese, who stole Tinker's dad's plans and killed him in the doing, and built the Gate that dumped Pittsburgh in Elfhome. There are supposedly Chinese immigrants in Pittsburgh, though I don't recall any Chinese characters actually appearing. It turns out


that the Chinese govt is actually being run by the oni, and all the Chinese immigrants in Pittsburgh are actually oni in disguise.

At which point, the WTF indicators lit up. Look, I'm just an old white broad who never got past second year in Asian languages, but even I know that oni are Japanese, as are kitsune and tengu. Where is Japan in all this? Why is China ruled by Japanese spirits, and why do they not have Chinese names if they've embedded themselves in Chinese culture as long as suggested? Are there no real Chinese or Japanese people? Are they all evil spirits that breed like mice?
I'm sure Spencer is a very nice person. And none of the Amazon reviews commented on any racist subtext. So maybe it's just me. But it made me uncomfortable, and I'm not inclined to read the next one.