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I had a delightful ice day (which is what you get in the south when places north of the Mason Dixon line get a snow day) this week and have been remarkably unproductive in anything that is not drinking hot chocolate, building tiny ice snowmen, or making snow cream out of crunchy ice. Not sorry.

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Books:
So say you like scifi and have a bit of a thing for dystopias. But say you also love medieval history with large doses of Latin thrown in for good measure. Then have I got the book for you (and me). A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. manages to provide all of the above, all wrapped up in a dismally bleak, frequently heart-wrenching, but somehow hopeful and endearing package.  The novel began its life as three shorter stories, inspired in part by Miller’s experiences as part of a WWII bomber crew that helped to destroy the monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy (which happens to be where my grandfather fought during his WWII service). I get the feeling (one of my favorites) that there is so much more to be discovered in this book; subtle symbolism and intricate references abound, and a re-read will one day be required.

Currently reading The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Review to follow!

You guys.  What if sailing stones are just weeping angels caught in Death Valley?  Too few people come through to feed on the time energy, and they’ve worn themselves down to nothing scooting across the rocky floor.  These are the things I think about at night.

The baby shower was a big success!  No one died, and no one even reported digestive problems.  (If there was something I don’t know about, just let me continue to live in blissful ignorance.)  Cutesy things that I made include…

Eat us before we eat you.

Slightly murderous hedgehog cookies

Completely non-poisonous.

Toadstool patch made out of string cheese, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, and a sprinkle of parmesan.

The squirrels would be disappointed.

Acorn candy–easy to make, but veeeery time-consuming.

They didn't say anything.  Too shy, I guess.

I also made origami foxes as favors.

No matter where you turned, a hedgehog was staring at you.

Woodland critters EVERYWHERE.

My birthday was this week, so I celebrated last weekend with my family at Olive Garden, on Friday with my coworkers at Neomonde, and I’ll be celebrating with my friends tomorrow at Chuck’s Burgers.  I have some pretty fantastic folk in my life.  : D  Alas, I didn’t get any snow to speak of on my birthday, but I did get to move into my new office.  Pictures will be forthcoming once I get it jazzed up.  Right now it, uh, kind of looks like a dungeon with (mostly nonfunctional) fluorescent lights.  We’re working on it.

The other highlight of the week was heading back to Campbell University (for the first time in ages) for Burns Night.  The poetry and music and food was good, but the best part was seeing a lot of favorite professors and staff and hanging out until far too late with my English major colleagues of yore.  Good times, folks.  Being back on campus is always so surreal; so much has changed that my college experiences seem like dreams too incredible to be true.

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Fascinating:

  • Cannibal rat ghost ship.  Holy cow, someone turn this into a story STAT.  (Admittedly, the press has hyped this way up; the ship has almost definitely sunk by now, and even if it hadn’t, the rats would’ve died off by now.  BUT STILL.)
  • Peter Freuchen, whose life was one long string of incredible experiences, including that time he “once escaped from a blizzard shelter by cutting his way out of it with a knife fashioned from his own feces.”  You will never be this tough.
  • Silk: interactive generative art.  There goes your weekend.
  • Boss of Sherlock Holmes museum attempts to clear killer.  “The trial and conviction of Michael Stone would have caused the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories to choke on his pipe.”

Music:

Three days into the new year and guess who already bought a bunch of new books.  Ugh.  (I mean that in a good way.)  A friend at work had never been to the Reader’s Corner, so you can imagine how that turned out.

I spent New Year’s Eve at a gathering thrown by some friends who happen to live on State’s (currently abandoned) campus–driving around State without coming close to hitting any kids on bikes is such a lovely novelty.  I had a good time, although I didn’t know too many people, and we played group charades and toasted the new year with champagne or sparkling grape juice, whichever the individual preferred.  Guests were supposed to dress as their favorite day of the year, so of course I was the first day of winter.  I definitely went overboard on the costume, but I love an excuse to dress up.  Sadly very few other people wore costumes, but I didn’t regret my brief foray into the realm of blue eyeshadow and glitter.  Not that I’ll be venturing near that territory again…days later, I’m still finding glitter everywhere.

A few of us girls got together on Wednesday for tea, chocolate, and the season 3 premiere of Sherlock (about which I just wrote extensively).  I can’t imagine a better way to start the new year!  This weekend I’m going to see Seascape with Allison.  I’ve never read the play, but it has sea monsters, so I’m pretty sure it has to be good.

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Books: Somehow I went my whole life without knowing that Agatha Christie wrote a murder mystery set in ancient Egypt!  I was very excited to read Death Comes as an End, in part because it was based on some real letters of an Egyptian man to his family back home, taking them to task for their treatment of his concubine.  In the end, though, I have to admit that this novel isn’t one of my favorites of Christie’s.  The setting is intriguing, to be sure, and the murder mystery plays out nicely, but there’s little else to make it stand out from her other works.  I discovered after the fact that apparently she changed the ending, against her better judgment, at the urging of the Egyptologist she consulted for the novel.  She always thought the unpublished ending was better, and I’d love to have read that version.

I did end up on a fascinating and disturbing Wikipedia rabbit trail after reading her introductory note, though.  She says, “The terms ‘Brother,’ ‘Sister,’ in Egyptian text regularly meaning ‘Lover,’ are frequently interchangeable with ‘Husband,’ ‘Wife.’ They are used so on occasion in this book.”  I knew that incest was fairly accepted among the Egyptian nobility, and I wondered if that’s where the interchangeability came from.  Preliminary googling seems to indicate that is the case…bizarre.  From there I ended up learning that in one particular region of Roman Egypt, almost 1/4 of recorded marriages were between brother and sister.  The Wikipedia article on incest says that 20-36% of children of parent-child or sibling-sibling unions will die or have major disability due to inbreeding, so you’d think the Egyptians would have caught on to that little pattern.  This of course led to googling universal taboos (if there is such a thing): there aren’t any that are strictly universal, but there are several things the majority of societies frown upon (incest and cannibalism, among other things).  Interesting stuff, folks.

I’m currently at work on The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison, about which I have many thoughts, but I’ll hold off sharing until I get further along.

I am pleasantly surprised but completely baffled by the phenomenal increase in traffic around these parts.  What the heck are you all doing here?  I’m normally fortunately to get ten visitors on any given day.  My best day ever was 44, and that’s because Anne Elisabeth was kind enough to link to me.  Until Tuesday, that is, when I inexplicably had 66 visitors, all (apparently) searching for the same quote from The Fall of Arthur by Tolkien.  You all just HAD to know how the line “Arthur eastward in arms purposed” ended on a Tuesday afternoon?  I feel badly now for not posting more on the work, because if you came here looking for Tolkien scholarship, you were probably sadly disappointed.  (Though there is plenty of Tolkien fangirling, I can assure you.)

It’s been a pretty good week!  Aside from the lovely blog interest, there were all sorts of lunches and whatnot at work (all it really takes to make me happy is food, apparently).  My company may work us like dogs 11 months out of the year, but December is nothing but free food and parties.  We had an association dinner at The State Club, a company lunch at Biaggi’s, and lunch at a big trade show.  On Monday we’re attending yet another lunch at Jimmy V’s.  Pretending to live the posh life for a week or two here, then it’s back to packing sandwiches to work.  This weekend will be even better, though, since I’ll be going to the annual viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life at the Langdon farm.

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Books: I read God’s Men by Pearl Buck this week, but I’m not quite sure what I think of it yet.  As always, Buck is extremely talented, and she takes what would be an off-putting topic for any other author and makes it very compelling.  And yet…there’s an “and yet.”  I ended up dragging myself through the book and was glad when the story ended, even though individual lines moved me.  The difficulty may lie in the fact that most of the characters are unlikable or unrelatable.  Characters don’t have to be either, but it does help in terms of keeping the reader engaged.  The story explores the lives of two men, both the sons of (very different) missionaries, both pursuing two very different paths in life, but ultimately both consumed with a driving hunger to affect the world in some way.  Buck’s works are often set in a religious context but are not themselves religious, which is in a way similar to Buck’s life: she was the daughter of missionaries in China, but had a somewhat troubled relationship with religion.  There are no pat answers (or possibly any answers) in the book, which is true to life, if a tad unsatisfying.  I’ll have to think about the work more.

I hope everyone had a marvelous Thanksgiving!  I certainly did.  We had the traditional meal on Thursday, watched Moby Dick (not your usual family movie night, perhaps, but we enjoyed it), and had a grand old time.  Today we drove out to my brother’s spiffing new place and got the tour of the house (he has a moat!) and his office (he has his own office!).  Despicable.

Today, the end of an era: I’ve finally finished listening to all of the RadioLab episodes from the past 10 years, or at least as many as are available on radiolab.org.  What will I do with my life now??

The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special was incredible, and seeing it with so many people who were likewise thrilled just to be there was a blast.  People were getting weepy over the opening credits, and the entire theater exploded at the introduction of various, um, characters, old and new.  Check out this  NPR article on why we’ve been travelling with the Doctor for 50 years and be sure to look at this list of 35 Easter eggs you may not have caught in the special.

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Books:  I’m working on the Collected Poems of Sarah Teasdale these days.  I became a fan of hers many years ago after reading “The Look” in high school, and I’ve been rather enamored ever since.  This collection is a little rough in spots–sometimes she can be a little on the trite, melodramatic side–but sometimes she’s perfectly brilliant.  Careful, though: her poetry will make you want to fall in love.

I’m also working on Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian, another NC ComiCon acquisition.  The story is billed as “our generation’s Alice in Wonderland,” and I really can’t improve upon that definition.  The artwork is incredibly intricate, and the book is worth checking out for that alone.  Check out a few of the pages on Amazon so you can see what I mean: using the tiniest of brushes, the artist fills each page brimful with intricate illustrations.

I chickened out and decided not to get my car fixed after all.  It’s leaking coolant veeeeeery slowly, and I would rather top coolant off once a week for the few years left in the car’s life than sink $1200 into an already elderly vehicle.  I enjoy living dangerously.

The renaissance fair was a lot of fun, as always, mainly because of the people I went with.  I ran into a couple old friends I hadn’t seen in years, which was a lovely surprise, and I enjoyed talking archery with lots of interested folks.  Sadly, however, I didn’t see a single other archer there this year, at least on the day that I went.  Bows are where it’s at, kids.

Monday is the showing of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special on the big screen, so swing by Crossroads in Cary if you want to meet an excessively long-haired River Song!  Be sure to check out The Last Day beforehand, one last mini-episode before the special.

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Books: I had picked up The King of the Castle by Victoria Holt at the Durham book sale, and I just finally got around to reading it.  Victoria Holt was a fascinating woman, as I’ve described at length before, and I wanted to try a few more of her works.  The King of the Castle is a bit of a romance mystery that gave off a lot of Jane Eyre vibes, and I found it highly entertaining and somewhat reminiscent of Mary Stewart’s books.  The (British) heroine is named Dallas Lawson, but if you can get past that, you’ll be golden.  There are some nice French historical references and an unexpected amount of information on painting restoration, if that’s your thing (it’s mine).

Years ago, a beloved professor recommended The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, and I’ve just now finally gotten around to reading it.  The cover calls it charming and life-affirming, which would normally be enough to turn me off. (I have no problem with charming and life-affirming, but the books to which those adjectives are typically applied are usually pretty dull to me.  No space battles, for one thing.)  However, since Dr. Peterman recommended it, I knew it had to be good, and she was, as always, correct.  You may not think that Botswana detective stories are your thing, but you’d be wrong: this is Agatha Christie in Africa.  As it turns out, there are 14 books in the series, and a television series has been made as well, so I seem to have hopped onto a very well-established bandwagon.

I read the two Mouse Guard books (Fall 1152 and Winter 1152) by David Petersen that I picked up at NC Comicon, and they were delightful!  Imagine the Redwall books, but for an older audience, with beautiful artwork.  Even if you’re not a comic book fan (I usually am not), you’ll enjoy these for their artistry and for their stories.

Firstly, the important stuff: How to help Typhoon Haiyan survivors.

NC Comicon last weekend turned out to be a lot of fun!  I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around, browsing the stalls, and checking out all of the amazing costumes.  Everyone was quite friendly, and for a girl who isn’t a massive comic book fan, I ended up purchasing more than anticipated.  Danielle very wisely recommended checking out Cursed Pirate Girl and Mouse Guard, and I adored the artwork.  I discovered a few creations that I’d like to explore further too (Son of SedoniaDeath Elf and Woose, and Shattered with Curve of Horn).  Anne Elisabeth did a neat little write-up of the experience over at her blog, and I put up a public (for now, at least) album on Facebook, including some photos of my costume.

My plan to come up behind everyone dressed as the Doctor and purr, “Hello, sweetie,” in my best River Song voice did not, alas, pan out, due to circumstances beyond my control.  The first Doctor I met was a girl, the second was older than my father, and the third was there with his mother.  I am incapable of doing anything even mildly flirtatious in front of someone’s mother.  The fourth was the father of the third, so, nope.  I did run across one last teenager in a fez who looked like he was probably a home schooler (I can say that since I was one, right?), so I gave it a shot as I walked by.  Three other guys turned around to look immediately, but he didn’t look up until a second later with a deer-in-the-headlights expression, and by then it was just awkward, so I beat a hasty retreat.  I’ll have to work up some more gumption for the Doctor Who Anniversary screening on the 25th and give it another go.

I’m off to the Carolina Renaissance Festival on Sunday, in spite of my car possibly being in its death throes.  So far my strategy of topping off the coolant and hoping for the best before every drive has so far been successful, so I’m feeling moderately confident about my plan.  If you see me by the side of the road next to a fiery Ford inferno, however, do stop by for some roasted marshmallows.  (I’m serious.  They’re in my trunk.)  I took the poor baby into the shop this week, but the price tag ($1200) and time required (2 days) to fix it were such that I had to wait until Monday to let them tear it apart.  Cross your fingers, kids.  I did have a lovely conversation about Ray Bradbury with an older gentleman in the waiting room at AAA, though, so the day wasn’t a total wash.

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Books: I read Goddess Tithe, a novella by my friend Anne Elisabeth, in a couple quick gulps.  Maritime fantasy is pretty much guaranteed to make me happy, and this little fellow was no exception.  The novella covers an untold chapter in AE’s second book, Veiled Rose, so if you like what you read here, check out the rest of the series.

I was reading Let’s Kill Constance by Ray Bradbury in the AAA office, which is what sparked the conversation with the other poor car-less soul.  He hadn’t heard of this one, and I only recently did myself.  It’s the third in a loose detective story trilogy even more loosely based on Bradbury’s experiences working as a writer at a film story.  Even bad Bradbury is usually pretty good, but this trilogy drives me a little nuts.  Behold, to illustrate, here is an excerpt of an old man talking about the title character:

“Here are six different address in twelve different summers.  Maybe she drowned in deep grass.  Years are a great hiding place.  God hides  you.  Duck!  What’s my name?!”

He did a flip-flop cartwheel across the room.  I heard his old bones scream.

“Ta-ta!” He grinned in pain.

“Mr. Metaphor!”

“You got it!” He dropped cold.

I leaned over him, terrified.  He popped one eye wide.

“That was a close one.  Prop me up.”

It does not make any more sense in context, I assure you.  Did he have a heart attack?  Is he just a crazy old man?  Who knows!  There are the usual excellent Bradburian turns of phrase and the occasional flash of insight, but the rest is just complete pandemonium.  I have vague ideas about what happened, but I still don’t know how much of it was real.  It wouldn’t greatly surprise me to hear that Bradbury wrote this trilogy while under the influence of something or other, possibly drunk on his own creativity.

Max, the three-month-old son of one of my friends, passed away this week from hypoplastic left heart syndrome, so I’ll be going to the funeral in Eden tomorrow.  If you would like to show your support for the family, donate to the Sisters by Heart, the Ronald McDonald House, or the UNC Children’s Hospital.  I stumbled across this NPR article today and couldn’t agree more.

In happier news, I had a wonderful afternoon with the girls on Sunday afternoon.  We got together to talk and drink copious amounts of tea, and both of those goals were certainly fulfilled.

On Sunday I’m going to NC ComicCon.  Don’t get excited–it’s not the cool ComicCon in San Diego–but NC tries hard.  I wanted to support Anne Elisabeth at her booth, and I thought it’d be fun to check out the con once, even if the focus isn’t really on my areas of interest.  (Unlike San Diego’s ComicCon, which is an excuse for any kind of geekery, NC actually seems to focus on comics and collectibles.)  I’ll be dressed as River Song with slightly (massively?) more hair.  November is turning into a nerd bonanza, since next weekend I’ll be making my annual trip to the Carolina Renaissance Festival with a crew of fantastic people.

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Books: I’m rereading Ender’s Game before going to see the movie, for obvious reasons, and I’m smitten all over again.  Such a great book!  It makes me want to dive straight into the sequels and the parallel series, but I have a long list of booksale acquisitions I should really take a few stabs at first.  I know Orson Scott Card has announced he’s going to write more Ender books, but I have mixed feelings about that.  I have no interest in a novel that’s only written to capitalize on movie hype to sell copies, but if Card has more of the story that he wants to tell, I’ll happily read it.  I adore Card’s work at the same time that I really can’t stand the guy personally; I met him at a book signing in Greensboro several years ago, and he was a jerk.  He’s good, and he knows it, and he won’t let anyone forget it…but…he IS really good.

I went to a Marian Call concert on Tuesday at the Mystery Brewing Company in Hillsborough, a tiny little bar plunked more or less in the middle of nowhere.  I’ve never been in a more endearing bar, though; there was a little lending library in the back and Doctor Who posters on the walls–the perfect setting for a Marian Call concert.  The music was excellent and fun, as always (this is my third Marian Call concert), and Marian sang some excellent new songs from a soon-to-be-released albumScott Barkan thoroughly impressed me with his songs from his new album, Flightless Bird, and after the concert we chatted about the cover art.  I mentioned that it reminded me of The Tragedy Series, and he was so excited that someone else recognized it.  Turns out he’s good friends with the artist.

Tomorrow morning I’m flying to Indianapolis for work, so I’m going to do my best to shoehorn a few adventures in between meetings!

Artistic:

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Books: I somehow made it through high school without having read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith; I’ve finally filled in that particular gap in my reading.  A coworker loaned me a copy, well-loved with all the best parts highlighted.  I fell in love instantly.  I’d say it’s a shame I hadn’t read it sooner, but I think maybe I ran across this one at just the right time.  The book is beautifully done, and I feel like I’ve met an old friend for the first time.

Last night I finished Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, which is exactly what it says on the label.  Rilke wrote a series of letters to a young poet friend of his; sadly (happily?), the recipient of the letters is really only well-known for publishing Rilke’s letters.  He became a soldier instead of a renowned poet–though after reading Rilke’s thoughts on poetry, I almost wonder if the young soldier got the better end of the deal.  I love poetry, and poets are a treasured breed, but good heavens, they’re bad at living.  Rilke sounds like the quintessential tortured poet, all introspection and angst (and eventually dying young).  I kind of want to tell him to go eat a sandwich, mop a floor, and work for his living to get a little perspective and infuse just a little bit of practicality into his dreamy musings.  At the same time, his thoughts on the virtues of solitude (even of loneliness) and on the poet’s work in general have merit.  I think I would enjoy his poetry but would find him tremendously frustrating to know in person.

On Thursday I went to the opening night for As You Like It, which was hilariously entertaining.  If you’re in the area, you should check it out!  My  roommate is one of the Forest Lords, and you’ll be greatly amused by the unique way the production handles some of the characters.

My boss sent out a company-wide email asking us to “join him in saving lives” by going to a blood drive on Monday.  I signed up and dutifully arrived at the Red Cross facility to save those lives…alone.  Not a single employee showed up, not even my boss.  I actually had a pretty fun time (or as much fun as you can have while being exsanguinated) because my fellow donors were such interesting folk.  One young guy, who was trying desperately to be macho but was clearly very nervous, nearly passed out and was fussed over by several nurses while he sheepishly sipped juice.  A tiny boy, whose mother was giving blood, struck up a conversation with me about his dog, monsters, and school, respectively.  He thought highly of the first two and rather less of the latter.  With so many interesting things going on, I wasn’t paying attention to my own blood bag, and it was full surprisingly fast.  The nurse told me admiringly, “You bleed REALLY well.”  I asked if that was a good or bad thing, and she said I had great veins, but I better never get stabbed.  They couldn’t get me to stop bleeding for a while, and I ended up getting a fancy bandage and stern instructions not to lift anything heavy lest I start leaking again.  Exciting times.

This weekend I’m going to attempt again to see the free Mutemath performance at State’s Packapalooza.  My first attempt last Saturday was really pathetic.  Somehow I got the idea in my head that the concert was on the 17th instead of the 24th, and I dutifully drove to State, found parking, and wandered around in the rain looking for a concert.  It was pitiful, let me tell you, and somewhat disconcerting since while I make other types of mistakes constantly, dates are my THING and I rarely mess those up.

I saw the fox again near Walnut Street while I was running.  I really hope he doesn’t get hit by a car; I think we’re really bonding.

Hodgepodge:

Books: I reread As You Like It in preparation for seeing the play, since it had been a quite a few years since I last sauntered through the forest of Arden.  What a fun comedy!  I appreciate Shakes’ wit more and more all the time.

The Stranger by Albert Camus has been on my to-read list for years, not because I’m particularly fond of absurdist literature but because it’s a classic and Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature, so there has to be something going on there.  He was awarded the prize for “his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times,” and so far as it goes, I’ll buy that.  He’s earnest, all right.  And if you consider human apathy and the meaninglessness of life to be particularly troubling to the human conscience of today, he definitely turns the spotlight on them.  If, like me, you do not believe in the inherent meaninglessness of life, and you find human apathy repulsive,  cowardly, and something to fight against, you’ll probably be pretty irritated by The Stranger.  I’m glad I read it to get a glimpse at this type of philosophy, and I’m glad I never have to read it again.

If you were to imagine the exact opposite of The Stranger, you would probably come up with a book something like Little House in the Ozarks: The Rediscovered Writings by Laura Ingalls Wilder–reading the two books simultaneously was fascinating.  Wilder’s collection of essays, written before she wrote her famous books, is a beautiful and educational look into the life and times of Wilder, and many of her thoughts, although almost 100 years old, are perfectly applicable today.  Wilder advocates personal responsibility, hard work, thrift, and joy in everything.  Camus says nothing has importance; Wilder says everything has importance.  If you judge a philosophy by the quality of the lives of those who hold it, Wilder is undoubtedly the winner, and I’ll take her musings over Meursault’s vapidity any day.

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

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