Well, well, well. The Ghost of Blogging returns.

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(Above) – The main plaza at Santa Fe, NM, ready for Christmas. 

With this being my first semester of teaching, I had absolutely no idea about how to plan time for the past few months, and so it’s been a 4-month learning process for me. But I’ve just wrapped up the final grades, and I’m winding up a few things at work before taking a Christmas break. I am very looking forward to the time off, let me tell you.

So – what’s been going on apart from teaching? I’ve been working on my home office, and Superhero and I have been valiantly completing a large new desk for this new space. The desk arrived flat-packed through the post, and oh. My. God. I had no idea that this desk was going to have so many pieces, bolts, and all the other things required to put a piece of furniture together, so we’re working on it a few hours a day. (The Superhero and I are somewhat challenged in DIY skills and patience, which makes it an interesting proposition.) Luckily, the desk has arrived with some pretty good instructions, all the pieces are labelled appropriately so far, and things seem to be lining up nicely, so it’s on schedule for completion in the next week or two.

(I’ll get a photo of the completed desk up when it’s done. Until then, it’s just a pile of deconstructed white wooden pieces on the floor waiting to be called into action…)

Quick trip to Santa Fe with some friends provided a lovely break… (See image above.)

My ankle surgery was done last Wednesday, and so, as it’s no weight-bearing and my right foot, there’s no driving for me, but Superhero is being a super hero and chauffeur-ing me around when it’s unavoidable. I’m lucky to have such an understanding partner, or otherwise I would be under the equivalent of house arrest. :-}

I do have one of those scooter-things (called a knee-scooter) which helps me zip around, and once I got over the sheer awkwardness of having to lug this thing around, I am becoming more proficient at driving it and a routine is developing. Good Lord. I have another month or so of this, so we’ll see if we’re still married at the end of this medical situation. :-]

We’ve just finished watching the HBO show, The Deuce, with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco that details the early history of p*rn movies in 1970’s New York, and I enjoyed it once I had learned to decipher the really heavy NYC accents. Holy schnikeys. That’s a tough dialect for me to catch – even more so than the accents in Peaky Blinders (if you’ve seen that show). Don’t be put off by the word “p*rn”. Obviously, it’s not a children’s or family show, but more about the small group of characters (and there are some naked people), and along the lines (and the same writer as) The Wire.

Next up – a complete change of pace: Season Two of The Crown!

Reading has been happening but more at a glacial pace than anything. I’m halfway through one of Judith Flanders’ always interesting books, this one called The Making of a Home: The 500-Year Story of How our Houses Became our Home (2015). Flanders is a historian who studies social history, especially in England, and recounts the rise of how people lived in buildings that went on to become “homes”. Fascinating, I must say, but then I am a social history nerd.

For fiction, I’m sort of reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a mystery about a missing wife and the whodunit behind it. It’s good, but I’ve not been completely sucked into it just yet. I’m finding the characters to be unlikable at the moment, but we’ll see how it progresses. If it doesn’t suck me in soon, it’s a DNF.

The end-of-the-semester-busy also meant that a couple of books have slipped by without a formal review on the blog, one of which was a biography about Prince Charles by Sally Bedell Smith (called Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life [2017]), and which was amazingly interesting to me (well written, fairly balanced, an interesting life, and dry humor). Definitely a more well-rounded picture of the Prince than I’ve learned before (and, of course, Lady Diana who sounds as though she had a mental illness – but again, who is to know these things?). Not me, but it was entertaining all the same.

And now I’m catching up on the blog writing in a coffee shop as I was desperate to get out of the house. I had no idea that coffee shops could be soooooo noisy, but it’s a happy noise of people coming into town for the holidays and catching up with friends.

Oh, and I mentioned that our wonderful cool cat, Futz, died the other day. He had such a wide fan club of people who walked by our house and who chatted with him every day that I ended up drafting a short letter to the neighborhood to explain his unexpected disappearance… (Too much? Not for our Futz!)

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Texas Quilts, Texas Women – Suzanne Yabsley (1986)

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Abstractions of battles and hardships or colorful events and personalities of the past are rendered on the quilt’s surface, but its real meaning is the spirit of the maker.

Prowling the library shelves one Saturday, I happened to come across some local history/ fabric art titles, and this volume jumped out and in my hands. After it sitting in the pile for a few days, its turn for reading finally came, and this was a good one.

Now, I’m not a person who quilts. I am not really a sewing person, but I enjoy cross-stitch and knitted during the teenaged years, and I adore looking at fabric arts. Combine “fabric arts” with pioneer Texas history, and we were off to the races.

As the title pretty much confirms, this was about Texas history combined with the history of women and quilts, and it was really fascinating.

Living in an area with its own history of the early pioneers, I frequently see reminders of early pioneer life: the land surrounding our city still resembles the same view that pioneers must have had when they first arrived on the South Plains, and there are several historical markers and a large university-related museum which focus on these early years with an emphasis on how the early (white) ranchers lived in dugouts and other wooden structures through the years, and much of our regional population here are descended from pioneer families.

(Our city wasn’t incorporated until the 1920’s, but there were plenty of First People who nomadically passed through this area, naturally, but the actual formal formation of the city came later. It’s rather a contentious history, I’m afraid.)

So – to the book itself. I ended up making a list of notes as I read through, and so that’s what you guys are getting. Hope that works. J

  • If you’ve ever seen a cowboy film that has the actual details historically correct, you may have seen cowboys on horses with a bedroll tucked behind them to the back of the saddle. That bedroll is called a “suggan”, and was usually a heavy hand-made quilt made from old wool pants, jeans or khaki pants (usually part of the trouser leg as that received the least wear). (Also included “tailor squares”, but not sure what they are. Anyone?)
  • Suggans were usually very rugged construction, and usually the cloth pieces are sewn around the edges (similar to a traditional quilt), but suggans have one big stitch (with the threads not cut off) in the middle of each square. This was a quick way to finish the quilt, and to make sure that it could withstand cowboy life on the prairie. (Strangely enough, I saw exactly one of these in a TV interview later on that same day, and squealed as I could now recognize it as a suggan. It’s the little things.)
  • Quilts rather slid from public popularity during the American equivalent of Victorian times, but when WWI occurred, quilt-making came back to the fore with the campaign slogan: Save the Blankets for the Boys Over There (1917). In 1918, WWI was still going on, but now the U.S. was deeply involved, and so the government used most of the country’s wood supply for commercial use, and instituted “Heatless Mondays”. (This makes me wonder if Paul McCartney’s vegetarian campaign slogan of “Meatless Mondays” was influenced by this saying…)

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  • Texas had its first female governor in the 1930’s: Miriam A. (“Ma”) Ferguson. (Hmm. Going to have to look at this. I thought that there had only been Ann Richards, but it seems there is another contender. Good.)
  • According to the author, quilt-making is both an individual art and a group project, depending on where one is in the process. These are the steps:
    • Step One: Making the top of the quilt. Usually an individual project involving selecting the fabric and creating whatever design s/he wants to sew with the fabric pieces.
    • Step Two: Place both the (now-finished) quilt top piece on top of the filling (batting?) and the bottom sheet, and then put the quilt into the quilting frame. (Usually a large wooden frame that holds the layers of the quilt together so that the edges can be sewn shut and the pieces joined.

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  • This frame quilt (see above image) was large in size, and since most of the early pioneer homes were rather small (think Little House on the Prairie), the quilt frames were on a pulley system so that the quilt-in-progress could be lifted up to the ceiling to get it out of the way for day-to-day life. It was also a popular social occasion in rural areas (as you can see from the happy expressions of the people in the photo above). 🙂 I’m kidding.
  • Quilting bees are small groups than quilting groups which are smaller groups than quilting guild(s). Huh. (I’m guessing, but I think the bee reference is to do with the idea of bees being very busy? Not sure. Just made that up just now.)
  • Other cultures have quilting as well: the African-American culture has a quilting tradition, Mexico (and remember that Texas is really close to Mexico geographically so there was lots of inter-cultural influences) had colchas bordados (or embroidered blankets), and the Navajo made quilts using vertical stands as opposed to the horizontal ones.
  • Britches quilts were made out of the unused parts of trousers when the seat of the trousers got too worn to wear. Recycle, repurpose, reuse. 🙂

 

Thanksgiving Review…

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Well, phew. That’s been a busy few weeks.

Sorry about the complete blog silence, but work keeps me more than busy sometimes. Plus, I have been stuck in the literary wasteland of not being able to choose a good next title to read. I know that there are literally thousands and thousands of books available to read, but I was just very stuck in not being able to find a book that I wanted to read (and then keep reading). (Ahh. The vagaries of life.)

So, not wanting to bore the pants off you, here’s a quick recap of what’s been going on for me lately:

  • One of the coolest cats ever died on Thanksgiving Day which was rather sad. His name was Futz (above photo), and he was the kindest and most friendly cat that we’ve ever had. He usually greeted everyone who passed our home, taking on the mantle of unofficial Mayor of the Block, and so he had a lot of fans. We’re going to miss this little guy.
  • Grading, grading, grading…
  • Nothing very exciting, except that we volunteered to help with the holiday lunch at the local homeless shelter. A good experience, and if you’re ever wondering whether to do that sort of thing or not in your own community, highly recommended that you go.
  • Reading. (Well, I’ve already mentioned how that went in general.)
  • Movies: had some luck with this category: watched the 1959 suspense/thriller called North by Northwest (with Carey Grant, James Mason, and Eve Marie Saint)*, and we loved it. Recommend this even if you’re not that big into older movies. Entertaining, and the fashion!! Never a hair out of place even when being chased by the bad guys. 🙂
  • Got a final date for my ankle surgery (middle of December) so before then, I have to get loads of working out and errands completed, as I’ll be hobbled for about 4-5 weeks. Lots of reading and movie time, right? 🙂 Plus, Super Hero has agreed to ferry me about until the cast comes off.
  • Finished up my piece of a local community project with a non-profit agency that provides stockings stuffed with toys et al. for local kids who may not otherwise have a very good Christmas. (Total fun for me to do, and I hope that the kids like what my choices are…)
  • Volunteered at the local food bank (again, total fun for me). I’m not some perfect angel, by any means, but do believe that, if one is not happy with the state of the world or one’s country, one should do something to try to improve it for you and the others who live in your community. [Rant is now over.]
  • Caught up with some friends.
  • Had quite a few really good naps. 🙂
  • Did actually read two books. More to come on those.
  • Read some of the more intriguing Christmas catalogues which have been pouring into our mail box lately…

So, Thanksgiving was rather a random selection of things, but we enjoyed it tremendously. Just a few more weeks until the end of the semester, and then three weeks off for Christmas. Not a bad life, I must say. I’m very lucky.

  • Just found out that this old 1959 movie has been remade with George Clooney, Charlize Theron, and Alan Rickman. Wonder how good that one is….

 

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Movies: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

movie_agathaThe Superhero and I went to the movies last weekend to see the latest release of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (with Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe et al.), and although I knew mostly what to expect just from reading quite a few of her novels, the film still took me by surprise at the ending. (Either I have read the novel and was paying ABSOLUTELY no attention whatsoever to its conclusion, or I just dreamed of doing that.)

Regardless, the film was really good, especially as it was set in a cold and snowy remote location which I was ready for as it’s still quite hot in Texas.

To the plot. A small group of fairly wealthy passengers are traveling from Istanbul to London, each passenger having a different reason for why they bought their tickets. M. Poirot is unexpectedly called back to the office in the Smoke, but the train is sold out and only has a cabin free in second class for the world-famous detective. It looks like it will be a smooth return, except that during this trip, one of the other passengers is murdered – but by whom?

As usually happens in a tapestry film (where you have multiple characters with various story lines who gradually intermesh as the narrative progresses), the characters are all disparate and yet with one thing in common. And does yet this one thing add up to clearly show who killed the man on the train?

Lots of period clothing from the 1940s (? Not sure) and some typical Christie players (rich old grumpy lady, questionable servant, etc.), it’s murder-with-a-cup-of-tea set-up, but these don’t detract from the movie in any way, and it’s rather nice to have comfortable set characters so that your focus is kept on the murder-mystery more than anything. And it’s a good one to solve, because despite handing out clues left, right and center, I still didn’t figure out the murderer until they told me at the very end, but it was so well done, it was fine.

So, if you’re looking for a good escapist movie of murder done well and all wrapped up by the end with a lovely ribbon, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re more of a gore and horror type person, you may leave unsatisfied, but any Christie fan will be happy.

Here’s an interesting article at Bustle delving into the true crime story that was thought to inspire Murder on the Orient Express, and here’s what Rotten Tomatoes says about the film.

(Oh, and I found out this little nugget: when the book was originally published, it was titled “Murder on the Orient Express” in 1934 in the UK, but was re-titled to “Murder in the Calais Coach” for the U.S. market. I don’t know about you, but the Calais coach reference just conjures up an old dirty smelly bus coach from the 1980’s with full ashtrays and a broken toilet, but maybe that’s just me going to an away game for a hockey match during school.

Perhaps it had a different reference for the ‘Mercans back then. 🙂 )

Book (DK Eyewitness Series) – (1993)

As I’ve mentioned before (see here about cowboys and also a read about sports (but no blog post for that one)), I’ve become a big fan of the DK Eyewitness books over the past couple of years.

Although categorized as a kid and YA book, I’ve found that each book in this series is a super way to be introduced to a topic in a manageable manner. This is supported by the fact that each book has a fantastic graphic design approach to the subject, and actually, by the time I’ve finished reading one of these titles, I feel as though I have been wandering around a really well curated exhibition at a museum. I have always learned something new by the end, and it’s just been an overall interesting experience. So – yes. High praise for the book series.

This particular title jumped out at me when I was strolling past some library shelves, and I loved reading it just as I have loved reading the other titles. Called, very simply, “Book”, this edition covers the history of books, of writing, of language, and of any other topic that you can link with the history of the printed word, and it does so in a concise and graphically pleasing way that it was a pleasure to read and learn along the way.

Roman Tablet with Inscription

Because there were so many nuggets of knowledge in this title (just like the other titles), I ended up taking a few notes and so thought that this bullet format would do the job for this review.

  • When the Roman alphabet was first used, it originally wrote from right to left. It was only after a few years of usage that it was changed to the left to right format as we use nowadays in the various Western languages.
  • Each letter in most of the examples of Roman writing has been hand carved in stone, and each letter is designed to fit inside an invisible square or circle to help keep its uniformity and so each character stays the same size.
  • Romans used mathematical compasses (like you used in HS perhaps) to keep the circles all the same size, and sometimes, if you look closely at some Roman writing, you can spot the small hole in the center of the letter from when the stone carver use the point of the compass as a guide.
  • The majority of Roman writing is in capitals as they were easier to carve with the tools available. Each letter was drawn onto the stone surface with chalk, then gone over with paint and then the carver just followed these thick and thin lines to make the writing permanent.
  • In Arabic writing, the language was originally written without any consonants (leaving the reader to add the consonants him/herself when he/she read the writing). It was only later that vowels were added to the written language, and these were written as extra marks above or below each letter (e.g. small dots or dashes), You can see this in Hebrew and other similar languages. (I’d always been curious what these dots/dashes meant. Now I know…)
  • Early writing was written on papyrus (which was a watery reed like plant), or was written on parchment. Parchment is apparently made like this: the animal’s skin is first washed in clean water, then soaked in a solution of lime for up to ten days. Each side is then scraped to remove the hair and flesh remaining, and once that’s done, the skin gets soaked once again. It’s then stretched onto a wooden frame, and then each side is further scraped with a curved blade to remove any debris left over. One more scraping after the skin has dried removed any debris, and then you’re good to go. Thus, parchment was hard to produce, expensive to buy, and so only the wealthy would use it for their affairs. (Huh. Didn’t know that, although it makes perfect sense.)
  • With reference to fonts and similar: italics is called that because the forward slanting writing was designed to be similar to the writing that clerks in Italy would use for their documents. (Makes sense.)
  • Times Roman was given its name as it was developed for the London Times newspaper in 1932. (I imagine that Times New Roman was a more modern refinement of that.)
  • The type Gill Sans was designed by stone carver Eric Gill, and so it goes on. Fascinating (to me at least).

In the old days, as paper was very hard to get and expensive to have and to use, a lot of people didn’t have a lot of practice in writing and so it was hard for the writer in question to judge how much room to leave on the paper/papyrus/parchment for the writing that you had to do.

Thus, mistakes were made, and I adore this signature of Elizabeth I (below), as she has all these flourishes and curls around her sig but then accidentally runs out of space on the paper and has to add her “H” to the last bit above the line. (I love how it shows that even queens make mistakes. 🙂 )

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 197

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 197: Gourd.

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day eight years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

Thrift Store Bounty…

thriftstorebooksAs I’m of the many who enjoy prowling through thrift shops, I had an hour to spare last weekend, so off I went to one of our local (and biggest) ones. I went with the intention of looking for things to put on Cowboy’s head. Found several objects which will help with the project, and heavens to Betsy, if I didn’t also accidentally on purpose find some books which were looking for a new home.

(Well, I had to buy them, right? Don’t want to be rude…)

So, as can be seen in the photo above, here is what made it home with me:

  • The Iceman Cometh – Eugene O’Neill (play)
  • The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (F)
  • The Soul of an Octopus – Sy Montgomery (nature NF)
  • Full Catastrophe Living – Jon Kabat-Zinn (NF on meditation etc.)

I’ve been itching to read a play lately. We went to a local playhouse to see a version of an Agatha Christie murder-mystery, and it was surprisingly good for a local am-dram, and so I ended up with the O’Neill. I read him during my classes in graduate school, so I’m curious to see if if the experience will be similar or whether it will be radically different. I’m a very different person now, so I’m interested to find out how or if this impacts the reading of this play.

The Girl on the Train – loved the movie, so am v interested in reading the book the film was based upon.

The Soul of an Octopus – I rather like octopi and have heard only good things about the nature writing of Montgomery.

And the Jon Kabat-Zinn book is just going to be a good reminder about living a principled life through a Buddhist perspective.

So, I have some good finds there, and am glad that I can add them to the TBR pile, ever-growing as it may be. It’s good to have choices!