Les Semaines

December 30, 2007

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: old journal

 §

Holidays

Sorry I skipped a week. I find it difficult to write when I have houseguests. My parents and their two dogs were here for nearly a week. Now they, and Christmas, have been and gone. So has the day which is Boxing Day in my country, but not much of anything in the country I live in. It's nearly New Years.

The parental visit went well. The kittens did not eat the dogs or vice versa. Everyone was very polite, at least among the animals. Some housecleaning did not get done and much decorating was not done because of kittens' desire to see decorations come down. Kittens seem to believe very strongly that new decorations are designed to be taken to floor level by kittens. So. The decorating? Not so much. Besides, our decorating ambitions were few. We did do our annual Christmas door with lights and the more sturdy ornaments, and we cleared out bookshelves for our annual altar to the Great Good Book, where we stashed the presents.

Christmas really was lovely. Low key and all. The turkey was an hour late (I'm beginning to hate gas ovens as much as I love gas stove tops) but everything else went well. Christmas Eve dinner was our traditional brisket, thanks to an online friend for the recipe many years ago. All the important traditions were upheld, including Dad suffering by having to carve the turkey, and the wearing of silly hats and telling of silly jokes from the Christmas crackers.

Oh, and the mince pie (and a pumpkin pie for Jim who has never adapted to mince) and the eating too much. Urgh.

One non-traditional item was the snow that fell Christmas Day, which was beauteous to see and kindly then melted out of the way of life, and let my parents drive home without fear. They were lucky enough to travel here and back on the only two sunny days we've had recently.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. Back to work for a day, so I have to get up early.

I confess that on Friday when I went back to work for the first time since the Wednesday before Christmas I fell asleep at my desk. I haven't done that for a long, long time. Scarily quiet at the U these days. Tomorrow will be quiet, too. I'm hoping that means I'll get a lot done.

Happy New Year to all of you.

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Listening

Santa brought some great discs, including Sigur Ros's new duo disc, Pram's The New Frontier and the mail brought me Rachel Unthank & the Winterset's two folk discs. Spare and lovely.

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Reading

Kate Thompson's young adult fantasy, The New Policeman was a romp. J.J. comes from a family of musicians but the days seem so short that there's barely time to play. His family and the entire town always seem to be running out of time, racing from here to there. When his mother says she would like more time as a birthday present, J.J. initially thinks he'll just make an effort to help her out more, then he discovers that time really is disappearing--into Tir na n'Og--so J.J. goes there to find out if he can fix it. Great tangly fun.

Michael Gruber's children's novel The Witch's Boy is a rather unexpected story. It begins when an already over-worked witch takes in an ugly foundling left at her door. She is charmed by the idea of raising him but feels she has no time, and so leaves his upbringing to a kindly bear and a trapped djinn. The boy is less grateful and obedient than the witch might wish, and when he inadvertently causes her to rescue him in a way that threatens her position, they are thrown upon the mercies of a witch-hating world. There they continue to muddle along, while the boy is in the throes of self-centered adolescent blindness. It does not go well. This is an unusual and interesting story.

I have always wanted to like Shannon Hale's young adult fantasy novels better than I have. I've kept reading them, but somehow the characters have always seemed vague to me. Book of a Thousand Days, however, really worked for me. This is the story told by the servant of a princess who is locked in a tower because she refuses to marry an ambitious tyrant and declares she will marry another prince. The servant was a peasant from the steppes. She's clever and knows healing charms, and is also loyal to the princess, though they're locked together with no direct windows for a planned seven years, and the servant knows that they'll run out of food before then, thanks to the rats. How she finds a way out of the trap their lives have become is the rest of this delightful story.

Pat Murphy's children's novel, The Wild Girls is a charmer. About two girls who write: Newt, who tells the story, and the first friend she makes when her family moves across the country, Fox. Both girls have complicated home lives that their friends and the writing assignments for a summer class they're taking helps them explore. I really enjoyed this.

Some of Peter Dickinson's children's fantasy novels, especially The Ropemaker, have really worked for me. However, the sequel to The Ropemaker, Angel Isle was one that didn't. I liked the characters. Their situation, especially at the beginning was interesting, but really quickly it all just fell apart for me. I'm not sure why. Maya is the main character. Her home has just been destroyed by raiders and she's hiding, at least until her long-lost aunt appears and with a horse and man following her and they turn the horse into a flying horse. Just before they're able to fly off, Maya flings herself at them, asking to be taken along. And they do. They join up with a very young magician and a creature half in this universe and half in another, and decide they must find the Ropemaker to restore their valley and the world and defeat The Watchers, a ring of evil magicians. As well they have to defeat the Raiders. Very complicated and questy and mostly it dragged me reluctantly along behind it.

Meg Rosoff's young adult novel Just in Case is about David, who feels doomed so he changes his name and clothing, hoping to avoid it. Along the way he meets a photographer who helps him choose clothing, and he picks up a friend, starts running, and imagines a dog, Boy, a greyhound, to be his constant companion. As Justin/David blunders along he manages to make things very worse and finally to start figuring a few things out. A good, smart, quick read.

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Writing

Little writing done this week, but some. Much thinking, though. I am very thoughty about the novel these days.

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Retrospective: old journal

June 20, 1994
Mainland, Orkney

Jim's Journal

Used by permission; Neile's journal for this day consists of quotations from an article on Orcadian genetics loaned to her by David Lea [one quotation appears as the epigraph for a poem she wrote about this day, though: "Wearing Nothing But The Midnight Sun."]

Had usual breakfast. Got car at self-drive center. Loaded up and headed out first to Unstan Tomb (cairn). Smallish. Only room for one or two people to stand in with side burial chambers.

Maeshowe--not far from Unstan. Had a guided tour. Shown the largest collection of Viking runic graffiti--Ingebjorg is the fairest, etc. Also has dragon figure carved into slate walls.

Stones of Stenness--only 3 or 4 left. Rest have been taken down by farmers. Stones have graffiti from 18th and 19th century. Ran into David Lea who gave us photocopies article and pointed out the Barnhouse, a site currently being excavated which is grander in scale than Skara Brae or Maeshowe. Lots of shale was still in delicate condition. Most of houses and walls are only just laid out to show what original shape/plan was. Had to be careful walking around.

Drove from there short hop to Ring of Brogar. Once there were over 60 standing stones, but through time most have disappeared. Got to see more graffiti on stones, some from 1811, 1856, some Viking--mostly old markings before people acknowledged true value of stones. Weather by now cloudy.

Jens navigated to Skara Brae. Walked along path overlooking house excavations, with stone dressers, box beds, and cooking pits. One mile hike to place along fields and rocky path.

Went back to Stromness for lunch. Shelagh abandoned us because her cold had gotten worse. So John, Jens, Neile, and I went to Cuween Hill Cairn. These were the dog people, since dog bones had been found next to skulls when cairn excavated. Most impressive site for me because we needed lantern after we crawled through dark passageway into open cairn. Two side chambers and one back and one from burial chambers. Side and front had slate barriers (perhaps 8-9 inches high) to cover bottom of doorway. The chambers themselves were high enough for me and Jens to stand in center. This whole cairn looked like it had original slate roof (or replica) placed on top.

Went next to Rennibister Earth House. A strange site--which was in back yard of Rennibister Farm. Walking up to house got caught in sheep being herded out to pasture. The Earth House was narrow, dark, circular.

Last place was Wideford Hill Cairn. Took us some time to find place as signed on road turned around Up at top of hill. Jens, Neile, and I had to hike a mile along side of hill to cairn which was up in hill facing away from Kirkwall. Went into cairn from top with sliding door. Dark, narrow space at bottom of ladder. Needed lantern again. Only 3 burial chambers. Found no bones when place originally excavated. Lots of rabbit pellets on hillside. Neile and Jens joked about writing a kids' story the "The Rabbits of Wideford Hill Cairn." Shorter hike than expected uphill back to car.

Bacl to B&B by 7:30.

It was our 11th anniversary today.

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