Happy Lunar New Year and welcome to the Year of the Tiger!
Three dozen years ago, this Wednesday, I became a mom, bringing our son into the world. Derek did not slip quietly in, but roared with hunger and passion.
Today, he is a proud father and I’m a grandmother who lives too far away from her grandson. This year, I resolve to remedy this separation and cut my three hour flight, or three day drive, to less than a half hour. I also resolved, during my Christmas holiday family break, to return to reading, where I found my time better spent than hoping the next streaming series or movie would live up to its hype and being perpetually disappointed.
A few days before Christmas, I discovered an audiobook edition of one of my favorite books from the early 90s. Revisiting this novel thirty years later, it still brought tears to my eyes, but did not resonate as vibrantly as my rose-colored memories did. I’m glad I listened to it, but I’m not sure it rates a five star favorite ranking anymore.
I quickly followed that audiobook with my annual reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, this year narrated by Frank Muller and recorded in 1980. I immediately listened to many other Christmas short stories, including The Night Before Christmas by Moore, A Country Christmas by Alcott, The Fir Tree by Anderson, The Birds’ Christmas by Wiggin and “Yes, Virginia There Is a Santa Claus.” Betwixt and between all the classic Christmas tales, I enjoyed the Dune graphic novel. On the final day of 2021, I started Connie Willis’ A Lot Like Christmas, which became my first book of ten to finish since the beginning of 2022.
I returned to reading The Annotated Hobbit after a two week hiatus, said hiatus caused by notes and illustration captions found in the Introduction and annotations in the first five chapters. As I noted last week in a Tolkien memorial post, I’ve since started reading and completed several nonfiction titles, some of which actually grew out of The Annotated Hobbit annotations.
The first footnote of Chapter 6 delved into a connection between Tolkien’s us of “Misty Mountains” to a poem from the Old Norse Elder Edda. A few pages later, in the seventh footnote, I learned the chapter name, “Out of the frying-pan into the fire,” is a traditional proverb which The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs has examples of going back to the sixteenth century. But turning to the next page, I discovered the best, and ninth, footnote of the chapter, containing a reference to correspondence, in 1966, between Gene Wolfe and Tolkien on the use of the word warg.
Tolkien described his use of warg in a letter to Gene Wolfe of November 7, 1966: “It is an old word for wolf, which also had the sense of an outlaw or hunted criminal. This is the usual sense in surviving texts. I adopted the word, which had a good sound for the meaning, as a name for this particular brand of demonic wolf in the story.” Tolkien derived the word from Old English wearg-, Old High German warg-, Old Norse varg-r (also = “wolf,” especially of a legendary kind).
Footnote 9, Chapter 6 Out of the Frying-pan Into the Fire, The Annotated Hobbit
I realized when I woke up this morning that today was not only the Ides of July, but the seventh month since Terry passed. Also, that I have less than ten days left of my long summer visit with my kids and my grandson. The real ringer this week was learning of the recent sudden death of a classmate and one of my closest friends during high school. His birthday would have been tomorrow. I’m definitely fighting off some doldrums and melancholy.
I’ve had an amazing time here in the PNW since early June, celebrating my son’s second official father’s day, my daughter’s birthday and my grandson’s third birthday. This weekend we celebrate my son and daughter-in-law’s anniversary.
Most of January I’ve spent distracting myself from my grief. I’ve binge watched shows, including nearly seven seasons of SG1 and both seasons of The Mandalorian. I’ve watched endless Hallmark Christmas movies. I’ve rewatched old favorites, like Sleeping Beauty, Prince Caspian, The Rocketeer and the entire Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings extended edition movie trilogy. Not all at once. I spread them out over three weekends, ending with Return of the King Monday afternoon, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the last office closed holiday until Memorial Day.
I spent the last two years re-reading The Lord of the Rings concurrently with the corresponding volumes of The History of the Lord of the Rings also known as The History of Middle-earth (volumes six through nine). So my head and memory are fresh with respect for what Tolkien got published and also his original imaginings, vision and what you might call deleted scenes as edited by his son, Christopher, who also passed away one year ago on January 16th.
While I appreciate what Peter Jackson managed to produce, much of it is jarring to someone who knows and holds dear Tolkien’s published masterpiece. Dialogue and sometimes thoughts are transplanted into completely different characters. But I digress. Jackson’s adaptation is the best we have at this time and despite it’s flaws, it still provides a window, however slightly skewed, into Tolkien’s Legendarium. I just hope it leads people to the font of Tolkien’s epic fantasy.
Just as I was starting the movie, though, I had a visit from the TSoKC Special Eagle Delivery Service. I received a large care package from my close friends in the Withywindle Smial via our illustrious leader, full of hobbitish victuals and elvish enchantments to further distract me. A hearty ‘thank you’ will be expressed Friday evening during our regular monthly gathering.
I returned to watching Return of the King, but had to take a break when I found myself dozing off at the two hour mark, just as thing were getting interesting around Minas Tirith. I needed to return some merchandise and went in search of a French coffee press (since I have no coffee maker because I mostly drink black teas). Disappointingly two stores had no presses. Although not my first shopping choice, I knew that Starbucks would have a press so I bought one there. When I got home and was able to read the instructions (which were buried inside the press and not readily available at the shop), I learned I cannot use this press with anything but course ground coffee. So no afternoon coffee to wake me up for the second half of Return of the King.
I confess I fast forwarded through most of the Frodo-Sam-Gollum scenes, at least until close to the end when everything is converging. Those scenes are difficult enough to read and doubly hard to watch. Having very recently re-read them, I felt no need to drag my already bruised heart through that much darkness and despair.
During the Seige of Gondor, when a rock troll is pounding at one of the inner gates of Minas Tirith, Pippin and Gandalf discuss death and Gandalf replies with one of those transplanted lines which Sam actually thinks to himself (and references the much maligned Tom Bombadil):
And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Chapter 9 “Grey Havens”, Book Six, The Lord of the Rings
On the second day of twenty twenty-one, in the early pre-dawn darkness, I read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. Having recently experienced the death of my spouse, I felt it apropos to absorb Jack’s observations to understand my own. The following are highlighted quotes that leapt off the page and resonated within me.
Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.
. . . time itself is one more name for death,
Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
What’s wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember.
And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high, until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world.
Having got once through death, to come back and then, at some later date, have all her dying to do over again? They call Stephen the first martyr. Hadn’t Lazarus the rawer deal?
But now there’s an impassable frontierpost across it. So many roads once; now so many culs de sac.
They say, ‘The coward dies many times’; so does the beloved. Didn’t the eagle find a fresh liver to tear in Prometheus every time it dined?
This time last week I was looking forward to getting out of this house – the one we’ve been sheltering in place in since mid-March for a week-long trip to a BnB in the Flint Hills.
My original plan included dusting off my telescope in the hope of some dark sky observing, only I forgot to check the moon phase calendar before booking the cabin. Full moon occurs this week (tomorrow if I remember correctly).
But despite all the stress of participating (as a team lead) in a hackathon (and placing second), escaping our home however briefly just wasn’t in the stars.
Terry’s health has been a problem for several months now, including a trip to the hospital last month for a few days (that turned out to be a bad drug reaction and interaction). The hospital food also did a number on his digestive system and he’s still suffering weeks later. So at the last possible moment, I cancelled the trip (rescheduled it for the new moon in mid-April 2021) and resigned myself to a week of home improvement and maintenance projects.
Ten years ago, I became an empty-nester and got serious about my extracurricular reading for the first time in nearly two decades. I resurrected and applied for any local library that would let me. I purchased a Nook ebook reader, which was actually an early Android tablet, and decided to try book swapping using BookMooch web portal. For many years, I added books I’d read and no longer desired to gather dust on my shelves to my BookMooch inventory and placed books I wanted to read on my wishlist. When someone requested a book from my inventory, I mailed it via USPS Media Mail and earned a point, which I in turn could use to request a book to mooch, usually from my wishlist. All of this was before ebook lending was widely available and I was involved in several online (thanks to the rise of GoodReads) and real-world book clubs (thanks to all the libraries I received cards from).
But once ebook lending became widely available and ebooks also came down to a more reasonable price, I completely stopped purchasing print editions. I put my BookMooch account on semi-permanent vacation. Once or twice a year I’d get an email alert from BookMooch advising me that a book on my wishlist was available for mooching. The last books I mooched were five of the seven Nausicaa graphic novels by Miayazaki, which was an incredible mooch.
We have four jalapeno plants this year. Two planted in containers and two planted where are raised bed used to be. All of these pepper plants are producing way more peppers than we can possibly eat. So, we decided to try some quick pickling recipes.
We had three recipes to try, but only two saucepans. So we tried two recipes in two batches producing to pints of pickled peppers. Relatively easy and didn’t take long at all. We wore latex gloves, however, while slicing and handling the jalapenos.
We sliced a dozen plus a few more to split between the two recipes. It didn’t take long at all to get the first batch of water, vinegar and spices boiling, followed quickly by the other one. As soon as you put the jalapenos in the boiling brine, you give it a quick stir, pull it off the heat and let it cool for five to eight minutes. Then we transferred peppers to the pint jars and poured the brine until it covered them.
Depending on which of these two recipes we like best, we may do a double or triple batch to share with family, friends and neighbors. We’re letting the pint jars rest in the fridge for a few days to infuse the flavors of the brine in the jalapeno slices. We’ll let you know which one wins the taste test in a future blog post.
Friday evening (July 17, 2020) – We drove south (an hour drive) to Powell Observatory for an ASKC members only viewing of Comet Neowise plus Jupiter at opposition and glorious through the 30 inch. Clouds were an issue to our total viewing experience, but it was great to see everyone and it was a surprisingly pleasant evening. We left shortly before eight o’clock and were back home by two minutes to midnight. An excellent excursion and a nice field trip from our lock-down life at home.