Ember Rising, the latest in S. D. Smith's Green Ember series, is now available! I have just completed a delicious re-read of all the previous books—The Green Ember, The Black Star of Kingston, Ember Falls, and The Last Archer—and am almost halfway through my advance copy of Ember Rising. It was hard to wait patiently to read the new book, but worthwhile to get the old stories clear in my head again. (I am not like J. R. R. Tolkien, for whom there was only one "first reading" of a book. I read voraciously, and I read fast—but I forget quickly, too, and don't really remember a book until I've read it several times.)
TODAY, Februay 7, you can get the first two Green Ember books in Kindle format for FREE. Enjoy!
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In 1944, my grandparents moved across the continent from Pullman, Washington to Rochester, New York, where my grandfather worked until he retired in 1969. This film, made in 1963, gives glimpses of their Rochester. The Rochester they watched as it developed.
We visited them at least once a year when I was young, but I remember little of the city from then. Most of my memories are from my own time in Rochester, from 1970 through 1983. That's close enough to 1963 for this video to have sparked many memories, from the Midtown Plaza Clock of the Nations to Letchworth State Park to the Spring House restaurant, where we had our wedding rehearsal dinner. Not to mention the University of Rochester, the Lilac Festival in Highland Park, and the old familiar industries and landmarks.
By the time our daughter returned to attend the Eastman School of Music at the end of the century, Rochester was a different city, with much of the industry gone or on the way out. A telling quote from Wikipedia about the Eastman Kodak Company, once virtually synonymous with Rochester, is this: Although Kodak developed a digital camera in 1975, the first of its kind, the product was dropped for fear it would threaten Kodak's photographic film business. They had forgotten, perhaps, the film's admonition that if a company (or a city) does not change, change will come in ways unexpected and unpleasant.
Rochester is still a lovely city, and I sure miss "the splendor of a Western New York apple," though I don't think anyone's bragging about the traffic situation anymore. Our children, and perhaps even my siblings, are too young to remember when life was like this, but I hope they'll still enjoy this bit of history, which is part of the world of my childhood. I only wish I could talk with my grandparents about the Rochester they knew.
Since mid-November, my reading has been rather light, there being nothing intellectually challenging about my last 13 books. (Well, Boys of Blur could be—I need to re-read Beowulf—but it was enjoyable enough without going into all that.) I had planned to continue that trend for a while, not from any particular desire for easy reading, but because I want to re-read all the existing Green Ember books before the new one is released.
His current all-time favorite book series is Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. With that kind of recommendation, I thought it would be good to check it out. Recently our libray sent notice that my hold for the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, had come through, so today I ventured out to pick it up.
The librarian didn't quite need a hand truck to bring it from the back room.
The book is 670 pages long.
I hope I like it, because 670 pages will be a long slog if I don't. But I'm more than half hoping that I don't like it too much, because there are 13 more books in the series, plus a prequel and a companion book.
Long gone (though only five years past) is the time when I could sample his taste in reading by whipping through half a dozen Animorphs books in a few days.
I need new jeans. This is a perennial situation; I've been looking for new jeans for years, waiting for comfort to come back in style. I mean, we're talking jeans here. Not high fashion. Jeans are supposed to be comfortable.
When will the skinny jeans fad end?
For some inexplicable reason I thought I'd try my luck again today. Tell me, what kind of an oxymoron is "plus size skinny jeans"? Just plain moronic, I'd say.
Listen, folks. I wouldn't want to look as if my jeans were painted on even if I had the best of figures. But in what bizarre nightmare did you dream that a plus size woman might want to feel every ounce of flab she owns from the waist down—and display it all for the world to see? Even the models in the ads look ugly, stuffed into skin-tight pants.
One more, little hint you might want to take seriously: Adding big rips in the knees does not make the jeans any more attractive, no matter what the size. On plus sizes it looks beyond stupid.
Bring on the next book! Bring on the next Kickstarter appeal. I'll be there. #RabbitsWithSwords
The time has come. Ember Rising is finally in the home stretch. The book is written, artwork done, cover chosen ... there's just that little matter of publication. Once again they are funding this through Kickstarter, which I see as a great way to support a good author and play a small part in getting these wonderful books out of his head and into the world.
I'm now officially an S. D. Smith fan. I don't support projects for the sake of the rewards, any more than I donate blood for the t-shirts and gift cards. But they're still nice to have, and this time I chose a level with rewards that duplicate things I already have—such as Kindle versions of the books—because it also gets me physical copies of all the books published so far. I had some, from previous campaigns, but gave them away, because why take up bookshelf space when you have the Kindle versions? Unless, of course, you have decided that you really like the books, and you're a true bibliophile, and still love the feel of a real book in your hands. And want to be able to lend the books to friends, or attract the eye of a visiting grandchild. That sort of thing. You can read a Kindle book, but you can love a physical book, and some books deserve to be loved. Hence my extensive collection of George MacDonald, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Arthur Ransome, Miss Read....
On an out-of-the-way street in a suburb of Lucerne, Switzerland, hides a small, by-invitation-only restaurant called Chez Stücklin. It was there that we were privileged to celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary.
Well-dressed, cheerful greeters met us at the entrance and led us to our private table. This was located in the Sun Room, which was on this day a misnomer, as the sunshine was primarily of the liquid variety.
No matter; the room was well heated and we were offered warm slippers to protect our feet. Note the blue, personalized place card, the beautiful roses, the amusing pig-shaped candle, and the fancy-folded napkins.
The menu at Chez Stücklin is fixed. Here is what was served on our special night. (Click on any image to enlarge.)
The elegant, semi-refined wait staff lit our candle and took our drink orders. They were attentive to our drink needs throughout the meal—to me, the hallmark of a great restaurant.
Soon they brought in the first course: Mermaid Blossom Potage, "seasonal soup with a trefoil of select seasonings." It was delicious, and reminded me of the curried pumpkin soup we traditionally enjoy at Thanksgiving time, but with lighter seasoning. During the soup course, the youngest kitchen apprentice came by with a bowl of potato chips, solemnly handing us each a single chip.
The main course, Pizza on the Head ("homemade pizza with Mama's favorite crust and toppings worth jumping about"), was prepared tableside, as we watched. The dough had been previously prepared, but the staff rolled it out to perfection, one of the crusts even being in a "hidden Mickey" form in honor of our home town. They then added sauce, cheese, and a personalized assortment of toppings.
While we waited for our pizzas to bake, we enjoyed the restaurant's varied entertainment. Seldom have I been so pleased with the volume of restaurant music, which is nearly always too loud. Here, it was pleasant to listen to and did not interfere with normal conversation. If the quality of the performances varied somewhat, there is no doubt that the cuteness factor was as high as I have ever experienced.
I regret that a few of the acts are missing from the following montage. The restaurant has a policy that discourages videotaping of the older staff, so you will not get to see some delightful piano and harp performances. There was also an incredible duet between the head waiter on keyboard and Waitress V on tin whistle. I'm told that it was a completely unrehearsed, impromptu performance, but Waitress V was so sensitive to the music that she picked up the rhythm and even some of the melody simply through listening to the piano. I'm really sorry not to have filmed that—Waitress V would love to have had it recorded—but by the time I realized what was happening, I was simply too entranced to pull out my camera. We also missed a comedy routine I'm told was hilarious, but apparently the commedian was overcome by a sudden attack of shyness.
My pizza was all I could have hoped for. I could easily have eaten it all, but accepted the suggestion of a take-home box because I knew that dessert was part of the anniversary dining package. Team Vanilla Chocachilla, "a generous portion of vanilla ice cream with hagels and chocolate sauce," was the perfect finish to a perfect anniversary dinner.
Chez Stücklin, Lucerne's hidden gem, receives my highest possible, five-star rating.
This is for someone who will appreciate it, even if the rest of you are covering your ears.
I'm so glad that the ending of the Space Shuttle program did not mean the end of being able to watch launches from our front yard.
When we moved to this neighborhood more than 30 years ago, we considered buying a house on the street shown in the news story below. Instead, we opted for a home one street over, of significantly higher elevation. Today that's looking like a very good choice.
Children, being the delightful people they are, find joy where the more knowledgeable and responsible adults find worry. They remember the togetherness of huddling in a hallway, listening to a hurricane rage outside, while their parents were wondering if a tree was going to crash through the roof. They remember the delight of the family sleeping together by the living room fire during an ice storm, and using marshmallow sticks to toast bread over the coals, while their mother fretted over how to get the baby clean diapers with no power to run the washing machine. They recall the thrill of riding their bicycles through knee-high water, while the neighbors dealt with flooded yards.
Irma's flooding in our neighborhood was the worst I have seen here. The hurricane that provided the biking adventures for our kids flooded the river so badly that a nearby bridge on the main road had to be closed, yet the water was not nearly as deep in our neighborhood as that from Irma. Flooded yards you may have to expect when you live next to a river, even a small one, but flooded houses are causing people to ask why. I suspect that recent reconstruction of the water/sewer/road system in our neighborhood left behind a glitch in the drainage, but that may be difficult to prove. Then again, the bridge has been upgraded and raised, too, so maybe we did just get that much more water—we're not usually on the east side of the hurricane.
Our first chair sousaphone player wasn't able to play with the Greater Geneva Grande Award Marching Band in this year's Independence Day parade in Geneva, Florida, so he played the video cameral instead. Be sure to stay for the credits.
I think Geneva, Switzerland needs us, too; maybe this could be our audition tape. What fun we have! What total lack of self-respect we exhibit!
Where did the month go?
This Ramadan I was going to join my Muslim friends for one day of their month-long fast. But suddenly the season is over—though I'm sure it did not feel sudden to those who were fasting.
This idea was not for spiritual reasons—I'm a Christian—but for awareness, and as a statement (to myself) of solidarity. To feel just a little bit of what it's like for our friends.
Having read stories from The Gambia in preparation for our visit there last year, I had been astonished at how difficult they find life during Ramadan fasting. After all, they get to eat a big meal before sunrise, and again after sundown. Skipping meals during the day is not fun, but hardly debilitating.
Then I remembered that few Gambians have the, um, caloric reserves that Americans do. I figured that must be the reason they find it hard to function well.
Well, that may be true—but then I discovered that there's more to Ramadan fasting than not eating.
There's not drinking.
I'm not talking about abstaining from alcohol, which observant Muslims do at all times. There's no drinking, period. No coffee, no tea, no soda, no water. Temperatures in the 90's and you can't drink. No wonder the soccer teams from the Christian tribes have a decided advantage during Ramadan.
In truth, I'm sure that's the reason I kept putting off my day of solidarity. I'm no stranger to fasting from food, but doing without water scares me. It probably would have been good to have had that tiny bit of identification with those whose lack of access to safe water makes this a year-round, not a day-long or even a month-long problem. But intimidation led to procrastination, and now the time is over. Maybe next year....
Anyway, my respect has gone 'way up for Muslims who keep Ramadan, fasting all day long for a month, year after year. Especially for those in hot climates, like the Gambia, where normal perspiration puts them at risk of serious dehydration. And for those living in the Far North in years when Ramadan occurs during the summer months. Could Mohammed have imagined that there would one day be Muslims living where the sun never sets?
It was not until I wrote this that I realized what a particular hardship Ramadan poses for Gambians: No ataya!
I opened up Facebook this morning to be greeted by the following "Suggested Post."
Some of my readers will immediately recognize the "Castle in Arquenay" as Château de la Motte Henry, where 10 years ago we celebrated Janet's birthday. We chose that fairy tale castle not because Janet is a romantic and highly imaginative person, although she is, but because the château happens to be the home of some dear friends, whose daughter would later be the flower girl in Janet's wedding. They are the most amazing hosts, and the experience was sublime.
The wonderful thing, as Facebook so cheerily told me, is that you, too, can have the Château de la Motte Henry experience! Well, not the friends-and-family perks, but let me tell you, these people know how to host an experience for their paying guests as well! Don't let the price tag put you off—share the cost with friends; it's a huge place! (No, I don't get a commission; I just love sharing something so special.)
If nothing else, take the time to go to the booking site, browse, and dream. Check out the amenities, marvel at the photos. I quote from the overview:
*JUST LISTED AS ONE OF "THE TIMES' TOP 20 CHATEAUX IN FRANCE" FOR HOLIDAY RENTALS!* -- (If you are a group larger than 14, please inquire about additional space & rates.) Live a fairytale dream in this romantic 19th century castle with its own private lake, swimming pool & cinema. Your senses will be dazzled with stunning views, gentle sounds of birds and rippling water, and the rich scents of roses and lavender. You will luxuriate in the privacy of 29 secluded acres, but only travel 2 km to reach all amenities. Whether you are a family, corporate group, or reunion of friends, the château offers pampering, fun and relaxation in a sublime setting for groups both large and small.
The château is an historically listed property, once open to the public, and now privately owned and operated. Featuring a motte (mound) from the time of Henry II surrounded by a moat, spectacular parkland, ancient trees, a private spring-fed fishing lake, and a Renaissance-inspired swimming pool within a secluded walled rose garden, the château is a haven of peace and tranquillity.
Here one can bask in the glorious French countryside, or discover the riches of the surrounding areas of the Loire Valley, Brittany & Normandy from this central location. Children & adults alike will delight in visits to the famous Loire châteaux, Mont St. Michel, D-Day Beaches, the fabulous Puy de Fou theme park and Zoo de la Fleche, all within a 1.5 hour drive. Within 15 minutes drive, one can experience beautiful gardens, golf, riding, nature-activity parks, river cruises, museums, stately homes & more. Or, you may simply never wish to leave the grounds of your very own château...
The château offers extremely spacious bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms; reception rooms comfortably yet elegantly renovated in keeping with the romantic style; & wonderful facilities for self-catering, such as a recently renovated designer kitchen with granite and marble-mosaic finishes, as well as three outdoor BBQs.
Special amenities include: Nespresso Machine, Bathrobes, Slippers, Large Welcome Basket, Champagne Reception on Arrival, Toiletry Kits in Bathrooms
Here's another view, Janet's own picture from a decade ago. Can you imagine walking through the woods and suddenly seeing this through a break in the trees?
Facebook is scarily good at surprising me with relevant ads, but this one was the most amazing yet.
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Our church prides itself on its reputation as the most liberal church in our diocese.
That our diocese itself is somewhat of a traditional haven in an Episcopal Church that, frankly, has gone off the rails, is a major reason why we have not been driven to another denomination. The dismal state of the American Episcopal Church is not just my opinion, but that of most of the world's Anglicans. However, contrary to what happens in many denominations, the very structure of its services keeps it from going too far 'round the bend in any direction, and enables people of great diversity to worship freely together. I would hate to lose that.
Why, one might ask, do we not seek out a parish that is more in line with the diocese and less with the national leadership? After all, a church that was our home for many years, and which we still hold dear, is just that. It would be disingenuous not to mention that it is 45 minutes away, and our current church less than 10. But there's another, more important reason for being where we are:
We don't fit in.
I don't mean we feel unwelcome. Ours is a friendly church, and almost unmatched in the way children are respected in the service. A nicer bunch of people than our choir you'll not find anywhere. We share a lot in common. But there's no doubt that when it comes to many political, social, and theological issues, we are among a small minority.
One of the greatest dangers facing America today is that we don't know each other. We hang around, in both our real and our virtual lives, largely with people like ourselves. A community of empathetic people is important, even essential. That's the success of 12-step programs and other support groups formed around a particular need. We all need the encouragement of people who have been where we are and are going where we are going. We need a place to be at home, to be ourselves, to be fully accepted, to share inside jokes and to let down our defenses.
But too much of that can also lead to insularity and inbreeding. While we're not likely to forget that there are people who disagree with us, we're all too likely to forget that they are no less human than we are. You think that's crazy? Look at America today. We have become a nation of divisions that each think the others subhuman.
Is there a remedy? The best I can think of is to get out of our comfortable circles and work together with "the other" on something constructive. To find opportunities to meet together on common ground, to see each other as people with jobs and families, with trials and victories, as people who bring us meals when we are sick, and to whom we take meals in their need. People with whom we can learn that discussion is not war, difference is not division, and disagreement is not hatred.
Church, where we already have much common ground, and choir, where we have common work, are obvious places for us to find this interaction, at least at this stage of our lives. Is it frustrating at times, and lonely? Yes. But I've been there before, many times.
Who am I kidding? I've been there all my life. I've never fit in. I grew up a nerd, was the only girl in some of my classes and activities, always preferred classical to rock music, was considered an anomaly by my peers for refusing to lie to my parents, was a feminist until it became popular and then jumped ship, and developed decidedly unconventional attitudes towards birth, childrearing, and education—even in homeschooling I was philosophically an outsider among outsiders. So I'm accustomed to it.
And if I'm not going to fit in, our church is a great bunch of people not to fit in with.
Wait, that didn't come out at all the way I meant it.
They're a great bunch of people, and they don't mind if I don't fit in.
For now, this is where we should be. Will it always be so? Only God knows. As long as we are only swimming upstream and aren't fish out of water, I'm okay with that.
And hopeful for America.