New Worlds: How to Celebrate

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

We’ve got our holidays. It’s time to parrrr-taaaaay!

. . . maybe. Depending on who we are, and what the occasion is.

At the extreme non-celebration end of the spectrum, many of those awareness days I mentioned before basically aren’t holidays at all, in the sense that we don’t actually celebrate them. Maybe you said “arrrr” a few times on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, but the United States’ National Cat Day on October 29th probably didn’t get so much as a tweet from you. And several holidays in the U.S. basically amount to a hook for stores to hang a sale on, plus maybe a day off depending on what your job is. At the opposite end, you have major festivals that turn regular life upside down for days on end.

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Queen Victoria’s Christmas Dinner

If anyone in the 19th century was going to celebrate Christmas in a truly outstanding fashion, you know that person had to be Queen Victoria, who helped enormously to popularize the holiday in Great Britain and set its traditions in stone (or fruitcake). But how, exactly, did she celebrate December 25?

To answer that question, I did a little digging…and found the menu for her Christmas dinner in 1896. I’ve provided translations where necessary—the Queens’s menus were always in French). Continue reading


On Becoming a Professional Amateur: Verbs—Choose Wisely

Sample paragraph: I saw Hal coming toward me across the office commons, waving. “What did the boss say?” he screeched.

I shook my head and waved him away. “I don’t want to talk about it, Hal.”

“Oh, Ron,” he squealed. “Please tell me he didn’t fire you!”


Do the verbs screeched and squealed help build up the atmosphere of this scene or disrupt it?

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BVC Announces Jackie’s Boy by Steven Popkes

Jackie's Boy by Steven Popkes

Jackie’s Boy

by Steven Popkes

Plagues broke the world.

In a violent new America infested with disease and mutated creatures, Michael, an eleven-year old orphan, and Jacki, a sophisticated, intelligent, articulate elephant, set out on a journey of discovery and survival through the post-apocalyptic ruins. Continue reading


Lounging in France 20: Going Nuts

I haven’t posted much about food in this blog, because those posts went to the frothier venue of Facebook, where you can go and look at them if you like. But I am sure I do not need to mention that food is a major obsession in France. Everybody is an expert, on cassoulet, about creme caramels, about cheese.

 Springboarding off of this, the authorities have cleverly leveraged the agriculture of their nation into a powerhouse by creating the notion of the appellation, the legal definition of a product. We toured the Martell distillery, which produces perhaps 90 percent of the cognac sold on this planet. You can double-distill wine anywhere you like, but you can’t call it cognac unless you’re right around the town of Cognac in central France. The same appellation d’origine contrôlée applies to Camembert cheese, Bordeaux wine, Chambord liqueur, and a zillion other products.

The one I found most bemusing, however, was walnuts. The walnuts of the Périgord region have their own AOC. Really? Since we were in the Dordogne in autumn we tried them. They’re yummy all right, and we ate several bags of them and bought a local nutcracker as a souvenir. But are they really unique?

The only way to find out is to compare. And here we may see our French nut cracker, with three American walnuts, purchased at a farm market in Reston, Virginia. These nuts were probably grown in Loudoun County, a little west of where I sit as I type this. (From which the astute reader may deduce that this post, #20, is the last one in the series about France.) They are the same size as the walnuts we ate in September, certainly the same species although possibly a different variety. And … yes. The French are right. The walnuts of the Périgord are distinctive. They have their own flavor, the terroir that is the boast of wine and cheese makers. I can taste it. Whether they’re better or worse is a different debate. (For certain these were more expensive. In France there are walnuts everywhere, and the price plummets at harvest time.) But these appellations are not fantasy. They’re actually controlling something real.


Hip new narrative strategies are . . . not so new

These days there has been a lot of talk about daring narrative voices and experimental playing with fiction and truth (as in real life experience, to skirt around the gigantic elephant of what constitutes “truth”), and it’s great that more writers are breaking the mid-twentieth-century stranglehold that third person limited held on publishing. With the exception of first person.

It’s hip, it’s cool, but it’s not new. Back in the days when the novel was still inventing itself, one can find all kinds of blends of fiction and real life experience, along with a wild assortment of experiments in reporting dialogue—in Samuel Richardson’s juggernaut Clarissa, you can find at least four different types of dialogue punctuation.

One of the most interesting writers who blended fiction and real life experience was Frederick Marryat, whose novels came out in the 1930s-40s.

 I wonder why I did not commence authorship before! (he writes in the middle of one of his novels) How true it is that a man never knows what he can do until he tries. The fact is, I never thought that I could make a novel, and I was thirty years old before I stumbled on the fact. What a pity! 

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The Rambling Writer Visits Thailand, part 17: more Baan Kratig

Stay with Thor and me as your virtual Thailand vacation continues at the beautiful Phuket shoreline and sea.

NOTE: “And now for something completely different.” Thor and I made our first trip to Asia — the beautiful country of Thailand.  We were lucky to squeak through the pandemic flight closures in January/February of 2020 as we returned from our three-week trip. Since more travel has now become a distant prospect, we hope you’ll take a virtual vacation with us in the following weeks. (This blog series started on June 13.)

We’d been looking for good snorkeling right offshore, and hit the jackpot at this lovely seaside lodge. We could hardly stay out of the water. Continue reading


New Worlds: Secular Holidays

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

Compared with sacred holidays, secular ones are relatively new, at least as a widespread thing.

In part this is because the sacred used to be much more pervasive in daily life. Things most of us consider to be essentially secular matters now, like the harvest of crops or the advent of a new year, used to carry a religious significance that has in many cases been lost — and even some holidays whose origin is explicitly based in religion, like Valentine’s Day (aka the Feast of St. Valentine), have become so secularized that many people probably don’t even realize it used to be otherwise.

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Robin Hood and His Merry Men: Maid Marian


Strong women who are ready to defend themselves and their loved ones with mannish weapons are often called Amazons. Or a virago.

In modern literature we call them kick-ass heroines.

Enter Maid Marian of the Robin Hood legends. She’d make a fine role model for the women who easily and competently wield a sword or bow and arrow. She does both in the ballads and stories. Yet she also displays feminine grace while at court.

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Artist in Residence Quarantine Diaries Episode 19: Best Laid Plans…

At the time of writing this (you will be reading it some time after it is written – and if there are important updates they will be appended at the end before the thing goes live – but in the meantime, bear with me…) life has *imploded*.

A little preamble. About 4 years ago my husband was sent toddling along to a cardiologist because his primary physician thought he heard something hinky with his heart. The cardiologist poked around and prescribed a medication. This my dutiful husband duly took.

Not long after he began taking it, we had a SITUATION – his entire right shin, from just below knee to just above ankle – erupted in one gigantic fluid filled blister – I didn’t know one that big could EXIST, it was stupendous, filled with sloshing stuff that wobbled alarmingly as soon as the leg was moved only a little. The blister imploded (gravity won – nothing that size could hang together once the leg was made perpendicular. We slapped dressings on it and all  but it festered and purulated and it landed him in the local would clinic, having the wound professionally cleaned and bound until it ran its course and closed up. it left behind a pink patch of skin roughly the same size and shape of the original blister, skin that looked weird, thin, stretched, sometimes shiny, sometimes scaly with dead skin. Turned out that the original blister was squarely within the realm of side effects of that drug hubs was presctribed, which he probably should never have taken, because it exacerbated leg oedema from which he had been suffering.

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