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So, the secret destination I mentioned earlier was Oaxaca (say “wah-HOCK-ah”), Mexico. I love this city! I had visited once 15 years ago and always dreamed of going back.
The capital city of the state of Oaxaca, it’s like a jewel-box deep in heart of the southern mountains of Mexico, full of stunning architecture, intricate handicrafts, and oh yes, fantastic food.
The top photo was my first meal there, an ancho chile relleno next to plaintain mash with Oaxacan cheese. Surprisingly, it was actually a lot prettier than it was flavorful, but I enjoyed trying it anyway.
Below are the appetizers from that night, including, from the back of the slate platter, cheese, guacamole, and chapulinas. Chapulinas are a Oaxacan specialty—roasted grasshoppers!
Our Mexican friends told us that if you eat one, it means you get to come back to Oaxaca. It would be a lie to say they’re my favorite dish, but I was super glad I DID eat one 15 years ago. So glad, in fact, that I ate several more, hoping I will for sure get to visit again.
Below you see chiles drying at a restaurant where we ate lunch. The set up was unusual—you walk through the kitchen area up to the roof to eat. Sadly I didn’t take pics of the wonderful chicken red mole enchiladas I had.
Mole is a type of sauce involving many ingredients, including cocoa, which was first cultivated in ancient Mesoamerica. There are many different kinds of mole, and they’re not at all sweet, so don’t worry, it’s not at all like eating candy on your meat.
From the rooftop of the lunch restaurant, there’s a view of the historic Santo Domingo church, and we had great seats to see a traditional wedding celebration going out of the church, complete with dancers, costumes, and these enormous puppets that lead the way to the reception.
Lastly, here’s a photo (from the same location) of Caldo de Piedra, or “Stone Soup.” I couldn’t actually eat it, since I can’t do shellfish, but it was fascinating to watch our chef cook it, tableside.
The rocks were heated to such a high degree that when they were placed in the bowls of raw food (shellfish and broth, veggies), the liquid immediately boiled like mad. After a few moments, the liquid cooled a bit, and the chef removed the first stones and added a second hot stone to each bowl.
If you look closely, you can see the beautiful handcarving on the bowls, which are made of what I gather is a kind of gourd.
Delicious foods not pictured: duck tacos, Oaxacan tamales (wrapped in banana leaves), hot chocolate, and eggs smothered in fantastic sauces. Breakfast was not to be missed.
More on Oaxaca to come. Hope you have a great weekend. It’s like 75 degrees here today. I can’t believe it’s December!
During my visit to Portland last week, my friend Ron took me to several Beverly Clearly sites he knew I’d want to see. Didn’t have to travel far to Klickitat Street, and found a geocache there, which delighted me (and, when I got home and told them, my children). We drove by Beverly Cleary’s childhood home, and the nearby elementary school which now bears her name. Between them was a busy intersection where I imagined Henry Huggins performing his stalwart crossing-guard duties.
Then we wandered over to Grant Park, where the statues are.
Poor Beezus! No statue!
There’s a geocache nearby named after the statues, but we couldn’t find it, despite a diligent hunt. I guess I’ll have to leave it to my kids when I take them to this site someday.
Karen E., naturally I thought of you and your Ramona the whole time. Perhaps our next family meetup should be in the Portland?
By: Jen Robinson
Blog: Jen Robinson
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coming of age
, d. j. schwenk
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Book: Heaven Is Paved with Oreos
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Age Range: 10-14
I loved, loved, loved Catherine Gilbert Murdock's books about D.J. Schwenk (Dairy Queen, The Off Season, and Front and Center). So when I heard that Murdock had written a book called Heaven is Paved with Oreos, for a slightly younger audience, I scooped it up. I didn't even realize until reading a review at Book Nut last week that this new book is set in the Schwenk universe. What a lovely and unexpected gift!
Heaven is Paved with Oreos is told in journal fashion from the viewpoint of Sarah Zorn, best friend and science partner of D.J.'s younger brother, Curtis. It's the summer before freshman year, and Sarah and Curtis are pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend, so that people will stop asking them if they are boyfriend and girlfriend. But Sarah is a bit concerned about another girl from their class who appears to want to be Curtis' real girlfriend, making Sarah self-conscious about, say, going to Curtis' baseball games. Meanwhile, Sarah's grandmother, who everyone calls Z, invites Sarah to accompany her on a week-long pilgrimage to Rome. The trip turns out to be a bit more than Sarah bargained for, but it certainly contributes to her emotional growth over the course of the summer.
So, basically Heaven is Paved with Oreos is a coming of age story, a book about family, and a book about taking baby steps towards boy-girl relationships. It falls to the upper end of middle grade, I think, given the 14-year-old narrator, and a storyline involving the father of Z's illegitimate child, born some 45 years earlier. But it is absolutely perfect for middle school-age readers, I think.
I fear that some fans of the Dairy Queen books will be a bit disappointed by Heaven is Paved with Oreos, because the content is a bit less mature. But personally, I was happy to be spending time back in D.J.'s universe, however I got there. I found myself reading Heaven is Paved with Oreos slowly, because I was just so happy to be spending time with the characters. D.J. is a character in this book, someone Sarah looks up to and gets advice from. But Murdock is quite clear throughout that this is Sarah's story. It's not necessary to have read the Dairy Queen books to read this one, though it undoubtedly enhances appreciation of the book.
One thing that I especially liked about Heaven is Paved with Oreos is how Murdock handles the journal style storyline. She tells you, briefly and without taking you out of the story, where Sarah is when she's writing each journal entry. There's an entry, then she goes somewhere and writes there, then she goes home and writes there, and so on. This lends an immediacy to the narration that works well. One might think to question whether a fourteen-year-old girl would really sit in a cafe in Rome writing in her journal. But Sarah is a strong enough character to totally pull it off.
I LOVE that Sarah is interested in science. That's the source of the bond between Sarah and Curtis, a mutual fascination with physical science (studying animal skeletons, and so on). She's also just ... secure in who she is. She has things she is working on, sure, but she's happy to eat nothing but vanilla ice cream, for instance, and work on projects that other people think are disgusting. Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Sarah's voice:
"I wanted to be sympathetic -- Paul looked so upset -- but I could not help being reasonable. Reasonableness is a byproduct of a scientific mind." (Page 11-12)
Oh, I would have been friends with Sarah when I was fourteen. And this:
"Lady Z does not eat anything made with wheat. She says the hardest part was giving up Oreos, but they are made with wheat flour, so even though they are absolutely delicious and perfect, they're out. If I ever stopped eating wheat, I would make a rule that I could only be 99% wheatless. The last 1% I would leave for Oreos." (Page 16).
Curtis is, well, Curtis. For a character who says hardly anything, he still feels completely himself. Like this:
"I nodded. Curtis stared at the floor, but that is not unusual for him." (Page 26).
Lady Z is more complex. I like that though she's larger-than-life (not at all a regular grandma), she's also clearly flawed. Part of Sarah's growing up throughout the book involves coming to terms with the fact that you can love someone even if they aren't perfect. As Z is not.
Fans of Murdock's books about D.J. Schwenk will definitely want to give Heaven is Paved with Oreos a look. I loved it, and plan to keep my copy for when Baby Bookworm is older. There are spoilers for the Dairy Queen books, so even though this newest book is appropriate for a somewhat younger audience, readers unfamiliar with the series may want to wait to read the Dairy Queen books first. I think that the whole series is wonderful.
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).
© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.
The Affair at the Inn is unusual in two ways: first, it’s a collaborative novel that isn’t a trainwreck. The four main characters are written by four different writers, and I didn’t finish the book with a sense that the writers hated each other, or that the plot at the end was hastily patched together from the ruins of what it was originally meant to be. Second, it’s sort of Williamsonian (alternating points of view, traveling American heiress, Scottish baronet with an automobile) but without anyone traveling incognito. Nothing else about it was unusual, but almost everything about it was very nice.
The four characters and their authors are as follows: Virginia Pomeroy, written by Kate Douglas Wiggin, is the American heiress, traveling around the UK with her invalid mother. Virginia is kind of a flirt, and does her best to attract the only man in the vicinity, Sir Archibald Maxwell Mackenzie. He’s written by Allan McAulay, and is a bit of a woman hater, although Virgina quickly starts to thaw him out. The other two point of view characters are Mrs. MacGill, a hypochondriac widow, and her companion Cecilia Evesham, written, respectively, by sisters Mary and Jane Findlater. I actually found the book while looking for something else by Jane Findlater.
Basically, the book is what you would expect. Mrs. MacGill tries, ineffectually, to obstruct the romance between Virginia and Sir Archibald. Cecilia tries to forward it, but she’s not really needed — Virginia and Sir Archibald do fine on their own.
I liked The Affair at the Inn, but I wanted it to be a little more substantial. Nothing that didn’t bear directly on the central romance was fleshed out at all — everything else was loose ends. Still, I didn’t feel the lack of anything while I was reading it, and if The Affair at the Inn has no ambitions to be anything but fluff — and if it does a pretty good job at that — then I shouldn’t ask for it to be anything more either.
, allan mcaulay
By the time you read this, we will be on our way to Galicia, Spain, to the village and the people that have stolen our hearts. It's a long trip. But stay tuned. I'll be posting about our new ventures soon.
I've been a long time silent; I apologise. Since my last post in June(ish) I've been happily homeless in a non-serious-honestly-I'm-not-going-to-die way, & mainly doing Epic Shit. At the moment I'm being an au pair in Somerset, but in the next few weeks I'll be moving again, either Devon to live with some donkeys, or to Bath to work in a youth hostel. I'm putting together a project that should pull all my chaos together but for the moment I'm working on illio work as a nomad soul, which is very liberating. Still open for business, just you never know what you'll hear in the background when you give me a call ;D
Here are a few bits & bobs I've been playing with since I left anyway. Being around kids makes drawing them much easier.
Oh, this is Prolombious, I made him with an eight year old & a lot of scrap wool. He's a magical wooly mammoth who happens to be an excellent singer, but trips over his very long trunk a lot. This unfortunately damages his singing ability a little, so we're trying to figure out a better long-term solution for this than just tying a bow in the end of his nose.
By: Venetia Butterfield,
Blog: The Penguin Blog
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A day in the life...
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Earlier this summer we ran a competition around Robert Macfarlane’s THE OLD WAYS for one lucky wayfarer to follow in his footsteps and win a summer trekking around the UK and blogging about their adventures. After a hard-fought battle, Sarah Thomas was crowned as our winner. Now that her journey is at the halfway mark, we thought we’d check in with her to see how she’s finding the experience so far (and to find out more about her adventures, visit ajourneyonfoot.com, where she’s chronicling the whole thing).
Penguin: You’re no stranger to wayfaring – what’s made this trip different from your past experiences?
Sarah: Indeed I'm not. In fact, of all the jobs I've done in my life, this has been the one that has fit me the most perfectly, as all I had to do was be myself. I suppose the key difference was having to come up with something to say almost daily on the blog. That entailed thinking about situations as potential blog posts, rather than just living them then some weeks down the line perhaps blogging about them, as I had previously done. I was much more aware of the need to document in photos, note taking etc. Sometimes it focuses your vision on a situation, and sometimes it detracts from the experience, but with practice you strike a balance. I have been open about these dilemmas on the blog, as I feel it is very much part of my experience.
I have been travelling since I was seventeen. I went on a Duke of Edinburgh trip to the Nepalese Himalaya, and broke off from the group to go to India because I was rather lovestruck by a friend who was living there. I was a naive traveller then, but it was a quick and steep learning curve, and I was so in love with the spontaneity and freedom that that kind of travel offered. Anything seemed possible, and that has been an influential turning point in my life.
Of course I didn't exactly have a standard upbringing. Born in a commuter village in Buckinghamshire, when I'd just turned 11, my dad moved us to Kenya as he'd been asked to start an office there. You'd think, knowing me now, that that would have been exciting to me, but I hated it at first. It all happened rather suddenly, and at that age you are just beginning to form a sense of self, so the upheaval was unwelcome.
Kenya was politically unstable at the time, and I watched riots from our hotel window where we lived for 2 months while finding a house. I remember one occasion when, after eating the school dinners at my new school, I got very ill. I was getting medicine at a pharmacy in downtown Nairobi when our taxi driver ran in and said, "We have to go! They're throwing tear gas outside".
Of course, that wasn't pleasant, but as time passed in Africa I began to enjoy the excitement and slight frisson of risk that was everywhere (and IS everywhere really), and the incredible kindness that is also there if you are open to it. We had the most fantastic geography field trips in primary school - caving inside volcanoes, cycling across the Rift Valley. We learned to cook on the campfire for the whole class, and were told to watch out for buffaloes when we went to pee in the night. Sadly this is such a far cry from the way the majority of children are raised nowadays.
Those experiences have made me who I am. I cannot put it better than Edward Acland, one of the characters I have featured on the Wayfarer blog, who said to me one day as I was leaving his mill, "Take risks....I could say 'Take care' but you won't learn anything by taking care".
Since then I have travelled all over the place - Africa, India, SE Asia, Europe, America - always on a shoestring, and always without much of a plan. I don't see the point in them. If you have lived in Africa for a while you come to learn they do not work out anyway. What this role has offered me is the opportunity to travel my own country in that same risk taking, spontaneous way, which I have only ever done in a van, and not for such a prolonged period. I only wish it was longer! It has been an absolute delight to get to know an old friend again, having spent a lot of my life abroad, in Kenya, travelling, and more recently living in Iceland.
What do you think you’ve gained from exploring primarily on foot? What did you come across that you wouldn’t have done if you’d been doing it the tourist-style way - driving to a specific location and walking from there?
I think the overwhelming sentiment is how connected I have felt with what is around me. When you are travelling on foot, you are not covering that much distance, relatively speaking, so the trace of your trail has the chance to be taken into somebody else's path. Somewhere down the road you meet and they say, "Oh yes, I've heard about you". Or, more abstractly, different threads of stories I have come across have the chance to come around again and cross over.
If I were travelling in any fast moving piece of metal, I would have to rely more on media rather than my physical presence, to let my tale be known. I have found it a very effective form of 'social networking' (once upon a time known as talking to people) to talk to people. I have walked around with a sign with the website and twitter handle swinging from my backpack, and been giving out business cards on mountain tops, in pubs, by streams, to whoever I meet really. Of course it is great to extend the reach of my immediate orbit through Twitter and such, but it is immensely satisfying when you actually meet those you have met on Twitter. They become part of my story and I part of theirs.
Also, of course, the silence of walking allows you to get very close to animals. On a dawn walk recently I saw hares, red deer, and a golden eagle (this is still in question but I was very close and the video zoom that I captured it with is not), not to mention the ubiquitous sheep. If you are lucky and quiet, you can dwell with them awhile, listening to the sound of their breathing, their grazing. Feeling you are sharing in part of the same matter.
Being the summer it has been, it has been an abundantly sensory experience to be on foot. The scents of the blossoms, the possibility when on welcoming terrain to take off my boots and feel the wet moss underfoot. Hearing the bees, the dragonflies, the damselflies and the clegs, go about their summer busy-ness. And this warm summer wind of my face - what pleasure!
And of course not having much of a plan and being totally open has enabled me to meet people from all manner of paths exactly because I wasn't looking for them. One thing really does lead to another, and I am at the point now where some story threads are coming full circle, with almost uncanny regularity. Knowing you are going to base yourself in a place for a while, also means you will want to get to know who and what is around there - the people as much as the trees and the mountains - so I think I am more open to striking up conversations than I might be in a regular 'tourist' situation, but I don't know, because this sort of IS the way I usually travel.
Something important that struck me when I came back to stay in a house and the radio was on, was that I hadn't listened to the news in about two weeks. I had no idea what was going on in the world apart from what I had passed through, and I was blissfully happy. The news seemed intensely negative. I'm not saying it's good to be ignorant, but I do think there's something to be said for protecting yourself from the media for a while and seeing your world for what it IS also; right there in front of you."
Any “what the hell am I doing?!” moments when everything’s seemingly gone wrong?
Not yet actually, though I am ready for it! I haven't particularly liked getting drenched through, but I ended up in a barn and getting a ride out of the situation the next day, so I can't claim to have suffered! Oh well actually, thinking about it, I suppose when I was perched at the edge of that REALLY steep slope of badly eroded scree looking for the Langdale Axe factory and someone shouted, "What are you doing? Be careful!" I thought maybe it was time to accept that the objective of that walk was something different to what I imagined. But nothing really went wrong and I know other people have managed to find it so I didn't see it as such a big deal. I just didn't like the idea of slipping at such an angle, and alone.
Anything distinctly unwayfarer-ish that you’ve found yourself missing?
Sorry if this is boring, but not at all. I find in Britain you never seem to be that far away from anything. But regardless, for me when it's out of sight, it's out of mind. If anything, I've wished to get away from things a bit more than I have. I have been very happy on this journey, and I find when you are deeply content, you don't need much else at all. You even eat much less. That said, I did tuck in to a massive steak at the Old Dungeon Ghyll, when I came down - heat exhausted - from my failed search for the Langdale Axe factory!
Walking alone vs. walking with people can be very different experiences – how have you mostly split your time and which do you mostly prefer?
I'm not sure really. I suppose I have been mostly alone and yet it doesn't feel like I have. On my initial walks around Lancaster I was joined by friends. I was joined by a friend again recently for my visit to The Quiet Site on Ullswater (one of the competition sponsors). She is equally open and spontaneous and decided to stay on to join me for what was possibly the highlight of my adventure so far - a remote valley on the East side of Ullswater where we got caught in a thunderstorm and taken in by a barrister from Newcastle who happened to have a holiday home there and let us sleep in his barn! We didn't know we were going there until we were. The Quiet Site manager had said "You can't not have ANY plan!!!". Then he told me about this valley with the oldest red deer herd in Britain. I said, "Thank you. Now I have a plan".
When walking with someone it is important that they allow me the space still to go into myself, and I am lucky to have some people in my life that do this. My husband is one of these rare friends and that is one of the many reasons I married him. But I suppose on this journey I have preferred to walk alone, then re-converge with company at camp to share tales. That is my ideal scenario. Having said that, I really enjoy travelling with my husband but he is far away!
I remember when I won the competition, my mum said "I don't want you to get lonely", to which I responded, "I'm sure I won't, but even if I did, wouldn't that just be part of it? I don't want to protect myself from it." Loneliness, or solitude, isn't necessarily a negative experience. It allows you to tune in to yourself, and your place in the world. It is alright to feel small. We are small after all. And believe me, after 2 years living pretty much on the Arctic Circle, I know all about feeling small and isolated. Though I am drawn to wild places like Iceland and the Outer Hebrides, on this journey I have noticed I have gone for places where people are working and walking the land. I am in a phase where I do want connection with people, signs of human habitation, and the occasional fair or festival. But I want connection with people who are connected to their landscapes. Humans are part of the landscape after all.
How do you think a wayfaring lifestyle or approach to the world can be adopted by people who are (for the most part) stuck living in cities?
Nobody is 'stuck' living in cities, and I think that is part of the problem with the mentality that cities impose upon you. They are closed systems that, for a large part, think of the rest of Britain as 'the countryside' to which you escape some weekends, and from where some of the produce you eat originates. I hate to make generalisations but I experienced this first hand when I lived in London for two years. There is so much going on that you can end up suddenly realising you haven't left the city for months. I think it is very important to get into natural spaces regularly to allow your mind to breathe, but you really need to build it into your life. It won't happen by itself. Even if it is just going to a park regularly and really BEING in it - not just jogging through it. That is a start.
That said, city wandering is a wonderful thing to do of an evening, or at the weekend. Living in Iceland I came across the term 'ovissaferd' which literally translates as 'an unknown journey'. This is where you just head out without any particular destination in mind, and see what happens. I think it's a particularly exciting thing to do in cities, but the openness that comes with that approach must also be nurtured, otherwise it could just feel a lot like a Red Herring! Get talking to people, unpeel the veil, notice the small things. Start by forming an apprenticeship with your neighbourhood, then take it from there.
I lived in Walworth, notorious for its estates and not particularly attractive high street. But I loved it. By approaching it as I would any other journey, I got to know the Turkish people running the local 24hr grocers, who walked me home if I felt over-laden, or unsafe, at any time of day or night. I ended up filming a lantern procession on my way home from work one winter's night for a charitable organisation, as they saw I had a video camera on me. I found a hammam in Europe's only Kazakhstani hotel along the Walworth Road. I found Roger Hiorn's stunning 'Seizure' installation, having walked past an otherwise unpromising council flat block, noticing lots of people walking around wearing wellies. And every Sunday I went to the most amazing flea market which used to be on Westmoreland Road. (In a twist of fate, Westmoreland is where I am now writing this, and wish to make my home). It had all sorts of characters, and all manner of objects from all over the world. Flea markets are the stories of the neighbourhood laid out on the street.
Really the journey is not the physical one. It is a transformation that occurs in you, and that can happen within a hundred metre radius.
What do you plan to do when you’re done? Have your travels this summer given you any inspiration for future projects or journeys?
It has been very good for me to practice writing on a regular basis and build up networks of people I am interested in, and they in me. I have really appreciated the feedback I've been getting and to be able to talk to Robert Macfarlane has been a particular privilege. It feels like taking to an old friend.
Having lived in Iceland for 2 years up until a year ago, I have a mountain of experience and story I would like to put into word, image and film, and have been slowly and steadily working on that. This project has given me the focus and clarity to really get my teeth into it though (ironically as I have not been working on it at all this summer). As they say, "The hardest part is starting". Having this time to immerse myself in Britain has given me the necessary distance I needed from my experience in Iceland to be able to make something out of it.
I have started editing a documentary I shot about a sheep farmer-poet who lives in a remote corner of Northwest Iceland, and has no family to help with the yearly sheep gathering (they roam free all summer). My Icelandic in-laws and their family used to help but they are getting old and no longer have their own sheep to gather, so it is uncertain how he will manage from now on. Every year since 1985 he has written a poem about the year's gathering and my film is structured around one he wrote which is an overview of the mishaps across the years. It is a meditation on the hardships, and the poetry, in the everyday.
As we all know, funding for the slow quiet things in life is scarce, but I hope through this project to have built up more of a network who might support and spread word of this kind of venture, and I might give crowd funding a go, as I think the small quiet voices need to be heard.
Sarah Thomas is the Penguin Wayfarer. Follow her travels on http://www.ajourneyonfoot.com and Twitter (@journeysinbtwn).
Above is a little summary of our New England vacation. A little Cape, a lot of New Hampshire, including a hike through the Flume Gorge, which I had never seen before. I was tickled to find these in a little shop in Bethlehem, NH. I love when old postcards come with messages on them. The bottom one was written by someone whose vacation mirrored ours, fifty some years ago.
I have lots to share, including some digital paintings I did while we were away. I finally finished Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re an introvert or have a loved one who is. There are lots of us, so you probably do! I learned a lot.
Hubs and I enjoyed listening to Rob Lowe’s memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends on our car trip (read by Lowe), and we’ve almost finished listening to Yes, Chef, a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson. Really fascinating and read by Samuelsson himself in his fabulous scratchy voice. His story begins in Ethiopia, then goes on to Sweden, throughout Europe, and on to New York City as he follows his dream of becoming a master chef.
Loved this post of fun summer things to do with your kids, by Blair Stocker of wisecraft. Also, this spaghetti monsters post over at elsiemarley made me smile—it’s part cooking, part craft, and all silly fun.
What have you been up to?
Marveled at the Utah desert, among other things.
(More later. Lotta unpacking to do. And SDCC starts tomorrow!)
Jean M. Malone
Blog: Adventures of a Part-Time Asthmatic
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, Being Brave
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Summer is officially in swing, at least it is here in the South–and I guess it must be gearing up pretty soon in the rest of North America. Sorry Australia. As the weather warms up and my nephew collects spare change in his vacation jug, it puts me in mind of some of my best vacations. Actually it’s hard to choose a best. I’ve been pretty lucky.
Definitely one of the best vacations of my childhood would be the combined summers at Space Camp. I was technically a teenager, technically a middle-schooler, but I can be nerdy enough to admit that space absolutely turned me into an excited little kid and although it wasn’t really anything like the movie, Space Camp was an incredible adventure.
The first year was a whirl-wind. I didn’t know anyone, but it didn’t matter because everyone was a lot like me. I met Heidi right away, a girl who became a very dear, lifelong friend. Much from the two years actually blurs together now, in fact every time I think of a memory from the first year, I start to wonder if it was actually the second year. Which year did I get my head stuck between the bunkbeds? Which year did we build the rocket that was rather hideous and was named The Load Toad? Which year did we look at Jupiter in the giant telescope? Which year did we tour the training facility where astronauts practice weightless maneuvers in dive suits inside a ginormous tank?
I honestly can’t remember anymore. (My memory is terrible. Just ask D. He’s my official memory-keeper. As in, “Remind me to go to the bank. Remind me to eat dinner. Remind me what day it is.”)
What I do remember is that I had so much fun. Every moment was as thrilling as the breathless 4Gs of the Space Shot. Technically, it wasn’t Space Camp. Technically the first year was Space Academy (Level I) and the second year was Advanced Space Academy. Heidi and I were the only girls on the “pilot” track that year, but we hung tough with the boys and loved it. We trained hard and then executed 3 separate missions: We flew the shuttle, we performed experiments on the space station, and we assisted the other teams from the safety of Mission Control. I swear it was exactly like Apollo 13. Except without, you know, Gary Sinise. Or Ed Harris.
There were movies in the OmniMax and private tours of the museum. And So. Many. Dippin’ Dots. We even had our own turn in a big “weightless” metal water tank. Unfortunately I had allergies and was terrified of getting the benz (in 30 feet of water…), so I snorkeled instead. Probably for the best because a tornado choose that moment to make an appearance, and we were unceremoniously hauled from the tank early and sent down to the safety of the basement museum, our wetsuits still dripping. I am, however, slightly haunted by my fear of scuba diving, and as I have never had a good snorkeling experience (stories to come, I’m sure), I hope some day to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef.
One of the highlights of camp was meeting an actual astronaut, and somewhere there may still be photographic evidence. I wish I could say that Space Camp was where I learned not to lose my camera, but alas, remember what I said about my memory? If not, then perhaps your memory is worse than mine. That’s a scary thought.
I can’t speak for other programs, but my time at the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center was truly unparalleled, and I would encourage everyone to go–at least for the day. In fact, given what a good time he had at the Ren Faire, it might be time to haul the Star Wars obsessed E down to Alabama for the day.
What are some of your favorite vacation spots? Best memories? Feel free to share–I’m always looking for someplace new to go. As my dad always says, “You want to do everything.” Well maybe not everything–bungee jumping just doesn’t sound like something I should do.
, Being Brave
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By: Mark Miller,
Blog: From the land of Empyrean
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Promise of Tomorrow Volume 2: Discovery reveals some secrets.
My new Amish serialized novel started with the destructive forces of nature, sending the Umble family running for their lives. They boarded a transport as a tornado destroyed their home.
In Discovery, the transport arrives at their destination. I'm not going to spoil where they are going. However, when they step off the transport, they probably see something like this...
This is the entrance to Captain Nemo's Nautilus
(one of my favorite movies and Disney World extinct attractions). I can tell you my main character Luke did not take his family on a submarine. The question that Luke has to answer is "How far will you go to keep your faith?"
It is a literal and metaphorical question. He has to answer with both his heart and body. Volume 2 shows the first steps of the journey that will answer that question.
“Here is a different take on the Amish and it's a good tale that is well told. Mark writes with honesty, compassion, elegance and strength. Any lover of the Amish and of Amish fiction will be blessed by this book. Five stars, Mark!” –Murray Pura, Bestselling author of The Face of Heaven
Luke Umble believed he was a man of God. One fateful decision could test all of his beliefs. With the support of his wife Annie, they uproot their family in an attempt to save the ones they love. Luke is challenged on all sides by his cantankerous father, his oldest son’s rebellion and even his youngest daughter’s Muscular Dystrophy.
In Volume 2: Discovery, the Umble family arrives at their destination. Their new life begins in a shocking way. From the first step out of the transport door, the seeds are sewn that will either tear their family apart or bring them closer than ever.
The one question he asks himself is “How far would you go to keep your faith?”
The only answer Luke can find lies in God’s Promise of Tomorrow.
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Promise of Tomorrow
By: Pam Bachorz ,
at the butterfly gardenAny parent in the mid-Atlantic likely has heard the pleas: take me to Hershey Park!
And yeah, I think it's worth the drive to Pennsylvania (from DC, at least) and it deserves the hype. Our first grader LOVED it, as much as any Disney park. But while you're there, consider staying overnight and going to the Hershey Gardens.
The Garden started as the private estate of the Hershey family, and now anybody can tour it. Of course it's a haven for anybody who likes to garden--but that's not me. My speciality is killing plants. Still, I took our son there because I had a few hours to kill last June while my husband was at the Chocolate Spa (across the street), and I'd heard there was some sort of scavenger hunt.
Boy is there a scavenger hunt. The people at Hershey Garden are clever. Even before you get to the ticket window, they have an adorable garden hut set up with bright kid-sized gardening tools and a peppy smiling worker. For ten bucks you get your own scavenger hunt, a pencil, and one of the tools for a prize when you leave and turn in a completed hunt.
My kid went from whining and dragging to having a mission. We also loved the beautiful large butterfly house--mid June was the perfect time to visit it--and just wandering through the expansive grounds. But the scavenger hunt was the big hit.
We've got a bright red hoe in our garage, now, just waiting for my kid to use it. He hasn't touched it yet. Clearly we share some of the same gardening genes.
But for ten bucks, I got plenty of time to see the garden and I got a kid happy to be there.
I wish every museum and garden was this smart!
Yes, I really went to MOOD last week! And in New York too! Which I guess is only momentous if you are, like me, a total Project Runway fan. In case you're not a fan or have no idea what I'm talking about, I promise that I did take advantage of touring other New York sites, too.At the moment, though, I'm still a little breathless, and not just from wheeling my suitcase through the airport. It all happened so fast, and there was so much to take in, and there's so much I want to say about the trip . . . where to start?How about at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I saw the Egyptian collection:This was particularly special for me as Egyptian antiquities were the inspiration for my book The Great Scarab Scam. Added bonus: some great ideas for future pottery and ceramic work:It was also a thrill to see the samurai collection at the museum because it's the basis of my current National Poetry Month project on Japan. (Samurai armor has always intrigued me; so much so that I used it in a section of Overtaken):And it felt very elegant (if not a little dangerous) to be served a Metropolitan Martini on the museum balcony while a string quartet played in the background:Unforgettable: walking through Greenwich Village and bumping into Pillow Fight Day. (Or that's what I thought it was. I could be wrong; maybe Rizzoli's ran out of signed copies of Overtaken?)Seeing the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center was a big highlight too; especially as when I went back there the next day the maintenance crew was a) closing the rink for the spring/summer season, and b) retrieving the biggest, goldest, bling-iest bracelet ever from a flower pot as I watched with great surprise and interest. I did my best to refrain from insisting it was MINE: "Yes, Officer, I was right here on this very spot only yesterday. Honest."And of course there was the totally unexpected river taxi ride that just happened to go to my hotel while passing the local statuary:But on the very last day of all, after the Guggenheim (Solomon R. in the guidebook), Central Park, Fifth Avenue, and more pasta than I'm sure is legal, all my dreams came true and I went to MOOD! I played with Swatch! I pulled his ears! (I don't think you're really supposed to pull his ears, but he didn't seem to mind.)Swatch refusing a signed copy of Overtaken:In case you're interested, that's the inside of my coat on the chair along with the Mood bag holding the fabric I bought (see top photo again) as well as an amazing sketchbook called a Fashionary. Each page of this nifty little book has 3 templates of "models" you can draw the clothes on whenever you're seized by the muse: A dress just like the Empire State Building! A cape made from faux Central Park squirrels! The possibilities are endless and might even land you on Project Runway one day.So, yes, I had a really, really good time. And I finally understand all those I-heart-New York souvenirs because you can't not love New York. Now all I need is a nap and time to design some pants for Swatch in my Fashionary. Catch you all later.Tip of the Day: Be spontaneous--take a risk. I hadn't made serious plans to go to New York; it just sort of happened. Which also means I had no itinerary whatsoever, and it couldn't have worked out better. Just like writing and artwork, once you dive into a project, you can work out the details later. The important thing is to go there. Bon Voyage!
I went to Philly this weekend and ran the Rocky Steps. The weather was perfect, and it was such a pleasure to run in cool temps with no humidity! I ran up and down 65 steps, 30 times.
By: Ellis Nadler
Blog: Ellis Nadler's Sketchbook
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Four more new pages from my forthcoming Memoirs
.Paper53 on iPad. Click to enlarge.
By: Leslie Ann Clark,
Blog: Leslie Ann Clark's Skye Blue Blog
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, Kicking Around Thoughts
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Have you ever started a new chapter in your life? Have you ever dared to do something you never did before? Did you feel launched into it and found yourself in free fall? You are not alone. It happens all the time! Anyone who wants to do something worthwhile in life has to take risks and sometimes those risks lead to even more risks!
When my art career began, I was imagining all the possibilities. I dreamed of success. I created many fun little cartoons and talked about what I wanted to do with them. Then one day, I ran into a friend who was DOING what I wanted to do. She shook me! She said, “Les, you have to go to the N.Y. Stationary Show and you have to go NOW!
I had heard of this show. I had many of my friends online talking about going. This was back in the late 90′s. There was something in her voice. It was more like a command from heaven than a gentle nudging from a friend. I made up my mind to go!
This was huge for me. I had only been on an airplane once for a 45 minute flight. I practically sat on the lap of the man sitting next to me… asking him what this bump was and what THAT bump was! I decided I better pray about this trip. I told the Lord that if HE wanted me to do this then he would have to make the way for me. A few days later someone had put an envelope in my mailbox. It was $300.00. Enough for my flight! It was not long until I was flying across America to New York City. I met up with my girlfriend and stayed with her uncle and aunt. We took buses, rode trains and cabs. Once at the show we had to pedal our portfolios. I am NOT a sales person. … but there I was asking people where their art director was and if I might have a minute with them. Over and over. Hmmm…. it became a little easier each time.
One last company sat down with me. They looked through my whole portfolio and asked if I had anything more? I pulled out one last picture of a little baby. That was it! That was the one the art director liked. She asked me if I had any more and I told her I would email them to her when I got home. You better believe I was sketching babies on the airplane!
This was one of my first “be brave” moments. Over and over the good Lord has taken my by the hand and shown me what to do next. Some would say, “you are weak if you need help for everything.” But I say, I am smart for asking.
I have a few more adventures I am yearning for. There will come that day, when the dreaming is over, and the bags all packed and ready to GO!
What are you waiting for? Be Brave!!!!!
Filed under: God STuff
, Kicking Around Thoughts
By: Pam Bachorz ,
Revolutionary soldier chatting up our Little DudeA few weekends ago, my son's fondest dream came true: he got to go to Great Wolf Lodge. He's been begging for years. And I am not kidding you--this was his deepest desire.
But we had a deal. If we were going to the land of water slides and dozens of kids running around with interactive magic wands, the grown-ups got something in the bargain too.
We got to go to Colonial Williamsburg. And it turns out that our kid loved it too.
The two are only ten minutes away from each other, in Virginia, and about a three hour drive from DC (assuming you evade the infamous "mixing bowl" traffic). It's a great weekend trip. We got the three-day ticket at Colonial Williamsburg and spent half days there, along with half days/nights at Great Wolf Lodge.
You could easily spend a week at Colonial Williamsburg to see everything. But we were on the second-grader plan, so we skipped all but one of the special presentations, all of the art museums, and the ghost walk got a panicked veto. Here were a few of the family favorites:
- The Public Gaol (jail), which shockingly was in operation until the 1920s and even housed some of Blackbeard's crew. Although let me tell you I am quite certain it's haunted!
- Our kid's very favorite spot was the book binder and printer. We couldn't have predicted this. But he adored the goofy, slightly prickly interpreter who works half-time in each of those locations. He didn't talk down to the kids and he demanded interaction from them.
- The shops. I know some people don't like that there are shops mixed into the streets of CW, where you can actually buy stuff--the say it's too commercial. But my kid loved getting to check out colonial toys, and having a three-cornered hat to wear around town.
- We had an almost surreal and fun experience at R. Charlton's Coffeehouse, by the Capitol. We thought it was the sort of place you'd just stroll into and watch an interpreter at work, like most of the other open buildings. But instead we were ushered into an experience of being invited to "lease" the shop, by an interpreter who was fully immersed in the pre-Revolutionary time. She wanted my son's "receipt" for his strange favorite dish of pizza. Then once we finished with her tour, we were offered small samples of coffee, tea or (amazing) hot chocolate as a "thank you for considering the lease"--and we sat at a table with another fully-immersed interpreter who was acting as a minister of the time. And then we were politely ushered out, after chit-chatting with him about the politics of the time. It really almost felt like we'd slipped back to 1775 for a little while. I half-wondered if the rooms would be empty and dusty, if we tried to go back.
- And finally, the mustering of the troops on Friday afternoon was a huge hit with all three of us. We watched the fife-and-drum corp come marching to the green, and then Lafayette himself came to get us all excited about marching to Yorktown. He was one very excellent Lafayette, a thrilling horse rider with a French accent to boot. We got to watch the muskets and cannons being shot off, too. Thumbs up all around.
Don't hesitate to take your grade-schooler to Colonial Williamsbug. There is more than enough to keep everyone fascinated. Plus it's plenty of walking so they'll sleep well that night!
By: Ellis Nadler
Blog: Ellis Nadler's Sketchbook
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Recent sketching in various cafes.Paper 53 on iPad. Click to enlarge.
I've been to Japan once before for the Sakura Festival. Next on my list was the Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. Boy was it cold but beauuuuutiful (and delicious!).
The snow festival in Sapporo is well known, but there's also one in Asahikawa, the second largest city in Hokkaido. We got to see the ice artists in action chiseling, sawing, and brushing away the blocks of ice into gorgeous, tremendously detailed sculptures.
This Transformer tripled as a sculpture, a performance stage and, to the right, a gigantic slide! You sit your bum down on a piece of laminated newspaper with a loop of nylon rope and slide down 150 feet of ice into a pile of snow. So. Much. Fun.
Miso ramen from the original Santouka
in Asahikawa. They have locations in CA, and even in the Philippines!
A piping hot bowl of broth and scallops for 400 yen. Yes please.
8am breakfast at Donburi Chaya in Sapporo.
Cheesy ramen at Karin
Blue & brick building is Otaru Brewery
. I had a "smoked" beer. Delicious. Worth a visit.
Kita No Ice Cream
in Otaru. Left, uni & taro. Right, sake and squid ink. All very good.
Hokkaido is known for their dairy so if you do visit, please have cheese, caramels, hot milk & sake, and most importantly, vanilla soft serve ice cream. It is so very much unlike anything you'll ever taste (my favorite ice cream in the world), you will eat it walking through the snow, in 20 degree weather. It is that good. At least Kevin and I thought so :)
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, Benedict XIV
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By Dr. Robert V. McNamee
On Sunday, 29 March 1739, two young men, aspiring authors and student friends from Eton College and Cambridge, departed Dover for the Continent. The twenty-two year old Horace Walpole, 4th earl of Orford (1717–1797), was setting out on his turn at the Grand Tour. Accompanying him on the journey, which would take them through France to Italy, was Thomas Gray (1716–1771), future author of the “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”. The pair stayed abroad until September 1741, when an argument saw Gray return to England alone.
Travelling through Catholic domains, they would witness at arms-length one of the longest transfers of papal power in history, only four days shorter than the Interregnum, later imposed by the Napoleonic French, between the expulsion from the Papal States of Pius VI (who died 1799) and the election of Pius VII (14 March 1800). The on-going power struggle between the papacy and Catholic rulers of Europe, particularly with France, Spain and Portugal, had reached new levels of intensity — the latter two objecting in particular to unwelcome Jesuit interference in their treatment (read, “mistreatment”) of native populations in their overseas empires. The issue was still critical twenty years later, when Voltaire, under the pseudonym M. Demand, wrote to the Journal encyclopédique (1 April 1759), in the guise of identifying the real author of Candide, offering in partial evidence reports from the confrontations between Jesuits and colonial officials over their dealings with native populations in Paraguay.
The correspondence and journals of Gray and Walpole chart their travels, visits and discoveries across France and into Italy. The two young English travellers arrived in Florence on 16 December 1739, after a two days’ journey from Bologna across the Apennines. It was only two months before the ancient drama of papal passing and election would attract the attention of the world. Gray reported this news, when it came, to his friend Dr Thomas Wharton, writing on Saturday, 12 March 1740:
I conclude you will write to me; won’t you? oh! yes, when you know, that in a week I set out for Rome, & that the Pope is dead, & that I shall be (I should say, God willing; & if nothing extraordinary intervene; & if I’m alive, & well; & in all human probability) at the Coronation of a new one.
Clement XII (Papa Clemens duodecimus, born Lorenzo Corsini) had been pope from his election on 12 July 1730. He was the oldest person to become pope until Benedict XVI was elected in 2005. Clement died on 6 February 1740, and was eventually succeeded by Benedict XIV (Papa Benedictus quartus decimus, born Pròspero Lorenzo Lambertini), who was elected six months later on 17 August 1740. In a well-known anecdote of the election, Benedict is reported to have said to the cardinals: “If you wish to elect a saint, choose Gotti; a statesman, Aldrovandi; an honest man, me” (M. J. Walsh, Pocket Dictionary of Popes, London: Burns & Oates, 2006) — though as we will see from a contemporary report below, this is a rather colourless translation of the original.
A week later, Gray wrote to his mother Dorothy (Saturday, 19 March 1740):
The Pope is at last dead, and we are to set out for Rome on Monday next. The Conclave is still sitting there, and likely to continue so some time longer, as the two French Cardinals are but just arrived, and the German ones are still expected. It agrees mighty ill with those that remain inclosed: Ottoboni is already dead of an apoplexy; Altieri and several others are said to be dying, or very bad: Yet it is not expected to break up till after Easter. We shall lie at Sienna the first night, spend a day there, and in two more get to Rome. One begins to see in this country the first promises of an Italian spring, clear unclouded skies, and warm suns, such as are not often felt in England; yet, for your sake, I hope at present you have your proportion of them, and that all your frosts, and snows, and short-breaths are, by this time, utterly vanished. I have nothing new or particular to inform you of; and, if you see things at home go on much in their old course, you must not imagine them more various abroad. The diversions of a Florentine Lent are composed of a sermon in the morning, full of hell and the devil; a dinner at noon, full of fish and meager diet; and, in the evening, what is called a Conversazione, a sort of aſsembly at the principal people’s houses, full of I cannot tell what: Besides this, there is twice a week a very grand concert.
Two weeks later, after their arrival in Rome, Gray wrote another Saturday letter to his mother (2 April 1740):
St. Peter’s I saw the day after we arrived, and was struck dumb with wonder. I there saw the Cardinal d’Auvergne, one of the French ones, who, upon coming off his journey, immediately repaired hither to offer up his vows at the high altar, and went directly into the Conclave; the doors of which we saw opened to him, and all the other immured Cardinals came thither to receive him. Upon his entrance they were closed again directly. It is supposed they will not come to an agreement about a Pope till after Easter, though the confinement is very disagreeable.”
The conflict between catholic rulers, their national churches and the papacy led to prolonged disagreements and manoeuvrings in the Conclave, as evidenced by this letter from Walpole and Gray to their schoolboy friend, then fellow of King’s College Cambridge (Rome, 14 May 1740):
Boileau’s Discord dwelt in a College of Monks. At present the Lady is in the Conclave. Cardinal Corsini has been interrogated about certain Millions of Crowns that are absent from the Apostolic Chamber; He refuses giving Account, but to a Pope: However he has set several Arithmeticians to work, to compose Summs, & flourish out Expenses, which probably never existed. Cardinal Cibo pretends to have a Banker at Genoa, who will prove that he has received three Millions on the Part of the Eminent Corsini. This Cibo is a madman, but set on by others. He had formerly some great office in the government, from whence they are generally rais’d to the Cardinalate. After a time, not being promoted as he expected, he resign’d his Post, and retir’d to a Mountain where He built a most magnificient Hermitage. There He inhabited for two years, grew tir’d, came back and received the Hat.
Other feuds have been between Card. Portia and the Faction of Benedict the Thirteenth, by whom He was made Cardinal. About a month ago, he was within three Votes of being Pope. he did not apply to any Party, but went gleaning privately from all & of a sudden burst out with a Number; but too soon, & that threw Him quite out. Having been since left out of their Meetings, he ask’d one of the Benedictine Cardinals the reason; who replied, that he never had been their Friend, & never should be of their assemblies; & did not even hesitate to call him Apostate. This flung Portia into such a Rage that He spit blood, & instantly left the Conclave with all his Baggage. But the great Cause of their Antipathy to Him, was His having been one of the Four, that voted for putting Coscia to Death; Who now regains his Interest, & may prove somewhat disagreable to his Enemies; Whose Honesty is not abundantly heavier than His Own. He met Corsini t’other Day, & told Him, He heard His Eminence had a mind to his Cell: Corsini answer’d He was very well contented with that He had. Oh, says Coscia, I don’t mean here in the Conclave; but in the Castle St. Angelo.
With all these Animosities, One is near having a Pope. Card. Gotti, an Old, inoffensive Dominican, without any Relations, wanted yesterday but two voices; & is still most likely to succeed. Card. Altieri has been sent for from Albano, whither he was retir’d upon account of his Brother’s Death, & his own Illness; & where He was to stay till the Election drew nigh. There! there’s a sufficient Competency of Conclave News, I think. We have miserable Weather for the Season; Coud You think I was writing to You by my fireside at Rome in the middle of May? the Common People say tis occasion’d by the Pope’s Soul, which cannot find Rest.
As the bickering and accusations continued, Gray returned to Florence, where he reported to his father Philip (10 July 1740):
The Conclave we left in greater uncertainty than ever; the more than ordinary liberty they enjoy there, and the unusual coolneſs of the season, makes the confinement leſs disagreeable to them than common, and, consequently, maintains them in their irresolution. There have been very high words, one or two (it is said) have come even to blows; two more are dead within this last month, Cenci and Portia; the latter died distracted; and we left another (Altieri) at the extremity: Yet nobody dreams of an election till the latter end of September. All this gives great scandal to all good catholics, and everybody talks very freely on the subject.
Finally, on Sunday, 21 August 1740, Gray wrote again to his mother with the news of the new pope’s election:
The day before yesterday arrived the news of a Pope; and I have the mortification of being within four days journey of Rome, and not seeing his coronation, the heats being violent, and the infectious air now at its height. We had an instance, the other day, that it is not only fancy. Two country fellows, strong men, and used to the country about Rome, having occasion to come from thence hither, and travelling on foot, as common with them, one died suddenly on the road; the other got hither, but extremely weak, and in a manner stupid; he was carried to the hospital, but died in two days. So, between fear and lazineſs, we remain here, and must be satisfied with the accounts other people give us of the matter. The new Pope is called Benedict XIV. being created Cardinal by Benedict XIII. the last Pope but one. His name is Lambertini, a noble Bolognese, and Archbishop of that city. When I was first there, I remember to have seen him two or three times; he is a short, fat man, about sixty-five years of age, of a hearty, merry countenance, and likely to live some years. He bears a good character for generosity, affability, and other virtues; and, they say, wants neither knowledge nor capacity. The worst side of him is, that he has a nephew or two; besides a certain young favourite, called Melara, who is said to have had, for some time, the arbitrary disposal of his purse and family. He is reported to have made a little speech to the Cardinals in the Conclave, while they were undetermined about an election, as follows: ‘Most eminent Lords, here are three Bolognese of different characters, but all equally proper for the Popedom. If it be your pleasures, to pitch upon a Saint, there is Cardinal Gotti; if upon a Politician, there is Aldrovandi; if upon a Booby, here am I.’ The Italian is much more expreſsive, and, indeed, not to be translated; wherefore, if you meet with any body that understands it, you may show them what he said in the language he spoke it. ‘Eminſsimi. Sigri. Ci siamo tré, diversi sì, mà tutti idonei al Papato. Si vi piace un Santo, c’ è l’Gotti; se volete una testa scaltra, e Politica, c’ è l’Aldrovandé;c se un Coglione, eccomi!’ Cardinal Coscia is restored to his liberty, and, it is said, will be to all his benefices. Corsini (the late Pope’s nephew) as he has had no hand in this election, it is hoped, will be called to account for all his villanous practices.”
Dr. Robert V. McNamee is the Director of the Electronic Enlightenment Project, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.
Electronic Enlightenment is a scholarly research project of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, and is available exclusively from Oxford University Press. It is the most wide-ranging online collection of edited correspondence of the early modern period, linking people across Europe, the Americas, and Asia from the early 17th to the mid-19th century — reconstructing one of the world’s great historical “conversations”.
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Image Credit: (1) Print Collection portrait file, Thomas Gray, Portraits. Source NYPL Digital Gallery
(2) Print Collection portrait file, B, Pope Benedict XIV. Source NYPL Digital Gallery
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In Kyoto, Kevin took me to Kanga-an Temple
, a temple with a hidden bar once the sun goes down.
We sipped on Japanese whiskey (finally!!).
“The pace is slow here so it calms you down,” says Yamada [the bartender]. “It’s not the drinks, it’s the garden that relaxes you” (from the Japan Times).
After Kyoto, Kevin & I stayed in Eko-in Temple
in Koyasan. The train ride was so pretty.
Best tofu ever.
The view! It was nice to wander the halls and find random rooms and studies. The best parts were the fire ceremony in the morning, relaxing in the onsen, and the table in the room with an electric blanket as the tablecloth. Glorious. We basically lived under the table.
And then there was Totoro! I happened upon him many times before actually saying hello at the Ghibli Museum.
The greatest hamburger-themed stickers Disney has ever produced.
Delicious izakaya in Tokyo with Merrick, Leo & KB. My favorite dishes were the kimchi udon pasta & the tofu cheesecake. YUM.
Gion Kitana, as recommended by Tara (formerly) of Sweet Breams. Make sure you get the dekitate, their fresh ice cream. So good.
Yakisoba at Mizuno, Osaka. Their okonomiyaki is out of this world. I discovered the restaurant by following two people in Osaka who seemed to be on a mission to eat. I do that when I travel. Not creepy.
Sushidai in Tokyo.
Matcha green tea paste
at Ippodo Tea, recommended by Yoko of Homako
Kaboucha fried goodness.
Thanks to the lovely friends who sent suggestions and made our trip that much more delicious and delightful. Special shout to Merrick for housing KB & me, and teaching us some key Japanese words. Good host. Arigatou gozaimasu.
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Someday I’m going to run out of books by the Williamsons where some people go on a road trip through part of Europe and at least one person isn’t what they seem and someone falls in love with the chauffeur. And on that day I will be very sad.
The Motor Maid has some really, really great bits, but mostly I enjoyed it as a good example of the Williamsons’ mini genre. (Has anyone encountered one of these chauffeurs-and-sightseeing-and-incognito books written by anyone else?) See, on one hand there’s the beginning, which takes place on a train and has a rough parallel to the beginning of Miss Cayley’s Adventures and made me think I might be starting my new favorite Williamsons book, but on the other hand this might be the snobbiest Williamsons book ever.
Our heroine is Lys d’Angely, a half French, half American orphan who’s running away from her surviving relatives so they can’t make her marry a massively wealthy manufacturer of corn plasters. New money is inherently disgusting to the Williamsons, but they’ve also made him personally disgusting, whether for the benefit of their less prejudiced readers or because they can’t conceive of a manufacturer of corn plasters who isn’t super gross, I don’t know. Anyway, Lys’ friend Pam has found her a job as companion to an elderly Russian princess and a first class ticket to Cannes to get her to it. And then Pam promptly disappears to America with her husband because the rest of the book requires that she not be on hand to give Lys any further assistance.
I should stop mocking this bit of the book though, because it’s awesome. Lys has an upper berth on the train, and the woman in the lower one is noisily unable to sleep. Also, her bulldog is runnng around on the floor below, making threatening noises. Eventually Lys gets sick of listening to the woman complain to herself about how awful she feels, so she climbs down and forcibly undresses her. Then they drink tea and eat snacks and Lys makes friends with the bulldog and everything is basically perfect. This is the bit that reminded me of Lois Cayley’s initial interactions with Lady Georgina, and I started hoping that Lys would take a job with Miss Paget and that they would have awesome adventures together. Instead, Miss Paget leaves Lys with her English address and the promise of a job if she ever needs one, and Lys arrives in Cannes to find that her prospective employer, Princess Boriskoff, has just died.
This is where the main body of the plot kicks in. An impoverished Irish noblewoman (because the Williamsons sometimes have trouble writing books without those) helps Lys find a job as lady’s maid to the nouveau riche wife of a manufacturer of liver pills. Both Lys and Lady Kilmarny are horrified by Lady Turnour and her husband, but Lys is broke, and this job will get her back to England. And while Lady Turnour is in fact awful — although I blame this more on the authors than the character — Lys ends up enjoying accompanying the Turnours on their trip through the South of France. This is a little bit because of the scenery, but mostly because of the chauffeur. His name is Jack Dane and he’s in a similar situation to Lys’ — he’s clearly a gentleman but has had to hire himself out as a chauffeur for reasons he doesn’t care to explain. They quickly become friends, and have pretty good chemistry of a very Williamsons-ish kind.
Having wound up the mechanism of the plot, the Williamsons pretty much let it toddle along by itself from there. The ending is abrupt, and makes the beginning feel too long, maybe, but The Motor Maid is a lot of fun. Except that I kept stopping and wondering whether the Williamsons — and their characters — are always quite this mean about people who aren’t like them. Lys and Jack are both poor but aristocratic, and they spend a lot of time mocking the Turnours and their stepson, who were all born into the lower classes. Neither of them associates at all with anyone in their current social position, and very few of the people they interact with on their travels meet with their approval. It’s an interesting setup, having the actual gentlefolk waiting on the social climbers, but the execution is a little too mean-spirited for it to be as fun as it could be. And in the end, the Williamsons were even a little bit mean about Miss Paget.
This is going to make it sound like I didn’t like The Motor Maid, but I did, a lot. It’s as Williamsons as it gets, and I like them. It just also made me a little bit uncomfortable.