Friday, October 29, 2010

Orson Scott Card.

Todd and I went to hear his favorite author, Orson Scott Card, speak at Christopher Newport University last night. Card has written approximately a bajillion books, most of which Todd owns. Todd's favorite is Ender's Game, which was the first book he gave me to read while we were dating. I'm not a particular fan of Card's, but I have read four or five of his books, and liked a couple of them, but science fiction is just not my genre. Card has also written some historical novels about Biblical women and the early Mormon church, of which he's a member.

Card is great at public speaking; he's taught writing classes and lectured for years, so he has his repertoire of funny stories well-polished and he had the audience in the palm of his hand. It took me a little longer to warm up to him because he crapped all over my very favorite childhood book in the first three minutes of his talk! I was shooting eye daggers at him, but he was oblivious to their power. (The book was Julie Andrews' Mandy--he also crapped all over her acting ability. Card is an opinionated guy.)

Since his first young adult novel is coming out next month, the rough topic was writing for children--is it different from writing for adults? Should it be different? Card's argument was "no," and he launched into a list of books he loved as a child to help prove his point, books that were not written explicitly for children but which children have often loved for decades. This was where I started to warm back up to him, because it's obvious that he was a voracious--and precocious--child reader, and I was, too.

He remarked on the way that children sift through the themes and topics that are over their heads and just zero in on the story, and the way that children often learn new words, but not how to pronounce them, so that years later they learn they've been mispronouncing it all along, which was certainly true of me and of Todd, and many other kids I know who were reading well above their grade level.

His point was that a dedicated reading child can sift through a lot of what he called "twaddle," that adults won't put up with, because kids want a good story above all else and haven't learned to become impatient and jaded about books. And I know that was true of me--I vacuumed it all up, good and bad, when I was a kid.

But of course, what kids most need is a good story, just as adults are looking for a good story. He made an interesting comment that even people who don't read are still looking for stories, that we all seek out stories, even if it's just in gossiping with our friends. We all want to know what makes people act the way they do and some of us find that in books, some in other places.
And children not only want to find out what makes other people act the way they do, but also what makes them who they are, and who they might turn into.

So it was a fun lecture. I love hearing people talk about books they loved as children. I just love hearing people talk about books, period. He took questions from the audience afterwards, and that led to more discussion of his own writing and his own books, which Todd particularly liked. Then there was a book-signing, and although Todd did bring his battered paperback of Ender's Game (price on the cover: $3.50!) we were far back in the line and calculated it would take at least two hours to reach the front. So we took off. I suspect Todd will begin re-reading his Card collection once again--but we were both amused that a writer who is so opinionated about other people's bad writing was responsible for one of the worst books either of us has ever read, the execrable Empire. I guess we all have our blind spots!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Baby, it's [not] cold outside.

Something very odd has happened to me this fall. I've started listening to Christmas music. I, who have always been very firm that Christmas music doesn't get played until after Thanksgiving, have broken my own rule quite badly.

I can't understand why, either, but it started when we went to the Newport News Fall Festival at the beginning of October and ran into a guy named Timothy Seaman who was playing hammered dulcimer and selling his CDs. As it happens, I was already familiar with his music because I'd bought a couple of his CDs on visits to the Virginia Living Museum, where they sell them in the gift shop.

Timothy has several Christmas CDs, and I bought one called "Incarnation" and took it home, and just had to have a listen, and it's wonderful. It's not just hammered dulcimer, there's also flute and piano and what-not. Very soothing, very happy music. So I got started listening to that, and then in the past week or so, there's been an insidious creeping through my CDs and mp3s in search of other holiday tunes.

I love digging through DVD and CD racks at stores that don't really sell CDs or DVDs, like at the grocery store or Office Depot. The selection is very random, and sometimes I find oddball treasures, like old Cary Grant movies. Several years ago I found a really strange Bing Crosby holiday compilation at Big Lots.

The last couple of years, I've looked forward to Jo-Ann's putting out their little kiosk with holiday CDs. Last year I found a great Frank Sinatra compilation, and this year, I found a CD called "Christmas Treasures." I love that swing-type of holiday music with Frank and Bing and Ella grooving along, and this CD has some songs I have never heard before: Frank singing "Let It Snow" and Bing singing "Little Jack Frost" with Peggy Lee, who has one of the sexiest voices I've ever heard. Burl Ives sings "Jingle Bells," Doris Day sings "Silver Bells," Nat King Cole sings "Frosty the Snowman." It's all the familiar voices, but they're singing songs I haven't heard them sing before. It was a great find!
I know, I know, this list of singers makes me sound like I'm 85 years old at least. I just love that happy swingy Christmas sound. If you do, too, it's worth tracking down.

Anyway, it's still in the 80s here, and humid, and I am fed up with it! Cranking up the air conditioner and listening to Christmas music is my form of protest.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


We had a very nice four-day weekend up in the Fredericksburg area, visiting battlefields. I had not realized there were four battlefields there, and I had this idea that we would spend a day or two in Fredericksburg, then go down to the Cold Harbor battlefield in Richmond, and then take in Petersburg and Appomattox at the end of our weekend, but as soon as we got to Fredericksburg I realized we'd be spending our whole weekend there, and gladly!

We took the battlefields in chronological order, starting at the Fredericksburg battlefield, which is right in town. In December 1862, the Union army attacked the town, and the Confederates were well-placed on a ridge just outside town (at the time) to the west. Thousands of men died charging this stone wall and the sunken road behind it, as the Confederates sat behind the wall and their guns on the hill behind it and basically picked off Union soldiers as they charged.

On a cool fall day with the traffic noise and the houses and trees all around, it's very hard to imagine such mayhem.

This is the Federal cemetery on top of the hill. The Confederate soldiers are buried in a cemetery in the middle of town.

We took a driving tour of the Fredericksburg campaign, which took us to this gorgeous house, built in the late 1700s, called Chatham, just across the Rappahannock River from the town. It served as Federal headquarters, and later, a hospital, during the battle.

I'm envious of the people who got to live in this house, especially the owners of the early 20th century who turned it into a showplace and a Gatsby-esque retreat. Now even with the dull National Park Service paint and the empty rooms and the displays, you can still get a feel for the luxury of the place, especially when you wander out to the terraces that descend to the river. This is the view of Fredericksburg from the yard.
I could have sat here all day--and I wanted to! It was so peaceful and so beautiful. I want to live in this house! Again, it takes a real effort of imagination to picture the place surrounded with troops and wagons and horses, and the yard and house filled with bleeding, mutilated, dying men.

The driving tour took us all afternoon and part of the next morning. Once we got done with that, we headed out Route 3 to the Chancellorsville battlefield, a few miles west of town.

This very busy crossroads was the site of the Chancellorsville tavern (owned by a family named Chancellor) that was at the epicenter of the battle. The family hid in the basement during the battle, and then were led to safety by Union soldiers when the house and the surrounding fields and forest caught fire. The blocks mark the site of the house.

The Chancellorsville battle was fought in May 1863, and it was another defeat for the Union army. However, Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded during this battle, just a few yards to the left of the visitor center below, and that was a huge loss for the Confederates.

We took the driving tour of Chancellorsville on Saturday, and again, it was a most-of-the-day event. We got to drive down beautiful country roads, through forests and fields--much nicer than the traveling that took place there 150 years ago!

Sunday was the Wilderness battlefield, just a mile or two down the road from Chancellorsville, a battle that took place exactly one year after Chancellorsville, in May 1864. This battle was different--Ulysses S. Grant was in charge of the Union armies now, and although it was technically a stalemate, it was the beginning of Grant's Overland Campaign that tore up the Confederacy in Virginia and ended in victory at Appomattox in 1865.

These are the remnants of Confederate earthworks (trenches) that run all over the battlefield. They were originally four or five feet deep, and topped with another foot or two of logs.

We had an excellent tour from one of the Park Service guides here--since it was late Sunday morning, we were the only two people in the tour, so he gave us the expanded version and answered lots of questions. Then we were off on another driving tour, more fields and forests.

The Wilderness was an especially awful and chaotic battle, because much of it was fought in the woods. Then the woods caught fire from the shelling, and wounded men were burned alive where they lay. One of the more horrible battles of a horrible war.

In the late afternoon on Sunday, we arrived at our last battlefield, Spotsylvania, which is in what used to be rural Spotsylvania County southwest of Fredericksburg. Spotsylvania was sort of a continuation of the Wilderness battle, taking place about a week later as the Union soldiers headed south toward Richmond and the Confederates tried desperately to stop them.

We had another terrific tour guide who walked us through the part of the battlefield known as the Bloody Angle, and I probably don't need to tell you why it was called that. Another desperate situation with Confederates defending a small rise, behind earthworks, and Union soldiers pouring over it, both sides bayoneting and shooting anybody they could reach, until the dead lay in the trenches three and four bodies deep. All of this in a torrential downpour, too.

The monuments mark different regiments that fought and died over this tiny scrap of ground.

We didn't manage to get to the driving tour of Spotsylvania that evening, so we got up early Monday morning and did it then.

The fall colors in this field were stunning--I don't think the photo does it justice at all. For some reason the woods on this morning were particularly beautiful.

Todd peeks through the reconstructed Confederate earthworks to see if he can find some pesky Federals to shoot at.

It certainly looks, from the photographic evidence, that all we did for four days was tour battlefields, and it kind of feels that way, too! I certainly learned a lot. But we also spent a few hours here and there in the downtown part of Fredericksburg, which is very old and very charming. Lots of fun places to eat and three used bookstores, which I enjoyed very much! We ate lunch there on Friday and returned on Friday and Saturday nights for dinner and more walking around.

It was hard to take pictures in the dark, so I didn't get any, but I was completely delighted with a town where one can buy books, get coffee or ice cream, and hear live music, all after 8 or 9 PM on a Friday night. What a concept! I'm a big fan of Fredericksburg--at least the downtown part. The outskirts are insanely congested with strip malls and traffic. So in a way I wish I lived there, but in another way I'm glad I don't. I can't wait to go back, though.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday stuff.

I've got what sounds like Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" going on in my back yard--an enormous flock of little black birds is swooping from tree to tree and making such a racket that I initially thought my washing machine had something caught in it and went to investigate! The noise is just unbelievable.

I'm feeling grumpy today, because the car repair shop just came and towed away my car this morning. After it spent two weeks in the shop, I picked it up on Friday...and the "check engine" light came on on Sunday. So they still haven't fixed everything that Todd did to it when he smashed it up three weeks ago.

And Todd would not have been driving my car that fateful day that he wrecked it if the other car repair shop had fixed what was wrong with his car the first time they had it. So let's just say that car repairpersons are not my favorite breed of people right now. I am tired of being Without Car, and even driving rentals has lost its allure.

October is speeding past at an alarming rate. Todd just got home from his fall windsurfing trip to the Outer Banks, and while he was gone I went to a rubber stamp show at the Hampton Convention Center with my friend Cheryl, and played charity bingo with my friend Bev. I swear I couldn't win at bingo if you filled in half my spaces for free, but it was still fun. And the stamp show was excellent this year. I bought some very nice Christmas and fall-themed stamps, and some more Tim Holtz distress ink pads.

We are taking off for a long weekend of touring Civil War battlefields--my idea for celebrating my 40th birthday on Friday. I figure war, blood, mayhem and turmoil will help put turning 40 into perspective. As in, "I may be 40, but at least I'm not brewing coffee from acorns and stitching up wounded soldiers with sewing thread." Or "I may be 40, but at least I'm not bleeding to death in the mud or picking bits of myself off the nearest tree." It's all about perspective.

I bought some very nice cheap chrysanthemums for the front porch and took a picture, but it's gray and dreary here today and they don't look very sparkly, so I'll try again on a nicer day. Chrysanthemums seem to love my flower beds--I put in several tiny plants a few years ago, and they're shrub-sized now and covered with blooms. Even the drought this summer didn't seem to faze them. So this year I'm planning to buy a few more for the rest of the porch decorations, and then throw them into the front beds when they're done blooming. Soon my front beds will be nothing but mums, since those are the only things that seem to thrive there, besides weeds. Why doesn't drought kill weeds?

Today is laundry day--Todd brought home a huge pile from his trip to add to the rest of it, so I am just hanging around home and switching loads from time to time. Kind of dull, but I'm housebound anyway, so I'll just enjoy being at home and being almost 40. Like I said, it's all about perspective!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Cat at work, and other stuff.

I won an Ebay auction last week for a miscellaneous batch of vintage iron-on embroidery transfers, and it arrived yesterday, a big ziploc bag full of large sheets and smaller images snipped from large sheets.

It was really fun to go through them, and this was a set that caught my eye. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of different tea towel designs in the embroidery transfer world. Some of them have the seven days of the week, with a chore for each day; some of them just have seven different chores listed, with the seventh always being something like "rest" or "worship" or as with one set I saw, "quit!"

The chores are done by cute dogs or cats, ducks, roosters, Dutch or Mexican girls, sunbonnet prairie girls, or sassy newlyweds. This set features a kitty cat, but it was the household appliances that I first noticed, in particular the TV:

I've looked at about a million of these things on Ebay in the past few weeks, and I've never seen a TV on one before. So that made me look closer at the rest of the set:

Most of these mid-century designs have an old-fashioned feel to them, so washing is done with a scrub board, sewing is done with a needle and thread, cleaning or sweeping is done with a broom, etc. But this set shows all the labor-saving devices of the day:

Love the little grocery cart here:

And this is the one that made me do a double take...

...I always thought I was fairly knowledgeable about antique household items, but this is a gadget I'd never seen before. After a bit I realized it must be what I'd heard called an "ironer," which I'd sort of assumed was just a folksy way of saying "iron," but which really is a real thing. I guess it's also called a "mangle," which I thought was the wringer thing that used to be attached to washing machines, which it is, but it's also an ironing device.

This is a cute video of one being used: ironer in action.

So it really is true, you do learn something new every day, even when it's taught to you by an ancient kitty cat.

In other news, Todd was involved in a rear-ender accident a week ago...we'd had torrential rain for three or four days (more rain in three days than in the past three months, seriously!) and he was headed to work and slid into the back of a couple of kids on their way to school. I guess there were four rear-enders in the space of a couple hundred yards, all at the same time--it was some seriously heavy rain!

We thought for a few days that we might end up getting a new (to us) car if the insurance company decided to total our old car, and the repair estimate was right on the borderline, but in the end they decided to repair, which is just fine with us. That means the money we'd have to chip in for a new car can just stay in the bank where it belongs!

So I've been driving rentals for a week, and will be for another week, and I can't believe I'm saying this but I want my crummy Volkswagen back! Sure, the rentals are clean and smell good, but the first one we had, a Pontiac something, had the most uncomfortable seats I've ever sat in. We took it to Harrisonburg on Saturday (a six-hour round trip) and we felt like someone was kicking us in the lower back the whole way.

So we traded it in for a Chevrolet something yesterday and that's definitely more comfortable, but I feel like I'm driving in a box, all the windows are so tiny. When I have to back up, I cross my fingers and hope that nobody decides to run behind me, because I'd never see them.

So I think when I get my crummy old car back, I'll clean it out and maybe have it detailed, and appreciate being able to get another year or two or three out of it.