Thursday, December 31, 2015

Coasting and Rolling Through 2015

How was 2015 for y'all? For me 2015 brought some welcome ups and an unexpected down.

UP ~ 2015 began as I was, at last, comfortable wearing regular shoes after dealing with a slow-healing flesh wound on my left foot through much of 2014.

UP~ I'd had indication, over Christmas 2014, that I was one of several beneficiaries of an aged aunt's estate in England. My initial reaction was that my share would probably cover a nice meal out - if we were lucky. I was wrong. When I eventually received the money it was enough to go a long way towards replacing our 10-year-old car with an almost new one, which we did during the summer.

DOWN~In March I accidentally stumbled and fell when out and about in New Mexico, on a trip celebrating husband's birthday. I'd been taking photographs at a solar observatory in the mountains, not looking where I was putting my feet. No bones broken, but falling with throat coming down very heavily on the rounded edge of my 35mm camera left me unable to speak. A visit to the emergency clinic in Alamogordo resulted in CT scan, which resulted in further investigations by regular doctor, ENT specialist and hospital back in Oklahoma.

UP ~ All was well that ended well.

UP ~ Sometime in June I heard that I was to be one of many beneficiaries of yet another estate of a relative in England, this time that of a cousin who had died suddenly, unexpectedly in late October 2014.

DOWN-ish ~ This second windfall-to-be is still to come owing to a series of "complexities", according to lawyers dealing with it. The situation has now begun to feel quite unreal.

So, I've experienced several positive personal outcomes for which to be truly thankful.

Husband Anyjazz has been generally well, thank goodness. We attended his High School class 60th Reunion in Kansas in September, met many others who are also weathering their senior years with aplomb and optimism.

Husband became great-grandfather for a third time in May when a grandson and wife welcomed a baby boy, Milo, born during one of Oklahoma's famous hail storms with tornado attached.

Son-in-law Jeff, though, has had a very nasty, worrying year - a real "annus horribilis"! The latest of several health issues he has experienced, including two surgeries, has been due to a fall, from a table, while cleaning a light-fitting. He fell heavily onto their hard-tiled kitchen floor, shattering one heel bone to smithereens. After months of wearing an horrendous contraption on his foot and leg, screwed into his bones, he's at last in a slightly less horrible cast-like support, hoping that in early in 2016 he'll be rid of that too, and learning to walk again free and clear of any contraption but, perhaps, a cane...and walking, we trust, into a much happier, calmer year than this has been for him, and for his wife.

And was your 2015?

UPDATE~ Should've included these - new arrivals during 2015:

 Baby Milo (great-grandson)
 Thanks to Auntie Mary great-grand-car!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fixed Stars in Zodiac Sign Capricorn

Nearing the turn of the year now, and we've moved into zodiac sign Capricorn - a look at Fixed Stars within this sign. Data comes from Astroweb (HERE), showing star positions in 1900 in the left-hand column and in 2000 on the right.

Astrological interpretations for some of those stars, if found to be tightly conjunct a natal personal planet, or important point, are available online. A good, all-encompassing website to investigate for this is
Constellation of Words.

Once again the question of constellations vs tropical zodiac signs arises. Many of the fixed stars within the segment of the ecliptic we call zodiac sign Capricorn are actually part of the constellation Sagittarius (see Skyscript here), others are part of constellations which are not what we might term "zodiac constellations", yet they are within the span of a given tropical zodiac sign. In this case constellations such as Lyra (The Lyre) and Cygnus (The Swan), Pavo (The Peacock), and Aquila (The Eagle) are involved.

Area involved is  very roughly indicated - within the red lines

First star in the list, Spiculum, also Polis, lie on the bow of Sagittarius. Nunki lies on the vane of the Archer's arrow. Sham lies on the shaft of the arrow. The Kaus stars are in the bow area too. Rukbat lies on the horse's front knee, the two Arkabs in the area of the horse's front hoof. Manubrium is close to the Archer's right ear. Albaldah is on the back of the Archer's head. Ascella is found near the Archer's armpit.

Vega(aka Wega) (a Behenian Star), Sheliak and Sulaphat are part of The Lyre constellation.

Tarazed lies on the back of the Eagle of constellation Aquila, Dheneb is on the Eagle's tail.

Last star in the above list, Albireo is situated on the beak of Cygnus the Swan.

 Hat-tip here

Peacock (conjunct my own natal Mercury) is part of constellation Pavo in the Peacock's tail.

Influences: Pavo is said to give vanity and love of display, together with a long life and sometimes fame. [Robson*, p.55.] Well alright - I'll cop to some of that. I've been know to be a tad vain in my time! No fame though, and how long will be my life is yet to be determined.

A further look at Vega. I noted its inclusion in the natal chart of Neil Diamond some years ago when I wrote about him.
Venus, planet of music lay conjunct fortunate Fixed Star Vega as Neil Diamond was born. This star was said by ancient astrologers to bestow artistic talent.

It's worth noting that the planets involved with Vega are Venus and Mercury, and the star is conjunct Venus in Neil's chart. While the Behenian Stars were used in magical applications rather than interpretation of a natal chart, it's not too big a stretch to consider that there could be an interesting connection to Neil's artistic talent as both songwriter and performer.

Fixed star Vega, and others mentioned in this post, figured in the natal chart of famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (there's a relevant piece at Skyscript)
Ascella (nature: Mercury & Jupiter), then at 10° Capricorn 38, was close by longitude and latitude, promising good fortune and success in literary pursuits. The benefic Mercury/Venus star Vega, from the artistic constellation Lyra, was closely conjunct his Midheaven at 12° Capricorn 25, bringing refinement, hope and idealism into his work. The closest star by longitude and latitude was Manubrium from the constellation Sagittarius, at 1 2° Capricorn 06. Its influence combines the nature of the Sun and Mars, giving a dynamic flair to Shelley's writing that made it compelling and controversial at the same time. Several of his best works are satirical and critical in stance and, true to his Sun / Uranus conjunction, he was never prepared to bow to convention.

A fun section at the website
has this:
Vegans Roll 'n' Rock
In the sci-fi novel and film Contact by Dr Carl Sagan, the extra-terrestrial message received by Earth hails from the Lyra constellation, specifically the Vegan stellar system. The heroine of the story, Dr Ellie Arroway travels to some distant galaxy via an intergalactic wormhole routing station of sorts near Vega.

Chevrolet launched a 'Vega' model in 1971, but the star had an earlier car named after it, one of the most beautiful of the classic cars, the Facel Vega from the 1950s.

In the Star Trek universe there are many mentions of a human settlement cohabiting with native Vegans.

There is a Russian counter-terrorism unit called Vympel (Vega Group).

In the Foundation universe created by Isaac Asimov, one of the planets is called Vega.

Places which took its name are: Vega in Bulgaria; Vega in Norway; Vega in Sweden and Vega in Texas.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Netflixing: The Hours

Casting around for a decent movie on Netflix last weekend I settled on The Hours.

"This one is unlikely to be full of slash bangs and violence", I said, "and look it has 5 stars!"
"It had better be good, commented husband - considering that cast list, it must have been a very expensive film to make, even in 2002."

Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore head the cast, with Ed Harris, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney and Claire Danes in secondary or minor roles.

Two hours later, as the credits rolled, my first remark was - "What an utterly depressing and highly pretentious movie!"

I'd been constantly irritated by the film's every character except, perhaps, a little boy, a little girl, and Allison Janney (aka CJ Cregg of The West Wing).

According to the few reviews I read afterwards, I appear to be on the wrong side of the critical appreciation fence. The vast majority of reviewers heap praise upon everything connected to The Hours. I will admit that Nicole Kidman's acting was a whole lot better than in some others of her films, and that and she, equipped with prosthetic nose, as Virginia Woolf actually irritated me the least.

What's it all about?

Well...there's a bit of time travel involved - of a sort. The story, adapted from an acclaimed novel, same title, by Michael Cunningham, centres on specific days in the lives of three women of different decades of the 20th century. Virginia Woolf, British writer (Nicole Kidman)in the 1940s; Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a 1950s housewife in suburban USA; and book editor Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep), a 1990s a sophisticated New Yorker. There are time-spanning links between the three women: one writes a novel "Mrs Dalloway", one reads the novel, and one lives the novel (kind of). It's a clever concept that could, in my opinion, have been put to much better use than setting its focus on suicide, and generally self-absorbed, spoiled individuals who had so much to be thankful for, but remained "unsatisfied". Two of the women had supportive, loving husbands, the other a long-term loving lesbian relationship - this is no tale of spousal abuse. On second thoughts though, perhaps it is, and mental abuse comes from the women involved causing different levels of pain and sorrow upon the males in their lives.

Was it a "Feminist Film"? If it was, I'm even less of a feminist than I thought! If I suspected that that's how most women are: spoiled, selfish, self-absorbed then I'd immediately tear up my (small "f") feminist card!

A decent review by Gabrielle Wenig from 2003 (I did eventually find one I agreed with), states:
The subversive message in The Hours is: Life is only worthwhile if it is fiercely exhilarating and intoxicating, and death is to be preferred over an existence that in any way fails to match this measure. In the world of the film, blessed ordinariness – love, affection, security, and routine – is death, while madness, that is, meanness or an exclusive and sadistic regard for one’s own interests, is life.

For that reason, it is difficult to think of The Hours as a women’s film, for the women in it find their escape from the ordinary through others’ pain. It is a film that calls on us to celebrate women who act on base instinct, ostentatiously abandoning the everydayness they are encumbered with, and searching for salvation only in choices that remove them from the simple things in life. This rejection of the so-called ordinary appears to fortify these women, giving them a feeling of entitlement to something different and better. The film conveniently sanitizes the hideous consequences of these choices, by exhorting us to admire women who achieve a self-awareness that is constructed from the wreckage of others’ emotions, and an obsequious servitude to their own impulses........

There is little doubt that The Hours will achieve Academy recognition for its showcase of superior achievements in all aspects of film, but the high level of craftsmanship serves a deeply disturbing end. It is a film that valorizes the abnegation of moral responsibility, and the poise and precision of its craft draws us into a willing suspension of our instinctive sense of what is life-affirming and good. We lose our moral bearing as we concentrate on the self-absorption of these women –and in the solipsistic world of The Hours, that is all that matters.

It's an expertly made, quality film, interesting for its construction, if irritating (for me) in its storylines.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Music Monday ~ Silence Disturbed

Hat-tip to Avedon's Sideshow for introducing me to the version of The Sound of Silence below.

I like it! I've always liked the song, written by Paul Simon, over several months between 1963–1964, made famous of course by Simon & Garfunkel. There have been other good covers of it over the years. Versions I remember best are by Irish trio, The Bachelors, who had a hit with it in Britain, and vocal group Gregorian, who sang it with a vaguely Gregorian chant flavour. The song has been used in the soundtracks of several movies, most famously in The Graduate.

This latest version of the song by Disturbed, a heavy metal band from Chicago is, on the face of it, a surprising choice for such a band. But consider again Paul Simon's lyrics and it perhaps ought not to be surprising.

Disturbed manages to better bring out the anger contained in the song, it's an anger currently being more sharply felt by many people. I'd always taken the song to be a fairly gentle rant about a general lack of communication between people. Until I heard Disturbed's version I'd never really "felt" it, but had been carried along by the lovely melody, never thinking too much, or too deeply, about the words. The words, whether Paul Simon realised it at the time or not, have a chameleon-like ability to fit any listener's own pet reasons to rant.

One, from many, interesting sidelights I found while reading Songfact's page on The Sound of Silence - this contribution by "Duff" of Calgary:

Was just re-reading HESSE's Steppenwolf novel after 15 years. And strangely found myself thinking as I was reading, "this is the setting of the song THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE". Then I googled this site. Weird.

Example #1 on Page 29 (of OWL's 1990 Steppenwolf reprint): Hesse's main character (Harry Haller) is walking alone at night in the rain. He writes:

"I trod the moist pavements of the narrow streets. As though in tears and veiled, the lamps glimmered through the chill gloom and sucked their reflections slowly from the wet ground."

Simon: "On restless streets I walked alone, Narrow streets of cobbled-stone; 'Neath the halo of an old street lamp."

Example #2 (on Page 37):
"I loitered as I wended my way homeward; turned up my collar and struck my stick on the wet pavement".

Simon: "I turned my collar to the cold and damp"

There's more too. During this night time walk, Hesse's character discovers a strange sign in the darkest of alleyways - a decidedly ELECTRIC SIGN... The NEON LIGHT in Simon's song - Only in the novel Hesse's sign says: "MAGIC THEATRE; ENTRANCE NOT FOR EVERYBODY; FOR MADMEN ONLY!"

Love the song. And rewarding to find the parallel in literature-- and probably just one of several books Simon's refers to in his NPR interview about this song.

The Lyrics:
"The Sound Of Silence"

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
'Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

"Fools," said I, "You do not know.
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you."
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence."

There's an archived post from 2009, relating to Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel and their astrology here: Simon & Garfunkel - So Similar.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Self-indulgent Saturday & Sunday #8

For links to earlier posts in this series see #7 where earlier links are included
I had so many happy times upon which to look back after my mother, then Bill, died.
We'd had regular vacations during the second half of the 1970s until the end of the 1990s. We'd taken in Spain's Costa del Sol; Tangier, Morocco; Honolulu, Hawaii; and many, many visits to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, off West Africa. We'd taken my mother on a couple of coach trips to Wales and to Scotland.

The loss of Bill had left a gaping hole in my life. I was alone - I'd been alone before, but this time I was really alone. Parents and grandparents had all gone before, old work friends were too far away for easy access. I was living in the small house on the East coast left to me by my parents, a two-train trip from Leeds. None of my old friends were using home computers at that time. I'd bought my first computer during Bill's slide into his last long illness. I credit that computer with aiding me through the painful months and the emotional storm that broke after Bill's death.

Communicating online had already become a daily pleasure, contributing to a few astrology forums, a fun AOL message board and, later, to a website that introduced me to what would now be termed social-networking. From the latter I made some friends to chat with - mostly male, as it happened, and mostly, though not all, from the USA, which seemed exciting and adventurous. I'll not go into detail - I'd embarrass myself too much, but I will admit that those online friends helped get me through what was the worst time of my life. Looking back on myself at that time, it wasn't me, not the me I know - but a version of me I'd not met before.

That period of my life just before, and after, Bill's death felt like struggling through a long-running violent storm and finding, from time to time, a sheltering arm, warm hugs, or sometimes just the loan of an umbrella to make the storm seem more bearable. I shall always feel grateful for those online friends, some of whom were as unhappy as I was, and I hope that our brief, passing friendship helped them through their storms as much as it helped me.

As the worst of the storm was passing, my now husband and I crossed paths on the internet. I knew then that this was me - back to the old me, the me I knew. From his first words - yes I knew!

I'm going to fall back now on part of an old post of mine to tell about the overture to the biggest change of my life.

Astrologically the outer planets had been either whipping me on throughout this storm and this journey, or holding the carrot - not sure which. Uranus conjoined my natal Jupiter at 6 Pisces for much of the early stages, and Pluto conjoined natal Venus in Sagittarius. These two planets seem to have orchestrated or choreographed the whole show!

 In Bridlington, East Yorkshire.
It all began at the end of 2003, when my now husband visited me in the UK. We decided that our future was together, and would need to be in the USA, because I had no remaining close family ties and he had many, back in the United States.

After much research and reading of immigration message boards, I came to the conclusion that, of the 3 methods available to us, one had the potential to be less painful than the other two. This method would involve Himself coming to live in the UK, with me, for a while, so that we could qualify to apply for a marriage visa, for me, via the US Embassy in London. Both other methods would have involved long spells apart, and having to rely on notoriously slow-moving USCIS Service Centers on the other side of the pond. The route we chose was more expensive, but we considered it worth the extra outlay.

First the husband-to-be had to return home to the USA, from whence he had to apply for a UK Fiancé Visa for himself. With this in hand, in the spring of 2004 he returned. We were wed at the end of April. The husband then had to apply, at the nearest immigration office (Liverpool), for an extension to his visa, for "Further Leave To Remain". This stage proceeded rapidly and painlessly, with a pleasant visit to Liverpool.

Next step: the husband needed to petition for permission for me, as his wife, to emigrate to the USA. Then I, potential immigrant, was required to apply for a visa on the ground of marriage to a US citizen.

An incredible amount of information and documentation was called for at this stage. The photocopies we had to provide must have caused the downing of large areas of rain forest somewhere in Brazil.

Once submitted there was a long wait for the US Embassy to process our petition and application. During this interval I put my house on the market. I was called for interview and medical examination in London at the end of August 2004. By then we were on tenterhooks, waiting to give a buyer for my house in Yorkshire the go ahead. We dare not risk doing so until I had visa in hand. On 1st September I had this! (Below, left, in front of the US embassy in London).

Next stop Oklahoma, after disposing of most of my worldly goods, packing the rest in several large boxes, shipping 'em to the USA, and finally selling the house.

Once in Oklahoma my visa remained conditional on the marriage remaining intact for 2years, at which point, in the summer of 2006, I had to apply to have conditions removed, and prove that the marriage was, indeed, intact by providing financial and other proof. This was done relatively quickly, my Permanent Resident's Card ("green card") was then made good for a further 10 years.

Another year had to pass before I became eligible to apply for US citizenship, thus ridding myself of the USCIS for ever, becoming eligible to vote and to hold a US passport. As it happened, I became eligible to make my citizenship application on 26 July just a few days before a fee increase was to be implemented. A huge frontlog of applications was the result of this, and caused the process to take around twice as long as normal.

After a variety of delays, obstacles and long postponements, I attended my citizenship interview on 19 June 2008, passed muster, passed the civics test and waited a mercifully brief time for the next available Oath Ceremony to finish the job: 25 July, at 9.30am, just a year after applying for citizenship, and almost 4 years since I obtained my first visa.

I dare not add up the cost in either $$$$$ or nervous tension. I'd like to say the process was fun....but it wasn't!

And so, I became a citizen of the United States.

After five years in the USA, from another old post, these were some of my thoughts:

It's exactly 5 years since I arrived in the USA to live here permanently. Looking back, I realise that it was one of those situations where I'd had to switch to mental auto-pilot. I do a similar thing sometimes at the dentist's or doctor's office, a useful habit of blocking out peripheral stuff, and thoughts in the subjunctive, about things that could possibly go wrong; retaining focus on a time in the near future with awkwardness gone. I stayed that way for a while, then, one day the enormity of the move hit me. I was worried. My husband was worried. Adding even more chaos to an already daunting situation, we decided to move house from my husband's home of many years. That occupied my mind and blocked out the nerves for a while. I took two brief visits back to the UK in the spring and fall of the next year, which helped a lot. I haven't been back to England since.

I've now got the hang of light switches being "up" for "on"; it's the opposite in the UK. I no longer go to the driver's door to get to the passenger seat, because for my hardwiring, in the US the driver sits on the "wrong" side. I'm still, even now, finding it difficult to use American terms for things like taps (faucets), car boot (trunk), footpath (sidewalk) and so on. American spelling comes and goes in my writing, depending on where, when and to whom it's directed. I'm not going to worry about stuff like that - I kid myself that it'll all add to my (ahem) old world..... charm.

Much cursing and complaining accompanied a four-year, very frustrating, trek through the US immigration process to citizenship. I'm thankful the trek is behind me now. If I'd known in 2004 what I know now, would I have tried to persuade my husband to stay in England with me? I sometimes think I should have done that. Had I succeeded (unlikely) I'd have missed such a lot by so doing. The USA is a vast and beautiful land - can't help but love it. I've left my shadow among the petroglyphs in Arizona's Painted Desert, stood inside The Alamo, explored the Anasazi dwellings at Mesa Verde, explored the wonderful Rocky Mountains National Park, beautiful Santa Fe, travelled in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming. Who'd have thunk it? And there's still more adventuring to be done.

Some attitudes here continue to rankle though, and I still have to perfect a way to ignore what irritates me most. "Take the rough with the smooth" the best advice for me I guess.

Emigration from my homeland was probably my destiny - my fate. A fortune teller told my mother, when I was still in early teenage, that I'd marry a foreigner and end my life abroad. I remembered it, but didn't ever really believe the last part. Marrying a foreigner wasn't difficult - I did it twice! I'd toyed with the idea of spending my retirement in Spain, but deep down knew that was not much more than a pipe dream.

If I could, would I go back to England? I ask myself this sometimes, then realise it's all hypothetical and hypothetical questions can be dangerous and misleading. There's nothing there for me, my family and loved ones are all gone. My family is here now. I can't go back, and that's good.

 Atop Mount Scott, Oklahoma

The other day I came across a card bought just before I left England. It bears this piece of prose by Vicki Silvers; I used to read it often. Perhaps a passing reader, who is also on the brink of a big life change, might find it helpful:

"There comes a time in your life when you realise that if you stand still, you will remain at this point forever. You realize that if you fall and stay down, life will pass you by. Life's circumstances are not always what you might wish them to be. The pattern of life does not necessarily go as you plan...

Beyond any understanding, you may at times be led in different directions that you never imagined, dreamed, or designed. Yet if you had never put any effort into choosing a path or trying to carry out your dream, then perhaps you would have no direction at all.

Rather than wondering about or questioning the direction your life has taken, accept the fact that there is a path before you now. Shake off the "why's" and "what if's", and rid yourself of confusion. Whatever was - is in the past. Whatever is - is what's important. The past is a brief reflection. The future is yet to be realized. Today is here.

Walk your path one step at a time - with courage, faith and determination. Keep your head up and cast your dreams to the stars. Soon your steps will become firm and your footing will be solid again. A path that you never imagined will become the most comfortable direction you could ever have hoped to follow.

Keep your belief in yourself and walk into your new journey. You will find it magnificent, spectacular, and beyond your wildest imaginings."

So, do I hear a faint voice asking (if any valiant reader has, indeed, made it this far) "how do you feel about living in the USA after what are now 11 years?" I feel fine - it was my destiny I guess, you don't argue with destiny - and I'm happy. Outside of my personal, home life though, rather than "taking the 5th" I'll echo Alice, courtesy of Lewis Carroll, whose birthday (27 January) I share:

...How are you getting on?' said the Cat......................
'I don't think they play at all fairly,' Alice began, in rather a complaining tone, 'and they all quarrel so dreadfully one can't hear oneself speak — and they don't seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are, nobody attends to them.'

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'
'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.
'I don't much care where —' said Alice.
'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat
'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Day in Literature

When I think of Christmas Day, as encountered in literature, the two instances I think of first are not those famous ones from the pen of Charles Dickens, but these: one from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, the other from 19th century American novelist Louisa M. Alcott.

A snippet from A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas:

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.............

..........For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept. Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Auntie Bessie, who had already been frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse, whimpered at the sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was sick. Auntie Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all did, the Uncles jumped and rumbled. In the rich and heavy afternoon, the Uncles breathing like dolphins and the snow descending, I would sit among festoons and Chinese lanterns and nibble dates and try to make a model man-o'-war, following the Instructions for Little Engineers, and produce what might be mistaken for a sea-going tramcar.

Illustrations by Edward Ardizzone

And from Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a Merry Christmas, and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and pious nature, which unconsciously influenced her sisters, especially Jo, who loved her very tenderly, and obeyed her because her advice was so gently given.

Girls, said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond, Mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once. We used to be faithful about it, but since Father went away and all this war trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things. You can do as you please, but I shall keep my book on the table here and read a little every morning as soon as I wake, for I know it will do me good and help me through the day.

Then she opened her new book and began to read. Jo put her arm round her and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also, with the quiet expression so seldom seen on her restless face.

How good Meg is! Come, Amy, let's do as they do. I'll help you with the hard words, and they'll explain things if we don't understand, whispered Beth, very much impressed by the pretty books and her sisters' example.

I'm glad mine is blue, said Amy. And then the rooms were very still while the pages were softly turned, and the winter sunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and serious faces with a Christmas greeting.

 Illustration by Jessie Wilcox-Smith

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Squinting Unpredictably

The illustration below comes from the cover of an old "Pathfinder Town Journal" dated December 1953, acquired from an antique store years ago.

In 1953 topics were much the same as we find in magazines and on the internet today - but many steps backward: the atom bomb, elections, new car models, black and white TVs, cookie recipes, winter weather, and more. No astrology column is to be found in the magazine though. A page titled Looking Ahead has a paragraph headed "What will the US be like in 1963?" In response one John E. Haines, VP of Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Co. predicted:
"Planes will fly round the world non-stop in less than 18 hours.
Rockets will reach the moon
Residential air conditioning will be as commonplace as automatic heating is today
Houses will be built of plastics."
Not bad....not bad !

Now....what will America be like in 2017?

By the way, I wrote the above in December 2007. We're now much nearer to 2017 - could almost see how it'll be, squinting a little past the hurdle of the 2016 presidential election in the US. That hurdle, though, will make all the difference to how things will be in 2017, and to how things will be a further 10 years on still, which I predict will be the most unpredictable of all. Astrologically, with Pluto in Aquarius then, it'll be when real change becomes part of the universal scene.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Jumping off the Christmas bandwagon for a mo...a few rather odd words I've encountered, or odd usage of words; adding still more words, but these used beautifully, expertly strung together.

I came across the strange word "kayfabe" last week during that wee storm in a teacup resulting from a security breach in the Clinton campaign data, allowing certain members of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign to see stuff they shouldn't've.

Definition of kayfabe in English:
(In professional wrestling) the fact or convention of presenting staged performances as genuine or authentic: a masterful job of blending kayfabe and reality he’s not someone who can break kayfabe and talk about the business [as modifier]: I heard that AJ approached him to rehearse a kayfabe segment

1980s: origin uncertain; often said to have arisen in American traveling carnivals. One explanation interprets the word as an alteration of 'be fake' written backwards, while the -ay- element is typical of the way in which words are formed in pig Latin.

Derp - is another peculiar word I keep stumbling over:

Derp is an expression associated with stupidity, much like the earlier forms of interjections like “duh” and “dur.” In image macros, the subject is typically portrayed with eyes that are pointed to each side and a caption that reads “DERP.” The words “herp” and “derp” are often used in rage comics to replace nondescript names or parts of conversation.
More at Know Your Meme

Evolution/devolution of words:
"Dated" - these days in popular media-speak = slept with and reported it. The word 'Czar' has slid downward, and rather ignominiously to now describe, in journalese, a subordinate official put in charge of implementing a specified area of policy. And the suffix "-gate" can be, and is, tacked jauntily onto any word to describe a major or minor scandal, political, financial or sexual....bringing, irrelevantly, to mind the legendary Model Major General's words: I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral.

Some more words - but these have been very well put together by writers I've always enjoyed reading.

“We can't stop reading. Compulsively we find ourselves reading significance into dreams (we construct a science upon it); into tea-leaves and the fall of cards. We look up at the shifting vapours in the sky, and see faces, lost cities, defeated armies. Isolated in the dark, with nothing to hear and no surfaces to touch, we hallucinate reading-matter. Our craving becomes generalized – for 'the meaning of life'.

If we lived alone in a featureless desert we should learn to place the individual grains of sand in a moral or aesthetic hierarchy. We should long to find the greatest grain of sand in the world, and even (in order to find a fixed point of orientation in time as well as in space) the all-time greatest grain of sand; the grain of sand whose discovery changed our whole understanding of grains of sand for ever.”

― Michael Frayn, Constructions

“The almost egregiously English couple, Cedric and Rosamund Chailey, had slipped quietly away when the conversation turned to God. It had not seemed polite to be present when anything so American was being discussed.”
― Michael Frayn, Skios

I am firm. You are obstinate. He is a pig-headed fool.
Katharine Whitehorn

Americans, indeed, often seem to be so overwhelmed by their children that they'll do anything for them except stay married to the co-producer.
Katharine Whitehorn

“I know this goes without saying, but Stonehenge really was the most incredible accomplishment. It took five hundred men just to pull each sarsen, plus a hundred more to dash around positioning the rollers. Just think about it for a minute. Can you imagine trying to talk six hundred people into helping you drag a fifty-ton stone eighteen miles across the countryside and muscle it into an upright position, and then saying, 'Right, lads! Another twenty like that, plus some lintels and maybe a couple of dozen nice bluestones from Wales, and we can party!' Whoever was the person behind Stonehenge was one dickens of a motivator, I'll tell you that.”
― Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

“The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can't quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances we don't altogether know, filled with matter we can't identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand.”
― Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


“And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.”
By Susan Cooper

Monday, December 21, 2015

Music Monday at Christmastime (oh no!)

Christmas. Music. Heart sinks! Maybe I've lived through too many musical Christmases, too many "O come all ye...", too many "Little towns", too many Silent ones, Blue ones, too much Harkening to Herald Angels, too many Pah-ra-pa-pa-pums.

Others have, occasionally, turned things around. As Washington Irving once wrote: "There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place."

A few changes coming up.

For Americans, of a certain age, I'll bet the first that springs to mind is Walt Kelly's creation - he of "Pogo" fame - to the tune of "The Holly & the Ivy"

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don't we know archaic barrel
Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker 'n' too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloupe, 'lope with you! etc

rest is here
and elsewhere!

For the following 3 parodies I owe a huge hat-tip to Choral Net

Jingle Bells, The Yorkie version
by Isabel M. Gordon and the Brindleton BoxerKids (to the tune of "Jingle

Stomping thru the snow,
Just me and my Yorkie.
Over the fields we go,
Just so she will pee.
Darkness all around,
We know she won't obey.
Her nose is anchored to the ground
Sniffing all the way. Hey!
Midnight Run
Where's the sun?
Can't we make this quick?
When I think we're almost done
She finds something to lick. Ick!.
....(rest of lyrics at the link)

And a couple of really cynical ones to add spice, from the same linked website:

(Joe Hickerson)

Christians roasting on an open fire
Lions nibbling at their toes
Pagan carols being sung by a choir
While Romans raffle off their clothes
Everybody knows when Nero plays his violin
All of Rome will be a-glow
One dead Jew, and an Arab or two
Hare Krishna, to you.


(Christopher Hershey)

The first hard sell comes sometime in June
When last season's Christmas cards take too much room,
So they put them out in an off-season bin,
For in June they are getting their new shipments in.

Hard sell, hard sell
Hard sell, hard sell
This is the Christmas we all know so well.

About midway in July the lay-away plans
Make their laying-away-in-a-manger demands,
And installment plans begin their attempt to entice
You end up paying twice the original price.

Then early in the fall there's a pre-season bluff
To sell gift wrappings, ribbons and other such stuff
Buy it now! the ads demand, if you don't buy it, you
Will discover we're out of it when you want to.

By the time October comes, every store's lined with snares
With Halowe'en, Christmas and Thanksgiving wares;
What once were festivals that were simple and plain
All have become mere excuses for capital gain.

Alright then - I'll slap my own hands and wrists and post my proper,
tongue-out-of-cheek Christmas offering: Gaudete sung by Steeleye Span

Oh - I'd forgotten all about this one - hadn't heard it for years: Fairytale of New York, the Pogues & Kirsty MacColl

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Self-indulgent Sat. & Sun. #7 Christmas Past and Present

As Christmas is rapidly approaching #7 in this Self-indulgent series is going to be a re-run of a post I wrote in 2008 - it almost seems tailor-made for today. For links to previous posts in this series see #6 where earlier links are included.
Looking back over the years - and I have lots to look back over - Christmas stands as a kind of milepost. It's a focal point when a pattern of change can be identified. In some ways, the pattern could be equated to the cycle of the zodiac, as of course, can our whole life's cycle.

The earliest Christmases I recall, I shall call them the Aries ones, were spent at my maternal grandparents' home in a tiny village, where I was sent during the worst period of the war years in the UK, safe from the bombing of the city where my parents lived and worked. My parents would make a last minute bus journey the 20 miles or so on Christmas Eve so we could all be together for "the day".

My grandmother (right) was a wonderful cook. With the few facilities she had in those days, I can hardly imagine how she managed to put such delicious meals on her table. She often said that she and I had a "special bond" - it didn't extend to inheriting her culinary prowess though! Water came from a pump in the yard, direct from an underground spring. The only oven she had was at one side of the big black fireplace, powered by coal and wood fires, at the other side, a tank for heating water.
No refrigerator, food was kept out in a building called "the wash-house" where a boiler for boiling water and equipment for washing clothes was also kept. Earliest memories come from a time before the grandparents had electric light, when I went off to bed with a candle, and rooms were lit by oil lamps. I used to be given an early present each Christmas Eve, a book - the "Rupert Book" into which my little head was thrust for hours on end, reading about the adventures of a little bear and his friends, as I waited for Mum and Dad to arrive.

As the cycle moved around to Taurus and Gemini, Christmases evolved into bigger family gatherings, accompanied at times by school friends, both sets of grandparents, occasional aunts and uncles. Sometimes there was carol singing with a group of friends around the town on Christmas Eve, attending midnight service, or a Christmas morning service, then back to Dad's excellent cooking - he was the head cook of our family, after grandma retired from her post. Traditional, sociable, predictable - Christmases then were all those things.

Cancerian Christmases were fewer in number - they involved my retiring into a shell, for a variety of reasons. Working in hotels for a brief period in my life, I'd find that after all the hard work and long hours put in during the run up to Christmas, we staff were often to be found exhausted and alone in lowly staff accommodation, too tired to get together. I remember one particular Christmas evening walking out alone around the city where I worked, gazing longingly into the windows of houses where families celebrated together. I'd be home in the next day or two though, when my parents and I enjoyed a delayed celebration, also in honour of their wedding anniversary on 27 December. Another Christmas day around this period, I clearly recall, was spent alone in a cramped apartment, with a can of chicken breast a loaf of wholemeal bread, and a radio. I remember that much, but have no recollection of how it came about - something connected with my disastrous first marriage I think. Best forgotten!

So.... on to the Leo Christmases which developed as my life changed, accompanied by a new partner, a new job, and an altogether brighter frame of mind. Christmases at the office were fun - always. Some years we'd have a fancy dress party (that's me, under the clock, as Dick Whittington!) Sometimes we'd organize a special quiz or other years just a buffet with plenty of wine.

One Christmas a bright spark in the office persuaded the chairmen (all respected lawyers) to act in our version of a pantomime - "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp". A few in-jokes were included in the much-adapted scripts to further engage an already enthusiastic audience of staff and uninvolved chairmen.

This is one of my favourite treasured Christmas memories. Magical! They were all such good sports. Most have now "gone before" to the great tribunal in the sky, others are High Court Judges.

Virgo/Libra/Scopio Christmases cover a long period of very mixed flavours. My parents were growing older, they lived at a distance for much of the period, but my partner and I always spent most of Christmas time with them, as much as my job would allow. Tensions arose sometimes, as they are wont to do among most family groups.

But many years saw beautiful Christmas-times, trouble-free and filled with love and good humour. We'd spend hours singing songs and carols and recording them on a tape machine. I still have a couple of the tapes but I find it difficult to listen to them even now, so many years later. Photographs are fine - but those so familiar, long gone voices always bring on the tears.

After my Dad died in 1992, we spent each Christmas with my mother (below), usually at our home.
Tensions arose more frequently during these years. There was almost always one scarily passionate argument, where I found myself in the middle, loving them both, trying to appease both sides. Eventually things would calm down to an uneasy peace. After my mother died in 1997, my late partner and I spent quiet times together at Christmas, some gentle and precious memories of his last years remain, his health began to slowly deteriorate. Then death visited once more, not long after my last Scorpio Christmas.

Sagittarius Christmases have found me here in the USA - 5000 miles from Christmases of yore, with a new husband and family.

Christmases here are bright and happy. A family get together on Christmas Eve, then, weather permitting the husband and I like to take a drive to Mount Scott with a pack of cheese sandwiches, some fruit and soft drinks, and eat our version of Christmas Dinner surveying the Oklahoma countryside from 2000ft up, followed by a leisurely drive home through the wildlife refuge, hoping to greet some buffalo or long horned cattle, or even a colony of prairie dogs. Our new tradition!

Aquarius Christmas? Well, maybe the Christmases I've been blogging come into this category. Or perhaps my Aquarius and Pisces Christmases are still to come.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS (when it comes) Y'ALL!!
I hope all your Christmases are as happy as my happiest ones.
Know that any less happy ones will give way to joy again.