Reading…and writing in 2019

Upon reviewing my Books Read in 2019 list, I realized that a full third of the books I read this year were non-fiction. Even more to my surprise was that only one book was remotely science-fiction, a light-steampunky book I read only because the title was The Clockwork Scarab, and it was, unfortunately, not worth reading the sequel. It was going fairly well until the time traveler from the alternate future showed up. *facepalm* But I digress.

There are books by new authors I really enjoyed this year, such as A Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, and old favorites that soothe the soul, like The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin. Despite myself, I have enjoyed getting to know Jane Austen through an audiobook biography I listened to when I had difficulty sleeping (I have had a long misunderstanding of Miss Austen, largely due to how she was presented to me when I was in high school and undergraduate; if my peers hadn’t gushed over her characters as if she wrote chick lit, then she and I might have been acquainted much earlier). One of the last things I learned this year was that Austen also had a chronic illness, probably an autoimmune disease, and died from it. This makes my heart break.

Another reason I have read more non-fiction this year is because I have been researching the eighteenth-century, and yet another reason I have not been reading is because I have been writing. Slowly, bit by bit, building my little mountain range–I do not know what to call it yet: more than a novel? But I do not want to call it a series. I do not know what it is. The project over all is being called WINTERS for now for the character who ties it all together is Tess Winters (yes, that’s her, but events have changed her since that post).

So I’m in the process of turning myself into an amateur generalist eighteenth-centuryist in order to write a eighteenth-century arcane-steampunk fantasy.

Here’s to a narrative-filled 2020: from books in print, on audio, from my own mind, at the rpg table, or elsewhere.

here, now: little red wagon

San Antonio - Nursery - 2015

When was the last time I had been to a plant nursery? Too long ago to remember; long enough to be amazed at the rows upon rows of plants in the open air nursery: on tables, hanging from rafters, organized by type or purpose. Our goal was to find the succulents and add to my small but growing collection of houseplants. I took the handle of a red wagon and pulled it along with us. Other customers with their own wagons passed by, their wagons filled to the brim with flowers of varying hues, or with herbs and vegetables, or others with plants I did not immediately recognize. Once my mum and I found the succulents, described as being “made by God with Texas in mind,” we chose a couple of ghost rosettes and hen and chicks. Nearby was a stand of miniature rosebushes. I already had one at home, but I had bought it from the supermarket and it was a bit unhappy. Here were miniature roses that were lush and full, with dark green leaves and vivid red, yellow, or pink blooms. I have an aversion to solid-colored roses of all three of these colors; I prefer multi-colored blooms. Among the other roses were three of the pinstripe red and white variety. I chose one and added it to our wagon. Perhaps it would inspire my other rosebush to grow.

Now I want to find a Mexican flower pot while I am in San Antonio to take back with me to North Texas.

Photo: Rainbow Gardens in San Antonio, TX.

A day in Edinburgh

IMG_8929Yesterday, F. and I went to Edinburgh for the day. We’ve been meaning to go for ages and we still didn’t do all the things we could do. (I think my list of things I want to do in Edinburgh might be longer than F.’s…) We wandered around the National Gallery and then ate lunch sitting outside. It was a good thing we were sitting under the awning because just after our food arrived, it started POURING down rain! I was mostly protected, but F. caught the backsplash of rain hitting the pavement and the wind blowing the rain towards us. Fortunately we had umbrellas with us.

The rain had abated by the time we finished eating, so we went to Edinburgh Castle. I’ve been to Edinburgh Castle more times than I can count, but F. had never been. He got the benefit of my added commentary to the guide’s tour of the castle. We had tea and cake in Queen Anne’s tea room and spent time paging through the books of the dead in the war memorial. F. found a book of women personnel and a list of civilians killed during the two world wars. If I were a modern historian, I would study women in the military during the first and second world wars. I’m curious to read more about them, anyway.

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But the real reason we went to Edinburgh on Friday was because Andrew Peterson was playing in Edinburgh. Andrew Peterson is an American singer-songwriter, a great storyteller, and whose music is the among the best, most honest Christian music I’ve heard. I first heard him play when he opened for Nichole Nordeman about 11 or so years ago in San Antonio. He played from his album “Love and Thunder” then, and I was in love with the strong, folk harmonies of his music and the real-ness of his lyrics. His craft has only improved over the years and I was very excited to hear he was going to be playing in Edinburgh on his European tour. F. had never heard any of Andrew Peterson’s music, so I was also looking forward to introducing him to one of my favourite artists.

IMG_8943The concert was held in one of Edinburgh’s Baptist churches. The setting was intimate: tables and chairs and couches scattered in front of the stage, each table lit by a candle. His tour was part of his family holiday, so it was just him playing on the guitar or piano. He played songs from his most recent album, “Light for the Lost Boy”, as well as a few others. Among my favourites were, “Dancing in the Minefields”, “Shine Your Light on Me”, and “In the Night My Hope Lives On”. What I loved best about the concert was hearing his stories behind each song. His ten year-old daughter Skye joined him on stage to sing “The Voice of Jesus” and “Isle of Skye”, both songs he had written for her; her voice singing harmony brought tears to my eyes. As F. later said, Andrew Peterson’s music is “balm for the soul”.

It was also very nice for this ex-pat to be in familiar territory: Andrew Peterson has a Southern accent, many people in the audience were American, and it was an evangelical setting. I didn’t realise how tightened up I was until I settled down to listen to Andrew talk and sing. Sometimes this Texan gal just needs some familiar accents and music to relax.

We left the concert too late to catch the bus, so we went to the train station instead. I played with my camera while waiting for the train to come. This is the best of my experiments:

IMG_8957We got home nearly midnight, and then I woke up early for a very long and busy day at MUSA. But I’m listening to the album I bought last night (“Resurrection Letters, Vol II”) and I’m so glad we made it down to Edinburgh to see both the castle and the concert. It was a Very Good Day. 🙂

* As ever, click on the pictures to see larger versions.

Favourite things

Stained glass windows:

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Tucked away in the south aisle of the church, this window is a hidden gem. I love the colours, the woman, Faith. I always stop to admire it when I walk past.

Loch a’Choire

F. and I went hunting for snow again last Monday and we found it near Pitlochry. We didn’t see much of Pitlochry itself, heading straight to the path that would take us around the base of Ben Vrackie.

There was a lot of snow. It was beautiful, exhausting, and a lot of fun. I kept stopping to look at the snow, the ice, the rocks, the drifts. Such fascinating formations it creates! (Click on photos to enlarge.)

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This is Ben Vrackie with Loch a’Choire frozen at its base. We didn’t know how technical it would be in wintry conditions, so we just walked to the loch and then turned back the way we came. The snow was too icy to make snow angels and too soft to try sledding (at least, to try sledding using the plastic bags we brought along). But the drifts were big and deep and fun for jumping in.IMG_8036

On our way back we caught up with an older Scottish couple we had passed earlier in the day. We got to talking and went to Moulin Inn to have hot chocolate and tea by a warm, crackling fire. They asked where I was from, whether I was from Scotland or Holland — and were flabbergasted to hear that I was from Texas! And then, because they were driving to Perth and that’s where our train connection was going to be, they gave us a lift to Perth. Such serendipity!

Craigowl Hill

For our adventure this past week, F. and I went hunting for snow. Although the whole country has been covered with snow the past couple of weeks, most of it hasn’t stuck in the coastal areas like where our Town is. Fortunately, we didn’t have very far to go: just a short bus ride north to Dundee and a bit farther to Tealing, and suddenly there was SNOW. We stepped out into thick snowfall, catching snow flakes on our tongues and laughing in disbelief at just how much snow there was.

We spent the afternoon tramping through knee-deep snow, sometimes falling into even deeper drifts, and going up to Craigowl Hill. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the top, but we had lots of fun besides.

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I hope we have another chance to go out in the snow… I still haven’t made a snowman this winter!

Favourite things

Homecoming:

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After being away for a month, I’m home. My favourite person met me in the airport on Tuesday night, then took me home where he had made dinner and stocked the kitchen with the basics until I could get to the store. It was a good month away, but I am so glad to be home.

Sundry

The Thesis Gods can be rather vengeful. I took a break this afternoon to watch a beautiful, lingering sunset (because the sun sets at 4pm these days). A rainbow glowed over the sea. The clouds shone gold and peach and pink against the brilliant sky. The sea, illuminated, reflected the sky in the still rock pools and crashed against the rocks, the foam catching the sun. But the Thesis Gods did not approve: I slipped and fell on the rocks myself. My reward for experiencing this beauty is to have a few bruises, muddy knees, and a sore pride. But the chapter is being written. My last, final, chapter of my thesis is due in December and It. Will. Be. Done. Even if I take a break to watch the sea and the sky that seemed to come out of a dream.

I just read Anne Lammott’s essay ‘The Prayer of an Unconventional Family’ on the New York Times. Such a literary upbringing and family sounds wonderful; how much more so if the family is also Christian. The best of both scenarios…

Is it only Tuesday? I’ve been forgetting which day of the week it is all week. I really want to have and evening in, to knit and read my book, but won’t have one until Saturday. It’s that time of year.