Saturday, November 29, 2008

Skeletons at the Feast; Chris Bohjalian

Image found on Random House

Published by Random House this year, Skeletons at the Feast is the first novel by Chris Bohjalian that I've read. This is a fictionalized account of the Nemmersdorf massacre of October 1944, among other events. Primarily this is an account of how the Emmerich family, either German or Polish depending on which year you ask them, views the war and attendant atrocities perpetuated on both military members and the civilian population. Skeletons at the Feast is also the story of a group of slave laborers. Mr. Bohjalian tries to illuminate the outer limits of humanity. Just how thick is the veneer of civilization, anyway?

Mr. Bohjalian raises numerous questions in the reader's mind- and leaves you to mull over what your choices would be if you were in similar situations. It's very easy to sit in the midst of our comfortable lives and pass judgement on what you'd do if you were them. Or what the "right" choice/option/behavior should be. But when the rubber hits the road, where real life intersects idealization, no one really knows. Would you be willing to be one of the few in your community to speak out, to be honest about your thoughts and feelings, if you knew your children would be the ones to suffer for your honesty and outspokenness? If you depend on the government for your livelihood but you disagree with their actions, would you follow your conscience even if the possibility you'd lose your livelihood or be imprisoned or worse? This is not to mention the effects of what I would call "hive mentality" or mindless conformity has on those persons who don't or can't fit the desired mold.

The Emmerich family, no matter which way the boundaries are drawn, consider themselves loyal Germans. They own and run a large and prosperous farm near the Vistula River. Both the father, Rolf, and the older son, Werner, serve in the army in various capacities. Mother Irmgard, twins Anna and Helmut and little Theo have to run the farm with only one 'farmhand'- aka a Scottish POW laborer named Callum Finella. The awful, evil, uncivilized Soviets are advancing & eventually it's obvious everyone needs to flee ahead of Ivan. Rolf and Helmut stay behind at the village near the farm to try and defend it. Irmgard, Anna and Callum flee West toward the Allies. Callum, they hope, will be their insurance policy to get them across the lines. There's also the relationship developing between Anna and Callum. Along the way they hook up with a resourceful guy named Manfred. Manfred reminded me of a darker, more rounded version of Radar or Klinger on the tv show MASH: a person who is able to come up with whatever anyone needs to survive their shared ordeal. He hooks up with Calum and the Emmerichs, and together the little party begins the arduous trek West. Meanwhile, we also follow a group of slave laborers from many nations, but two from France in particular: Cecile and Jeanne. Bohjalian does not dig deeply into the gruesome events related to their captivity. Rather he explores small events and interactions between the inmates that reveal each woman's capicity to rise or sink like bubbles in the breeze.

I found Skeletons at the Feast to be profoundly thought provoking. It reminds the reader that we often hold unexamined assumptions and beliefs about people and historical events. Stress and danger and life threatening situations bring out both the best and the worst behavior in people. It's impossible to predict which person will react in which way. I thought Calum and Anna's story reminds readers that there is often an elemental desire to connect with another person on a deep level, a need to express hope and joy and faith in each other even in the face of our darkest hours. I really enjoyed this example of Mr. Bohjalian's work, and I plan to borrow more from the library.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Thanksgivings

Harriet Maxwell Converse; translated from the Iroquois.

We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here
to praise Him.
We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered
that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.
We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products
to live on.
We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs
for our lands.
We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.
We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming
from them for us all.
We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows
for our shelter.
We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder
and lightning that water the earth.
We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun
that works for our good.
We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.
We thank Him for his goodness in making the forests, and thank
all its trees.
We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being
of the darkness that gives us light, the moon.
We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs,
the stars.
We give Him thanks for our supporters, who had charge of our harvests.
We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard
through the words of Ga-ne-o-di-o.
We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant
We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit's music,
and hope they will be privileged to continue in his faith.
We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies
on this occasion.

Poem found on

Happy Thanksgiving to all

Monday, November 24, 2008

Coffee Shop Denizens

It is a cold and stormy night..Really it is. So who else has decided to come out in the spitting rain for a little fellowship and hot beverages at the coffee shop down the road a bit?

Beside me is a youngish military guy in a cap covered with various insignia, but he's hunched over a fat white paperback like a man trying to light a cigarette in the wind. He taps his feet dysrhythmically, which annoys the hell out of me, but this was the only empty comfy chair in the joint. I refuse to get up. Every once in a while he squints at me and then resumes ignoring me. This man is an incessant fidgiter.

At a pair of tables across from us is a pair of young OBC Marines, one white and one Asian, studying fat ring binders, highlighters in hand. One is totally cleanshaven of both face and head, the other has a brand new high and tight as evidenced by the shiny white newly exposed skin of his scalp. He has an odd bump on the back of his head. It's not discolored, but it shouldn't be there either. I wonder how he got it.

Behind the Marines is a table of nursing students reviewing anatomy and physiology. One is an older white woman, the other two mid twenties age black women. They completely ignore everything around them. They are currently studying the musculature of the lower abdomen, bladder and groin area.

Near the coffee counter is a mixed race white- Asian middle aged couple surfing the internet. The male plays with the mouse while the woman leans back in her chair with her hands behind her head. He murmurs quietly while she stays mostly silent. They have clearly been here for a good while and show no signs of leaving.

Another man sits alone at a table with an empty cup in front of him. He's eaten some kind of cold blender creation. They're yummy, but I have a mocha of my own. He too studies something, but he's a pen tapper & lip chewer. A fat backpack sits on the floor beside him.

Image is of a cafe in Vienna called Aida and was found on Wikimedia. No, I'm not in Vienna. I wish I was.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

W. B. Yeats, Dublin, January 2... Digital ID: 483420. New York Public Library
Image found on NYC Public Library's Digital Gallery

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
W.B. Yates

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rene Magritte

Elective Affinities, which is based on a work by Johann van Goethe

Time Transfixed

Not to be Reproduced--->

All images found on Wikimedia.

I love surrealism, always have. Creativity in its many forms fascinates me. Friday, November 21 was the 110th anniversary of Magritte's birth.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Family Updates

Hubby~ Has settled in at his new job. They've been working around his school schedule. He says the pay is better, the conditions are better & they're easy to work with & it scares him. LOL :) The ladies under his direct supervision aren't so sure they like having a man in charge, though. And he's much harder for them to manipulate. He predicts some turnover in the months ahead. The relentless schedule is wearing him down physically, though. He contracted rotovirus & suffered with it for a week, taking two days of sick time- which, until now, was unheard of for him.

College Student~ Is coming home for a quick overnight visit so he can participate in the handbell preludes at church this Sunday. Hubby had taken CS's place in the choir until CS returned to school & Hubby's schedule forced him to quit the choir. Some of the choir members are traveling this weekend & CS is coming back to fill the hole. Hubby was kinda miffed he won't be filling the hole, but CS is music literate and can pretty much sight read the pieces & get them right. His loan has been caught up in the financal scandals rocking the globe. He signed papers for a certain amount, but not all of it has been disbursed. Thus questions of legality due to legal papers having been signed for the higher amount- that he hasn't gotten. The state is involved too & heaven only knows when or if it will all be resolved.

Anime Queen~ Has had her phone taken away. She's not done so well balancing the social and academic sides of school & so we're reinforcing which one is most important. Other than that she's fine. Still working a couple of days a week at the golden arches. She got a solid B on a huge history project recently, so hopefully things are looking up now. Her BF had shoulder length curly black hair & she's been miffed because he cut it all off. LOL He said his mom was on his case about it.

Pianist~ Is fine balancing school & socializing, but is having trouble being civil with one of his teachers. The result being, his phone has been confiscated & we forced him to drop one of his after school activities in an attempt to reinforce to him that this is all unacceptable. His musicianship is improving and he's started cooking again too. His best friend's mother was killed in a freak accident while training for a new job (she was only 42). The friend has continued to attend school (!!!!!) in the meantime, but the viewing is tonight and the burial is tomorrow. We're hoping his friend won't be forced to switch schools on top of it all. His autumn has been difficult, some of it his fault some not.

Me~ I started a manuscript for NaNoWriMo, but only have a few thousand words down. I didn't do any research ahead of time & that lack of preparation has come back to haunt me with a vengeance. I'm not giving up, though. After the holidays I hope to join a writer's group to hone my skills. We all went to a College Fair Night & I'm interested in a program up at a college in DC. All depends on $$$ and time and commute- all the usual crap. Meantime I'm planning to take more classes at the local community college. I need to retake the computer class I took last year and take one more class, possibly creative writing. :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

National Book Awards 2008

Young People's Literature

What I Saw and How I Lied~ Judy Blundell


Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems~ Mark Doty


The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family~ Annette Gordon-Reed


Shadow Country~ Peter Matthiessen

ETA:Images found on Barnes & Noble and on Random House

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tonight's Adjectives

Tired. Annoyed. Cold. Perplexed. Sore. Craving. Distracted. Sleepy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

YAY!! Snow!!

more animals

Washing up the breakfst dishes, I looked out the window & discovered the teeniest, tiniest snowflakes falling. I had to make a cup of hot chocolate & marshmallows to celebrate. Winter's coming!! YAY!!

Image found on Wikimedia

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Going:

(To The Memory of Rupert Brooke)

He's gone.
I do not understand.
I only know
That as he turned to go
And waved his hand
In his young eyes a sudden glory shone:
And I was dazzled by a sunset glow,

A Lament

We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun, or feel the rain,
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly, and spent
Their all for us, loved, too, the sun and rain?

A bird upon the rain-wet lilac sings--
But we, how shall we turn to little things
And listen to the birds and winds and streams
Made holy by their dreams,
Nor feel the heartbreak in the heart of things?

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1878-1962)

Gibson was a contemporary of Robert Frost and was a well known poet before the Great War. Rupert Brooke was a young man well known by Henry James and Yates and Virginia Woolf. He served in the military with Churchill's son in WWI. As is obvious, Brooke died during the war. Biographical information and more World War I poetry found HERE at the BYU library. Many thanks to them for this superb resource. Accessed 11/14/08.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Story time

see more puppies

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

funny dog pictures
see more puppies

Humorous Pictures
more animals

humorous pictures
more animals

Happy birthday to Nephew #2

Friday, November 14, 2008

Immortal Warrior, Lisa Hendrix

Historical paranormals, the best of both worlds! Vikings and swords and historical depth! This romance reader enjoyed Immortal Warrior very very much. I did have quibbles, nothing too serious, though.

The plot is your basic hastily arranged medieval political marriage with the added spice of the witch's curse. The overlord summons Ivo and tells him: go take this holding for me and marry the former lord's family member. Ivo and Alaida marry the day after he arrives. Ivo happens to be a Viking warrior from two centuries earlier who was cursed into a half life by a witch: half of his day he spends as an eagle, the other half as a man. In Ivo's native culture, free women couldn't be forced into a marriage, so Alaida's lack of input into her marital status is odd to him, no matter how long he's lived away from home. Alaida, however, sees the writing on the wall, and determines to make the best of the situation.

What I appreciated the most, however, was that the heroine was very much a woman of her times: understood the political issues surrounding their situation, had a realistic idea of her role and duties and responsibilities, had few illusions as to the likelihood that her marriage would be easy or pleassant for her yet was willing to admit when her preconceived notions about Ivo were wrong. I've really come to hate the word fiesty, but I will say that Alaida is a strong woman who will give as good as she gets even if she expects a bad outcome from her choices. She's a fundamentally fair person.

As for Ivo: he's lonely, he wants a place of his own, he wants to settle down no matter that the odds are stacked against him because of the curse. He wants to try and make the situation work so he enlists aid of the other men who were in on the raid with him to help manage the castle and it's inhabitants. That the title and land come with a prechosen wife? Well, Ivo will take her too. Why not? In for a penny in for a pound, after all. Meaning, he's going to give this his best try, but he's pretty sure the curse will complicate things so badly he'll fail. So, hey, a wife to keep warm at night until the other shoe drops? Why not?

A cursed immortal Viking trying to make his way in a human world with a new wife and a new demesne with the huge handicap that he's only human twelve hours a day? I was intrigued. I have quibbles about the huge chunk of time Ivo's gone every day and how that was treated. My husband works odd shifts, and it complicates life. A lot. I was willing to suspend disbelief, though. I hope Ms. Hendrix works on this more in the next books. The whole complication between Ivo and Alaida about whether or not their children might be cursed too was..contrived to a certin degree, I guess. It was one too many problems for them. For me the issue of Ivo's missing time and the plot twist would've been enough for the purposes of stirring the pot between Ivo and Alaida. The pregnancy problem was one thing too many.

I really really liked this book and I'm looking forward to the nest installment.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fun Contests~

Came across two contests one evening last week & thought someone out there might be interested in entering. Link to contest page is embedded in title above. UK based author A.J. Crofts is hosting two contests centered on the theme of modern celebrity, which also happens to be the theme of Croft's latest book The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride. Read chapter one of the book, then write a 1,000 word short story & email it to the author. All contest rules on the book webpage, CLICK HERE FOR RELEVANT DETAILS.

A.J. Crofts is also appealing to budding videographers, CONTEST INFO HERE.

If you enter, please drop me a note so I remember to keep an eye out for the winners!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, France; World War I

Driven Across Many Nations
Driven across many nations, across many oceans,
I am here, my brother, for this final parting,
to offer at last those gifts which the dead are given
and to speak in vain to your unspeaking ashes,
since bitter fortune forbids you to hear me or answer,
O my wretched brother, so abruptly taken!
But now I must celebrate grief with funeral tributes
offered the dead in the ancient way of the fathers;
accept these presents, wet with my brotherly tears, and
now & forever, my brother, hail & farewell.
Gaius Valerius Catullus

Images found on Wikimedia

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ars Poetica; Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.

Poem found at in title above.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Big box bookstore troubles

Husband and I went out for a sandwich after work tonight. The weather here has been in the lower 70's today and this evening was cool but not uncomfortable so we took our soup and salad outside to eat on the patio. Cream of mushroom soup and baby greens with warm chicken. We shared the salad, their idea of a 'small' is a huge mound on a dinner plate. A friend from church happened by, so we sat and caught up while she ate. I've missed them, we attend different services, so we don't always see each other on Sundays. Each of has children, which of course only adds to the scheduling issues and exhaustion factor. Parents'exhaustion, not the kids. LOL ;)

On to the big box problems. As has been widely published in the press, this chain is having extreme financial difficulties. Just today, in fact, Galley Cat reports that the chain may not pay their distributors over the holidays. I worked for this chain for five years and I have watched changes move slowly across the stores in our area.

First they stopped having floor staff shelve books, which reduced familiarity with stock. Wages were also lowered reducing quality of employees. Then they increased 'softlines' (higher markups = more $$) floor space simultaneously reducing shelving footage of books, cds and dvds. Nowadays it is common to see significant empty shelving footage in all product areas and increasing amounts of faceouts (which take up more room thereby reducing inventory). Now they are dramatically increasing shelving footage for remainders which reduces their financial exposure to new books that may not sell at all. Remainders are often bought on the cheap by the truckload or at least that's what I was told when I worked there a few years ago. So, if you can get a lot of slightly older books cheap versus fewer brand new bookswhich may not sell at all, they appear to be opting for more cheaper, older titles.

It's sad, really. The store I knew and loved and enjoyed working for is gone now. Sales staff who are unfamiliar with product and inventory and who often chat with each other over their headsets, ignoring customers. Or, as has happened several times, I've encountered rude sales people who imply I a) don't know what I'm talking about b) they don't have to call another store for me because they're not obliged to and/or c) all of the above. "Besides, it's after 4 and I'm off the clock now." Reduced book & dvd & cd inventory. What inventory they do have is likely to be misshelved in an incorrect section, out of alphabetical order or stuck in the back room in a box somewhere. Ask someone to dig it out for you? You must be joking. Stores are much more likely to be messy.

It appears that I will now buy the majority of my books online. I'm a dedicated book store lover, it breaks my heart.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Progress, of a sort

I managed to get some writing in this morning. Plus a lot of research. I find I can sustain my attention for maybe 500-600 words at a time, but then I'm done and I've got to get up and distract myself. How do I know the word count? MS Word 07 (and other versions I'm sure) gives you a running word count as you type along. I feel like a pen whose ink only comes in fits and starts. A few words and letters here and there then you have to shake it and wipe the tip and shake it some more before it'll write again. Repeat at length until finished.

Also, the research I didn't do last month is now coming back to haunt me. :( It's early days yet, so I'm hopeful I can get going and be really productive. I'm very much a creature of habit so if I can get myself into a daily rhythm I'll be all set no matter what the actual word count is. I've been switching between the laptop and the workstation PC at home & the transferring is wasting my all too brief attention span- so Pianist wants me to buy myself a flashdrive to put the magnum opus onto. Makes sense I think. Except it takes time away from the computer to go buy one

Image found on Wikimedia

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Day in the Car

Image found on and is of Landyriog (spelling?) Church in Wales.

Is there any way to wrangle more time in the day? Or perhaps a way to clone myself so I can be in two places at once? I still haven't been able to sit down and write for NaNoWriMo, but I've managed to get everything else done. I'm too tired to try and write, although I'm very excited watching the election returns. Excited and hopeful.

The Hubster and Pianist and I voted this morning. Well, at least- Hubster and I did. I had Pianist 'click the boxes' while I watched over his shoulder. As a seventh grader he doesn't realize the magnitude of what he did this morning. Maybe it will come to him in time. I know I'll never forget it. But back to the height thing- I looked barely over his shoulder, at that. The young man started the summer just as tall as his sister, but is now pretty much my height. That would be a difference of approximately 4". And, yes, we have had to buy all new jeans and khakis for him.

We had to drive quite a ways down state for a funeral and further still for the graveside service. In heavy rain and fog. It's sad when you only meet some of your kinfolk at funerals and weddings. You feel more disconnected from each other, I suppose. More funerals than weddings lately, unfortunately. There are several generations of my husband's kin buried there. I managed to get one of my husband's uncles to explain to me who they were in relationship to myhusband and I and to each other. They go a long ways back in this cemetary. It's nice to see a large family group together. I felt a sudden sense of history and connectedness with these long dead family members and the living ones.

As the rain patttered down around us I looked up and around and wondered why it is that we suburbanites often allow trees to go unpruned only in cemtaries? The trees in the cemetary had full round canopies, which is rarely seen anywhere else because of power lines. Trees, fully grown, mature trees, are so symbolic arching and spreading above the gravestones and monuments.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Well, I've finally started National NovelWriting Month (link in sidebar on left) three days late and thus behind. I'm finding that writing, like learning handbells, takes a tremendous amount of sustained attention that I'm struggling to maintain. I started writing at home this morning, but I found myself continually distracted by the most mundane of chores, radio stations, music, temperature, the phone, what's Hubby up to in the kitchen? Just an endless parade of excuses to get up and stop writing.

Finally we had to go pick up Pianist at school and so I saved what little I'd managed to do. It is now early evening and I've relocated to a coffeeshop in hopes that I might find fewer excuses to get up and leave my budding magnum opus. Problem being- we've a funeral out of town tomorrow, plus voting. Heaven only knows when I'll get a chance to write or for how long.

I plan to put entires up here almost daily, although there may be patches here and there where a day or two goes by without a post. I'll keep everyone semi updated about my progress and struggles, but otherwise I plan to keepthis blog focused on other things.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Prayers for All Souls Day

Father of all, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer: Grant them your peace; let light perpetual shine upon them; and, in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work in them the good purpose of your perfect will: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen

All prayers found in the Book of Common Prayer, 1979 ed.
Image found on Wikimedia