Choral Conniption

So, the spring concert prep has begun. My semi-pro chorus reassembled after taking a month off to recover from multiple concerts in quick succession (each with very different music). Packets of music are handed out. Frau Doctorin Directress turns her back to discuss something with the accompanist. Rustling of music ensues.

Happy alto: Oh, we get to do [composition by chorus’s second-favorite composer]!

Muted cheers from the musical mob. More rustling.

Terrified tenor: Wait, we’re doing [fiendishly difficult modern a capella composition by chorus’ least favorite composer] too!

Basso disgruntle-o: [Waving good music] I think this is a bribe.

Grumbles, growls, and snarls ensue. We end up with four compositions either we know, we really like, or we know and really like. And That One. Yeah, “you’ll warm up to it! It’s an incredible piece.” Shuuuuuuuuure we will. Un huh. Riiiiiiiiight.

Mining or Looting or Archaeology?

Most of the gold that circulated in Europe between the end of the Roman Empire and 1522 was recycled. Aside from Ireland, Europe doesn’t have many easily-reachable gold deposits. Some gold came from Africa, but the Islamic conquest made that source harder to access. It was far easier to go to the nearest mound, dig, and hope you found treasure. You know, mining the easy way. Earlier peoples did it, after all, so why not? Archaeology didn’t exist yet, and the dead didn’t need the stuff. Especially if they were pagan dead, not Christian. Pagans weren’t virtuous (most of the time) and didn’t count. A priest could bless or exorcise the place or the gold and bronze, just in case.

I started thinking about this because of an aside in a (generally pretty decent) program about the effects of the LIDAR scans of Mayan sites in Central America (basically outside of Mexico). The archaeologist mentioned the problem of weighing “release all the data!” against “don’t tip off pot hunters!” The black market for preColumbian artifacts is considerable, and looting of sites is a major problem. If people don’t know where to dig, they won’t tear up sites before they can be documented and properly excavated. At least, that’s the hope. Most of the data I’ve seen either has the location scraped off, or is of places like Tikal that are already very well protected and monitored. Pot-hunting and looting is a big problem in the American Southwest, and people who have sites on their property are very, very wary about word getting out. I’ve encountered this in my own academic work, and had to promise to scrub all specifics out of archaeological reports that I used, just in case.

This is a pretty new idea. Especially in Europe, graves of earlier peoples were seen as mines. Dig, find metals, and reuse them, especially gold. At least three generations of archaeologists have lamented this. Scythian and Celtic sites especially, because what we have found in un-looted burials has been impressive, and has shifted a lot of thinking about trade, technology, and other things. We lost almost all of the non-metallic stuff from the looted grave mounds because it deteriorated quickly after contact with air and water, or was taken and used (pots, textiles) and disappeared. Granted, we have that same problem with a number of sites excavated in the 1700s-1800s, because they didn’t know what they didn’t know, and they were digging for “good stuff,” not bits of burned grain and fragments of textiles. Look at the first excavations of Pompeii, for example.

The archaeologists down in Peru and Ecuador had success bringing local peoples into the digs, and explaining that “these things were made by your ancestors. Would you sell your grandmother’s bones?” Now, I’m sure a few people would do just that if they were desperate enough, or she were enough of a harridan, but a number of the local communities said, “No, show us how to do this right.” And they became the caretakers and excavators of the great sites, keeping strangers away and gaining skills in archaeology, tourism, and so on that people can use to get better jobs. Give people a stake in the story, and they stop digging up things to sell to random, cash-waving strangers. At least for now.

But this is a somewhat new idea. Either you left graves and mounds alone, because Bad Things Happened to people who didn’t, or you dug in there and sold what you found, since the dead didn’t need the stuff anymore. In some cases, you protected your ancestors’ graves, and dug up their ancestors’ graves, to eliminate their claim on the land you now possessed. Ah, prehistoric people. So like our own people, even though we’d prefer not to admit it some times.

Egregiously Low Wind Chills are Egregious

So, there I was, walking around the street corner, minding my own business, when SumWind* slapped my face and took the air out of my lungs!

OK, yes, it is January, and cold fronts are one of those things that tend to happen on a regular, or at least frequent, basis. They happen most often when someone in Canada leaves a gate open, or fails to fix the wire on the barbed-wire fence and Arctic air comes racing down the eastern slope of the Rockies. The day had been cool but not too bad for January, with a slight wind chill but nothing really impressive. However, when I left St. Angus in the Grass School, I could see grey and blue massing on the northern horizon. The southern sky remained clear. A light southerly breeze stirred the air, as chilly as you’d expect when the air temperature is 45 F. Those grey clouds, though . . .

High clouds had oozed in by sunset. The wind settled, taking a rest. Without much moisture in the air, the temperature began easing downward, so I opted to take a quick walk. Maybe it would help open my sinuses, or at least stir the blood a little. I headed south, well bundled in heavy jacket, fleece hat, good gloves, and corduroy pants. Trot, trot, I stretched my legs as much as by impaired breathing would permit. The sunset turned grey, no color to speak of despite the ice-clouds in the air. The sun just set, and I could see an evening star shining through the veil overhead. A bit of south wind stung my cheeks, but nothing really bad.

About the time I changed course, starting my return leg toward RedQuarters, the wind switched, and switched hard. Ice slapped my face, driving the air out of my lungs, or so it felt. The wind cut, slicing through corduroy and leather. Breathing made my mouth ache a little, and stung my nose. (The temperature was starting to drop rapidly. It fell 5 degrees F in the 20 minutes between when I left and when I returned.) Dang! I picked up the pace as best I could. Breathing took work, in part because of my head cold, in part from the hard wind and cold.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt that sensation. The last time was when I walked out into -30F wind chills from a 35 F “heated” garage. Ow. Even if you are expecting it, the shock gets your attention. When you’re not expecting it? Big surprise. Yes, by northern standards it’s a mild inconveninece, and yes we get worse down here. But the surprise got me.

*The atmospheric version of Sumdood, the nefarious villain who lurks around street corners, lying in wait for people who are otherwise minding their own business, doing nothing at all.

Freedom Convoy

I try to avoid politics here, but dang it. The more I watch of the Canadian convoys rolling toward Ottawa to protest the vaccine mandates, and all the people cheering the truckers and support people on, no matter what time of day or what weather . . . I’m choking up.

This is probably the biggest protest ever in Canada. The truckers don’t oppose the vaccines, they oppose forcing people to get the shots. And oppose tying everything down to getting groceries (New Brunswick) and medical care to getting the shots. And a whole lot of Canadians are standing with the truckers. Literally, based on the videos and still photos.

G-d bless the folks in the convoys, and the people supporting the convoys. Freedom is rolling in Canada, and it brings tears to my eyes.

Separate Spheres and Victorian Stereotypes

When I ask the average person to imagine a stereotypical Victorian woman, I suspect what comes to mind will be a woman with a strict hourglass form (corset, of course), perhaps a bustle, who lounges around the home or makes social calls and is supported by her husband. Any children are cared for by servants and a nanny or governess. Some people will perhaps mention a character or two from Downton Abbey, or mention something from a steampunk book or TV program. A proper Victorian woman was underemployed, domestic, depended on men, and had no rights because “society” and the male-dominated political system refused to grant her any rights. Any woman who stepped out of line got chased back into line.

The problem with stereotypes is that often they are based on what a few prolific writers (or critics) at the time declared to be good or bad. A very little digging in period sources or later biographies shows that the powerless, happily dependent Victorian woman . . . was a rare avis indeed. But that image is what later feminists grabbed onto, and what still pops up when “Victorian” is used as short-hand for hypocritical, stuffy, repressed, patriarchal, and so on.

So where did it come from?

Women have always worked to some degree. This was in the household, or a family business or farm. Only very, very aristocratic women were secluded, and even that was only if the head of the household chose to restrict her activities. Russia was different, but again, only for the very rich and the upper nobility. Otherwise? Women were out and about, even if they didn’t have official legal rights to conduct business (sign contracts, buy real property, and so on). Men also worked, again in the household and family property. Then along came the industrial revolutions, and labor moved outside the household and off the farm to factories and cities. It was in this setting that “separate spheres” really took hold.

To have the women in a household not have to work was an ideal that developed during the late 1700s, as best it seems. Women were always viewed as more domestic, physically weaker, more home-focused (children, church, household), and occasionally as more moral and less corrupt. For a man to earn enough that his wife and daughters did not have to work outside the household, or at all, was a good thing. Why? Because she could focus her attention and creating a welcoming haven of calm and comfort away from the conflicts of the world. She would be a beacon of goodness, a reminder of why he too should be moral and upright. He would defend, support, and shelter her from the corruption and ills of the world.

OK, so this is starting to sound just as bad as modern people take the separate spheres idea to be. Well, no one has ever accused Victorian moralists and preachers of being subtle and restrained. “Separate spheres” was just that, and ideal, something middle and working class families aspired to. The reality was rather different. Even with servants, women had to manage the property, oversee education (which often took them outside the home) and so on. The idea of women being secluded, pampered, put on pedestals and venerated (and cheated on), helpless, delicate flowers raised in the sheltered home by an overprotective patriarch . . . never really happened. A few times, yes, but this was an ideal, not the reality. Sort of like the fragile Southern belle who . . . slaughtered hogs, nursed the sick, cooked, and a lot of other tasks we call “hard work.”

A prosperous man could afford for his wife not to work outside the home. As more men worked outside the household in offices and factories, the idea of “separate spheres” took form. The world-of-work was male, the world-of-home was female. Note that this is urban. No farmer would look at this without laughing.

Some religious leaders, and eventually others, took to this idea. In a time of incredible cultural and economic change, going “back to the Bible” and “The way it should be” and “proper roles” is a common response. The industrial revolutions were that sort of change, and urging women to remain home as a touchstone with the calmer (?), greener past fed into the new economy as well as the “good old days.” The home was a respite from “the dark Satanic mills”, as William Blake called them.

Later reformers, suffragettes, proponents of “the New woman” and others took the ideal as “what actually happened.” Add in the later disdain for Victorians as stuffy hypocrits who oppressed everyone, including themselves, and locked women away from the world, keeping women from voting, owning property, and so on. And so the stereotype grew.

For an academic take:

Note that this second article draws in non-western examples, which shifts things a little.

Sorry folks . . .

I managed to get the sinus crud. I’m mostly over it, aside from the stuffy ears and nose, but I’m having to dedicate the small, still-functional part of my brain to Day Job and writing.

Full posting will resume tomorrow.

Eek! A Peeping . . . Oh, Never Mind

So there I was Sunday morning, standing there minding my own business and putting on my earrings, when a second shadow appeared on the wall. No one had walked into the room. Someone was looking in through the window!

I spun around and beheld . . .

Star-cat, the peeping not-a-tom. He’s a red tabby with a diamond-shaped patch on his back. He’s at least seven or eight years old, one of many tabby kittens spawned by a household that apparently did not believe in spaying or neutering the two+ adult cats that lived there*. Star and his brother appeared in the neighborhood as kittens. MomRed had been putting out water for Gato del Diablo, and the elderly lady up the block fed the feral kittens, so they hung around. Star’s brother was brown tabby and very friendly. He disappeared when he was full grown, and I suspect someone adopted him and he became a house cat. Star was always skittish and stand-offish, so he continued to be a Community Cat.

At some point, Star disappeared for a few days, and returned a little more skittish, minus the tip of one ear. And minus something else, which cut down on the number of cat fights. When the elderly neighbor started having medical problems, a different neighbor started putting food out for Star. Except that family calls Star “Big Orange.” I suspect Star does-not-answer to a lot of names, some of which are not printable. He’s a survivor and gets around. I have no idea where he dens in cold weather. MomRed tried to entice him into a little cat-shelter a few winters ago, but Star-cat wasn’t interested. Typical cat. He spends the mornings around RedQuarters, then moves on. He eats the squirrels that, ah, suffer the local penalty for trespassing. He fears no one and no thing, except for the very large hawks and the Great Horned Owl.

He’s our peeping not-a-tom. Grey, Little Grey, Blanket, Tux, and Marmalade occasionally wander through, but only Star-cat hangs out on windowsills or the fence.

*The family moved away and the number of striped felines in the neighborhood plummeted. I’d seen fifteen cats and kittens in their driveway one morning, all striped, so I knew that I’d found the hive.

Tuesday Tidbit: A Change Comes

Word comes from the south . . .

“I don’t know,” Wulfhilde admitted four days later. She shrugged black-cloaked shoulders. “You have read all that we have here on the Valke lands. The imperial court holds more, including books with spells and accounts of the Great Cold’s wars. I can send south, but I suspect that such books are not permitted to travel.” He sensed her hard look even without seeing her eyes.

Halwende nodded. “Making things burn without using fire arrows or balls of flaming tar hurled by arm-throwers, breaking stone from a distance, twisting animals into weapons, those are not skills I’d want other people to have.” He glanced down at the floor. “I don’t want to have those skills.”

A black-gloved hand rested on his shoulder, then withdrew. “No. It is not a light burden, because of the duties that come with those skills. Gifts are divided for good reason, so that none are overburdened.” She leaned back in her seat. “Although, I freely admit that I wonder at times if the Dark Lord perhaps, mayhap, overestimated my abilities and wisdom.” He heard a little humor in her quiet words, and smiled in turn. “Which doesn’t answer your question, brother.”

He looked up again. “No, ma’am, but now I know not to continue searching for, oh, a bedded-down ovstrala in an empty snowfield.” More than one man had literally stumbled over—or run into—the beasts after a heavy snow. They disappeared, looking like snowdrifts. Only the tiniest tip of a nose revealed what lay beneath the snow blanket.  A man could spend hours poking at drifts only to discover that the herd had moved without his knowing it.

She chuckled. “True.” She paused, sitting up very straight. He went on alert. Her voice lowered, pitched to carry only to his ears. “The old emperor . . . is not well. His heir is not experienced. Be wary, brother, when you go to court.”

He inclined toward her. “My thanks for the warning and road word, sister.” The news did not surprise him. Nor did the warning. He’d read a few too many accounts of lords and others who sought to take advantage of inexperienced and distracted emperors.

“Now go. You have duties, I have duties, and I shudder to imagine the rumors if you spend too long in my company.”

He stood and bowed again. “That I will turn miner and begin working on that wine cellar that his grace desires? Scavenger forfend such a fate, honored sister.” He dared to wink before he left. Her chuckles helped ease his mood.

Warm spring air played around the keep. Halwende nodded to the other guard on duty and took his post. Dark soil appeared among the green, plowed and ready for planting after the next Eighth-Day. The new priest of Marsdaam should arrive soon, weather permitting, now that the roads had started to dry. A pair of valke danced in mid-air, talon-to-talon, then wing-tip to wing-tip before separating and diving down, toward the edge of the close schaef pasture. The first flocks had started moving north, along with woodsmen to begin clearing land for pastures and farms. Someone had done laundry, and he shook his head. The amount of work, and fuel, and labor that went into cleaning bedding and clothes . . . No wonder washer women were so strong.

Spring . . . two years until he could wed. The Valke lands, the new ones, should be ready then. Perhaps moving north would not be such a bad idea? Except his father would not allow it, of course. He needed to stay here, in the heart of the lands, not go to a new place away from civilization. Except Valdher had called him to do just that. How, my Lady, how do I do both? He took a long breath and moved to the right, watching the distance, then moving his gaze closer in. He did not expect an answer. She answered in Her time, and his wife would have to learn to accept his dual roles.

An eight-day later, a servant pounded, then caught herself and tapped on the chapel door. He got to his feet and opened the door. He’d been working on a spot on the floor, along with Maltaria. Here, the Lady’s servants served. “M’lord, his grace seeks you and Valdher’s voice. A messenger from the south has come with news.”

“We come,” Maltaria called. The servant bobbed a curtsy and hurried off. Halwende helped his senior to her feet and they put bucket and brushes away, then made their way to Duke Hal’s reception chamber.

“Good.” His grace waved to a man clad in light grey and brilliant blue, the hard blue of the winter sky on a sunny day. “My heir and Valdher’s voice are here.”

The stranger bowed and turned so that he could see everyone in the room. All the senior servants, Master Lothar, the chief steward, and others had crowded into the chamber. “I bring news from the south,” the man began. He opened the large, flat bag hanging at his side and removed a page written in blue ink on creamy white. A heavy blue seal, and a smaller black seal, hung below the page. Halwende glanced to Maltaria and raised one eyebrow. She nodded. They knew the news.

“Hagmar Thorkilson has gone to the Scavenger’s realm. His second son and trained heir, Aglak Hagmarson, called Rothbard, is now emperor. Full court will be held on the Eighth-Day following Yoorst’s spring feast, to honor Hagmar Thorkilson and celebrate the his majesty’s ascension to the throne.” The messenger turned to his grace. “Your grace, your presence and that of your heir are requested at His Majesty’s court at Shwabvale. All titles and claims will be confirmed, and honors paid and received.”

Duke Hal bowed in his seat. Halwende too bowed. “I and my heir shall attend.”

The messenger inclined his head. “I leave this here as proof of the news.” He removed another handful of documents. “And these.” Duke Hal waved his hand, and the chief steward took the pages.

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Which early?

There’s early, and early. My early is “arrive in place ten to fifteen minutes before time, unless otherwise needed,” or unless traffic might be a problem. Military early ranges from fifteen minutes before time to two hours before time (although the latter might be a trifle exaggerated. Or perhaps not). Sib’s early has shifted from “ten seconds before I’m too late, give or take” to “ten minutes before call time” to “thirty minutes early because Big City Traffic might strike.”

I get twitchy if other people don’t leave early enough for me to be early/on-time. Yes, it’s a control thing, and it’s not my fault, but still. Being prompt is polite. And if you have been left standing, panting for air after racing for a bus or train that departed without you, well . . . Especially if you are in Vienna, at night, and the end of that vehicle had a blue light on it. Guess what? You just missed the last one of the night. It’s going to be a long walk to find a taxi, or just a long walk. I darn near missed a boat that way, and had to jump from shore onto the moving vehicle. In my defense, and that of the people I was with, we were given the wrong departure time and the crewman standing beside the tour boss did not correct her. The tour boss thought it was amusing that the four of us almost had a massive logistical problem (trying to get from Tiny Town, Germany to Larger City by milk-train and bus, then find the correct pier with our boat.)

High school students seem to feel that early is “ten seconds before I’m officially tardy.” Except for the one who claws at the door to be let in ten minutes before students are allowed into the building.

Athena’s early is . . . I have no idea. I know that her “I want attention and food” generally comes at my “oh cat, the alarm won’t go off for another half hour. Hush!” Unless it is Caturday, when she gets up on weekday time, not weekend time.

I come from a military/aviation/medical background, where on time means on the specified time or before. Other cultures, especially ones that are farther in time from the introduction of the mechanical clock, time-clock, and “be here or be fired” tend to ease along and get there when they get there. After all, there’s sunrise, and cow milking if you have cows, and then you do whatever work needs to be done. The clock is not all-powerful and all-important, assuming you have a clock. This approach to things works pretty well in an agricultural society. Not so well in a society that wants to know exactly what time “mañana.”

But a lot of us, around the world, know what it means to run on “Lonesome Standard Time.”


A traveling meeting of the North Texas Troublemakers assembled this past weekend. The gathering included research, food, laughter, food, story swapping, ad-copy improvement, writing, and food and laughter.

The group started a few years ago, sort of. Like most mischief, it began with some passing comments, then some relocations. I “met” Lawdog, Peter and Dorothy Grant, and OldNFO through comments on their blogs. Peter and Dorothy happened to be on their way elsewhere and passed close to RedQuarters, so we got together. We hit it off from the start. They introduced me in person to the others, and again we got along well. We formed the “North Texas Pilots, Shooters, and Writers Association” (a shooting and flying club with a writing problem). Then more, and more writers, pilots, gun-fans, and so on gravitated toward northern Texas. A few folks who are not writers, pilots, or gun-buffs moved in, and a new name was coined for the group.

We’re a community of . . . heck if I know at this point. People who are curious, have seen the world (mostly), tend to be higher experienced* than our ages would suggest, and each have a wide range of interests. If there is one single commonality, I’d say curiosity. OK, that and a willingness to learn and to admit what we don’t know. All of us** are experts or close to it in a field, even if that isn’t our formal vocation or academic specialty. I think between us we’ve seen all the continents, although don’t hold me to Antarctica.

Otherwise? We’re all over the map in terms of interests, faiths, favorite foods, personal philosophies, looks, musical preferences, you name it. And we all get along, and encourage each other, and help out when needed. Its a voluntary community where we can disagree without being disagreeable. Um, with a few exceptions. Sugar or no sugar in cornbread, and marshmallows on sweet-potato casserole are topics that can get rather heated. Well, that and “what caliber for . . . ?”

We all want this crazy, loose group to work, so it does. I think that’s what makes any community function. Everyone agrees that there will be differences, and debates, and disagreements, and works around them, or lets things like “he has buffalo grass and I have Bermuda” go by. People are people. A working community finds ways to make the best of differences, and to tolerate a degree of eccentricity. But it won’t tolerate dangerous stuff, either. There’s a difference between “entertainingly eccentric” and “dangerously unbalanced.”

We’re a community by choice, self-selected to a degree, and somewhat off-kilter. And we like it that way. 🙂

*I will not say higher mileage. No, I will not.

**Not necessarily with an academic degree or professional license, although many of the group have a BA, MA, or multiple professional certifications. There’s a lot to be said for the slow accumulation of real knowledge over time, as opposed to getting an advanced academic degree.