Flower Power

There were at least 20 Monarchs, Queens, Viceroys, Frittelaries and a few bees trying to yank the neighbor’s flowers out of the ground. And ignoring four butterfly bushes. *SIGH*

Sterling Castle, Queen’s Garden. June 2022. SIGH.
It was still too cool for the bees to attack, but they started appearing as we left. Queen’s Garden, Sterling Castle. This is up on a terrace.

Scotland has beautiful roses. They also have mildew, black spot, and slugs. Amarillo has powdery mildew, black spot only if you work at it, and no slugs. And Scotland gets far more rain than does Amarillo, with more overcast days, so roses don’t fade. Oh, and in most of Scotland, their winters are milder in terms of “cold but consistent” instead of our huge swings. They grow huge roses. I just hope to have surviving roses.

Sterling, still. That unicorn could be scary to meet in person.

Summer is also when private gardens open on rotation. The general public can visit them in exchange for a donation to that year’s charity. We went to two of those, one of them way, way out in the back of beyond, in a walled enclosure that had been rescued from turning feral from neglect. The current Lady of the manor was weeding and trimming, escorted by a much petted and photographed Black Lab.

Water, mild climate, sun, space without wind to break the stems . . .

And then there were a few places that never had flowers (and in this case was being mowed, so I tromped around the giant and less-than-giant mowers.)

The Antonine Wall, also known as “mot the end of the world but the end of civilization” as far as the Romans were concerned. Roman Britain is on the right, barbarians to the left. You can just see the edge of the mountains in the far background, past the high-tension line. Sterling/Falkirk, June, 2022.

St. Michael and All Angels

September 29th is the feast of St. Michael and All Angels in the western church. Originally, Gabriel and the others had their own feast days, as did Michael, but with changes in the Western Church, the feasts were consolidated. Michael is the only angel with the title of saint, and vice versa. Why is interesting, and has more to do with popular understanding than pure scripture. And then there’s the Hunters’ understanding.

Luci Giordano “St. Michael Archangel”

Michael is one of three (or two) angels named in the Bible. His name means “Who is like unto G-d?” [Correct answer: no one.] He appears in Danial, Jude, and Revelation, and his appearance in Revelation 12:7-9 is probably what inspires most art. Technically, he’s not a saint like Francis or Thomas Moore or Florian, but that doesn’t stop him from being called “saint.” His duties are to fight against the forces of evil, to escort the recent dead to heaven (if the deceased were good), and defend all Christians. Thus the phrase from the invocation, “Defend us in battle against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.” In Medieval art, he is sometimes shown holding scales, weighing the souls of the dead on judgement day. I’ve heard that the guilty soul sinks, and also that the guilty soul rises. I suspect the artists were not entirely certain, either.

Hans Memling “The Last Judgement” 1467-1471. National Museum, Gdansk. Stolen by a pirate, donated to a church. St. Michael has the scales in his left hand.

One interesting thing in all depictions of St. Michael is that he is always calm and tranquil, never losing his cool, always somewhat detached from the conflict raging around him. Orthodox, Catholic, medieval or modern, always quiet and meditative.

Most Baroque art, which is what we tend to think of, shows Michael beating up on devils or Satan himself.

The High Altar of the Michaelerkirche in Vienna. The church is in the wall of the Hofburg, on top of Roman and probably even older ruins. Photo by Edgar Hohl, December 18, 2008. Creative Commons Fair Use: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74072720@N00/3152888459
A closer view. Creative Commons Fair Use: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/415949715586029531/

In western Europe, especially France, you find St. Michael chapels and churches on high places, like, oh, Mont St. Michel. In eastern Europe, they are associated with former pagan sites, as in the Michaelerkirche in Vienna, elsewhere in Austria, and Poland, and Hungary, and Croatia, and . . .

Guido Reni “The Archangel Michael Defeating Satan” 1631

I’ve been fond of St. Michael since my adopted grandfather (a paratrooper and devout Southern Baptist) gave me a St. Michael medallion. Tracking him all over Central Europe has also been fascinating, and Christmas Eve mass at the Michaelerkirche in Vienna was the highlight of that particular trip.

Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, the three Biblical archangels.


Iron 1: Alma 0

So, on Saturday, the iron won. That 50 LB barbell was not, I repeat not, going up as far as my collar-bone, let alone over my head, no matter how good my back felt. After the third failed attempt, I returned the barbell to the rack and got the lower-weight bar, and finished the session with that one.

I was philosophic. That’s only twice now I’ve had to either dump plates (bench press) or couldn’t even start the lift. At my age, with my problems, and since i don’t have a spotter, that’s not bad at all. If I’d had a spotter, then I might have tried to do at least one shoulder press. No safety back-up, no lift. I’ve seen what happens when people get the bar up and then lose control of it. No , thank you! The next morning I was appropriately sore, but nothing new hurt, so I didn’t injure myself the previous day. That’s very good.

If you are serious about lifting, a time will come when the iron will win. It happens to all of us. You might go very well one session, and then two or three later? Nope. That mass is not going to move, or is not going to return to the rack without someone else’s help. Or in my case, without very carefully tipping the bench press bar and letting the plates slide off one side, then repeating the process on the other side. (This is why I do not use a lifting collar or weight stop on the bar.) Ideally, I’d have a spotter watching for trouble and intervening before things to too rodeo. My world isn’t ideal.

Life’s like that. There are times we fail. Sometimes we can shrug it off, change tactics, and get it done sideways (higher reps with a lighter weight to finish the day for the same total poundage lifted). At other times, it just wasn’t going to happen. We don’t have the genetics, or we’re female (lower upper body strength), or have hit the limit of what sheer determination can accomplish. I’ll never be a public historian of the stature of David McCullough. I’d love to be. I’d love his income. It’s not going to happen. I’ll never be an opera singer, or a Prix St. George-level dressage rider. But I tried, and I learned, and I enjoy what I CAN do.

I’ll go back in a few days and try the iron again. For a very long time, forty pounds was all I could press. Then it was fifty. For a long time, sixty pounds was all I could bench. Now it’s eighty five, although I might be hitting a wall because of my back. Eventually, I’ll find my natural limit. But I’ll be in a lot better shape than I would have been otherwise.

Red Beans and Rice

Ah, the national Monday food of Louisiana, red beans can be put on the back of an already hot stove (behind the wash water pots) and ignored all Monday. Toss in several handfulls of rice just before supper time, and all is ready. Plus you can add in any leftover bits of meat or ham bones and so on from Sunday dinner if you have them.

Last week, I found the tail end of a sack of red-beans-n-rice mix, chopped up some andouille sausage, and tossed in some other veggies toward the end of cooking. The flavor was good, but I think I found four red beans in three cups of rice. That’s not really red-beans-n-rice.

So if you are doing the old fashioned version, soak a pound of dried red beans overnight, changing the water once or twice. If you are doing a modern version, open and drain two cans of red beans (total of 30 ounces).

In addition to the beans you need:

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 medium green bell-pepper, chopped fine.

2 sticks of celery, chopped fine (or you can buy the frozen veggie blend in a bag if you live in a place where the Holy Trinity is in high demand)

6-8 cups of water (less if you use canned beans)


garlic to taste

1 bay leaf

thyme, dried parsley, other pot herbs to taste (I’d avoid sage, but that’s just me)

pepper sauce like Tabasco

leftover meat, or a pound of good, spicy sausage chopped into chunks. Or skip the meat.

1 1/2 cup white rice (or brown, but keep in mind that brown takes longer to cook)

Filé powder if so inclined (not traditional but I had cousins who liked to add it)

Sautee onion, bell-pepper, celery, and garlic in a heavy pot. I use olive oil with a bit of garlic flavor, but whatever you have on hand is good. You want the onions translucent, but not brown. Add the drained and rinsed beans to the pot, along with dried parsley, a bay leaf, thyme, and anything else you think you’d like. I add two shakes of chipotle powder (dried smoked jalapeno pepper). Other people use “Cajun spice” blend and two shakes of Tabasco sauce (Louisiana kind, not Tabasco Mexico kind). Stir until well blended, add water to cover, and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn down the heat to medium low, cover, and ignore while you do other chores.

Check on the beans and stir every so often. After an hour or so, add the sausage, bring it back to a boil, then return to a simmer and keep ignoring as you do more chores. I prefer my beans a little soupy, but you might like drier. If so, as the rice cooks, leave the lid off the beans and stir so they lose some moisture.

After two and a half hours, or longer, check everything, adjust water and spices as needed, and start the rice (if using white rice) cook rice until done. Serve rice with red beans, a shake of filé if you want some, and more pepper sauce.

Makes a lot.

Looking Up after Looking Down?

On Wednesday’s post, Louraine P. observed that people will always wonder about “what’s out there,” and will get curious. I’m . . . of two minds on this. First, I agree that yes, someone will always push to learn more, even if they can’t see something. In some cases, especially if they can’t see something. But second, I am observing less and less curiosity among younger people, meaning thirty and below.

I don’t know if it is because younger people have gotten used to “I’ll ask the internet” if they have a question, so they don’t ask questions. Or perhaps because they have been overloaded with “this is the Truth” only to be told a while later “No, no, this is the Truth and that never was true,” or because they are carefully protected from “out there” and they are sincerely worried that the unknown is all danger and hazard. Or a bit of yes. I’ve met a few teenagers who were so sheltered that I almost boggled. One or two of those became curious about “what’s out there?” The others rejected intellectual discomfort.

Many of the younger people (35 and below, give or take) seem to walk with their heads down literally or metaphorically, intent on a device in hand or in pocket, eyes on the ground. Now, older people can be inattentive, and I’m always surprised by the people who never see the hawks, or who are startled when I come huffing and puffing beside them as I walk. The screen has captured their attention, be it selecting music or reading and answering texts or browsing social media or watching a video. Granted, many on-line things are designed to keep people locked onto the screen. That’s a problem for others to sort out. My concern is that “what’s out there” turns into “look online and then move on” more more and more people.

One thing that impressed me when the great conjunction happened in the winter of 2020 was how many people were out in their yards, looking up at the sky, and talking to other people about the stars. It helped that two of our regional weather forecasters are astronomers, and they’d been happily geeking out about the conjunction for a week, so everyone knew it was coming, where to look, and why it was a Big Deal*. But it wasn’t teenagers out looking. It was 30+ for the most part, and younger kids.

I’m pretty sure that LP is right, that some people are always going to be curious about “What’s out there?” even if they never get to see stars before they are older teens. But what’s the effect of so many younger people living head-down for so long? I suspect that older people fussed when printing presses made books inexpensive. And I know that older people fussed that really cheap “penny dreadful” mass-market thrillers hit the newsstands in the late 1800s, because they were morally unsound and were rotting the brains of young people, and encouraged violence, and so on. Some things never change. That the same “corrupting trash” also pulled kids into wanting to learn more about the American West, and encouraged travel and exploration, well, no one could see that in the 1890s.

Are smart-phones and screens the same, and just a temporary blip that we will chuckle about later? Or is there something different that will keep people from wondering about the world and what lies beyond us? I have no idea.

*I know. They happen fairly often but they are not as visible as that one was. I remember several professional astronomers and so on mildly scolding people for getting so excited. Which strikes me as exactly the opposite of what you do if you want to encourage a Sense-o-Wonder!

Plot Bunnies! Arrrrrgh!

So there I was, minding my own business, when a gang of plot bunnies showed up and chased me into an alley.

OK, maybe it just feels that way.

For non-writers, the term “plot bunny” refers to ideas that show up and won’t leave you alone, demanding to be written, or added into as story they have no, zilch, zero place in. Some people say “plot kittens,” with the mental image of the (in)famous video of “popcorn kittens.” I think of plot bunnies the same way as I do dust bunnies – I wish they’d go pester someone else.

I’m trying to get the draft of the next Familiar Generations stories done. I know where one is going, I’ve got chunks of the second one done, and the third and fourth (both shorter) are sketched out. Except . . .

That story I began that’s based on Dark Ages Scotland is pestering me, and I’m finishing the last research reading on it so I can really dig into the tale proper. No, I don’t know what role Myrdden-the-Wild is going to play, but I’m starting to get an idea as I read this book, as well as locking in geography. I’d thought the story would be set in the Pictish lands, but it wants to happen mostly in Dal Riata. OK, fine. Be that way. Dun Add here we come.

And then, as I was driving back from the Metroplex, listening to Avantasia (the next album releases in late October), plot stuff attacked. It started riffing off of a scene in Preternaturally Familiar, then spun into a completely different direction that only fits the “Blue Roses” short story. Short story? Novella? Not novel, I know that much. And it is the end of the story, not what I need. And it sort of wants to have a moody Gothic atmosphere, which completely breaks what I thought it would be. Maybe. Or maybe the main character is playing Byronic Hero just to jerk my chain. Twit.

Oh, yeah, and Paulus and Attila from the Elect are poking me to get that book done, too. Because it is dark, and spooky, and it’s a dark and spooky time of year, yes?

So, at the moment, I am going to finish the main story of Familiar Generations, get “Blue Roses” out of the way, do the Elect thing, go back to Familiar Generations, and then the Indus Valley fantasy book.

Unless more plot bunnies mug me.

“The Moon Was a Ghostly Galleon . . .”

” . . . tossed upon cloudy seas.” Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman” was one of the first long ballads I remember reading. Louis Untermeyer included it in the wonderful anthology for young readers that I still have. Even before then, I remember hearing my mother and father quoting the lines when winter winds blew and shreds of cloud dimmed the moon.

“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

And the highwayman came riding—


The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.”


Loreena McKennitt arranged parts of the poem, not the full ballad of doomed love and blind fury. I was reminded of both ballad and song on the eve of the Harvest Moon, when I glanced out a window and saw the above. And below.

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,   

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

A highwayman comes riding—


A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.

He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.   

He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there   

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Book by a New Author

So, a while back, a young-to-the-field writer asked if I would mind looking at a manuscript. The writer had been recommended by someone I trust, and vice versa, so I agreed. Below is the result of this writer’s work. I recommend the book – it has an interesting take on magic and how humans relate to a magical species, among other things.


Fair in the Air

The smell of fried, and of animals. Rows and rows of home-canned goods and cupcakes and Pumpkins of Unusual Size. Flashing lights on spinning rides, and excited voices trying to persuade you to buy a new gadget, or upgrade your storm windows, or to plant native plants, to wear more cotton, and to find Jesus (preferably at their place.)

Yes, it’s fair season!

Pro-tip (especially if you have kids): Eat a little, ride the whirling things, then eat the fried stuff.

Pro-tip (especially if you have kids): Eat a little, ride the whirling things, then eat the fried stuff.

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“You Darkness that I Come From . . . “

Darkness, night, dark nights of the soul, following a star in the heavens, comets as portents . . . What does it mean if all of that goes away? Both in terms of astronomy and interesting people in star-gazing and studying the heavens, and in the sense of culture and religion? Those were some of the topics batted around at one of the FenCon panels.

The title phrase comes from one of Ranier Maria Rilke’s letters to a young poet, in which he (Rilke) muses about preferring darkness to firelight, because night includes everyone, while light shuts out those beyond the glow. I confess to having always been one “acquainted with the night,” as Robert Frost phrased it. I grew up star-gazing, taking walks after dark, going on Owl Prowls at the nature center, and so on. I prefer to keep lights dim, even as my aging eyes are less sensitive to light in general. I grew up understanding all the star references, and learning celestial navigation, and so on. But what about generations that can’t see stars, or anything dimmer than the quarter moon, because of city lights?

For astronomers, to lose the stars is both sad and a professional problem. Who will pick up the mantle after the current generation retires, if younger people don’t learn to look up, and are not fascinated by the wonder of “what’s out there? Why does it look like that?” Light pollution is a serious problem for migrating birds as well, in some cases. It can be a real pain for pilots, because finding the airport in a sea of lights is Not Easy if you don’t already know what to look for. Especially if you are not on an instrument approach with everything set to get the radio beacons or GPS fixes. There’s a runway down there. Somewhere. Or is that I-80?

Some people reply to the plaints with “There’s an ap for that!” You can point your phone or tablet at the sky, or ground, and get a star chart for whatever you are aimed at. Hubble and Webb telescope images are far more colorful and detailed than what you can see through a 6″ backyard telescope or binoculars. And some places still have a planetarium, to simulate going out at night without the bugs, traffic, light pollution, stiff neck, or risk of mugging. Who needs real stars?

We humans do. We need darkness to properly rest. We need to be reminded to things outside of our ken, of worlds greater than ourselves. There’s a sense of wonder and amazement kids and adults get from seeing the stars and identifying the patterns and shapes, the nebula and galaxies and planets, that even a great planetarium can’t quite match. There’s no ap that will reveal the heavens in their glory on a cold October night in Yellowstone, when so many stars filled the sky that I couldn’t identify constellations or planets. The Milky Way cast shadows, it was so bright. Or out at Black Mesa, Oklahoma, as the summer stars marched across the peak of the heavens and a coyote or ten called back and forth.

Darkness stands for evil in many religions. Darkness is when bad people lurk, and thus when heroes do their thing. Humans generally don’t see as well at night as by daylight, although there are a lot of variations on “not as well.” We don’t see color, and discerning patterns and “is that a shadow or a hole” becomes a bit more challenging. Not that it stopped people from working, traveling, or doing things at night in the past. Today, we flood the night with artificial light to make travel (in vehicles) safer, to discourage footpads and robbers and other mischief makers. We fear darkness more than in the past. Which came first – not going out into the darkness, thus leaving it for evil to use for shelter, or evil growing in the shadows and chasing “good people” indoors when the sun sets? Yes?

St. John of the Cross reveled in night, in his extended poem and meditation “Dark Night of the Soul.” Night brought the lover (G-d) and the beloved one (the mystic) together. Night is for lovers, for philosophers, for socializing. Night holds sweet secrets, conceals private pain from those who would mock or minimize what is very personal and real. Night is greater than we are. Darkness and stars, the moon and planets, remind us that we are tiny creatures in a big, mysterious, wonder-full universe. Who made the moon and hung the stars? What are the stories of the shapes in the night sky?

Without stars, we humans lose both astronomy and spiritual wonder. At least, that’s what the panel and those present eventually drifted toward, although no one said it in those words.