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.

Tuesday Tidbit: Charms and Covens

Jude and Shoim deal with a problem . . . and a memory.

“We need to unravel that charm,” Shoim murmured as they strolled past the library the next afternoon. Jude had parked at the grocery store when he went to work, giving them an excuse to go by the library while in town. “It is not aging well.”

“No.” The charm in the reference section had begun to shift in a way he did not care for. “I have not heard of a simple spell doing that.”

“No.” Shoim fell silent as a tractor and grain wagon rattled past loudly enough to wake the Seven Sleepers. Why were they on the main street? Oh, yes, the town had closed part of the back route because of a construction project spilling into the street. Mr. Scharbauer had mentioned it. Jude turned up the street beside the library and stopped in the shade of a magnolia tree that desperately needed pruning. He drew a little magic from Pasaru and reached into the library. The charm stood out like dirty oil on snow. Jude guided the magic around the charm, tested it, then eased his own power under the other’s work. It resisted, a bit like a weed that had sunk roots into the soil, then popped free. He dragged the sour magic out of the library and studied it to see how it had been assembled. Then he broke it, cleansing the power as he did. “Uck,” Pasaru observed. “I do not care for the determination in the spell.”

“Neither do I.” Jude slipped his Familiar some jerky and said more loudly, in English, “Which is why you should have eaten a proper breakfast. I do not care to hear about the mean hawk terrorizing the children by dining in the school yard. Again.” The mailman chuckled as he hurried past.

“The boys thought it was cool,” Shoim snapped. He mock-sulked the rest of the way to the grocery store. Once there, he started flapping. Jude braced, then heaved him into the sky. The harrier soared up into the heavens, circled, then departed toward the farm. Jude tucked the gauntlet into his rucksack and nibbled a few of the cookie bits in the bits bag as he leaned against Martha’s car. She had said that she would call her order in so he did not have to return to the farm to get her list.

Indeed, when he went to the service desk, Mrs. Grauer waved him over to the pick-up side of the area. “Jude, your aunt called in her order. She said she’s under the weather?”

He sensed ears turning his direction, and nodded. He pitched his voice to carry just a little. “Yes, ma’am. She had a little fall the other day. She’s just stiff, nothing broken or sprained. I’ve been staying on the farm in case she needs anything.”

The retired teacher smiled. “That’s good, that she’s not badly hurt. Give her my regards, and if you’ll pull up to the door, Joey will help load her groceries. She’s still got some credit, but I put the receipt with the balance on it in the bag with the baking things.”

“I’ll let her know, and thank you, ma’am.” He went back out, fetched the car from the far end of the lot, and drove to the door. A young man of school age wheeled a full grocery cart out and they loaded things into the car. Jude blinked at the very large sacks of dried beans and chick peas.

Martha helped move the lighter things in, then opened the heavy plastic bins where she stored bulk goods. “I used the last of the old beans and I want to restock now, before the winter rush, while prices are good. White beans here, spotted beans here, and the chick peas go in the smaller bin. It’s cooler out here, and they keep better. Mice can’t get into the bin, either.”

That made sense, good sense. Jude lifted the sacks and she steered and steadied them as the dried beans flowed into the proper spaces. He didn’t recall his mother or aunts having bean-bins, but they didn’t eat as many beans as they did root vegetables, canned vegetables, and bread. They also ate more meat than Martha did, but she wasn’t Hunting or doing strenuous physical labor, either. He returned outside and fetched the mail, then combed the garden for any more produce. He found one last green squash that had hidden itself away. He hefted it, impressed. The enormous, far too large to eat specimen went onto the compost pile. “Too big to eat, too small for the fair,” he snorted. Tasks done, he went inside.

“Sit and eat.” Martha ordered. He complied happily and feasted on left-over roast beef in sandwiches made on home-baked bread.

He left the house around seven that night. The coven was meeting, and he and Shoim had agreed to act as security of a sort, when they could. Clouds had moved in, and the weather forecast suggested that drizzle and light rain could be in the offing. Here and there Jude saw bubbles of golden light—cab-lights and headlights in grain dust—as combines trundled back and forth, trying to get crops in before the soybean and corn stems absorbed enough humidity to become thick and clog the harvester’s throat. Shoim rode on his left hand for the moment. Nothing moved that Jude could sense.

Shoim shifted on his hand as they reached the old St. Wenceslaus chapel near the coven’s work area. “There’s an odd scent in the air.” He raised and lowered his wings part-way. “Not exactly corruption, but not neutral, either.”

Hmm. Jude stopped beside one of the elm trees, mindful of the possibility of plummeting branches. He extended a little magic down, into the soil, then out into the night. “Toward town, but not in town,” he murmured. “I sense it too, but—” His eyes narrowed and he waited. “Like a bit of mist? Not a shadow spell, but very soft and faint. I agree, it is not of the light.” Should they Hunt this night?

Pasaru’s tail feathers flicked up, then down as he rocked forward and back, then left and right. “It’s too fuzzy for us to track easily, Tenebriu. I want to look closer, but we’d spend magic we will need on Monday.”

There was that. Jude nodded. “And it could be that our prey leaves a false trail. We wait.”

“We wait. And I want up, please.” Jude went to the red maple tree on the other side of the little chapel yard. The one low branch provided Shoim with a convenient perch from which he could see the coven’s working circle. He stepped off of the glove and situated himself. Jude tucked the glove into his belt and made a quick circuit around the working circle and parking lot. No charms, no garbage, and no sign of other people working spells attracted his attention. That was good. Were he the coven, he’d put up a fence with a locked gate, but they preferred not to attract curious eyes.

The first car pulled into the lot. He eased back into the shadows. He did not trust other people to look before they parked! Veronica, the coven leader, got out of her car, opened the trunk, and began moving plastic crates toward the circle. He’d offered to help, but the witches and warlocks always refused, so after the third time he stopped and just kept watch. Laurence’s new small SUV trundled up, followed by Lucy’s battered farm pickup. She drove her father’s spare vehicle. A pickup and another SUV arrived, and the remaining four coven members emerged. Jude eased over to where Veronica and Laurence stood as they studied the circle and the sky. Jude cleared his throat.

Laurence turned, saw him, and smiled. “Well met, Tenebriu. We do the equinox working tonight.”

Veronica smiled as well. “It is a simple power gathering and reading, no warding or other outside work.”

“Do you shield?” Jude asked, an answering smile on his lips, a smile that did not reach his heart.

“Just the usual, with a lighter outside shield to warn off Elementals,” Laurence assured him. Lucy had come up beside the warlock. The buffer glanced from the older witch and warlock to him, her expression a little troubled. She did not speak.

Jude nodded. “I will remain outside both. Pasaru and I both sensed something odd, but it is faint and well away from here.”

Hans, the youngest warlock, tipped his head a little to the right. “Ah, it could be, oh, I should remember. There’s a girl in the high school, her parents hired a magic tutor to test her and help her with her sorcery magic.”

The sense did not match, but Jude made the proper sound. “It could well be. The sense is toward town.”

“That’s probably it,” Veronica declared. Jude faded back into the night and left them to their work, and their working. As always, Lucy watched him, her dark eyes shadowed and unreadable. Shoim had said that she wanted to ask him out. Since she said nothing, and her father had let it be known that he did not approve of over-eager young men appearing on his door-step unannounced, Jude had shrugged off Shoim’s words. Shadow had warned him about match-making Familiars.

As the coven members busied themselves with candles, incense burners, and colored chalks, Jude walked around the edges of the property. A few Elementals, air for the most part, drifted by, and he gently warned them off. The spirit-like creatures generally preferred to observe rather than interfere, but even that could accidentally upset a working. An owl, a true owl, launched from an old oak not far from the chapel, winging her silent way into the growing darkness. The evening star shone down through a brief parting in the clouds, serene and silver. He pulled his jacket tighter and continued on his round, not working magic, really, but feeling the night, tasting the air and the flows of power in the land.

As he returned to Pasaru’s perch, the coven raised the outermost shield around their circle, one meant only to ward off Elementals and accidental outside magic. He shivered, reaching up to touch his Familiar. This was not a year and a bit ago, was not Barton Beck using blood-path and abyssal magic to drain and kill innocent people. Still, the memories lingered. He reached into his collar and touched the comforting warmth of his silver St. Michael medallion. Pasaru remained silent, just being present.

The harrier hissed, very quiet. “The blot.” Jude pulled on the left glove and raised his hand. Pasaru stepped onto his fist and they turned toward the sense of off-kilter magic. “Something is not right,” Pasaru murmured.

Tenebriu moved to the very edge of the coven’s property, near the county blacktop. He lowered his shields and extended his senses toward town, as when he tasted the wind for hints of his prey. “No. Malice, not targeted but malice, yes. And something . . . I do not recognize it. As if it is of another place?” Which made no sense, because magic was magic. No, he caught himself. That was not correct. But now was not the time to try to sort it out. “Shield the coven, yes? Or better, set a foundation, And wait?”

Pasaru rocked from side to side, then extended his wings slightly. “Yesssss. Foundation, be ready to trigger it. Work now, so trigger won’t interfere with the coven’s work.”

Jude didn’t thump himself in the head for forgetting, he just wanted to. He drew power from himself and the night together, twisting them like thread on a distaff and spindle, and sent the magic out along the ground, forming a larger ring around the coven’s outermost spell. He “primed” the shield but did not trigger it. If he concentrated, he sensed the coven’s magic working, gathering and shaping magic from the power in the earth and sky. The temptation to watch them work was almost too much. He quashed the mental itch. That was not his task. Pasaru shifted from foot to foot, then subsided. Jude concentrated on being part of the land and the night, still and harmless, not noticeable. A touch of breeze ruffled his hair. The wind carried the scents of autumn, wood smoke and grain dust, a skunk’s bitter unhappiness, and the faintest whiff of—

Pasaru hissed a rude word and mantled. “Brimstone,” Jude hissed in turn, but not just the stink of sulfur and rotten eggs. No, this was a scent from outside this plane, a whiff of an abyssal plane. The moment passed and the stench faded with the next puff of night air. “This I do not like,” Jude said, teeth bared toward the wind.

“No. When they finish, we Hunt.”

Jude took a long, calming breath. “We track, if we can, then Hunt if we find trackable traces. I do not care to walk into a surprise, or squander strength on a false trail.”

Pasaru made a harsh, but quiet, sound. Harriers could not growl, not that it stopped Pasaru from trying. For once he did not argue. Jude made himself note the direction of the wind, then resumed walking around the coven’s work area. The candles flickered in the breeze but remained lit. As he passed downwind, he caught a hint of warm, rich-scented incense. Thank you, Great God, Lady of Night, that I am not a warlock. A Hunter had not the time to light candles and draw colored patterns when he Hunted. Was that why Mrs. Lorraine’s books mentioned no witches of shadow, only mages and sorcerers? He shrugged and moved, attention on the wind and the scents it carried.

When the coven finished, they broke their circle and put out all the flames. Lucy checked each colored or white pillar twice after the others quenched the candles, making triple sure that no danger remained. He approved of the caution. He pulled the shield’s foundation magic back into himself and sent a little to his Familiar. Shoim poked him with a wingtip, then pointed at a fence post. Jude obliged, happy to ease the strain on his shoulder and elbow. Two and a quarter pounds of raptor grew heavy indeed. They stayed well clear as the coven packed. Laurence, Hans, Veronica and the others seemed to have forgotten them. Lucy, however . . . She glanced to them as she carried things to Veronica and Laurence’s vehicles. As he rested and flexed his left hand as best he could, she dug something out of her working bag and approached him. “Jude?” she called, quiet, moving with slow care.

“Yes, ma’am?” She reminded him of the women of the clans, dark of hair and tan of skin, with dark grey eyes and a round face. She wore dark colors, not black but navy, dark brown, and muted green. That fit her role as buffer, someone who smoothed magic and grounded away any excess or backlash.

“Um,” she glanced over her shoulder, into the wind. “Something’s not right, I mean, there’s a sour taste in the night’s power?”

If Shoim had possessed eyebrows, they probably would have risen. Jude’s certainly did. He answered honestly. “Yes, there is. We noticed it too, briefly. Faint, fainter than the skunk, but you are correct, ma’am.”

Relief warred with caution. “Thank you. And thank you, both of you, for watching the night.” She glanced down. “I remember last year. Here. I brought too much, and it won’t keep. The others don’t like it.” She presented him with a plastic bag full of something he almost recognized.

“Thank you, ma’am.” Jude took the bag with his right hand as Shoim bowed. Lucy smiled a little, then hurried back to the others. Had they even noticed her absence? Probably not. They were good people, but not wary enough, aside from Lucy. “Why did she notice?”

Shoim whapped him with a wing. “She’s a buffer, dummy. Her job is to sense changes in the magic and either sort them out or trigger spells that let her dump everything before it backlashes and kills the whole coven. The smaller she keeps the disturbance, the better it is for everyone. So of course she’d notice something off.” He twisted his head in his version of an eye-roll. “And what’s in the sack?”

Jude waited for the last of the group to leave before opening the bag the tiniest bit. He sniffed and almost gasped. He’d not smelled that combination of fruit and spices in almost a decade. “It’s kompoti. From the Old Land.” He opened the bag a little farther and drew out one, then nibbled. Oh, so close to his grandmother’s version! He closed his eyes for a moment, back in his grandmother’s kitchen with his brothers and sisters. “Smells are better than sound or sight/For making yer heart-strings crack”. Kipling was correct. He forced himself back to the present.

How did Lucy know the recipe? Her family was German. Jude set the question aside, sealed the bag once more and tucked it into his rucksack. He needed to move, to track the abyssal presence if he could. He took a quick sip of water and switched gloves, so that Shoim rode on his right hand. That left his weapon-hand free. He needed to train more with his right hand, but . . . Not this night, no. Shoim stepped onto the glove and settled.

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

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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