Some came from countries that no longer exist, and sold at a Five and Dime near Bremerton’s navy base. The box of a dozen glass ornaments cost fourteen cents. Others began their travel in Romania, made for hard currency export during the depths of the Cold War. Others stem from Australia, Germany, Poland, Santa Fe NM back when it was fun. Others were made by relatives, including my Southern Belle aunt who painted china as well as canvasses. As DadRed observed this year, “We could easily do a second tree.”

Ornaments mark moments in time – gifts when Sib and I were born, Texas-related things when we moved down here, my parents marriage while Dad was in the Navy, special vacations and trips, friends made around the world . . . Sib liked Star Trek, so there’s Bird of Prey that plugged into a light-bulb socket and made shooty noises. I have all the airplane ornaments Hallmark has released thus far. There are cats galore, wildlife in wood, spun glass, fabric, resin, blown-glass . . . We go for colorful, memorable, and “that looks neat!” Theme trees are not a Red family tradition, any generation of it. Sib and Sib-in-Law have cat-resistant ornaments, mostly wood, fabric, resin, and a few made from lab-glass that are carefully secured to the tree. The tree is affixed to the wall, just in case.

The oldest ornaments predate me. They came from Woolworths and Skags. Of the glass birds, only one survives and it now lacks a tail. It had been a swan with a white filament tail tipped in silver. The glass balls have patterns of rough dots and stripes on the outside. The material had once been silver, but is now almost black. They cost ten cents for a dozen, and came from Romania.

The newest ornament? A large blown-glass dragon with a red and white sash across its chest, holding the crest of the city of Krakow. We also have Polish straw ornaments as well, fish and stars and a witch and a few others, all obtained from Poland through a shop in the US.

As Mom and Dad Red finished decorating the tree this year, I polished a solid silver unicorn we got at Colonial Williamsburg a few years ago. Um, a few as in over twenty. (That trip was the last time I ever dressed for style instead of weather. I was cold the entire time.) It goes with the reproduction of the Unicorn in Captivity from the tapestries in the Cloisters Museum. Dragons outnumber unicorns in the family collection, even though unicorns are more liturgically appropriate. The most numerous animal is the cat, then dragon, fox, birds of all kinds, and so on down to a single felt kangaroo and koala. Friends in Australia gave us those one year.

We also have embroidered and beaded figures that hang from the drapes, and all of the Smithsonian carousel animals. Those are far too heavy to hang on the tree, so they hover in front of the windows. Some are in better shape than others, as years and packing problems took their toll. The Nativity scene disappeared when we moved here, and I suspect it was stolen along with other valuables. I have the pewter pocket Nativity that appeared in my dorm room drawer the first Christmas I was in college. I have no idea where it came from, and my parents deny any knowledge. It had not been in the drawer in November, then appeared hidden in with my socks in early December.

Some questions are best not asked. Like “Who ate the cookie?” or “How did you manage to break that?”


Guess Who?

Let’s see: Goth, waistcoat with watch-chain, boots, slightly grey widow’s-peak, and Hunting knife. Hmmmmm . . .

He’s a custom design from TerriDragons, a small shop that sells hand-made pop-culture and custom dragons in different sizes. She also has stationary and jewelry, among other items. This is the second dragon I’ve gotten, and both are very high quality. (The other is Tuomas from Nightwish). https://www.terridragon.com/dragon-store

I have a little tradition of getting myself a dragon of some kind when I finish a series. He seemed appropriate.

Tuesday Tidbit: A Failed Summoning?

Jude and Shoim track down the bad magic they sensed as the coven worked.

Jude reached in, then out, seeking for the “scent” of wrongness. He noted the well-known blotch of the Beck Farm, and the fainter rot at the Graff place. Closer to town he sensed two problem places, one stronger than the other. “I like this not,” he murmured to Pasaru as they made their way toward the closer one. Both spots remained still, at least to his magical senses.

“No.” The harrier shifted a little. “I want to fly.”

Jude extended his arm. Pasaru began to flap, and Jude tossed him into the autumn night. The harrier climbed into the darkness, disappearing. Now free to move, Jude sped his steps, shifting to a Hunter’s lope. Ordinary farm and field fences no longer posed a problem. He skirted two farm yards, and edged around a freshly-harvested wheat field, lest his prints in the dust warn his prey. The sense of wrong remained steady as he drew closer, not growing in intensity. The magical “scent” faded with time as a true scent might. Whatever made it had departed, or been sent back to its plane of origin. The night no longer felt soiled.

Pasaru dove down beside him, leading him along an old, half-forgotten road between the trees to a pasture. Jude slowed, calming his heart and quieting his breath. Pasaru hovered over one corner, by a dilapidated bit of wooden-rail fence. His mage started along the outside of the sagging wood, then changed his mind. Poison ivy and nettles lurked ahead. He jumped the fence with ease and extended his hand, a tiny puff of shadow in the palm. Pasaru swept toward him, hovered for a heartbeat, backwinged, and landed. Jude gave him the magic and began circling the abyssal trace. “A summoning,” Pasaru breathed.

Bits of the summoning circle and pattern remained. The sorcerer had used a ring of mushrooms as his base, and traces of chalk gave a few of the mushrooms crimson caps. The magic worker had trampled the grass inside the “fairy ring” flat, then used more chalk on the pattern. Chalk and something else, something Jude recognized all too well. Please, Lady of Night, please may it just be animal blood. He circled the ring, then lowered his shield the tiniest bit, reading the land. “The summoning failed.” The abyssal presence had stayed only long enough to stain the ground. “Or it worked, but could not hold what it summoned here, on this plane?” The books he had read did not describe how that might come to be.

Pasaru bobbed. “Yes.” He spoke slowly. “The summoner was not strong enough to hold the call, or realized that he had the wrong plane and released the entity before it could fully cross.”

“Let us pray for the first to be the true cause.” Because if the sorcerer desired to call something from an infernal plane, he and Pasaru would have to plead for aid, lots of it, should the call succeed.


Jude drew power through his Familiar and sent the magic down into the earth, lifting and cleansing the last trace of the abyssal taint. When he finished, he sought the second abyssal spot. He could no longer sense it. “The second place is gone.”

“Faded away. Was weaker. We need to recharge, Tenebriu.” The Familiar’s voice sounded strained. Jude found a low place in the fence away from the poisonous plants and retreated into a woodlot. There he found a branch for Shoim, and got the harrier’s meat out of his bag. As Shoim gulped his meal, Jude sipped some water and had some of the nuts and fruit that he carried. He could not risk losing himself in memories again as he ate, not until he was safely concealed. They needed to Hunt, if the opportunity arose and if their prey were not more than they could deal with. No, Jude scolded himself. He wanted to Hunt, wanted the Fruits of the Hunt. That was quite different from truly needing the Fruits. He drank more water and considered where to go next.

A yawn answered the question. He needed rest and food, in that order. Jude checked his mental map and nodded. It would be an easy walk to his preferred resting place, assuming that no one had found it, that no one had broken into the old stone building, that . . . He set the worries aside. The Great God and St. Michael had watched over him and Shoim thus far, and the Most High always provided.

Once Shoim finished eating, Jude packed his meat box away and set off. Again, the harrier dozed on his mage’s fist. Jude envied the bird. Soon enough will you sleep, sleep forever, he reminded himself. A tractor and empty grain-wagon rattled and roared past on the gravel road ahead of them. Jude waited for the dust to settle, then hurried across. Soon they crossed the corner of one of the nature preserves that dotted the less-desirable or abandoned bits of Devon and River Counties. Jude stopped at the spring. Shoim stepped from glove to ground and stretched. Jude filled his water bottles, then rinsed the empty meat container in the downstream trickle away from the spring. This spring he could trust to be safe to drink. He’d tested it several times to be sure. Four others and a public well served for washing, but the water passed under too many cow yards and septic systems for him to feel comfortable drinking. The usual tracks around the far end of the spring’s pool reassured him. Raccoons, deer, skunk, coyote, small rodents, and night birds had left their traces since the last rain.

“Branch, please,” Shoim requested, once they reached the property with the stone house. Jude found one and set a little bit of magic on the limb. Shoim launched, then landed up, out of danger’s way. He refused to sleep under a roof unless the weather threatened life and limb. “Night.”

“Defender be with you.” Jude continued to the small clearing, now less of a clearing than before, around the small, stout building. He circled with care, looking for trail cameras and sniffing for the scent of other people. Surely someone else knew about the stone house. Surely. But no one had ever visited, or if they had they had not tried the lock or the newer, stronger plywood he had placed inside the window-openings. Once sure he would be unobserved, he made his way to the door. He unlocked it and eased in, locking it once more.

He made his way to the small back room, the one with the false seal over the window, wood he could remove from inside should he have to flee. Jude unrolled the sleeping pad and bag. He sat, rinsed his hands, and opened the bag of kompoti Lucy had made. “Great God, thank You for sustenance. Lady of Night, thank You for hospitality to the stranger. Son of God, thank You for the bounty.”

He pulled a plum-filled, spiced dumpling out of the bag and ate slowly. Memories flowed with the flavors and he let them wash him back in time. If his face felt damp, he could blame the dust in the old house.

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

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.

Nonsense Poems

One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead men got up to fight,
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other,

One was blind and the other couldn’t, see
So they chose a dummy for a referee.
A blind man went to see fair play,
A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”

A paralysed donkey passing by,
Kicked the blind man in the eye,
Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,

A deaf policeman heard the noise,
And came to arrest the two dead boys,
If you don’t believe this story’s true,
Ask the blind man he saw it too!

The above is one of the nonsense poems I learned as a child and still enjoy as an adult. They are silly, illogical, full of contradictions, and leave little kids and some adults scratching their heads and frowning because the poem breaks all the rules of logic.

Here’s another one I remember, but in a slightly different variation:

Ladies & Jellyspoons…
: : I stand before you to go behind you
: : To tell you something I know nothing about.
: : This Thursday, which is Good Friday,
: : There will be a mothers’ meeting to which only fathers are invited.
: : Wear your best clothes if you haven’t any,
: : And if you can come, please stay at home.
: : Admission is free, pay at the door.
: : Grab a chair and sit on the floor.
: : It doesn’t matter where you sit,
: : The man in the gallery is sure to spit.
: : Our next meeting is about the four corners of the round table.
: : Thank me!

The version I learned was from a folklore book, and goes:

Ladies and jellybeans
Reptiles and crocodiles
I stand before you to sit behind you
To tell you something I know nothing about
There will be a meeting tomorrow evening
Right after breakfast
To decide which color to whitewash the church
There is no admission
So pay at the door
There are plenty of seats
To sit on the floor.

A discussion on StackExchange points back to manuscripts dated from the 1400s and 1305 with examples of nonsense-type sayings. It also ties into ballads where impossible tasks are assigned to a hero, or would-be (or former lover), as in “Scarborough Fair:”

“Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Without any seam nor needlework*
Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well
Which never sprung water nor rain ever fell

Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn**
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born.

Ask him to find me an acre of land
Between the salt water and the sea-sand

Oh, will he plough it with a lamb’s horn,
and sow it all over with one peppercorn,

And when he has done and finished his work,
then come to me for your cambric shirt,
and he shall be a true love of mine

Both are common folklore tropes, and appear in a lot of places.

*The Virgin Mary was said to have made a seamless robe for Jesus, although whether this was Jesus as a child, or later in his career, depends on which source you look at. It is based on John 19: 23-24, with some medieval updates and theological embroidery.

**The opposite of this appears in “The Corpus Christi Carol,” which describes a thorn tree that has bloomed ever since Jesus birth (also the German carol “Maria Durch ein Dornwald Ging.”

RIP David McCullough

America’s best known popular historian has passed to his reward, and the world is a little poorer for his departure. He was eighty nine, and had not intended to become a historian. He studied English and wanted to be a play-wright, like his professor Thornton Wilder. Instead, McCullough wrote “Our Town” American history, looking at everything from The Brooklyn Bridge to the Panama Canal, to the Johnstown Flood, to Presidents Truman and Adams. He consulted with documentarians like Ken Burns, wrote essays, and encouraged younger people to look around and write what caught their attention. His books are that rare blend of fun to read and meticulously researched.

He graduated Yale University with a degree in English. Along the way, he discovered that he liked research. I know researchers who detest writing, and writers who prefer to do anything but plant rump in chair and read through box after box of letters and documents. McCullough was both – a writer who loved to dig, and did it well. He could pull up the little telling details that made the past live. He served his apprenticeship, as it were, with American Heritage, and any of my readers who remember that publication and its books when it was in it’s prime know exactly the flavor and rigor that the press required. It was while employed there that McCullough encountered the story of the Johnstown Flood and turned it into one of the best “disaster history” books around. Not just disaster history, but human history, and human survival.

He was also fair. His protagonists are not saints, but neither are they monsters. McCullough could be a bit presentist at times, not a rare flaw among popular historians (or among academic historians for that matter), but it was unusual when it happened. McCullough showed people and situations in all their glorious complexity, warts and all. That is part of what makes his books stand out. He’s fair to his characters, and to the places he describes. With one exception, he kept his opinions of living politicians to himself, and I’m willing to forgive him that one excursion.

You might be surprised by how relatively few books he actually wrote. He appeared in a lot of Ken Burns’ and others documentaries, and was very much a public historian in the best sense. He seems to have been more prolific than he actually was, although, if you go only by word count, well, he’s up there.

The Johnstown Flood

The Great Bridge

The Path Between The Sea

Mornings on Horseback (Teddy Roosevelt)

Brave Companions


John Adams


The Greater Journey (American ex-pats in Paris)

The American Spirit (essays)

The Pioneers (settling the Old Northwest)

Fair winds, sir, and may your future researches bear rich fruit.

Overly Familiar

It’s alive!

Lelia and André can deal with abyssal fiends, sorcerers gone bad, sorceresses gone worse, curses that go Sproing! A teenage daughter? Now that’s a challenge.

Lelia and André just want to live quietly, raising their family and keeping arcane mischief to a minimum. But the Street and the Army have other plans.

Lelia’s worlds are on a collision course, and her daughter might be caught in the middle.

Sometimes, trouble is new. And Sometimes it’s Overly Familiar.

Thank you to all who have bought the book, or are reading it on Kindle Unlimited. Thanks especially to those who leave reviews and ratings!

The Borders Abbeys I

One of the things that determined the itinerary of my most recent foray into the past was visiting the great Borders abbeys, or what is left of them. Some of these (Fountians, Rievaulx, Melrose) were Cistercian houses, Jedburgh was Augustinian, The Tironensian Order (Grey Friars) founded Kelso in 1128 (and soon discovered that they lived on the route of invasion between Scotland and England), and Dryburgh was Premonstratensian (White Canons). They all date to the 1100s-1200s, although all had earlier monasteries or churches either close by (Melrose) or probably under (Jedburgh) the new foundations.

Approaching Fountains from above the valley. The name comes from six springs in the valley.
Chapel of the Nine Altars, Fountains.
The Nave, Fountains. Did I mention this was a very large abbey?
Note visitor for scale . . . The bit of tower visible through the window arch is what we saw coming down the slope toward the valley.
Did I mention that Fountains was huge, and spawned a number of smaller houses? And that it was one of the major business hubs of Yorkshire?

Fountains came into being after a “riot” in the Benedictine Monastery of St. Mary’s in York in 1132. 13 monks got kicked out, in part for demanding more austerity (poverty, separation from the world) than the politically powerful Archbishop and Abbot of York wanted to revert to. The malcontents settled at Fountains under the aegis of a different bishop. After a very hard winter, they petitioned to be allowed into the Cistercian Order. This was granted. The abbey did well until the 1300s. The Scots attacked, sheep diseases (and cattle ailments) did in many of the flocks and herds, animals that were mortgaged to wool-dealers on the Continent. Then the Black Death cut the labor supply inside and outside of the abbey. The abbey had partially recovered before Henry VIII took over all the property as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Fountains to day is a busy, popular place to visit, with a country house not far away, and lots of things aimed at kids. The place was full of families when I visited. You can also see the grange. A grange is a farm associated with a monastery or convent that is not on the monastery grounds proper, and that was leased or rented out. Fountains also had lead and iron mines, glass-making facilities, slate quarries, tens of thousands of sheep, farms, grist and lumber mills, timber sales, and a few other sources of income. Collectively, the Cistercians became the single greatest wool exporter in the British Isles by 1300.

All those colors are from natural dyes that were available during the Middle Ages. Each one has a tag listing the plants and minerals used, plus the mordant. For example, weald and woad used together give different shades of green, depending on the proportions of plants used and what fixative follows. The Grange at Fountains.

Riveaulx is more what you’d think of the Cistercians as doing – way the heck in the middle of nowhere, hard to find, and not overrun with people. It was founded in 1132 and grew from fewer than 20 brothers to 640 plus lay brothers and novices by the 1160s. It to throve, then staggered in the 1300s before starting to recover. With the dissolution of the monasteries, the new owners stripped it of the lead, glass, wood, and pretty much anything that they could cart off. Because it was isolated, more of the walls remained standing at the time, although they were recycled in later years. The museum has one of the lead “boats” made from the roof material. This one somehow didn’t end up being turned in to anything else. It is easily four feet long and two feet thick, pure lead.

Part of the main church, and the monastery complex at Riveaulx.
Flowers through the refectory wall.

The abbeys in Scotland were a bit different, as we will see later . . .

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