The Christmas Pickle

My friends have expressed some dubiousness (and a great deal of mirth) upon my recounting the German tradition of the Christmas pickle (the “Weihnachtsgurke”). (And yes, this is related to the English word “gherkin“– tho’ the etymologic descent is actually from the Dutch “gurk,” cucumber.)
For those unaware of this hallowed and noble custom, it’s pretty simple: there’s a glass Christmas ornament in the shape of a pickle that’s hung somewhere (usually in a hard-to-find place near the trunk, or in the back, or near the top, or all three) on the family Christmas tree. The first person to find it once the tree has been fully dressed is blessed with good luck for the coming year. (The first child to find it is supposed to get an extra Christmas treat, but sometimes it’s hard to prove that you REALLY saw it first.)
There’s actually a great deal of debate as to whether this is a genuine German custom. For the record, the branch of my Old World family we’ve remained in closest contact with hails from Bavaria, which would seem to support the story of where this custom *may* have originated. However, all our heirloom ornaments are from the other side of the family… my mother’s mother’s sister’s husband (that would be my maternal great-uncle-in-law, for those keeping track) worked in a town in what became East Germany that was renowned for their glass ornaments. Every year, he’d send boxes of new ornaments to the extended family, all hand-painted in silver (bright colors weren’t the fashion at that time, particularly). And every year, the ornaments would get put to the curb with the tree when the season was over. I weep to think on it… today, we cherish the few ornaments we have left from him, but back in the day they were so commonplace that they were treated with all the care of the weekly newspaper. 😛
On the third hand (getting back to the possible origins of the story), our pickle is definitely not one of those heirlooms. In fact, I think the current pickle is a replacement for one that was broken. So, we’ve had *a* pickle for awhile, but I’m almost certain it doesn’t go back two generations. (No, I’ve never thought to ask my German cousins if they hide a pickle on their tree.) All I know is that my family’s done it for a good while, and it’s silly and fun, and that’s enough for me.
And if you require proof….

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A Voter’s Call to Action, from Craig Ferguson

I know most of you aren’t up at 12:30 am to catch The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson live, but I feel strongly that his monologue of last night deserved a MUCH larger audience than us night owls. (The whole show was great, but you can only get the monologue online, alas.)
If you’re sick of the media frenzy over “lipstick on a pig,” if you’re jaded about the political process, if you plan to withhold your vote because “your” candidate didn’t make it past the primaries or because you just don’t care… if you’re a citizen of these United States, you need to see this.
Craig Ferguson is (as said) a late night host. He’s Scottish, a naturalized citizen of the U.S., and a professional comedian, but there are some things he takes quite seriously, and this is one of them. So should you.
Forthright language ahead…
Craig Ferguson on Politics and the Vote, 9/10/2008
The clip requires the latest version of RealPlayer (which is a free download), and it’s about 10 minutes long.

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The Big Read Meme, and Joss Whedon’s Evil Genius!

Yes, yes, it’s been awhile, lovely to see you again too, no, I’m not dead.
Now that we’ve gotten that all out of the way… I’ve taken the next step into Web 2.0-ness, and created a Google Reader account and signed myself up for a plethora of RSS feeds (notably, a whole bunch of the links in my sidebar over there). Now, all the things that I’ve promised myself I would read regularly, I actually AM reading regularly, yay! (Come to think… I should share a few of the other sites I’ve added over on my sidebar. Right. One thing at a time.)
So, in honor of my marginally increased geekiness (did I mention I’ve gone all Firefox, all the time, now, too?), I offer you: a web event, and the uncloaking of the origins of a web meme.
The web event is fairly straightforward: Joss Whedon is back, and he’s brought friends. Tune in TODAY (and until the stroke of midnight on Sun., July 20, 2008) to the third and final act of…

DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG!!!
But FEAR NOT!!! If you’re reading this belatedly and missed the spectacular web event, Joss intends to make it available in other formats (according to his diabolical Master Plan. You DID read the Master Plan, didn’t you?) In case that link goes away too, he states in his FAQ:
“[Q:] What happens when it goes away? Does it go to a happy farm for always like Fluffy did when mommy was crying and the neighbor kept washing his fender?
[A:] No, Dr horrible will live on. We intend to make it available for download soon after it’s published. This would be for a nominal fee, which we’re hoping people will embrace instead of getting all piratey. We have big dreams, people, and one of them is paying our crew.
And somewhat later, we will put the complete short epic out on DVD – with the finest and bravest extras in all the land. We’ll go into greater detail about that at Comiccon, but we’re changing the face of Show Friendliness a second time with that crazy DVD. ”
Now, as for the meme… read on, Dear Reader, read on (and I DO mean that)…

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Frequentative -le, and crooked-eared owls

I love AlphaDictionary! Today Dr. Goodword taught me about a whole class of verbs I’d never heard of before. They’re known as “frequentative” verbs, and they are formed by adding -le or -er to an existing verb to indicate repetitive action (and sometimes, they’re formed off nouns to make them into verb forms). So “daze” becomes “dazzle,” “crack” becomes “crackle,” “spark” becomes “sparkle,” “nose” becomes “nuzzle,” “snug” becomes “snuggle.” I’ve been using the pattern to dig up all sorts of obsolete words (or verbs that were simply skipped over, coming to us only as the frequentative form). So far I’ve got sissen, the Middle English for “to hiss or buzz” and the root of “sizzle,” and cull or coll (also the root of “collar”) as the possible origin of “cuddle.” It’s an interesting look into the word-formation process. Here’s a list of a few more frequentative verbs.
And in keeping with the spirit of my category, have another new thing: some owls have crooked ears! No, they’re not deformed, or anything like that. It’s part of the unique set of tools they use to pinpoint invisible prey (such as a vole hidden under snow.) Instead of being set in parallel with one another, the way human ears are, one aperture is set higher than the other. This allows the owl to tell not only if a sound is coming from the left or right, but whether it is “up” or “down” in their current line of sight. By slightly shifting its head, an owl can pinpoint its next meal precisely, without ever seeing it!

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New Year 2008

My, it’s getting dusty around here. Time to do something about that, I think! I had a lovely New Year’s, I hope you all can say the same. As per usual, my family went up to our place in the Adirondacks after Christmas, and stayed ’til just before Twelfth Night. Sledding was accomplished, snowpeople (and creatures) were built, and cross country ski equipment was abused. (No, really– one broken shoe, and a cracked binding. And they don’t *make* three-pin stuff anymore– we’re lucky the local ski shop stocks “antiques!”) It got really, really cold– no, REALLY— the thermometer tucked into its tail and bottomed out at 9 below. The snow squeaked, the lake groaned… it was lovely.
Oh, did I not yet mention the snow? We had not one, but *two* good snows– one at dawn on New Year’s Eve, and another on New Year’s Day. We ended up with a respectable 18 inches of lovely, fluffy white stuff. Well, you’ll see, since I had my camera, and I can’t resist the beautiful, clean canvas of a fresh snowfall! I wound up with over 300 pictures, of which I’ll share my favorite 50 with you. (Believe me, it was tough enough culling them *that* far.) Click onward, and enjoy!
Let it snow…

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‘Tis the Season

I cut our tree this afternoon just as the sun was going down, and it sits trussed in the back of the van, awaiting our return trip. We had dinner. And now…

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Librarians Rock

Tidbits lifted straight from LJ’s January “frontdesk” page which were too funny not to share:
The ALA has a MySpace page! (Gender: Female. Age: 101. Who said MySpace was only for teens? Though, strictly speaking, we lied about our age– the ALA was founded in 1876.) I liked the motto best: “Everybody’s working for the wiki.” (The song you’ve now got stuck in your head is by Loverboy. You’re welome.)
Archie McPhee continues to do its part in boldly shattering the prim librarian stereotype… check out the tatts, girl! (Yes, I did put them on my wishlist. Don’t get me the Deluxe Librarian Action Figure, though, I got it for Christmas. ^_^)
And finally, a bit of statistical navel-gazing: According to the 2007 Digital Future Report from USC – Annenberg School, 7.4% of Internet users in the U.S. have a blog– more than double the 3.2% of 2003. Yay, I’m a statistic!

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Where in the world have you been?

A nifty little tool I saw on Neil’s journal… here’s a nifty visual representation of the U.S. states, European countries, and countries of the world to which I’ve been. (Yes, I know, I don’t get out much.) The really sad bit is that all of my world travelling (excluding Canada, which is so close I don’t quite count it as a foreign country) was done before I graduated high school….

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Not to be morbid, but…

…this is what happens when one reads reviews of books about a CSI’s work. (That’s “Crime Scene Investigator” for people who haven’t watched television in several years.) I’m sure most people have heard the term rigor mortis (one of the reasons a corpse is called a stiff, after all), but did you know about livor mortis (also known as lividity)? How about algor mortis?
And while I’m at it, a dictionary-browsing bonus: don’t you agree that “lixiviation” is a much more fun word to say than “leaching”? ^_^

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Feed your miNd

My job is a constant education… two new N-words from the same journal (Booklist 11/1/06, if you’re rabidly curious) that turned out the be vaguely related!
I suspect the first word was not used correctly, or else I’m missing something profound in the definition. Here’s the context, from the review of Jean-Noel Jeanneney’s Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: “Jeanneney believes that Google’s retrievals as presently constituted pass to the reader the merely noetic, not truly the intelligent, insightful, thoughtful, and genuinely helpful information implied by the notion of universal knowledge.” Even if we delve into the philosophical definition, we’re still talking about a word that essentially deals with the intellect and reason. So how is that meant to contrast with “intelligent, insightful, thoughtful, and genuinely helpful”? (For that matter, how is it that having all the world’s knowledge at your fingertips automatically implies possession of the wisdom to select the most helpful bits insightfully and thoughtfully? Were that true, librarians would have been out of a job the day the World Wide Web came into being.) I suspect the reviewer was looking for a word more like facile or perhaps (to be fair) ratiocinative, to contrast between a computer’s strict trains of logic and proficiency of language, and a human’s intuition and fluency of language. (See? I have big words, too!) At any rate, even if the reviewer didn’t use it correctly, I got a new word out of the bargain. ^_^
The second word I thought I’d encountered before, but it turns out I’d confused it with something similar but unrelated. From the review of Jay Lake’s Trial of Flowers: “When the city’s de facto and largely unknown leader vanishes from a locked room, his apprentice, Jason the Factor, struggles to maintain civilian order in the face of terrifying hauntings from the noumenal world and the threat of advancing enemy soldiers beyond the city’s walls.” The word I knew was numen— a Roman spirit-of-place, from Latin nūmen, “a nod, command; divine will or power, divinity.” Noumenal comes from noumena (singular noumenon), a word coined by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant from a Greek participle of noein, “to perceive by thought,”– and lo, we’re right back to noetic.

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