Gris's Journal Just another Confusticate Blogs site Thu, 25 Dec 2008 00:20:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Christmas Pickle Thu, 25 Dec 2008 00:20:29 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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….

The Christmas Pickle, 2008:

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A Voter’s Call to Action, from Craig Ferguson Thu, 11 Sep 2008 15:13:52 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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! Sat, 19 Jul 2008 19:56:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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…

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)…

In the spirit of any good web meme, I shamelessly stole this from Mary Warner of The Woo Woo Teacup Journal, who of course shamelessly stole it from someone else. If you work your way through the chain of outrageous piracy, pillage, and plunder (…hey, did you know that pillage (from the Old French) and plunder (from Middle High German) are essentially the same word, except that plunder traditionally refers specifically to the taking of household goods? No, really, go look! (And, for that matter, sack (with the meaning of “plunder”) literally DID come from the sense of “putting booty in a sack”… so my former medieval history professor’s image of the Vandals wandering Rome with giant Macy’s bags wasn’t so far off.) Yet another example of the English language’s differentiation of meaning between Germanic terms and French loan-words. More on that another day, I think. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog entry, still in progress….), eventually most will claim that this meme was stolen from the federal government, specifically the NEA’s Big Read. (Hence the name, Big Read Meme. Simple, ain’t it?)
However, as is the case with so many web memes, this genealogy would be completely FICTIONAL! The Big Read is a worthy thing, but to date they’ve only produced a list of 21 books (note that I’ve marked these up according the the meme below, because, hey, why not? Looks like I’ve read more than half, myself.):
* The NEA Big Read Booklist *
Bless Me, Ultima – Rudolfo Anaya
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
(A novel for all readers… get the 40th anniversary ed., and read the afterword!)
My Ántonia – Willa Cather
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Lesson Before Dying – Ernest J. Gaines
The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
(I love Dash!)
A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
(Hemingway, on the other hand…)
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
(The opening line intrigues me: “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”)
Washington Square – Henry James
(Maybe… I’ve liked other James novels)
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (excellent, excellent book)
A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
The Shawl – Cynthia Ozick
Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
(but I liked The Kitchen God’s Wife better)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
Old School – Tobias Wolff
The Death of Ivan Ilyich – Leo Tolstoy (never got into the Russians… but maybe someday)

So, the NEA’s Big Read is *not* the source of the Big Read meme. “But then… what is?”, I hear you cry. (Aren’t you glad you asked a librarian?) Fear not! (I could really get used to that phrase), for I have delved deep into the Web’s annals, and discovered the answer! Travel with me across the pond, Dear Reader, to the shores that gave birth to our Mother Tongue (and forgive me if English is your second language, your pronunciation is excellent, really)…. to the UK’s World Book Day. The meme’s list (and yes, it’s ranked) is of World Book Day’s Top 100 Books that the UK couldn’t live without, for 2007. This is (as the name implies) an annual compilation, and unfortunately WBD doesn’t keep the old lists on its site. But I trust you’ll accept this 3/1/2007 BBC article,”Pride and Prejudice is top read,” as authoritative confirmation.
There now, enough debunking. On With the Meme! (Wow, that sounds like a web sequel to Gone With the Wind, doesn’t it?) I’m not going to quibble too much about what’s included on the list; I’m certain that *everyone* has a “Top 100” of their own, and I doubt that it would exactly match anyone else’s (although, hey! Literary blind date idea!). Yes, it annoys me that this list focuses almost exclusively on the novel (it probably *was* meant to be exclusive, but I think the UK would have been hard put to give Shakespeare the axe); there are so many fantastic plays (Inherit The Wind) and poetical works (The Odyssey, Inferno, Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Pablo Neruda…) that should’ve made it. This list gives us a common place from which to start. I’ve read about 47 of the below titles, and made a go at 5 more on the list (which was frequently as much as I could stand of the title, and I do *not* give up on books easily). (As a note, I’ve bumped the font size a little for the lists, because bolding just wasn’t showing up decently– my apologies if it annoys.)

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Frequentative -le, and crooked-eared owls Mon, 25 Feb 2008 17:50:26 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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!

New Year 2008 Wed, 09 Jan 2008 19:57:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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…

A couple of these were taken New Year’s Eve, and a few in the days after New Year’s… most, however, were taken on New Year’s Day, while the snow was still coming down. (I had to go back in the house and put boots on after I realized I was getting snowflakes on my bedroom slippers, and I had to keep wiping my lens clear of melted snow.) Credits to my Dad, who borrowed my camera when the urge to shoot something became too much for him, for #48, “Afternoon Sky,” and #50, “Lake Sunrise.” ^_~
01-SnowInGlass 02- Blue Bottles 03- Front Porch 04- Icicles 05- Stone Chimney
06- Snowy Sedum 07- Huddled 08- Snow Angel 09- Mr. Tumnus 10- Moose Sighting
11- Barn Side 12- Barn Door 13- Barn Front 14- Barn Wreath 15- Icy Eaves

16- Barn Steps 17- In the Lee 18- Snowball Tracks 19- Deep Woods 20- Snowy V
21- Lace of Branches 22- Dancing Tree 23- Cedar 24- Snowy Branches 25- Winter Contours
26- Swimming 27- Winter Gate 28- Crab Apple 29- Rudbeckia 30- Bush Cherry
31- Switch Grass 32- X-country 33- Rowboat 34- Tracks 35- Boat Dock
36- Lake Snowstorm 37- Maple Buds 38- Lake Maple 39- Winterberry 40- Goldenrod
41- Snowman's View 42- Log Pile 43- Apple Saplings 44- House 45- Porch Lights
46- Little Red Plow 47- River Rd. 48- Afternoon Sky 49- Olmstedville Barn 50- Lake Sunrise

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‘Tis the Season Fri, 30 Nov 2007 21:35:16 +0000 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…

It’s snowing. ^_^
Christmas is coming. ::bounce::

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Librarians Rock Mon, 05 Feb 2007 17:24:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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? Wed, 13 Dec 2006 18:48:45 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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….

Canadian provinces and U.S. states I’ve visited:

Poor Rhode Island! It’s so close, and yet… I’ll have to get over there this summer, or something. It’s so small, I overlooked it somehow.
European countries I’ve visited:

There’s an interesting story behind my visit to Austria– it was about 2 minutes long, and not entirely legal. I was 7, my family was touring Germany, and we’d taken the cable car up to the top of the Zugspitze in the Alps, which is smack on the border between Austria and Germany. All of us (except, I think, my mother) had left our passports in the camper, not thinking we’d need them at the top of an Alpine peak. But lo, the border fence runs right across the top of the mountain, so we thought it’d be neat to step across and peer down the other side. Only… no passports! The border guards were very nice, though, and this was looooong before 9/11, so they let me walk through the gate holding my mommy’s hand and look down the other side. (And it was worth it– there were golden eagles soaring on the updrafts over there… BELOW us.) My parents are still surprised I remember anything from that trip, as I was so young, but I remember a great deal of it. I remember how surprisingly beautiful Iceland was (very snowy, but pretty, even though it was overcast). I remember how amazingly litter-free the streets of Frankfurt were, compared to American cities. I remember paying for everyone else’s bus fare to the airport with the German marks I was going to keep as souvenirs, because the rest of the family had already exchanged their money for the trip home (and yes, I still rub it in). I remember my first taste of wine– actually, Kirschwasser, which put me to sleep in about 5 minutes. I remember seeing the fallen church bells in the Marienkirche in Lübeck (although my mother insists we weren’t there, although we were in Kiel for several days). I remember visiting our relatives, and sitting in the kitchen happily chattering at my great-aunt in English (I spoke about ten words of German– although I understood a good deal more– and she had no English at all). I remember losing my brand-new Steiff rabbit (whom I’d named Peter) in Neuschwanstein (I’d tucked him into the pocket of my jacket because he wanted to see the castle, too), and being absolutely heartbroken that he was going to be all alone in that big dark castle, until one of the guards (who let us back in to look even though it was after closing time, in case I’d dropped him somewhere along the last part of the tour) assured me that he had a daughter at home who adored stuffed animals too, and that, should they find him in the coming days, he would take him home to her and she would give him a loving home. (And yes, remembering that still chokes me up. On their last visit to Germany, my parents brought me back (at my request) a new Steiff bunny. I think I’ve read The Velveteen Rabbit too many times.) And that also brings to mind when I’d gotten him– as an Easter present, while we were staying in a campground on Insel Mainau, where I got to pet live Easter bunnies. …wow. How did this turn into a memory lane of our trip to Germany? Okay, onward…
Countries of the world I’ve visited:

(Yes, I know, this is terribly pathetic. My list of future places to visit looks more like this:)

Create your own personalized maps at world66!

Not to be morbid, but… Tue, 12 Dec 2006 16:26:32 +0000 Continue reading ]]> …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”? ^_^

Feed your miNd Sun, 26 Nov 2006 13:26:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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.