Category Archives: Life

Reading Program Starts

Yesterday the Summer Reading Program started up. I signed myself and my kids up. I thought this might make a good point to resurrect the writing here.

So much I could have written about in the break: some books, some movies (including the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies, Captain America: Civil War), even games (bought and have started Final Fantasy X). Depressing political stuff, UK and US. Soul-destroying lack of progress on so many things. And then a bit of progress on a few things. The garden’s doing well.

For now? I’m going to start by talking about books and audiobooks, and other entertainmenty things, it’s easier writing about those. Be sure to holler if you want me to opine on anything, mentioned above or otherwise.

I start the reading program partway through the following books:
Harlan Ellison’s I, Robot screenplay
In Search Of The Trojan War, by Michael Wood

I have loaded up the MP3 player with audiobooks, the first one I am listening to is:
Infected, by Scott Sigler.

Sitting around near the computer, on the radar to be read during the Program:
Infected, by Scott Sigler
Star Trek Deep Space Nine Companion

And of course, plenty more on shelves in my room.

Also today, I read to kids, which included Yertle The Turtle And Other Stories.

KonMari, part 1

Last night we started KonMaring.

“The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo is a best-selling book detailing the author’s method for decluttering your home and making it a nice place to live in. The short version is, go through all your possessions by category, one by one, holding it and seeing if it “sparks joy”, in effect deciding what you want to keep, and ditching the rest.

It sounds like an enormous task, and it is, but part of the concept is that you only need to do it once, then you won’t go back. Having only stuff you like around, encouraging you to not keep stuff you don’t like.

The first category is clothes, which is broken down into several smaller groups. Clothes I felt I could probably manage, the enormity of Everything Else was entirely too overwhelming for my brain. My poor wife was trying to construct a cheat sheet list of all the categories, and most of the subcategories (except from the last category, which was kind of long). She asked me if there was anything else I could think of that should go on the list.

I looked at the list, and my brain just started shutting down. I already have rather a lot of Things I’m Supposed To Do, with so much of it already falling between the cracks, seeing that much about to be added to the bunch, was overwhelming. I managed to gather enough brain to ask if we could just do the clothes for now.

You’re supposed to grab all your own clothes, and put them in a pile. Mine from around the house weren’t a problem, and we had some boxed in the garage which I brought in. Technically I should have had a check through all my other boxes out there for clothing and accessories (hats, jewellery and so on), but there wasn’t the space out there to do that amount of shunting.

First up was shirts, t-shirts, jumpers/sweaters and the like. Some things were easy to keep, and I was surprised by the volume of stuff that ended up being easy to let go of. There were some points where I just needed to sit and zone out, to recoup some mental energy for doing more.

There was a yellow shirt that I kept. If I remember right where I got it from (I wouldn’t rush to put money on that, if I were you, dear reader), then I got it somewhere around 1998 or ’99. I remember choosing it, because I like yellow, but then for years it wasn’t ever something I felt like wearing.

But in the last couple of years, I’ve been wearing it more. Well, at all would be more, but I’ve chosen it quite a few times, more in the summer because it’s not one of my thicker shirts. It probably would have failed the “spark joy” test for most of its time in my possession (perhaps it would have passed the “spark guilt” test instead), but now it was pretty easy to keep.

Similarly, there was another shirt. It was medium-dark gray. It was a gift from my grandparents. I was a bit disappointed in it when I got it, it’s not a colour that I wore before, and that unfamiliarity brought discomfort. Or maybe I was just an ungrateful little git.. But it was less of a gap, and it became a shirt that I took to wearing quite a bit. I’ve got the feels getting rid of it, but the collar’s started wearing out, so I don’t wear it any more.

By the time I stopped last night, I had decision fatigue. But it was actually nice deciding what I wanted to keep, and letting some other stuff go. I’m looking forward to getting to the socks. I think anything there with holes in the wrong places, will soon be disappearing from my collection.

Christmas Traditions, Part 7

I was pondering writing about Christmas music, some of which we’ve been listening to over the last week. But today, as expected, has been somewhat busy.

So, instead of writing about Christmas music, I’m going to write about Christmas music.

The Troparion for the Nativity:
Your Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshipped the stars,
Were taught by a Star to adore You,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know You, the Orient from on High.
O Lord, glory to You!

And the Kontakion:
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

Have a great Christmas, everybody!

Christmas Traditions, Part 6

I had a busy day today, sweeping and mopping upstairs, and tidying and sweeping in the basement. Youngest tried helping with the mopping, wiping a soaking mop around the floor, creating a sizable puddle, then later dumping the mop bucket on the floor, creating a giant mess. Thankfully we managed to contain the spill enough to keep it from getting anywhere important (like the nearby stack of presents, the one stack that is actually on the floor).

I write these at the end of the day, so talking about “tomorrow”, I mean Thursday, but in local time it has already turned into Thursday. So tomorrow, then, in the last full day of getting ready for the Brunch, we take a pause and go out for lunch. This lunch, pizza, is also a celebration of the birthday of a member of the household, one whom I am particularly fond of. I think we’ve done this every Christmas Eve since we moved back here.

So there you go, that’s a pretty cool Christmas tradition :)

Christmas Traditions, Part 5

A big part of Christmas, and certainly the most exciting part for the children, is presents. Middlest has been attempting to wrap mundane objects into any papery material she can find, because she wants to give presents to people. Youngest understands that some of the presents, that are currently decorating the living room, are for him, but so far neither he, nor his siblings, have tried prematurely opening anything.

Which leads me to talking about rituals for opening presents. In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned that when I was a child, my family opened their stockings in my parents’ bed. Now, stockings are available for opening in a less organised manner, which we tend to do before the final final Brunch preparations.

The main presents have always been saved til later. These days, after some initial Brunch cleanup. In times past, a church service would take a chunk of the morning, then presents would probably be after lunch. I’ve got a feeling that sometimes even after it got dark. For many years, we lived close to at least one set of grandparents, so I remember gift-giving times at their houses.

So there has always been an aspect of waiting for presents. I’m sure there are a variety of inspirational messages that can be drawn out: “good things come to those who wait”, “save the best til last” or some such. As a kid, I didn’t like the waiting. Now, I do better. I think my kids do better than I did.

Getting to church on Christmas morning, other kids asking “what did you get for Christmas?” Well, I don’t know yet. Wonder how many of those also had to wait. I heard of the “one main present before church” thing, but I don’t remember if we ever tried it.

I’m not sure when it started, but I have come to really enjoy choosing and buying presents for people. Making people happy is fun. Hope I managed to, this year. Guess I’ll find out soon.

Christmas Traditions, Part 4

In the old/new pattern that has sufficed so far in this series (and which may fall apart tomorrow), today is a New day. Today’s tradition is still relatively new to me, but my family-in-law have been doing this for rather a lot of years.

Today I write about the Christmas Brunch.

A whole load of food is made, by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Biscuits and gravy (a dish which sounds really weird to a Brit, because it’s not how it sounds to us), quiche, cinnamon rolls, cracker toffee, and more.

I’m hungry already.

We invite a bunch of people to come over on Christmas Day, to help eat it (and hang out with us, of course). And come they do.

Being more used to getting together with close family for Christmas festivities, it seems like this ought not to work. The roads aren’t always nice, and it seems like people might just want to congregate with their families. But that assumption does not seem to be borne out by the facts: people come, they even sometimes bring their families and out-of-town guests. And perhaps it ought not to work on our part: it’s already a fairly substantial day, and adding a lot more people to that adds a lot of work, social interaction and so on. But the people who come over are people we like, so we have fun hanging out, and hosting. The kids enjoy hosting, too (even when they wish they could get into their presents).

So preparations have been slowly building, but this week it really kicks in. Cleaning, tidying, rearranging, temporarily removing things from the living area. Temporarily adding more tables and seating. Already the construction of chocolate-related treats.

So, if you happen to know us in real life, and happen to be in the area, you’re invited (but you probably already knew that). And if you just happened to stumble onto this blog, it sounds crazy, but if you like cooking for that many people, give it a try!

Christmas Traditions, Part 3

It’s funny how certain things just become associated with Christmas. Some perhaps more intentionally than others. Today I delve into some movies and TV shows that have been a part of Christmas for me and my families, and perhaps some things might be surprising.

For example, every Star Wars movie except The Force Awakens has been released in May. But Return Of The Jedi was shown on TV around Christmas for several years in a row when I was a child, so that was the one I saw most, and I still kind of associate with Christmas. The Force Awakens was released just a few days ago, around a week before Christmas, is that a movie that will keep a Christmas association for people?

Contrast that with Star Trek movies. I only saw the Next Generation and reboot movies in the cinema. First Contact and Insurrection were released in December in the UK, Generations in February (3 months after the USA, and the one with Trek’s only mention of Christmas), and Nemesis was Mid-December in the US, and really early January in the UK. I don’t think any of these are widely thought of as Christmas movies.

In addition to Return Of The Jedi, the 1982 animated short film The Snowman was another thing that seemed to be on every year. Not that we minded…

A few years later, and other things became Christmas staples on TV. The first three Wallace And Gromit movies.

And repeats were the order of the day, for a while: Morcambe and Wise. Then all manner of shows started doing Christmas specials. Watched Only Fools And Horses, of course. More recently, the Doctor Who specials, though nowadays we get those a bit later.

Here, we don’t have TV in the traditional way, it’s all streaming or discs these days. So we don’t have the same sort of habits of TV watching anyway, let alone similar traditions. Watching Love Actually has been a Christmastime tradition here (not necessarily on the Big Day). I think that’s been less of a thing the last couple of years because of the kids (though possibly general busyness contributes, too).

As I continue this series, casual reader, I ask you to contribute: what Christmas-related household traditions do you have/have you had? Please comment below.

Christmas Traditions, Part 2

After kicking off the series yesterday with a long-ago tradition, how about today I write about a more recent one.

My sister-in-law has, for the past few years, organised a gift-wrapping party. The one for this year just happened to be today, other years has been a bit earlier in the month.

I think I usually have most of my presents wrapped before the party, this time I had some from my sister, for people-not-me, that I needed to wrap. I also had one for my wife, which I need to say not-too-much about at this stage, in order to preserve a surprise.

I know of one more thing that’s still-to-come which I’ll need to do, and another thing I’ve been working on which needs finished up.

Timing the wrapping party can be tricky: too early, and people won’t have got the presents yet; too late, and they’ll already have wrapped them. Notification time could also affect turnout. We had some friends come round to join in the wrapping today, so we could officially call it a party :)

So I wrapped the things, and also took kids for a show downstairs so other things could be wrapped (I think mostly for me: the kids had watched Elf with their Grampa for the beginning of the party, so their stuff was mostly done). We watched “The Snowman” – I was surprised that Youngest, at no point during the show, said “Summer”. Most times, when he sees a snowman, he says “it’s Summer!”, because of Olaf the snowman in Frozen, singing “In Summer”.

Now our living room is really decorated with presents. It’s getting close…

Christmas Traditions, Part 1

As a particular annual holiday approaches, I thought I’d write a little series on Christmas traditions from my past and my present.

I say “I thought I’d write”, it was actually a suggestion from my wife, as I was not having any ideas congeal into a suitable post topic this evening. So, many thanks to my wonderful wife.

When we were kids, my sister and I would get up early on Christmas Day, and on birthdays, and climb into my parents’ bed. I’ve got a feeling that sometimes we opened our stockings there, but my memory is vaguer on that point. I also think that sometimes the radio would be on, I seem to recall listening to the 25th Anniversary episode of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (which was broadcast on Christmas Day).

I think that this may be why I tolerate the older kids in bed better than my wife does. They don’t join us often, and it can be tricky to keep them quiet enough and not-wriggly enough to not disturb everyone.

Controversy, Plague, And A Nursery Rhyme

Some things about England:

In England, Bob The Builder is called Robert The Construction Engineer.

In England, Spongebob Squarepants is translated into the local dialect as “Spongerobert Squaretrousers”.

These facts have two things in common: 1) that they are fun to say, and 2) they are completely untrue.

But there are occasionally cultural differences that I bump into.

Over here, there is this nursery rhyme:

Ring around the rosie,
A pocket full of posey,
Ashes, ashes,
We all fall down.

To someone used to a different version, it doesn’t seem to make much sense, like it came to American English from British English through a third-party language.

Of course, the version I grew up with doesn’t make much sense without the commonly-held explanation (which I also grew up with).

(A) Ring, a ring of roses
A pocket full of posies
Atishoo, atishoo,
We all fall down.

The commonly-held explanation is that it refers to The Black Death, Bubonic Plague, or the Great Plague Of London.
The theory goes that a red circular rash (the “ring of roses”) was a symptom of the disease, as was sneezing. The bunch of flowers was some uneducated attempt to keep the disease away, and the falling down was the afflicted patient falling off the mortal coil. So to speak. The “ashes” from the American version may be associated with cremation, according to Wikipedia, and the “posey” is written as “posies” in the American version, too, so it could just be that the kids are singing it slightly wrong. Though “posie” in the singular is found on Snopes.

Wikipedia says that folklorists now dispute this association, but the short version of the explanation that appears there, isn’t entirely convincing. Not that it’s necessarily wrong, but doesn’t necessarily take everything into account, either.

1. The plague explanation didn’t appear until the mid-20th Century.
Seems to be the best point they make. No mention is made of where the Opies got that association: whether it was received, or whether they connected some dots and reached that conclusion.

2. The symptoms don’t correspond very well to the disease in question.
The footnote says the Opies (the ones who first published the connection between rhyme and disease) “note that neither cure nor symptoms (except for death) feature prominently in contemporary or near contemporary accounts of the plague.”
I find this to be interesting, because if the Opies were coming to this conclusion by dots-joining, wouldn’t this discrepancy lead them to some other conclusion instead?
There are some interesting things to note with this, too:
Another commonly-held belief about the spread of the plague, is that it was spread by rats and their fleas. You’d think that flea bites, while technically not a symptom of the plague itself, might leave itchy red spots.
And while the flowers may not have been an effective cure, or talismanic barrier, the Wikipedia page on the Bubonic plague mentions “There were many ethno-medical beliefs for avoiding the Black Death. One of the most famous was that by walking around with flowers in or around their nose people would be able to “ward off the stench and perhaps the evil that afflicted them”.”
So, that would be the pocket full of posies accounted for in the explanation, and not the detraction.
I didn’t spot sneezing per se as a symptom, but coughing is mentioned (which would also require use of a handkerchief). Also, “The plague is also known to spread to the lungs and become the disease known as the pneumonic plague.” Pneumonic also lists coughing but not sneezing. One could imagine a conflation…

3. There are rather a lot of forms of the song, and only a few could have this meaning applied to them.
How often is there a song, and someone modifies the lyrics to it? There are plenty of examples of popular songs being reworded for advertising purposes. To claim (as both Wikipedia and Snopes do) that for this version of the song to have this meaning, it must be the original version, and other versions must be divergences from it, doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Other printed variants may not see much use today as culture homogenises, but before such things as mass media and standardised education, local variants of things could hold on quite tenaciously. The number of versions of this song that are mentioned rather attest to this.
So I wouldn’t say the articles are necessarily wrong that this version of the song is unlikely to be the original, the trunk from which the others split. That does not necessarily preclude the possibility that it’s a local branch that gained more widespread popularity in later years. And if the interpretation was a received one, rather than formulated, then it’s pretty likely to have come through the same locality.

4. Talks about European variants, and other English 19th Century variants, which end up mattering not a bit if this version and its explanation are a localised branch variant.

Snopes on the subject goes on about mostly about trying to tie the American variant with the plague, which is trickier. “Ashes”, it notes, could either be a corruption of the sound in other variants (atishoo, hush, and several others), or it can mean “ashes” and have an explanation for that. which is a fair point if you’re talking about “Ring Around The Rosie”, and not a version that actually has “atishoo” in it.

Snopes also has a paragraph looking down its snooty nose about the late publication date of the rhyme in any form. I’m just going to copy the lengthy paragraph:

[“Ring Around the Rosie” is sometimes said to have originated with a later outbreak of the plague which occurred in London in 1665, to which all of the following reasoning applies as well.]

Although folklorists have been collecting and setting down in print bits of oral tradition such as nursery rhymes and fairy tales for hundreds of years, the earliest print appearance of “Ring Around the Rosie” did not occur until the publication of Kate Greenaway’s Mother Goose or The Old Nursery Rhymes in 1881. For the “plague” explanation of “Ring Around the Rosie” to be true, we have to believe that children were reciting this nursery rhyme continuously for over five centuries, yet not one person in that five hundred year span found it popular enough to merit writing it down. (How anyone could credibly assert that a rhyme which didn’t appear in print until 1881 actually “began about 1347″ is a mystery. If the rhyme were really this old, then “Ring Around the Rosie” antedates even Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and therefore we would have examples of this rhyme in Middle English as well as Modern English forms.)

With a few earlier exceptions, nursery rhymes weren’t really documented on any scale until the end of the 18th Century, with most of the work done in the 19th. And the geography factor would be an issue. A different version with the same tune is mentioned at the beginning of this period, according to Wikipedia. So while some 17th century plays started noting down nursery rhymes, it wouldn’t be surprising that a large proportion of popular rhymes weren’t recorded there, and were only documented later.

Also, there’s the literacy factor (writing rhymes for the wider population when a lot of them can’t read), the preservation factor (exactly what percentage of writings from 350-ish years ago do you think actually survive, that you can make such a blanket statement about all of them). Could there be a class factor? If the locality of this version of the rhyme being popular, was at the low end of the social scale (anyone doubt there were areas like that in London?) how long would it take, after publishing nursery rhymes became a thing, for such a rhyme (or version of one) to appear on the radar?

That’s the thing about history. It’s messy, and most of it’s missing. I don’t spend a lot of time on Snopes, I don’t like its tone. The heavy-handed “you’d have to be stupid to believe this” tone evidenced above, is far too common. And it didn’t take a lot of research, and wasn’t exactly hard, to find any number of possible reasons for the shortage of documentary evidence. We Westerners love stuff in print, but it’s historically ignorant to expect to see absolutely everything documented down to the smallest degree.

Is there any truth to the association between one particular version of this rhyme, to its commonly-held meaning? Much as some would like to, I don’t think that it can be dismissed out of hand. One way or the other, there’s some extant pieces of the puzzle, but I think we can only speculate about the final picture.