26 December 2007

No Unibrows, Please!

"Hogmanay" is a Scots word which means "the last day of the year." The date is actually Dec. 31, but the celebration carries through the night to Jan. 1, also known as "Ne'erday." And if you're going to be in Scotland, you might as well keep partying, because Jan. 2 is a bank holiday!

There are many traditions associated with Hogmanay, not the least of which is "first footing." This is the first person to set foot across your threshhold after the stroke of midnight, often bearing gifts and best wishes for the new year. From Scotsman.com:

On the stroke of midnight it is still common for houses to be "first footed" by a tall, handsome stranger bearing gifts. Although the first-footer is seldom a stranger, it is preferable that he is dark. This harks back to days of Viking invaders when a fair-haired man knocking at your door was more likely to inspire terror than pleasure.

Until quite recently the first-footer was subject to a rather rigorous code of looks. Out-of-date now, there was a time when a first-footer should not be flat-footed, cross-eyed or have their eyebrows meeting (thought to denote the evil eye).

I'll be offline for a few days, visiting family. So Happy Hogmanay, and may your first-footer be tall, dark, handsome, and two-browed!


22 December 2007

Guest Writer: Nancie Baden

Thanks, Nancie, for giving me permission to post your poem! Happy Solstice, everyone!

Father Winter's Solstice Tale

'Tis the eve before Solstice in the evergreen woods
Not a creature is stirring, not even the Druids
Mistletoe has been sickled from the great holy tree.
Magic sprigs hung o'er doors to ward off folk wee.

Fearsome Goddess Cailleach has transformed every bower
This crone of cold stark Wintertime has stolen every flower
The villagers in fear and awe are as hidden as the light
But lo the hour is drawing close to have their Solstice Night

As day breaks on the mountaintop of frozen land so dire
Druid priests and priestesses are readying for fire
Great logs of ash are dressed in finest thistle, bay and sage.
Carried to the fields below, as bonfires they shall rage.

Children venture out of doors with wreaths of pine and ivy
And hazelnuts and fruit with cloves and singing carols lively.
Fragrances do waft on high of wassail, meat, and spice cake.
The vigilant can now rejoice as sacred King Sun does wake.

Seasons' wheel has slowly moved, the longest night does fade
The warmth returns and life renews at every hill and glade.
At Yule as icy hearts now thaw in flames of holy rebirth
Father wishes us a Good Sabbat and peace to all on our Earth

Nancie Baden

20 December 2007

Solstice Live Webcast at Newgrange!

From Newgrange.com:

For the first time ever, the 2007 Winter Solstice illumination of the passage and chamber at Newgrange will be streamed live on the internet.

The webcast and an exhibition at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the re-discovery of the Winter Solstice Phenomenon at Newgrange by Professor O’Kelly in 1967.

The Winter Solstice event from inside the chamber at Newgrange will be broadcast on the mornings of Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd December 2007. If conditions are good the rising sun will illuminate the passage and chamber between 8:58am and 9:15am GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

To view the webcast click on the Heritage Ireland website.

Edit: I watched the webcast and it is wonderful! They had perfect weather. The entire show is about an hour long, and sunrise occurs about 20 minutes in.

Thirteen Vacation Pictures, US Virgin Islands

Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI

Example of native island stonework, incorporating fossilized coral. Annenberg Sugar Plantation ruins, St. John.

Slave quarters site, Annenberg. On one hand, what a view! But on the other, the people who had this view were slave labor, harvesting and boiling down sugar cane in horrendous heat and humidity.

My husband on observation deck at St. Peter House and Botanical Garden, St. Thomas. Overlooking Magens Bay.

Unidentified sugar plantation house ruins, St. John. Some of the beautiful tile work was still visible inside.

This is what you find if you manage to navigate the twisty roads out onto the point beyond Magens Bay.

Magens Bay

If I remember correctly (was drinking rum punch at the time) this is a variety of ginger.

Flower, St. Peter House and Botanical Garden, St. Thomas

Bird of Paradise? (Correct me if I'm wrong!)

One of many intimate little beaches on St. John

Banana tree, St. Peter Botanical Garden

Annenberg Sugar Plantation ruins, St. John

18 December 2007

Review: I Am Legend


If you love Will Smith's work, as I do, you'll like I Am Legend. He is mesmerizing.

If you liked the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks, you'll probably like I Am Legend.

If you don't like a paper-thin plot stretched over too much movie, I Am Legend will make you antsy. Twenty minutes into it, my husband was squirming and muttering.

I found a lot to like about this movie, the talented Will Smith being one of them. And some parts that made me go "Awwww, now why did they have to go and do that?" I for one go to movies to escape, and I like coming out of a movie feeling better than I went in. This movie didn't do it for me.


Did you watch Snakes On A Plane? Did you hang with the movie, even enjoy the horrifying campiness of it -- until a certain small animal was sacrificed by the writers for no apparent reason, since we already hated the villian, anyway? Just warning the soft-of-heart like me.

Do you like HEA endings? Depending on your point of view, you may or may not like I Am Legend.

Dan Fogelberg, 1951-2007

17 December 2007

Scotophile Monday

Welcome back to Scotophile Monday! All sources credited. Enjoy!

First Minister's Christmas Card
Normally, there is not much media comment about the Christmas card being sent out by the Scottish First Minister. But with a new Scottish Nationalist government in power, the newspapers gave full coverage to Alex Salmond's choice of design. It has a traditional Christmas feel about it, with a full moon shining brightly over a snow covered Linlithgow Palace (birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots) and the adjacent St Michael's Church, all reflected in the loch in front of the palace. The card was designed by Scottish artist Jolomo - John Lowrie Morrison. The message inside reads: "Happy Christmas and a Guid New Year" from Alex and Moira Salmond and contains a verse from the Scottish song "The Four Marys" the story of Mary Queen of Scots' handmaidens and set inside Linlithgow Palace. The First Minister grew up in Linlithgow and the original painting for the card will be auctioned later and the proceeds donated to charity.

Unemployment Continues to Fall
Historically, unemployment levels in Scotland were always higher than in the rest of the UK. But these days the opposite is the case. Government statistics published this week show that in November, the Scottish unemployment rate stood at 4.6%, below the UK average of rate of 5.3%. The number of people in Scotland claiming the Jobseeker's Allowance fell by 700 in November to 71,700 - some 14,300 lower compared to the figures from November last year. On the UK Government's preferred measure, the International Labour Office method, the total unemployed for the three months to October was 123,000, down by 6,000 over the quarter and 14,000 over the year. The number of people in employment, at 2.549 million, was 2,000 up over the quarter to October and up 63,000 on the figure this time last year

Scots Love New York
The weak dollar and availability of more flights between Scotland and North America has meant that a record number of Scots have been flying to New York from Edinburgh and Glasgow. New York is now the number one long-haul destination from Scotland, with a total of 50,000 passengers going there in October and November, according to the airport operator BAA. The exchange rate of over $2 to the pound means that shoppers can combine a holiday with some bargain shopping. Price comparisons published in newspapers show that it is possible to buy some digital cameras £130 cheaper than in Scotland while iPhones were £76 cheaper and iPods cost £54 less. Passenger numbers could rise even further next year when Delta airlines launches daily Edinburgh-Newark flights next May, after scrapping its Edinburgh-Atlanta route in October.

Egg Farm Approved
Despite strenuous objections by a local action group, Scottish Borders Council's planning committee has approved the creation of the UK's largest poultry farm at Blythbank near West Linton. Glenrath Farms Ltd wants to build nine large, free range poultry houses, each housing 25,000 hens, producing eggs for supermarkets across the UK. Last year, the company was given the all clear by Scottish ministers to build one of the giant sheds, despite concerns by locals that this was just the "thin edge of the wedge". The scheme will now be referred to the Scottish Government for a final decision, due to environmental concerns.

Appeal for Black Watch Memorial Funds
A campaign was launched this week to restore and repair the Black Watch Memorial at The Mound in Edinburgh. The monument depicts a Highland soldier with rifle and bayonet and displays the names of members of the regiment who fell during the Boer War. It was commissioned by the Black Watch on a site donated by Bank of Scotland in 1906. In addition to dealing with decades of weathering, the plan is to replace missing features such as the soldier's bayonet. The cost of the renovation work is a modest £15,000 and Bank of Scotland is contributing £5,000 to give the project a flying start.

This Week in Scottish History
December 16 1653 - Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland.
December 17 1956 - Petrol rationing was imposed following the Suez crisis and the closure of the canal.
December 18 1661 - Many Scottish historical records were lost when the ship Elizabeth of Burntisland sank off the English coast. The records had been taken to London by Oliver Cromwell and were being returned to Edinburgh.
December 18 1780 - Society of Antiquaries founded.
December 19 1904 - The "Scotsman" newspaper moves to new offices at North Bridge in Edinburgh, remaining there until 1999.
December 20 1560 - First General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
December 21 1846 - Robert Liston, who was born in Linlithgow in 1794, performed the first operation in a British hospital using anaesthetic (ether).
December 21 1988 - Pan Am 747 blew up and crashed at Lockerbie, Dumfries, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 Lockerbie residents.
December 22 1715 - James Stuart, the Old Pretender, arrived at Peterhead. He stayed for only a few weeks.
December 22 1965 - Maximum speed limit of 70mph was imposed on all roads unless a lower limit was in place.
December 22 2000 - Pop mega-star Madonna married movie-producer Guy Ritchie at Skibo Castle, putting Dornoch into the media spotlight.

All of the above are from the Rampant Scotland.com newsletter.

Scottish Web Sites of the Week
Scots Language Center Lab
Celtic Counties Magazine

Blog of the Week
Fetlar School Blog

About the Isle of Fetlar: "Known as the 'garden of Shetland', the island lies to the north-west of Shetland. The island has rolling hills and is carpeted with wild flowers in the summer months and an abundance of birdlife. The 19th C Clearances removed most of the islands population, but the few remaining islanders can often trace their ancestors back for half a millennium."

Ancient Secrets Emerge from Grave
The bones of six bishops buried more than 600 years ago have been identified using new hi-tech methods. The medieval bishops, who died between 1200-1360, were discovered during an excavation at Whithorn Priory in Galloway between 1957-67. Read more

Central Scotland's Forests
BBC Scotland political reporter John Knox goes down to the woods to see how the Central Scotland Forest is growing. Read more

The Canoe Boys
In 1934 two young lads kayaked from Glasgow to Skye. Their boats were made from teak and canvas, not carbon and Kevlar. They didn't wear dry suits, but paddled in vests and kilts, pulling on canvas jackets when it rained. Their safety equipment for each was a car inner tube. They'd sit inside the partially inflated rubber ring, so if a boat capsized or broke up on rocks, they ought to be able to float away. Fortunately they didn't put that theory into practice. Read more

Whisky aficionados have long insisted that a dash of water is vital to enhance the taste of a single malt. But millions of gallons of seawater, caused by global warming, could wipe out some of the most famous names in the industry, scientists have told Scotland on Sunday. Coastal distilleries producing a range of internationally famous brands such as Bowmore, Laphroaig, Talisker and Glenmorangie are at risk from storms and encroaching waves. http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/latestnews/Dramageddon--Too-much-water.3594818.jp

Jacobite Rebels May Yet Seal Victory
Scots are no longer to be crushed as rebels. The government is considering rewriting the national anthem on the grounds that the historical third verse, which refers to the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, is not "inclusive". The words, which refer to Scots as seditious, rebellious characters who should be crushed by British forces with the assistance of God Almighty was described as "not actually that inclusive" by Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general. He is leading a citizenship review, ordered by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown - a Scot, though not a seditious one. Read more

15 December 2007

December's Samhellion now available!

The December issue of The Samhellion newsletter is now available!

Click here to read a wide variety of interesting articles and short fiction by some of Samhain Publishing's brightest and best.

This month's theme is, of course, the holidays. Check out the article on Yule traditions and lore, co-written by me and Gia Dawn. Enjoy!

Nollaig chridheil huibh!

13 December 2007

Thirteen Random Thoughts About My Vacation

I was going to post 13 vacation pictures from St. Thomas today, but as I'm still buried under post-vacation work pile-up, it'll have to wait until next week. In the meantime, 13 random tidbits from our December getaway...

1. Resolution: Never refuse to take an early December vacation just because it's the holiday season and you're "too busy." It's the best present you could ever give yourself!

2. Never forget to take off your pain patch before cracking open the Cruzan bottle on the first night. There's a reason there's a warning on the package not to mix lidocaine with alcohol. It wasn't pretty, and lesson well learned! LOL

3. When we travel, I'm always all for trying out the local cuisine. While I didn't fall in love with the "stewed" dishes (had trouble finding meat among the fat in one of them, and for some reason many dishes are covered in parmesan cheese, which to me smells like vomit), I did fall head over heels for just about anything jerk seasoned, journey cake, and friend plantains.

4. Why are there no seafood markets on an island plunked in the middle of the ocean? Why is the only seafood to be bought (outside a restaurant) found in frozen food cases?

5. I love Painkillers. (Orange juice, pineapple juice, coconut milk, freshly grated nutmeg, and rum).

6. I highly recommend snorkeling, even if you've never tried it and even if you can't swim well. I'm a natural "sinker" but the water in the Caribbean is so salty, it's easy to float. You may not even need a floatation vest - I wear one but only need a tiny bit of air in it. (Tip - invest in your own mask and snorkel, at the very least. A properly fitted masked makes all the difference.)

7. Coolest experience: Night snorkeling in Secret Harbor. I ended up paddling around off a little bit by myself in the dark, and ran across a huge sea turtle resting on the bottom. As I watched it, careful not to shine my flashlight directly into its eyes, it suddenly started floating up toward the surface. I moved to one side a few feet to give it room, and it surfaced for air just 10 feet from me.

8. Driving on St. John is not for the faint of heart. Think Tail of the Dragon (in NC) but without the benefit of guardrails.

9. Driving on St. Thomas isn't, either, but it's not as heart stopping as St. John!

10. Cruz Bay is overrated. If you're going to St. John, go prepared to explore the fabulous beaches.

11. I love talking to local people (and I'm not referring to the sour-faced hotel workers, who are without exception nothing short of rude). Always smile and say hello. At the Annenburg sugar plantation ruins, a smile and a hello garnered us an invitation to visit the under-restoration gardens, which are normally locked. The gardener's obvious pride in his heritage was as pleasurable as the aromatic plants he eagerly showed us.

12. I'm researching whether it's possible to grow a bay plant (see photo) in Ohio. Once the gardener crushed a leaf and waved it under my nose, I couldn't rest until I found a bottle of Bay Rum to take home.

13. Favorite restaurants: Gladys's Cafe (ask to be waited on by Pauline), Iggie's (good food, reasonable price, great setting), Molly Malone's (perfect seared tuna), Banana Tree (pricey, but the view...OMG, the view...), Craig & Sally's (also pricey, but the food is wonderful), and any number of tiny cafes where you can duck in for an ice-cold smoothie on a hot day.

Piccies coming next week! :)

More Thursday 13s!

12 December 2007

Check This Out...

A song from Damh the Bard's album, Herne's Apprentice. I'm acquainted with Damh through OBOD, and I love love love his music. Enjoy!

Lyrics: Song of Awen

See me as the Sun on the mountaintop,
Feel me in the power of the seas.
Hear me in the laughter of the stream,
Power of nature, power of the trees.

It is you who are broken,
You are part of me,
Some of you have awoken,
But others might never be free.

This is my song, this is my voice,
These are my words, this is my choice.
Hear me now, take heed of my words.
Love me now, and your spirit will fly.

Hear me in the howling of the wolf,
My voice is the song of the Bards,
I am the power that helps the salmon leap,
I am the very first breath of a child.

I am the wild, and I am the tame,
I am the calm and I am the storm.
I am the sound of your beating heart,
I am your blood and I am your bone.

Bridge 2:
It is you who are broken,
You are part of me,
There is no seperation,
So dance, sing and be free.

11 December 2007

Back from vacation!

Happy happy...

Vacation in St. Thomas was, as expected, completely and totally relaxing! This was our second trip to the island, and this visit was even better because we didn't feel rushed to "see everything" in our short time there. It was pretty much beaching, snorkeling, eating, and drinking rum. :) Oh, and a little shopping, of course. Not a lot of shopping, but I did come away with a wee little sparkly to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

Fun stuff - a night-time snorkel trip in Secret Harbor, St. Thomas. I highly recommend this. You see so many creatures that hide during the day, namely squid and turtles!

Icky icky...

What should have been a 6-hour flight home turned into a 12-hour annoyance of mechanical and weather related delays, capped off by a "refreshing" 1 hour waiting in a Detroit ice storm for the shuttle to take us to our car. No winter coats, of course!

Thanks to about 1,000,000 emails waiting for me in my inbox when I got home, "Scotophile Monday" got a bit lost in the shuffle this week. Sorry! I'll do a short version later today and get back into regular rotation next week!

As a contract writer, this time of year always brings about changes - contracts come to an end, which puts me back on the job hunt. With foot surgery coming up in January, though, I have no plans to seriously start hunting until February, which will give me enough time to get another manuscript finished.

What's coming up for me:

BEAUDRY'S GHOST will be released Jan. 4 in ebook, with print release tentatively slated for Oct. 28. Yes, another Halloween release! I'm delighted about that. :)

ABHAINN'S KISS print will be out in February.

Appearances: REALLY looking forward to RT Pittsburg starting April 15! It's a relatively short drive - I'm happy that I won't have to fly. I don't mind flying, but the process is becoming increasingly tedious these days - I'd rather drive.

Surgery! Getting my left foot worked on in January. Stay tuned to my blog - Vicodin should make for some verrry interesting posts! LOL