The Hidden Land by Pamela Dean (reread)
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
The Secret Country by Pamela Dean (reread)
Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn (reread)
Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn (reread)
College of Magicks by Caroline Stevermer (reread)
The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt
Extraordinary Canadians: Glenn Gould by Mark Kingwell
This was a month of rereads because I never made it to the library (missed two reserves that way, argh), couldn’t afford to buy new books, and then it was too close to various gift-giving occasions. It was kind of lacklustre month, reading-wise. I revisited old favourites (Stevermer) and not-very-challenging stuff (Shinn) but then hit the Pamela Dean books, which make my quotation-repository part of my brain work hard.
Every time I finish College of Magicks I am reminded of how brilliant a read it is.
I wanted to enjoy The Court of the Air much more than I did. I found it very hard to hold on to the thread of what as actually happening, since there was so much going on in different plotlines. It was a fabulous world, but I had trouble empathising with the main characters, and the villain was just insane, so there wasn’t much to empathise with there, either. It didn’t feel very immediate, somehow; a bit scattered and crammed. And every time it came close to the reader, it jumped away again. Eventually I’ll get to The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, because it’s on my shelf, but not any time soon. (I don’t usually buy more than the first book in a series by a new-to-me author, but I received these two in a draw.)
The White Queen helped shore up my knowledge of the Wars of the Roses, which was woefully patchy and skewed time-wise. For some reason I’d always thought there was more of a gap between that part of the Lancaster/York dynasty and the Tudor one. It would be helpful if not everyone was called Elizabeth, Henry, Richard, or Margaret, though. I kind of liked Gregory’s envisioning of what might have happened and people’s motivations.
Hello, gentle readers! We are back from our week-long festive pilgrimage to various points in southern Ontario. The cats are falling all over themselves to be near us, which makes a nice change. (No, wait. They do that daily. Well, then, it makes a nice change from the I-choose-to-ignore-you that we usually get after a week away.)
The only damage sustained seems to be the hallway light that fell out of the ceiling. And I find it hard to believe the cats caused that. (I know, they are cats; anything is possible.)
I will write a vacation roundup and my end-of-year thinky post in the coming week. For now, even after a week away from the computer, I am surprisingly loathe to sit down for any length of time and type. The short version: My kitchen was very spoiled with gifts, and I bought my first Malabrigo while I was away.
Be safe and well as the calendar changes, friends.
A lovely, lovely carol singalong tonight with the Preston-LeBlancs, marred only by the boy’s meltdown when it got to be an hour past his bed time (first because he wanted to go home, then because he wanted to stay). We did get there later than I wanted to, because the boys got home later than I expected, but we had a wonderful time when we settled down at last. We had a lovely buffet of hot hors d’oeuvres and cheese and nummy little things, and drinks, and opened presents before turning to the music. Both sets of children were enchanted with their respective gifts, and other than the same CD we exchange every year (no, it’s not like regifting fruitcake; every year we buy one another a specific CD so we both have a copy), they gave me a print of one of my favourite Waterhouse paintings, St. Cecelia, which positively glowed in its heavy gilt frame when we saw it in person last month at the MMFA exhibition. The reproduction is surprisingly good, much better than most of those done of Waterhouse’s other works.
We were a guitar, a recorder, and a cello, each sightreading; always interesting! The adults gamely improvised Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman for the kids, and we had lovely versions of Away in a Manger and Silent Night, and courageous attempts at other carols. The boy squeezed in between my oldest goddaughter and myself and we sang Silent Night together (this version was all open strings on the cello, so I didn’t need to actually read the music), the boy looking up at me with a smile and copying the shapes of my mouth to sing the sounds. With his quickness at absorbing music and words, it ought to be easy to familiarise him with the traditional carols like the Gloucestershire Carol, Coventry Carol, and the Holly and the Ivy. I foresee a proper Solstice mix CD next winter.
I love this tradition our godfamilies share. Most of us could have kept on playing for a good long time, but small persons have their limits. Next year, we’ll definitely do this on a weekend afternoon in order to have more time to actually play and sing, although there’s something special about doing it at night, with the midwinter darkness outside the snow-framed windows that reflect the twinkling lights on the tree.
We’ve been back for a couple of hours, but I’m still wide awake. I should make warm vanilla milk and curl up in bed with my current book, Pamela Dean’s The Secret Country. It’s a reread, as I am completely out of new books and have not had the opportunity to get to the library for a month. We are hitting the local Indigo a day or so after Christmas for their annual thirty percent off all hardcovers sale, and the new Charles de Lint will be mine. I’d buy the new Elizabeth Bear hardcover too, but none of the shops in that area have it in stock, for some reason. (Our local Chapters claims to have two in stock, but I looked for it when we were there last Saturday, and it wasn’t on the shelf in either the fantasy or SF sections. You fail yet again at matching stock and inventory, Chapters store 00794. I give up on you.)
I finally finished Gran’s photo scrapbook this afternoon between research for the cello book layout, a long phone call (unexpected but important), and a visit from Jan to show me the scarf she’s just about finished knitting with the homespun I did for her (expected). The photo scrap book took a billion times longer than I’d planned for it to take, thanks to delays and delays along the line for various reasons (couldn’t find a scrapbook the right size for ages, the original and backup plans for printing the photos fell through, missing photo paper, me not wanting to nag people, and so forth). We got Gran’s gift out in tonight’s mail via Xpresspost, which was pricey but worth it. The day felt like I was racing from one thing on my list to another, unable to give anything the attention I wanted to give it, and I’m feeling even more overwhelmed looking at tomorrow’s list.
I have one more day in which to finish up gift-related things and wrapping for tomorrow night and the Toronto Christmas, do last-minute laundry for favourite clothes people want to bring with them that got worn between last week’s wash and now, pack as much of the stuff for the trip to Toronto as possible for both myself and the boy and gift/hobby stuff, do some work on the layout of the cello book (oh, right, my job with which I make money), try to at least look at the music for the evening of carols tomorrow night (once I know what music we’re doing, and I haven’t even touched the cello since the recital because of December madness), and
chivvy corral the family for the carol visit. And then once we’re back from the musical evening, the boy needs to be put to bed (ha, after the excitement of visiting, and with the excitement of knowing we’re leaving early the next morning?), and then HRH and I have to take down the tree before we can get to bed ourselves. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And I was looking forward to the actual drive until tonight, when the past three days caught up with me.
The Yule log made from HRH’s family’s birch tree that was killed in the ice storm of ‘98 was damaged in this year’s Solstice candle vigil. One side of the top is all charred. Over ten years of use, and this year, bang. I’m so upset about this.
Sunday morning we had the upstairs neighbours over for our now-annual Yule waffle brunch and small gift exchange. Blade and I were still in fine form from the party the night before and snarked all morning, amusing ourselves terribly. The boy got a Lego tow truck kit from them and decided that I should be the one to assemble it. I don’t work with Lego very often because I simply don’t think in three-dimensional block form very well, but give me a kit with instructions and I’m fine. They gave me a lovely Celtic knot print in my favourite autumnal earthy colours, and a sampling of Saxon chocolates, including my favourite sea salt caramels!
The local grandparents arrived just past ten-thirty for our early Christmas celebration. The boy was very patient for all of ten minutes, so we settled down and started opening presents. He’s at the age where he can actually appreciate each gift he opens again, instead of just enthusiastically opening things left, right, and centre. There weren’t as many gifts as there usually are, for which was very thankful. Part of this is due to the fact that we didn’t have both sets of our parents here, so the floor around the tree wasn’t as crowded as usual, but part of it was that we were all pretty restrained this year. We gave HRH’s dad a movie, and his mom a hand-knitted scarf, and Liam got a camera of his very own, which he began using right away, taking some very respectable pictures of his favourite ornaments on the tree.
The big hit, though, and the present we saved for last, was the early gift that Santa brought him: the racetrack he’d asked for when he saw Santa at the mall. (I knew HRH’s parents had bought him something from the Cars line of toys, so I pinged his mom to see if that’s what they’d gotten, and it was, so we were all covered. Bless them.) A very close second was Anakin’s Clone Wars starfighter, which went to bed with him for both nap and overnight.
HRH and I both got wallets (with money inside, hurrah!) and socks (it amuses me that when you get socks as a kid you’re let down, but as an adult you’re thrilled because it’s one less necessity you have to buy). I got a lovely plum-coloured knitted wrap that’s just gorgeous and so very soft.
My best gift, hands-down, though, was this:
It’s HRH’s newest painting in his Celtic Totems series. My office smells like oil paint, as it was still a wee bit tacky when HRH brought it up for me. (Kudos to Blade, who improvised a nice cover the other day when I was downstairs in the basement office and said, “Hey, it smells like varnish or something down here.” “Oh, I accidentally hit the button on one of my spray paints,” he said. Apparently when I’d left HRH looked at him and said, “Smooth. Thanks.”)
While everyone else played with the toys and nibbled on the various seafood and other hors d’ouevres that HRH’s parents had brought, I started getting food going. I’d brined the turkey the night before, and had realised while falling asleep that I didn’t have enough bread with which to make stuffing. I made a batch in the breadmaker as soon as I got up, a whole wheat/herb quick bread that I shredded and toasted in the oven when it was ready. In retrospect I shouldn’t have toasted it into croutons, because the whole wheat bread was already drier than white. I mixed up the stuffing and put half in the bird, and half in a baking dish, then put the turkey in the oven. Then I mixed up pie dough, because I was short a pie shell thanks to the previous day’s disaster, and had the worst time trying to get it to stick together. I kept adding ice water and it just wouldn’t cling. Eventually I squeezed it together and put it in the freezer to cool off a bit before rolling it out and mixing up the pecan pie filling. And then I discovered that unlike the little aluminium plates that prepared pie shells come in, my metal pie tin doesn’t fit in the oven next to the roasting tray, so I had to take the turkey out to blind-bake the shell for twenty minutes. I couldn’t afford the next half-hour it would take to bake the pie entirely, though, so a quick phone call confirmed that the neighbours were fine with us borrowing their oven, and HRH went upstairs with it. I set our timer to remind us to go get it when it was ready. The bird went back in the oven, was ready around quarter past four, and HRH carved it for me while I made the gravy. I heated up my mother in law’s excellent special mashed potatoes in the oven as well as baking the other half of the stuffing (which turned out to be unneeded on the table), and parboiled carrots before frying them in butter and doing a quick maple syrup glaze. And then we all feasted, feasted, feasted! The pecan pie was lovely, even though some of the filling managed to work its way through the shell and caramelize on the bottom. A soft dollop of whipped cream balanced it nicely.
Somehow, I completely forgot to make rolls to go with dinner. Didn’t even think about them in the overall meal plan.
After his grandparents left, there was a bath for the boy, the second chapter of Prince Caspian, and then bed. He woke up for no particular reason around ten while I was in the bath, although I didn’t find out till I checked on him between bath and bed. I cuddled him back to sleep, and fell asleep myself. A very full day, and forgetting to eat properly in the middle of it was not a good thing. Apart from that, though, it was wonderful. We are so blessed to have close friends and family with whom to celebrate the season. And the celebrating has only just begun!