Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Faith, Hope, and Fruit

Fruit is delicious. It’s nature’s candy. My kids devour it. Sure, they like candy too, but if there’s fruit around, they’d usually have that instead. I shove as many grapes, bananas, and apples into them as possible. It doesn’t really matter how difficult to open/detach from various seeds the fruit is, if it’s delicious, my kids are going to eat it. And to them, all fruit is delicious. They’ll even chew multiple times on a lemon slice out of someone’s iced tea. So Randall Munroe’s fruit graph doesn’t really apply to them. If it’s fruit, they like it.
Graph property of Randall Munroe, xkcd.com.
I’m different. I enjoy fruit, but I’m suspicious of it. Some fruit is totally awesome all the time (like watermelon), and some is totally disgusting all the time (like grapefruit). But other fruit masquerades as awesome while having a certain percent chance that it will be totally disgusting. I don’t eat strawberries or blueberries as often as I give them to my kids because in my experience, they both have a pretty high chance that I’ll be biting into something sour. If I choose to eat these fruits, it’s because I’m hoping that it will be delicious, because I know that sometimes it is.
I have altered Mr. Munroe’s graph to reflect my own fruit preferences, and instead of the difficulty in removing the delicious fruit from its natural packaging, the x axis shows my faith that the fruit will be delicious to my hope that the fruit might be delicious.
Altered graph still property of Randall Munroe; I just altered it a bit.
So if you ever see me turning down pineapple slice, you’ll know why.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Evaporated

Every year, without fail, every coffee establishment ushers in “pumpkin spice” season as soon after “back-to-school” as possible. This doesn’t really make any difference to my family; I don’t drink coffee, and my husband prefers mochas. But the “pumpkin” portion of the season interests us greatly.
My husband loves pumpkin pie. I like it too, but it’s not the same kind of nostalgic “every holiday season since I was a kid” love. Sure, there was pumpkin pie around when I was little, but who wants pumpkin pie when my grandma’s homemade cherry pie was around? (The answer is: hardly anyone.)
As soon as it’s pumpkin pie season, I like to make sure my husband has one. It’s one of the things that I don’t mind him consuming as quickly as possible (the eggnog is another story).
I have a really great recipe that has the normal pumpkin pie spices, plus some Chinese Five Spice, no sugar (just sweetened condensed milk instead), and a TON of eggs. And my sister-in-law told me her pie crust secret, so now I am unstoppable. It’s awesome.
Grocery aisles are tricksy. The sweetened condensed milk is right next to the evaporated milk. And they’re packaged exactly the same way, only one says “sweetened condensed” on it and the other says “evaporated.” When we bought our first round of pumpkin pie ingredients for the year, we were so excited. I left the cans out on the counter for several days to build the anticipation. I didn’t realize the can said “evaporated milk” until I had already started dumping it into the pie filling.
I immediately called my mother (because who looks something up in a book or on the internet when you can get someone with experience in baking do it for you?). She found a recipe that used evaporated milk, and got the sugar measurement for me. I mixed everything together and put it in the oven, whining all the while. My husband had a piece that evening, and said it was good. I reasoned that this was because it was the first pie he’d had in close to a year, so the happiness of having the pie outweighed the possibly-not-so-great taste. He shrugged and cleaned his plate.
Another trip to the grocery store took us past an end cap that was stocked with everything to fulfill your pumpkin pie needs. I grabbed a can and made sure it said “Sweetened condensed” on it before putting it back and grabbing another can of pumpkin. Then I grabbed two cans of the milk, thinking I could make two more pies sometime this season with the stuff I had at home, and that maybe someday I’d use that other can of evaporated milk I’d bought for something else… even though I don’t really know what one uses evaporated milk for.
We returned home and I put away the groceries, folding up the plastic bags and putting them neatly away to be used in future craft projects. I put away the vegetable oil, the tea, and the whipped cream we’d bought to go with the pumpkin pie. Then I toted the cans back to the pantry and put the new can of pumpkin next to the old one, and placed the sweetened condensed milk on top of each of the cans of pumpkin… and then looked harder. The cans in my pantry both said “evaporated milk.”
I’ll get you, sneaky grocery stores… if it’s the last thing I doooo!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Poor December

I've always been kind of annoyed with the universe about the way certain months are treated. October has always been the nearest and dearest to my heart. It's not just that autumn month that you have to wait impatiently through until it's Halloween. There are lots of other important things that happen in October!
But I've never thought about December's feelings before.
Christmas festivities start before Halloween, and people start making New Year's plans on the preceding New Year's Eve. It's like December exists for no other reason than to be a placeholder for some holidays.
December is an entire month, not just one week at the very end of the year. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus in December. Pearl Harbor was bombed in December. John Lennon was shot in December. Paul Revere took a midnight ride in December. The Wright Brothers flew in December. The Mayflower landed at Plymouth in December. Henry Ford invented an engine for a horseless carriage in December. The USSR began in December, and the Soviet Union ended in December.
It’s not just that last month of the year when you have to listen to nothing but carols while shopping for presents. Just because it’s getting close to the holidays doesn’t mean that you have to eat, sleep, and breathe them.
Think of how December must feel when you focus in on one day and forget about all the other awesome stuff that happened. It’s a whole month, people!
Poor December.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Crochet Cable Stocking Mess

About a year ago I was working on a ridiculously difficult project: a crochet cable Christmas stocking. It was an interesting project, because cabling is usually only done when you’re knitting (I have no idea how, I just know it’s a knitting thing). This particular pattern uses a lot of front post and back post crochets, which can be confusing. Instead of just doing a plain front (or back) post crochet, it utilized one over one left crosses, two over two left (or right) crosses, and three over three right (or left) crosses. Done exactly correctly, these yarn manipulations eventually looked quite nice. Or at least it did in the picture.
The problem was that it was pretty impossible to tell which stitches to work in when you got to the second row. “Okay, in the last row this was a three over three left cross here, so… which ones do I back post double crochet first? Do I go over the last three, or under?” This pattern was one of those that you’d have to work in a group to complete, or hunt down the creator and bash them over the head with emails until they admitted to using black magic to make the original.
Recently I had a comment left on the blog post I had written about the difficulty of the project a year or so ago. I was wanting another project, so I pulled it out, took it apart, and decided to start again.
I chained the correct number of chains, double crocheted the foundation row, one over one right crossed, three over three left crossed, two over two right crossed, and two over two left crossed. Then I stopped. “What do I do now?” I thought. While pondering, I started awake, realized I’d been dozing off, and set everything down, and went to sleep. I dreamed about crocheting, although it was about another project, so it didn't help me much with this one.
The main problem with this pattern was that it was a super complicated idea that was not articulated very well. The first time through, I was sure that I had the right one over one left cross/”back post double crochet around each of next 2 stitches” thing down. This time, I realized I’d been doing it all wrong. It’s not a one over one left cross unless it looks like a CROSS. And the cable that looks great in the picture doesn’t come through in the instructions. “Blindly back post double crochet around the next nine stitches!” it instructs, hoping that whatever you bumble out comes out looking similar to Red Heart’s fancy end product.
The best advice that I can offer for this project is not to get to attached to those stitches you’re doing, because you’ll probably have to pull them out to and redo them. The only way to know if you’re doing the cable part correctly is to just go ahead and do it, and if it’s wrong, pull everything out and redo it. It wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have eight other fancy crochet acrobatics to pull off along with the cabling part.
So maybe what you should do is this:
Ch 16.
Foundation Row: Dc in 3rd ch from hook, dc across (13 st).
Row 1: Turn, ch 3, dc in next 2 sts, 3/3 RC, fpdc around each of next 3 dc, dc in next 2 sts.
Row 2: Turn, ch 3, dc in next 2 sts, bdpc around each of next 9 sts, dc in next 2 sts.
Row 3: Turn, ch 3, dc in next 2 sts, fpdc around each of next 3 sts, 3/3 LC, dc in next 2 sts.
Row 4: Turn, ch 3, dc in next 2 sts, bdpc around each of next 9 sts, dc in next 2 sts.
Row 5: Turn, ch 3, dc in next 2 sts, 3/3 RC, fpdc around each of next 3 dc, dc in next 2 sts.
...and so forth until you figure out where to put your stitches and how the cable should look. Once you’ve got the cabling part down, it’s not hard to figure out how to treat the back post double crochet when you get to the one over one left cross part on even rows. Really, once you get the hang of things, you’ll really only need the instructions for the cabling and to remind you which direction your wiggly “two over two” bit is going.
It’s a daunting pattern. There’s a lot of information there that just gets flung in your face, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. This isn’t the kind of thing you can sit in front of the television and make while you let your mind wander over the actions of reality tv stars. That’s for scarf and blanket making.
For this crochet cable stocking mess, you have to break everything into parts, pay attention, and check off rows as you finish them, so you don’t forget where you are. But don’t cross stuff out as you go (like I did the first time), because if you do, you’ll have to go back and erase it when you pull everything out to redo it because the stupid cable part doesn’t look right again. Every row is different, and it will look the way the picture does when you’re finished, that is if you don’t get distracted and aren’t afraid to pull it apart if it looks like you did something wrong.
Follow the pattern. Don’t let the pattern intimidate you. It’s just a pattern. You could toss it in the trash and go do something else with your yarn. It’s not the boss of you.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Freedom Street

There is a street in Tripoli just south of the Mediterranean Sea called 21st November Street.
Map of Colonized Africa, from New World Encyclopedia
See, early in the 1800s, several dudes in Euorpe realized that Africa was just sitting there unconquered by anyone they knew, so they fell all over each other trying to take as much of it as they possibly could for themselves. As a result, most European countries had colonies there, and in the 1950s, they all were realizing that they’d been total jerks and were giving the land back to whom it had originally belonged. Since they’d stuck their big fat noses in, they hadn’t quite taken in the fact that this was a much more complicated situation than it seemed, and most European countries got a nice lesson on how not to be a huge jerk (except for Belgium, a topic which is capable of driving one of my college history professors into a frothing rage).
On this day in history, the United Nations voted that Libya be returned to the Libyans. Today the country may be in a state of political turmoil, but fact that they are not ruled by a European state is commemorated by a stretch of road between Beach Street and the Piazza del Aurora.
The Maidan al Jazair Mosque in Algeria Square, picture by Abdul-Jawad Elhusuni,
via wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Writing Prompt: The Work Week

Monday
Monday is happy to see you. She is infuriatingly cheerful and seems to appear whenever she’s not wanted. She’s eager to get to work and get things done, but she’s easily distracted by all the other busywork that needs doing but isn’t immediately vital. She’s always disappointed by how little she ends up finishing, but is always optimistic about how much she’s going to do next week.

Tuesday
Tuesday is slightly annoyed. It’s probably because he’s so busy doing everything that Monday left that he’s never had any fun. He doesn’t seem particularly suited to doing all the work, but combines his “somebody’s got to do it” attitude with the one that projects his feelings that he would have had to do it if someone else already had. On the weeks that Monday actually does her share, he reads wikipedia articles all afternoon.

Wednesday
Wednesday is more responsible than Monday and less surly than Tuesday. He hangs out to chat by the water cooler, but still manages to finish his work and to set things up so it’s easier for the rest of the week. He also has time to play flash games near the end of the day. Wednesday is effortlessly efficient, but doesn’t ever seem like he’s working.

Thursday
Thursday finishes her work early and uses the rest of the day to plan her weekend. She consults co-workers about their plans and can’t wait for the end of the week. Sometimes in her rush to complete her tasks and focus on her upcoming free time, she forgets a few, only remembering them ten minutes before the end of the day. But at those times, she doesn’t worry much about it; she knows how reliable Friday is.

Friday
Friday is exasperated. He is always surprised how little the rest of the week gets done, even with Wednesday’s efforts. He is often pessimistic about being able to finish everything, but doesn’t spend much time dwelling on it, and so does finish a good deal. He never leaves for the weekend without feeling guilty about what he wasn’t able to finish, and usually half-threatens to come back in on the weekend to complete it, but never does. He knows that Monday will happily take it on, even if she’ll leave it unfinished herself.
Writing Prompt #199

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Look Before Driving

When my family and I lived in Boulder, Colorado, sometimes I’d get annoyed while driving through town. At the time, I felt that the pedestrian crosswalk precautions were a little bit much.
There are signs. Thick lines of paint on the street. Flashing lights on poles. And a loud voice announcing that pedestrians were using the crosswalk.
The first several times I drove through them, I’d roll my eyes. “Really?” I’d think. “Do I really need all this to remind me that pedestrians sometimes walk across the street here? This is too much.”
Was it?
Nope.
I never hit or even came close to hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist in Boulder.
Lincoln, Nebraska has a ton of foot and bicycle traffic, too, but not as much trumpeting parade about it. Here, you don’t get reminded to use common sense when you pull up to an intersection near campus. Instead, the flood of students crossing the street reminds you that you can’t pull across the crosswalk as you wait for traffic to lighten so you can turn the corner. You feel like an idiot as everyone walks around your car and gives you dirty looks.
Nobody ever gets in their car and plans to hit someone with it, but I’ve come close a couple of times. There’s a blind corner in the alley behind Tico’s that you have to completely stop and inch forward bit by bit until you can see if there’s anyone you’re about to ram into coming down the sidewalk.
I’d imagine that Portland is more like Boulder than Lincoln is. It’s hard to miss a loud pedestrian crosswalk, especially when there are other cars stopped for aforementioned pedestrians. Nobody gets up in the morning planning to be vilified on the internet, but sometimes when you hit an internet celebrity riding her bicycle across a very bicycle-friendly crosswalk in a very bicycle-friendly city, you end up being the jerk everyone on the internet hates.
I hope you’re okay, Erika, and if nothing else, your adventure today will make the rude gentleman a more respectful and attentive driver.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Jammies

At Target the other day I saw some footie pajamas. They were cute and fuzzy and looked nice and warm. They were also sized for eight year olds.
Footie pajamas are nice for tiny kids, who are too young to obey commands to leave their socks on at night. They keep the feet of tiny kids warm all night, along with the rest of them.
The big problem with footie pajamas, though, is the same problem you get when you have to get out from under the covers in the morning: without them it's cold!
A little kid is going to fuss when you take those warm jammies off to change their diaper. That sort of thing is necessary, no matter how snuggly you are. But think about how much more cold someone with more heat to lose would feel when having to get out of them for a similar reason. Bathrooms are the coldest rooms in the house in the winter, especially when you’re wearing footie pajamas.
You can stay under the covers for as long as possible, but sooner or later you’re going to have to get up. Two piece flannel pajamas will let you ease into the cold, but will definitely not be as cute as footie pajamas might. The choice is up to you.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Boogaloo Bag Count: THE END

Ladies and gentlemen: Bag the Bag Part 2: the Electric Boogaloo is FINISHED.
Last weekend I was looking for a new project, just having finished my Ravenclaw Winter Set, and realized that I don’t need a new project because I have plenty of old ones sitting around that just need to be completed so they can get out of the way already.
Obligatory growth chart:
















One hundred sixteen bags were used to make this one reusable grocery bag: 28 yellow Super Saver bags with red and black writing, 1 yellow No Frills bag with black writing, 1 white Gander Mountain bag with maroon and hunter green writing, 1 tan Office Max bag with black and lime green writing, a length of light green plastic ribbon, 1 white Raising Cane’s bag with red, yellow, and black writing, 1 blue Lincoln Food Bank bag with black writing, 1 white Popeyes bag with maroon and orange writing, 1 purple and copper Teavana bag with white writing, 2 tiny white “Smile” bags with blue, yellow, green, and red accents that the dentist sent home with me, a tiny bit of pink plastic ribbon, 14 dark green small Earth Aware packaging bags with gray writing, 1 tan King Soopers bag with red writing, 1 gray Kohl’s bag with black writing, 23 gray Hy Vee bags with red and black writing, 1 white Barnes & Noble (Nook Color) bag with black, red, yellow, green, and blue accents, 1 small translucent blue newspaper bag, 1 white Our Family bag with red, yellow, & green writing, 1 tan Home Depot bag with orange and green writing, 1 Medical Center of Aurora patient clothing storage bag with orange accents, 20 translucent Hy Vee “recycle” bags with red and black writing, a tiny bit of blue plastic ribbon, 1 large translucent green Earth Friendly Eco-Max dry cleaning bag with white writing, 13 small translucent AIR plus packaging bags with blue writing, and 1 super tiny translucent Fill-Air Extreme packaging bag with green writing.
Using lots of different kinds of bags makes Bag the Bag Part 2: the Electric Boogaloo look awesome. It wasn’t so fun to keep track of every single kind of bag I used (or to type them all up), but it’s so much more fun-looking than the original Bag the Bag, with its blue and white bags, or how uniform Bag the Bag Part 3: the Sequel to the Sequel will look, since I’m using the same kind of bag for the whole thing. The Electric Boogaloo looks like a “leftover yarn” project, when you use the rest of a skein or ball of yarn to make a blanket or scarf. It’s unique.
It was also a pain in the butt. I’m never using those thick Earth Aware packaging bags or a Teavana bag ever again, since they’re so thick I could hardly get a hook through while attaching the handles.
I do want to do another Bag the Bag project with different colored bags, but next time I will use a much larger hook.
Here’s Bag the Bag Part 2: the Electric Boogaloo in its glorious, finally finished form!



Boogaloo Bag Count: THE END

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday in History: Sassy Circumnavigator

Maybe I should retitle this series, "Sassy Ladies in History." But I suppose that someone quiet and unassuming wouldn't make the history books.
Elizabeth Jane Cochrane was the daughter of a Pittsburgh miller; she eventually became a famous newspaper columnist, business owner, and inventor. Her rise to fame began when she wrote a very sassy letter to the editor under a false name. The editor was so impressed that he offered the letter's author a job, only to change his mind when he found it had been penned by a woman.
But "Nellie Bly," as Miss Cochrane came to be known, talked him into giving her the job anyway. She disliked many of her assignments, and was always trying to come up with a more interesting project.
After living in Mexico for six months, she began to write about the terrible conditions the people were enduring under their dictator, Porfirio Díaz. She had to flee back to America to preserve her life, but that didn't stop her from writing a longer article: Six Months in Mexico.
She completely changed the public's view of women's mental institutions with her undercover exposé of the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island: Ten Days in a Madhouse. Because of her work, radical changes were made and money was raised for the department of corrections and for more rigorous testing so that only those who were truly mentally ill would be treated in the mental facilities.
On this day in history in 1889, the famous newspaperwoman Nellie Bly posed for a picture and then set off on a trip to circumnavigate the globe. She planned to make Jules Verne's fictional trip a reality. She was going to go around the world in eighty days.
She made it in seventy two days.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writing Prompt: Adventure and Obedience

“Three little ducks went out to play, over the hills and far away. When the Mommy duck said, ‘Quack quack, quack quack,' two little ducks came waddling back!”
“Two little ducks went out to play, over the hills and far away. When the Mommy duck said, ‘Quack quack, quack quack!' one little duck came waddling back!”
“One little duck went out to play, over the hills and far away. When the Mommy duck said, ‘Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack!' no little ducks came waddling back!”
“No little ducks went out to play, over the hills and far away. When the Daddy duck said, ‘QUACK QUACK, QUACK, QUACK!!!' ...three little ducks came waddling back!
A duck family is always an amusing thing to behold. Especially this duck family, as the above rhyme shows. The family loved each other very much, but in the absence of their male parent, the children had a tendency to become deaf to their mother’s instructions. Their mother, too, became less able to handle her abundance of children when her husband was off doing important duck things, and as a result, she often became rather absent minded.
One such afternoon, the Mommy duck was leading her children across a street. As their father was not with them, the children normally would have been wandering away and dismissing any calls to return. But that day, they stayed near to their mother as any group of little ducks should. She was so surprised that she didn’t have to fuss and screech and call them back that she didn’t even notice a large grate in the street just ahead of them. Her feet were big enough not to slip through the holes, but when they reached the other side, she found only one of her children still by her side.
She looked about her, exasperated, and began to quack their little duckie names, hoping that they would answer. To her surprise, little peeping quacks sounded from beneath her. That was when she noticed the grate. Her alarm was great, and she called out to them not to wander, that she would find a way to get to them. Unfortunately the period of obedience had ended, and the possibility of adventure too high for the little ducks to do any such thing. She had quite a time keeping the one duckling who had escaped the fall from joining his siblings.
As she and her one little duck waddled, home, she called for the other ducklings, “Quack, quack!” but knew it was probably no use. What would her husband say?
That evening, the Mommy duck spotted the Daddy duck as he made his way back to the nest for the night. He was yelling, “QUACK, QUACK, QUACK.” But not at her. Trailing behind him was a line of very obedient-looking ducklings.
Although it was a happy ending, the little ducks were not the only ones who got a stern quacking-to. Their mother shared in their disgrace, and the one little duck who missed out on all the adventure was the only one who was allowed to have any dessert.
Writing Prompt #780

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Appointment Alternatives

This morning I dreamed that I was at the doctor trying to schedule some kind of a procedure. There were all kinds of conflicts with my work and holiday plans, and finally the doctor suggested an alternate plan: he pulled up a webpage and presented it to me. "Uh," I said, "I don't really want to drive all the way to Omaha just for dance lessons."

After eating breakfast with my daughters, I settled in to my morning routine of letting my mind wander while considering what to write about (in other words, I was playing a video game). Suddenly, the phone rang. It was the dentist's office.

Disaster! I had completely forgotten the appointment that was supposed to have started two minutes before the phone rang. "Well, get here as soon as you can, and we'll see if we can get both of you in."

It turns out that "as soon as you can" is quite a while, between getting properly dressed and finding shoes and brushing teeth and putting hair up and trying to get the car started in the cold and buckling seatbelts and figuring out the best way to get there.

My daughter got her teeth cleaned, but we had to reschedule my appointment. At least they didn't suggest the alternative option as dance lessons in Omaha.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is an amusing thing. We have a need to translate the sounds we hear into written words, and everyone does it differently.
Dogs, for instance, make so many varying sounds that the word we settled on in English is bark. Really? A multitude of sounds and the word we settle on is the stuff on the outside of a tree. Have you ever heard a dog say "bark"? Even my one year old knows that different sized dogs say different things, but that is probably because her favorite book is “Moo, Baa, La La La” by Sandra Boynton, which tells her that “Rhinoceroses SNORT and SNUFF, and little dogs go RUFF RUFF RUFF! Some other dogs go BOW WOW WOW, and cats and kittens say MEOW!”
In Finnish, a dog says “vuff.” In Japanese, they say "wan." Greek dogs say “gav gav.” In French, dogs say “ouah ouah,” and the tone of voice changes depending on the size of the dog. We all have unique ways of translating the sound they make. Some are closer to the actual sound than others. (Nice going, English.)
When I was a kid, I loved the movie Dumbo, and paraded around the house making my own version of an elephant noise: “Trumpeeet!” (I was an adorable child.) And even though I don’t like Family Guy, one scene I do enjoy is the one where Stewie is playing with the European See & Say. He disagrees with every sound (“The Monkey goes: ‘Macaque!’” “Oh no, no, no! It does not!”) until he gets to the elephant: “The Elephant goes: “Voooamp!” at which he shrugs and says “Eh, kinda.”
I’ve never actually met a fox, but I’ve read lots of different ways to onomatopoeize the sound it makes. “Yip,” “bark,” “scream,” and “cry” are all sounds attributed to a fox. Maybe it makes a different noise depending on the situation it’s in, like when you can tell your dog’s mood by listening to its scared whining, happy barking, or angry growling. Maybe a fox just has a wider vocabulary than most animals.
But I’m moderately certain that no one has ever heard a fox say “Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow!” or “Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho!” or seen it try to use Morse code.
(My favorite part, aside from the fact that this song is super-catchy and kind of a parody of all popular music, is the grandfather trying to read the crazy onomatopoeia to his grandkid. Hilarious.)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Legwarmers Not Included

Making scarves is fun. If I could sit around making scarves all day, that is what I would do. Buy me yarn and I will make you a scarf. Heck, buy me yarn and I will make you an entire winter set.
Legwarmers not included.
But since every single person I know is not in need of 27 scarves apiece, I suppose that it’s back to Bag the Bag I go.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thursday in History: Sacrifice in Sonora

It is easy to glorify our heroes. We want to look up to them, so we attribute to them a more selfless attitude and more giving actions. But there are some heroes who need no embellishment. Some simply give their lives to save others.
On this day in history in 1907, a locomotive with a faulty firebox was sitting at its southernmost stop in the copper mining town of Nacozari, Sonora (directly south of Douglas, Arizona, which was the northernmost stop). Nacozari had a population of 5000 people.
Monument to the hero of
Nacozari de García (via wikipedia)
Jesús García, a young man in his early twenties, was the train’s breakman. While he was taking a break from work, he saw the locomotive’s firebox was not doing its job and sparks from the engine had drifted on the wind and ignited some hay on the roof of one of the cars: one hauling dynamite.
Because Nacozari is nestled in the Sierra Madre Occidental, to take the train further south along the line would have meant struggling uphill. García directed it back the way it had come. He took the dangerous load out of town, and went backward, full steam, for six kilometers (3.7 miles).
There is not much embellishment needed for a story like Jesús García’s. He has been honored many different ways: in song, in the streets, stadiums, and towns that are named for him, and with Mexico’s National Day of the Railroader, celebrated on the day he gave his life for the people of Nacozari de García.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Writing Prompt: The Tale of Lady Wolfsbane

Once upon a time there was a young girl whose father had terrible taste in women. Her mother, had she lived long enough, was the type who would most likely have locked her daughter in a tower for reasons unknown, making her a tragic damsel in need of rescue. As it was, she died when her daughter was an infant, and over the years, the girl’s father grew in wisdom. His second marriage was to a better woman, or so he thought.
She was a better woman than his first wife had been, for when he died she did not lock his daughter in a tower. After all, she had daughters of her own, and had not towers enough to lock them all away. She was merely satisfied with doting upon her own children while treating her stepdaughter with as much contempt as possible.
The extravagance of the young lady’s stepmother led to the dismissal of a good deal of the servants, and pride in her father’s home compelled the young lady to take care of whatever she could and do whatever work could not be completed by their remaining staff. After cleaning the fireplaces one morning, her stepsisters nicknamed her “Cinderella.” She thought “hardworking,” “loyal,” or “diligent” might have described her better, but her annoyance was enough to amuse her stepsisters. Soon, the remaining servants and everyone else, even her stepmother, were calling her by that name, as if her own had been forgotten.
Cinderella did her best to keep her father’s house in order, despite the constant overspending of her stepmother. She kept the herb garden tamed, she convinced the cook to stay on for lower wages, she dusted the chandeliers, and every once and a while she cleaned the fireplaces. She was so busy maintaining the house that she had no time to keep up on social events. So when her stepsisters haughtily informed her that a royal ball was fast approaching, not only did she not care, she was annoyed that they had interrupted her work to give her such useless information.
She went early to bed the night of the ball, after a hard day’s work harvesting in the herb garden and beating the rug in the main hall. All she wanted was to rest, and to avoid the pomp of her parading stepmother and stepsisters, who would inevitably ask for compliments on their looks and dress and then sneeringly disregard whatever she said. There was no inducement for Cinderella to go to the ball herself, and the cost of their carriage conveying her family to the ball was less than the cost of their dining at home. The servants had the night off, and Cinderella hoped, in their absence, to be able to relax as well.
But instead, she dreamed.
A lovely ball, music, dancing, beautiful women and handsome men, talking and laughing together, everyone enjoying themselves, when suddenly a black cloud fell over the party and a bone chilling howl drowned every other sound.
She woke with start to find someone in her room. “Who are you?” she gasped. “How did you get in?”
“Why, dear Cinderella,” replied the woman, “I am your fairy godmother.”
“That is not my name,” Cinderella snapped, the howl from her dream still echoing in her ears. “I don’t have a godmother, and I don’t want to have anything to do with fairies. Get out.”
“Dearest child,” cooed the woman, “You should already be aware that your True Name has been lost. ‘Cinderella’ is what you have become. If you were Yourself, you should be at that ball tonight, among the happy dancers. But you work and you strive and you scrub, and so ‘Cinderella’ is what you are.”
After a moment of silence in which the young woman studied the fairy in her bedroom, she sighed. “I suppose you are right,” she said. “I have been ‘Cinderella’ for so long that there are some times that even I forget my own name.”
“Perhaps you may live long enough to win another name,” said her godmother.
“What do you mean?”
“You shall go to the ball tonight, as a young lady of your station ought,” her godmother replied, ignoring her question.
Cinderella shook her head. “I am too fatigued to dance. I have done a great deal of work today and I merely wish to rest. I shall go to a ball another time.” Not to mention the dream she had just woken from. Though the room was warm, she shivered and wrapped her arms around herself.
“Nonsense,” her fairy godmother replied, and snapped her fingers. “Now, you shall find a coach outside waiting to take you to the ball.” She took Cinderella’s hand and helped her out of bed. “Hurry now, my dear.”
“I do not wish to go,” Cinderella protested.
“Do not worry about what you shall wear,” her godmother said, as though she had not heard.
A beautiful ball gown that was lovelier than anything her stepmother or stepsisters had ever worn was spread out on the bed before her. It was not something that Cinderella would have chosen for herself (even if she had been interested in attending the ball); it was a bit too magnificent.
“There, my dear! It will bring out the green hue in your eyes!” Her godmother helped her dress, though to Cinderella it seemed rather more like she was impelled than helped by the fairy. “Now! Let me look at you!” She stepped back and surveyed her work, but stopped short when she saw a naked toe peeking out from underneath the hem of the dress. “Oh, dear! But you cannot go to the ball unshod!”
“How distressing,” Cinderella replied. “I do not suppose that this means that I may escape attending.”
“Of course not!” her godmother exclaimed, sounding scandalized. She snapped her fingers again, and Cinderella found silver shoes on her feet, with heels that made her wobble. “There, now. No one will recognize you, dressed as you are.” She turned Cinderella to look in the one glass kept in her room for such a purpose, and Cinderella saw silver threads wound through her hair, and little diamonds twinkling there.
Cinderella was not swayed by her appearance; she still did not long to go to the ball, but instead felt obligated to go so as not to waste all of her godmother’s work. She sighed as her godmother handed her into the carriage and called, “Have a good time, dear!”
As she rode toward the castle on the other end of town, she wondered why her fairy godmother had been so insistent that she be present at this ball. The royal family was by no means illiberal when it came to giving large parties, and there was a ball quite as often as any young lady could wish (any young lady who was not busy taking care of her father’s house, that is). The celebration of the return of the crown prince was the excuse used for the ball this time, and she wondered why such a fuss should be made: he had been abroad just two months.
She stepped out of the carriage and was escorted into the ballroom. The lights were bright and laughter floated through the air, and she could hear music, though those making it were hidden. It was unnerving to be in the very place in reality that she had just been in a dream.
After standing for a moment alone and hearing no ominous howling, Cinderella went to a table laid with refreshments to find something to drink. Unfortunately, several sophisticated-looking gentlemen were standing nearby, and they all, in their turn, were “enchanted” with her beauty and begged to be “bestowed” the honor of her hand for a dance.
“No thank you,” she told the first. “I do not intend to dance this evening.” The second seemed to think her reluctance stemmed from an improper introduction, and so informed her that he was the second son of a count. He was quite disappointed when she refused. The third informed her that he was a lord. So she curtsied when she told him that she had come determined to avoid the dance floor.
A few moments later, she was standing alone enjoying her drink when the sophisticated-looking gentlemen nearby began to whisper amongst themselves. She glanced at them, wondering why they were behaving like a group of old women when suddenly there was a young man before her, holding out a gloved hand.
“Is this the enchanting young lady who comes to a ball and refuses to dance?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” she replied, sighing, “and I care not whether you are count or lord, coachman or stable boy. I do not wish to dance tonight, and you cannot change my mind.”
That was when a whisper of one of the gossiping gentlemen reached her ears: “She would not refuse the crown prince…?” The young man appeared to have heard it too, but when she gasped and looked back at him, spotting the gold circlet upon his head, he merely smiled and bowed.
“I shall offer you a promise, Lady: one dance with me, and you shall not be bothered for the rest of the evening. No counts or lords, coachmen or stable boys will bother you.” She curtsied her acceptance, and took his hand.
Though she had not wanted to dance, a promise from the prince would prevent her from having to do so again for the rest of the night. It was the first time someone had let her have her own way that evening.
She was not serious and hardworking enough to be unmoved by being asked to dance by the crown prince. As he led her to the dance floor, she blushed, covering her face with her hand to prevent it being seen by her partner. She had washed her hands after finishing her work earlier that day, but the scent of wolfsbane still lingered on them. This knowledge made her blush even more, lest the new name she found be “Lady Wolfsbane;” “Cinderella” was bad enough!
The music started. She was dancing with the crown prince. He was a fine dancer, but she still was not sure whether she would rather have stayed at home in bed. The prince may have been light on his feet, but that did not change the fact that she was tired from a long day’s work.
“What are you thinking of, Lady?” he asked.
“I… was…” she began, not sure she wanted to share her day with him. “I was thinking of how interesting your trip abroad must have been.”
He laughed. “I do not believe you, but I will not insist on knowing your true thoughts.” He was silent for a moment, then admitted, “all anyone wants to hear about is my trip. But I did not find much novelty in it, to be honest. Paris was as it usually is: noisy, filled with parties no one really wants to attend and people no one really wants to speak to. The newest craze there is monsters.”
“Monsters?”
“Yes,” the prince replied. “Ladies seeing them out their bedroom windows, gentlemen glimpsing them in the street while walking home in the dark…” he laughed again. “All fancy, of course, but it amuses the idle inhabitants of Paris.”
“I should not think that dwelling upon monsters, real or imagined, would be something idly done,” Cinderella replied.
“You are very wise, Lady,” he said, as the song came to an end. He bowed, she curtsied, and he took her hand again to lead her away from the dance.
As they reached the refreshments table once more, he looked about him as though he was going to share a secret with her and did not want others listening in. “Would you care for a walk in the gardens?” he asked, gesturing to an open door nearby.
She sighed. She did not care for a walk in the gardens, but he was the crown prince, and he had promised that she would not be hounded to dance for the rest of the night.
He seemed to sense her reluctance, and smiled. “One turn,” he urged. “And then, if you will permit me, I shall call your carriage and you can be off, before the monsters come out for the night.”
This was too much to resist. Her fairy godmother had told her to be home by midnight, but had not said anything preventing her from returning before then. She smiled, took his arm, and allowed herself to be led outside.
“Such a lovely night,” the prince commented.  It was a crisp evening, lit by the occasional torch, and, at times, the moon, whenever the clouds allowed its light to touch the earth.
“Yes,” she agreed.
“You are lovely as well,” he added.
“Your majesty,” she protested. “I have already danced with you and consented to take a walk with you; there is no need for you to flatter me.”
“There is every need,” he argued. “When a woman such as yourself, a woman as beautiful as the moon, is before me, it would be a crime for me not to tell her that her beauty belongs among the stars.”
“Your majesty, please.”
He smiled. “Why have I not seen you at a ball here before?”
She frowned. One does not inform the crown prince of the work that has to be done to maintain a house such as her father’s, especially when it would cause embarrassment to one’s stepmother, who should have been doing it herself. The only explanation that she could give was: “I… have not the leisure time that some young ladies enjoy.”
“Do not tell me,” said he, smiling, “you have a secret life. You are by day a mild-mannered citizen, but at night, a righter of wrongs! A doer of good!”
“What conclusions you jump to, your highness!” she declared. “Why did you assume I was a ‘doer of good?’ Do you have a secret life as well?”
“Yes,” he replied, and for the first time, Cinderella noticed how far they were from the ballroom, and how few people were nearby. They were quite alone in the garden.
She cleared her throat nervously. “Are you a… doer of good?” she whispered.
“No,” he said, smirking, “I am a monster.”
Cinderella did not believe for one moment that he was anything more than a spoiled, flattering, lascivious royal brute. So as he leaned down to kiss her, she stopped his face with her hands.
She did not expect to get any response except for a more forceful attempt, and fully intended to slap him as hard as she could and to hurry back into the ballroom as fast as possible. But to her surprise, he recoiled, letting out an anguished cry.
She watched in horror as the clouds parted and moonlight found the prince: the gold circlet fell from his head as his shirt ripped at the shoulders, claws burst from his gloves, and he began to transform into a monster.
The “back to the ballroom as fast as possible” portion of her plan was enacted. She hurried as quickly as she could, weaving through the shrubs toward the light of the building. Somewhere in her mind, she knew that the ballroom offered her no real safety from the beast, but it was better than staying to be torn to bits.
The howl from her dream was loud in her ears. She picked up the hem of her magnificent gown and ran.
A snarl from her left was so near that it foretold teeth in her elbow, and startled her so much that she fell sideways over the low hedge on her right. She landed on her rump and her feet dangled in the air in a very unladylike fashion.
She was going to die. Her only thought was, who will take care of the house now?
“So, Lady,” snarled the beast-prince. “It seems you do have a secret. You can fend off a werewolf once with ease.” He paused, and Cinderella was sure that he could hear the rapid beating of her heart. “But let us see if you can do it twice.”
He leapt.
She screamed.
He snarled.
She kicked.
He howled… in pain.
She sat up, watching the beast-prince writhe in torment. The heel of one of her shoes stuck in his chest. He raked a paw at it, trying to dislodge it, but screamed with agony as the shoe touched him.
“Silver shoes?!” he growled. “Who are you...?” He stepped forward and drew back a huge arm tipped with claws to kill her in one blow.
But her screaming and his howling had not been in vain. Their cries were being investigated. Men approached with shouts and people watched from the doors of the ballroom with exclamations of fear.
The beast-prince looked at the advancing men, then back at Cinderella. “Curse you… Lady Wolfsbane!” he growled, and tore off into the night.
The second son of the count helped her to her feet and inquired after her. “I am quite well,” she informed him. “But I must speak to the king.”
She was helped inside and given new footwear as a hunting party set out to kill or capture the beast. She kept her remaining silver shoe clutched closely to her still rapidly beating heart. She was escorted in to an audience with the king, who would not normally have allowed such a thing, but was inclined to indulge one who had very nearly lost her life to a beast in his garden.
“My king,” she began with deep curtsy, “I thank you for consenting to listen. Has your son told you of the monsters in Paris?”
The king laughed. “He has, but please do not tell me that this has all been a joke to stir up some craze he picked up abroad.”
“It has not been a joke,” she replied, “if I had not been harvesting wolfsbane today, I would be dead. The monsters in Paris are real. They have made your son one of their number. He would have killed me tonight, were it not for my shoe.”
“Your shoe?” the king asked, flabbergasted by the whole situation. She handed her remaining shoe to the king, and curtsied again. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“If your son returns, he will have its match. That is how you will know that what I say is true.” The king stared at her, stunned into silence. “And if you and your guests would live the night, wolfsbane is needed: in the nosegays, hanging at the windows, and tied onto the beds.”
“Who are you?” he asked, unknowingly echoing his son.
She smiled. “My father was a baronet; my stepmother and stepsisters are nobles of your court. I am just the caretaker of a household.” She curtsied once more and turned to leave.
“But… what is your name?” he said, silver shoe in hand.
She stopped at the door, and turned back toward him. And as the clock struck midnight, she said, “You may call me Lady Wolfsbane.”
Halloween Writing Prompts: 8 of 8