Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy St. Andrew's Day!

"O, Flower of Scotland, when will we see your like again?"
(the Corries)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Vampires Still A Threat In Serbia

I'm not sure if I find this funny or refreshing, but a handful of Serbian villagers are sticking to their 19th Century beliefs as firmly as anyone in a small town in Utah.  It's just that these Serbs are terrified of vampires (whereas in a Utah town it would be Democrats).
Check out this article from Good Morning America by Dragana Jovanovic (from 11/28/12)

For the people in a tiny Serbian village there is nothing sexy or romantic about a vampire. In fact, they are terrified that one of the most feared vampires of the area has been roused back to life.
Rather than 'Twilight's' Edward, the people of Zorazje fear that Sava Savanovic is lurking in their forested mountains of western Serbia.
They believe that he is on the move because the home he occupied for so long, a former water mill, recently collapsed. Savanovic is believed to be looking for a new home.
"People are very worried. Everybody knows the legend of this vampire and the thought that he is now homeless and looking for somewhere else and possibly other victims is terrifying people," Miodrag Vujetic, local municipal assembly member, told ABC News. "We are all frightened."
Vujetic said villagers "are all taking precautions by having holy crosses and icons placed above the entrance to the house, rubbing our hands with garlic, and having a hawthorn stake or thorn."
"I understand that people who live elsewhere in Serbia are laughing at our fears, but here most people have no doubt that vampires exist," he says.
According to legend, Savanovic would kill and drink the blood of the peasants who came to grind their grain at his watermill on the Rogacica River. Tour groups from around the Balkans would come to see the mill. But even tourism had its limits.
"We were welcoming tourists, but only during the day. Nobody ever overnighted there," said Slobodan Jagodic, whose family owned the mill for over 60 years.
"We were too scared to repair it, not to disturb Sava Savanovic," says Jagodic. "It's even worse now that it collapsed due to lack of repair."
Traditions die slowly in this part of the world. "In the dark forested mountains of Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia, many people still believe in vampires and take them quite seriously," says Dr. James Lyon, Ph.D, a noted Balkan historian who has done extensive research on the folklore behind vampires.
"In local folklore, vampires are not potential boyfriends. Rather, they are hideous, blood thirsty creatures with red eyes and iron teeth that bloat when they feed, and are able to shift their shape," says Lyon, author of "Kiss of the Butterfly," a historical thriller about vampires in the Serbia.
Savanovic has maintained his notoriety in modern Serbia. He was featured in a 19th century book "Ninety Years Later" written by Milovan Glisic, whose book inspired a 1972 horror film "Leptirica" (Butterfly), widely watched throughout all of former Yugoslavia. More recently, Savanovic appeared in an award winning book "Fear and Its Servant" written by Mirjana Novakovic.
The Balkans have long established itself as Ground Zero for vampires when it comes to fanged folklore, and Serbia is a leader in this, according to Lyon.
"Vampires originated in Serbia, not Romania," says Lyon. "The word vampire entered western languages from Serbia in the late 1720s."
Austrian forces returning from conquests in Ottoman Serbia in the early 1700s brought back vampire stories, which circulated throughout Europe, later inspiring Byron, Keats and Coleridge, he claims.
"In 1730-31 the Austrian Army sent a military surgeon into Serbia to conduct autopsies on suspected vampires. He and other Austrian Army officers wrote of their experiences, and these records still exist today," Lyons said.
Documented reports of vampire-related activity continue to this day throughout the Balkans, the most recent having occurred in 2011 in Serbia.
Back in Zarozje, villagers will have to be on their guard for at least seven more months, because local legend holds that vampires are most active between Christmas and the Feast of the Ascension on June 7.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On The Instantaneous Creation Of Great American Folk Songs

As I wrote about in a not-too-long-ago post, I spent a fair-sized chunk of my life traveling to different countries for dance festivals.  This, of course, gave me a good deal of exposure to folk music, and I learned a good deal about how other people view America's folk culture.
One thing I learned was that the song most closely associated with the USA is not "The Star-Spangled Banner" or "America, The Beautiful."  Nope.  It's "Oh, Susannah."
In any parade in any country, when our bluegrass band struck up that tune, people would smile, clap along, and start to sing.  Well, at least they'd sing the words, "Oh, Susannah."  Most of them didn't know much else.  (And let's face it; phrases like "a buckwheat cake was in her mouth" are not what folks learn in their English classes.)
I've heard that song sung by Poles and played on a leaf.  I've also heard it sung in Mandarin Chinese.  Odd.  (I wonder how they translated "buckwheat.")
But, truth be told, the song "Oh, Susannah" isn't a folk song in the sense that it's been sung for so many years that no one knows where it came from.  No, "Oh, Susannah" is a folk song in the same way that Peter, Paul, and Mary's "If I Had A Hammer" is a folk song.  "Oh, Susannah" was a popular song written in 1848 by Steven Foster (who gave us other great tunes like "Old Kentucky Home"), but it had a folksy feel to it, and it became an "instant" folk song.
Still, for our dance group, sometimes "Oh, Susannah" wasn't enough.
Most of us could sing as well as dance, and several members of the group had been in various community and church choirs, so it was no hardship for us to sing.  Besides "Oh, Susannah" in parades (and in one pioneer round dance number), we frequently sang "She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain" (to which our director, George, would add extra verses in countries where English was not commonly spoken -- I've had to sing such lyrics as "Oh, we'll lock her in the basement when she comes" or "Oh, we'll make her clean the attic when she comes."), and, in performances, it was sometimes "Amazing Grace."  (We had one bizarre instance when we were informed the night before a long day of performing that we were expected to sing in Mass in a tiny town in central Italy.  As "Oh, Susannah" was hardly acceptable, we decided on "Amazing Grace."  It was beautiful as we sang it, but it was still America's most popular Protestant hymn -- sung in a Catholic church by a bunch of Mormons, former Mormons, and one Russian Orthodox member.  Oh, and it was accompanied by guitar, fiddle, string bass -- and washboard.)
And then there was "The Hokey Pokey."
This was mostly my fault, really.  It was 1996, and the festival in Birmingham, England began something they called The Ball of the Nations.  The idea was that all the festival dancers would have an evening together --without an audience -- wherein they taught each other simple dances.  It was a fantastic idea, but our group stressed over whether or not we could teach our easiest recreational dances in our allotted time.  Also, some of our favorites were either too reliant on singing ("Charlie Is A Miller Boy") or possibly offensive in a community that understood all the words ("Cotton-Eyed Joe").  I was the one who suggested that we teach "The Hokey Pokey."  And I was the one who got stuck teaching it.  In England.  Later in Austria and Hungary.  In Spain.  And, finally, in China.  (Yeah, I just admitted that: I taught "The Hokey Pokey" in China.)
But the instant folk song that really stays in my mind was one we created in Sweden.
It was a beautiful summer evening in June, and our group had been treated to a night out in a lodge used by the Swedish dance group hosting us.  They'd fed us all herring-packed food (ever had scrambled eggs with herring?  salad with herring?  potato casserole with herring?  I have.  It's not all that great.), and it was time to go.
It was getting dark, and as we stood outside, waiting to board our bus to go back to the city and the dorms where we were staying, the Swedish group lined up along the walkway and sang a lovely folk song.
A smile plastered rather too tightly on his face, George, our director (who could speak fluent Swedish), whispered to those of us next to him, "It's a farewell song.  They'll expect us to sing back.  What can we sing?!"
My mind raced.  I didn't know a single farewell folk song other than "Aloha Oe," which hardly seemed appropriate.  Plus, it had to be something that our whole group knew.
Fortunately for us, this was 1991, and I was the youngest member of the troupe because, in those few very awkward seconds of silence that followed our polite applause of the Swedes, came the sound of Bart, one of the best dancers in the group and a member of the Salt Lake Men's Choir.  He was singing a farewell song that ALL of us knew:

Yep.  Lawrence Welk to the rescue.  Presto: instant folk song.
YouTube didn't exist in those far-off days, and the Swedes hadn't had much experience with American TV variety shows of the 1970s.  They had no idea that what we sang was only a TV theme song; it sounded like a folk song, and it fit the occasion.
But it was all we could do not to burst out laughing afterwards when George muttered under his breath, "Thank you, Bobby and Cissy."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Half-Vampire Fans, Young And Old

I got some new photos for my readers' gallery tonight, and, although I didn't realize it while I was taking the photos, I got shots of a pretty wide range of ages in readers.

Okay, my youngest fan here is probably not a reader -- yet.

We'll get there, though.
He's one of my grandstudents.  (Both his parents are my former students, so he's my grandstudent.)
Here's a bit more of the family (the parents HAVE read the book):

And we have a few more soon-to-be fans (+ one more devoted fan and former student):

Actually, the older boy in this photo is very excited to read Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire and will probably start soon. (Uh, that extra leg there belongs to the little guy photographed above.  He decided to play peek-a-boo just as I clicked the digital shutter.)

And, on the other end of the age scale, we have some retirees having fun with the books as well:

See?  Half-Vampires are for everyone!

Would you like to have your photo in my readers' gallery?  I'd love to post it!  You can go to the Contact Me tab at the top of the blog or just click here for details.  (Anyone under the age of 18 must be pictured with a parent so that I can avoid legal issues.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

This Weekend's Contest Is Cancelled

...due to lack of interest shown in the first 24 hours.
Obviously, everyone is out shopping and my timing was bad.  We'll try again another time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Half-Vampire Thanksgiving Recipe

In All in the Half-Vampire Family, Eric discovers a new food he likes very much: black pudding.  (You can see it in the above photo; it looks like round beef jerky.) Of course, the reason he likes black pudding so much is that it's made with blood, sheep's blood, to be specific.  (In case you're wondering, yes, I've eaten the stuff before.  Several times actually.  It's okay, but I'll take haggis over black pudding anytime.)
So, in keeping with the Thanksgiving tradition of eat-all-you-can, I tried to find a recipe to share with you -- off a website presumably catering to *ahem* vampires, as it begins with this odd line, "Ever had that awkward moment trying to explain why you want two or three cups of blood from a butcher?"  (Okaaaay, then. Moving right along....)   However, this site only catered to Irish vampires (perhaps Patrick would like it) and insisted on using pig's blood.  So I found this recipe to share instead:

Scottish Black Pudding

1 pound suet, finely chopped
1 pound oatmeal
2 onions
fresh sheep's blood (may be watered down)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl with fresh sheep's blood. Stuff
mixture into casing, tie well. Place in large pan, cover with
boiling water, boil gently for 3 hours. Remove black puddings,
allow to cool. Cut into slices as required, fry in hot fat.

NOTES : Called 'Marag' (Blood Pudding) in Gaelic (it also means a
fat, shapeless person!), this is one of the famous blood dishes
that Scottish people love. It usually accompanies other fried
dishes, such as bacon and eggs. While it might seem shocking to
eat blood, don't forget that all meat dish contain blood and it's
the basis, with fat, of gravy. Blood dishes are popular all over
Europe, especially in Transylvania. If serving to children,
experience shows that the ingredients are best left undiscussed at
the table. Black puddings and mealie puddings are usually stuffed
in larger sausage casings of the size used for garlic and other
specialty sausages. 

Happy Thanksgiving -- vampire style!d that awkward moment of trying to explain why you are asking for a few cups of blood from a butcher?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Pics For My Readers' Gallery

People are busy.  Too busy to remember to write book reviews and/or send me photos.
But they're not too busy to read my books!
Today I took matters -- or at least my trusty Cannon Powershot -- into my own hands and made some of my favorite readers pose with my books for my readers' gallery.

My writing is just so amazing that you can see it on their faces.  ;)

And here's someone who's purchased a fair number of my books:

Next week I will hunt down even MORE of my readers and post their photos!  Ah, ha!  My readers' gallery will soon be filling up.

Of course, if you'd like to contribute a photo, you can follow the directions on my CONTACT ME page.  (If you're under 18, I can't post your photo unless it's with your parent, which will prove the parent gave permission.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

On The Demise Of The Twinkie

Okay, I haven't actually eaten a Twinkie in quite some time, long enough that I can't recall.  But I do regret the demise of Hostess, mostly for the loss of many jobs to many people, but also because I always sort of liked their cupcakes and snowballs -- although, again, I can't even remember when I last ate one.
Still, there have been a few really good tributes out there this week.  First, Max gave us this:
And then someone on the CakeWrecks website gave this delightful comment about the demise of Twinkies:

"And the prophet said, 'Cast ye your countenance toward the Walmart, and follow thy heart to the junk food aisle, for there the snack cakes are distributed in a manner that is wonderful to see.  For the munchies are upon you, and the hunger is deep.  Look with wonder upon the gifts you have been given.  Of the puffed cheese and popped corn, you may eat, but not the HoHo.  Of the jerky and the Nutella and Doritos you may have your fill, but not the Twinkie.  Of the potato chip, plain or barbeque, ranch or sugar-coated, you may eat, but not the Donette.  Of the oil-based snack of dubious origin you may eat, but not the Ding Dong.  Though your craving be deep, think not of the little chocolate cupcake with the white squiggle thereupon.  For the punishment is upon us, and Hostess is no more.'  And the people wept.  Lamentations 8:11-20."


Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Safe Use Of Mugs

Yesterday, I received as a thank-you gift a mug from the Unemployed Philosophers' Guild.

Since it's a Shakespearean insult mug, it was obviously well-chosen for me.  But I especially enjoyed the "help" that went with it.
On the bottom of the mug is a note that reads, "For best results, use other side."  How very helpful.  :)

And then there was a paper tucked into the mug that offered a URL for this instructional video on mug use.

This is especially hilarious to those of us old enough to remember science films from decades past.  :)
If you have a moment, do watch the video; you'll be much more careful in your future use of mugs, be they Shakespearean or not.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A New Addition To My Readers' Gallery

I get lots of folks promising me photos, but not too many have followed through yet.
Here's one who has:

Cozy, isn't it?
Who would've thought that Half-Vampire Family could look so comfy?  My thanks to Mary for the pic.  :)

PS.  If you'd like to send me a photo of yourself reading one of my books, just click the contact me tab at the top of the blog and send me a jpeg.  I'd love to put you in my gallery.   (If you're under 18, you have to be pictured with a parent to prove they gave you permission.)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Utah Sport Of Tree-Beating

Yesterday we had snow.
It never stopped.
I shoveled Friday night when I arrived home from school.  I shoveled twice Saturday and  shook down the trees as much as possible.  Today I've shoveled twice already and shaken down the trees again.
Judging from the height of the snow in my backyard where I waded out to my trees, I have just about 21 inches in my backyard.  (I measured against my leg and then measured that space with a yardstick once I came indoors.)  That's 21 inches since Friday night, which is sizable, even in Utah.
For those of you who've never lived in a snowy place before, let me explain the joys of shaking down trees.  The problem is that some trees don't lose their leaves until December.  Basically, there are only a few trees in the neighborhood that DO lose their leaves early -- and, blessedly, they are the trees that are nearest the roof of our house.
However, our street is lined with horrid things that don't lose their leaves until about January and then smell absolutely awful in the spring when they burst into leaf.  These are some nasty trees.  And trees still full of dead leaves + heavy snow = BIG problems.
I watched a branch come down onto a neighbors' yard Friday night.  And, on the second round of shoveling today, I spoke to the teenage daughter who was out shoveling that driveway.  She stopped to text someone, and just as she did, a 10-foot long branch came crashing down, landing inches away from her.
Yesterday, there were crews removing large tree limbs -- like 10 to 15 feet long -- using a digger and a dump truck, for nearly two hours.  Today, there are tree limbs lining the street again, and one completely blocking a section of the sidewalk.  (So far, however, only one car has been damaged and no homes have been.)
Thus, beating tree branches is a regular activity in our neighborhood, engaged in by most of the families (except that one guy who never does any work.  But doesn't every neighborhood have that one guy?).  There are various forms: the guy directly across prefers throwing a broom like a javelin, the guy next door prefers pounding a shovel at the overly-laden branches, and I prefer hooking a rake into smaller branches, then heaving away like a monk ringing a prayer call -- only with snow plummeting down onto me.  (I wear a hoodie; this helps.)  Today, however, I also tried a gutter cleaner with a long neck and a hooked end.  This allowed me to get hold of larger branches and pull.  It worked pretty well.
Really, I am now to a point where I'm seriously considering investing in new boots, as pulling the old ones on and off hurts my back more than shoveling does, and sturdy shoes don't help all that much in 21 inches of snow.  (But the boots I like are priced at an absurd $99, so I'll be dealing with snowy shoes until the after-Christmas sales, thank you very much.)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Got Snow?

We do.  Nearly a foot at my house -- all in 24 hours.  Bet the ski resorts are filled with happy people.
I dislike shoveling snow, and I loathe driving in it (because of the other drivers, all of whom seem to forget from year to year how to drive in the stuff), but it is beautiful.  And, of course, enough of this stuff in the mountains will prevent us from a drought year.  That would be good.
Due to the school play this week, I hadn't been home in daylight since last weekend (when it was all nice and dry and warm).  Thus, this morning, after hooking a rake to large tree branches in my backyard and shaking off frozen snow that was forcing large limbs to the ground, and after shoveling my driveway, my sidewalks, and helping two neighbors with their own trees, I got to turn off my sprinkling system.
Let me just say that 10 inches of snow (we've had more since) makes for less than ideal conditions in which to perform a job that requires lying on one's belly with a long sprinkler key in one hand and a flashlight in the other.
Oh well.  It's done now.
After that, it was housework!  Such excitement.
And now it's time to grade papers.  More excitement.
I know you're all jealous of the thrilling life I lead.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Between The Elections And The School Play,

I haven't had more than 5 hours of sleep any night this week.  Last night, I got right around 4 hours.
Today I worked a 13-hour day (yesterday it was 15 hours), then had to come home and shovel six inches of heavy, wet snow off the driveway.
I'm so exhausted.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Local Author, Indie Bookstore: Michelle Davidson Argyle Reads From Bonded At The King's English

Here's where I was tonight:

Michelle Davidson Argyle read from her latest book, a 3-pack of novellas called Bonded.

The book contains her previously self-published novella Cinders (notice the cover model is the same woman as the one who appears with Michelle in the top photo),

which is a sequel to Cinderella.  Also included are Thirds, a retelling of One-Eye, Two-Eyes, Three-Eyes, and Scales, which is a prequel to the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty (wherein Malificent the fairy turns into a dragon).
Michelle has stated that she extensively revised Cinders, so I am anxious to compare the two versions.

Tonight I bought Bonded at The King's English in Salt Lake, and Michelle signed my copy.  It was fun to meet her after only knowing her as a cyber entity for several years.

(Sorry this is a choppy and unlyrical post tonight; I'm very short on sleep, and it's the school play this week, so my hours for the next two nights will be long.)

Monday, November 5, 2012


It's hard to get excited about a Presidential election in Utah, as we've been the reddest state in the Union for decades.  (Seriously, our electoral college people would vote Republican even if no one showed up at the polls.)  Most of the time, the best we can do here is to hope and pray that people in the swing states have a good deal of common sense.
But I vote anyway.  I even voted in the 2004 election -- when I was living in Scotland, had to request an absentee vote, and then found out later that they blew all those off anyway, so my voted mattered even less than usual that time.
I haven't always bothered to vote.  Most candidates didn't interest me, and the lines were long.

My grandfather (whom my mother describes as "the original Archie Bunker") had hated my grandmother to vote.  He complained that her vote would just cancel out his.  He badgered her to tell him for whom she'd voted, but she never would, insisting that was her own private business.  Voting was so important to Grandma that she even voted while she was in labor with my mother.
One year all this finally meshed in my mind.  My grandmother cherished her right to vote because she could remember well a time when no woman had that right.  She was an adult by the time the 19th Amendment passed. (Click through and watch that video; it's awesome.) And, come hell or high water -- or a new baby -- NO ONE was going to stop her from voting.  No one.

I don't care if you did get hit by hurricane Sandy; get to the polls.
And if you're nowhere near in that much of a mess, you're a wuss if you don't vote -- especially if you're a woman.
Don't make my grandmother ashamed of you.  Read up on the issues, choose wisely (don't just vote a straight party ticket, people; that shows you don't care enough to think about anything), and get your hindquarters to the nearest polling area tomorrow.
Grandma's been gone for years.  But let's do her proud anyway.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Goodreads Winner!

Last Wednesday, my goodreads giveaway for All in the Half-Vampire Family ended after 648 entries were collected and 303 people added it to their TBR list.  The winner was Anne M., and the book (autographed and with matching bookmark) was shipped off yesterday.
Congratulations to Anne M.!  I hope you enjoy it.