Friday, September 30, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Alphabet letters from the medieval illuminated manuscript Book of Kells. Thanks to and for the images. Click on each pictures to see a larger version.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Castle for Sale

Image copyrighted by If you have a few millions euros lying around, may I suggest purchasing this beautiful Château Chanzé in the Loire Valley of France?

The Loire Valley is famed for its enchanting vistas and it's gorgeous castles and churches. Being located close to the towns of Angers and Saumur, Chanzé is ideally located to explore the Loire Valley.

Image copyrighted by Chanzé has a pedigreed history. From the eleventh century onwards, the castle has stood on the banks of the river Layon, a tributary of the Loire. King Henry IV is reputed to have stayed a night on his journey south. In the latter half of the 19th century, efforts began to restore the castle. In 1993, the present owners, Heinrich and Maria Albertina Stoesser-Gliott of Switzerland bought the estate and completed its restoration.

Image copyrighted by Chanzé sits on six hectares of land and is currently operated as a bed and breakfast inn and restaurant. The property comes with four cottages that house up to 14 guests. For privacy, your personal space will be separated from the B&B by 5000 square meters of gardens.

While the castle still boasts its medieval two-meter-thick walls and high ceilings and its seventeenth and eighteenth century antique furniture, modern accoutrements, such as a heated swimming pool, a sauna, a dishwasher, a microwave, and a washing machine have been added. And yes, there's running hot water and flush toilets. (You laugh, but with medieval castles, you just never know.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Austen and James

How many Austen mash-ups have we seen? Dozens in recent years. Jane Austen is so hot right now, that writers are not only eager to write in her time period, they're eager to write fan fiction based on her books. And these books are selling in large numbers, so clearly the demand for them is high.

Image copyrighted by Faber and Faber Into this climate, the doyenne of British classic crime P.D. James is going to drop her Death Comes to Pemberley. It recreates the world of Pride and Prejudice and sets a murder at its heart. James, fuses her lifelong passion for the work of Jane Austen with her talent for writing detective fiction with, I'm sure, a deft hand and elegance.

Image copyrighted by Random House To me, James is a mystery writer extraordinaire as compared with any other mystery writer I have ever read. And next to romance fiction, mystery is what I read the most. Also, My love of Austen is known to you all who read this blog. So a James meets Austen? I nearly fell off my chair when I heard about it.

Death Comes to Pemberley is set in 1803, when Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy have been married for six years and are the proud parents of two young sons. Drama arrives in the form of Elizabeth’s sister, Lydia Wickham, who turns up at Pemberley uninvited and with the shocking news that her husband has been murdered.

Look for Death Comes to Pemberley to be released in the UK on November 3, 2011.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Regency Caricatures

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull

My comments on Richard Bach's seminal book, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, were published in the American Chronicle on September 10. However, I reproduce them here in their entirety, since the book had such a profound effect on me that I'd like to share it with you.

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach Much has been written about Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach. Some say it's a self-help book that ascribes to the positive thinking culture that's currently in vogue in the U.S. Others say it has Christian anarchist characteristics. Some consider it a deeply spiritual book, whereas Roger Ebert considers it "banal." The book has sold millions of copies and has even been made into a film with a soundtrack by Neil Diamond.

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull to me is about the pursuit of excellence in life, the limitlessness of human potential, and the ability to be hopeful and joyful in every situation.

"How much more there is now to living!" Jonathan Livingston Seagull said about his acquisition of superbly fine control over his body at tremendous speeds. "Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there's a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!"

Jon was born with a blazing drive to learn and to achieve, all for the joy of doing it. Flying made him happy. He was dedicated to his goal of learning to fly faster and higher than ever before, and he had an expectation of excellence from himself. In fact, he didn't just expect excellence, he demanded it of himself.

As he pursued flying, Jon learned that failure wasn't an option he allowed himself. He remained hopeful even when he didn't achieve his goal immediately, but rather, he developed the art of patience as he practiced over and over and over again. He adhered to his rocky path towards excellence not for approval of others or adulation from others, but for himself. He was his own taskmaster, his own yardstick of excellence. He believed that "You know nothing till you prove it." And so he did: to himself and to others.

He never lost confidence in his ability to achieve his goal despite naysayers and despite being cast out of the flock for being unnatural for having ambition and for dreaming of a better life. He remained hopeful of his life and his goal in the face of misunderstanding.

"Everybody is special and gifted and divine." And when he recognized this within himself, it set him on the path to freedom. Freedom then became "the very nature of his being." "You are free to go where you want to go and to be what you want to be. You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way." And whatever stood against that freedom must be set aside.

He believed in the innate intelligence within himself that allowed him to imagine a life beyond the usual, beyond the lives his ancestors had lived. There's freedom in innovation—innovation rather than discovery—in creating something new, in becoming more than what was before.

It was only in the twilight of his days, did Jon realize that it is only in urging a pupil to discover excellence in himself does a teacher achieve a high state of self-actualization. Jon also realized that while you don't love hatred and evil, you have to see "the good in every one, and to help them see it in themselves."

And at the end of the day: he was just a seagull.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monk Mind

Monk Mind is an article about single-task focus. It praises being able to focus on a single task at a time in a climate where multi-tasking is much touted.

So for a distracted multi-tasker who switches context every few minutes and finds it difficult to focus on any single task for any length of time, how to regain the ability to focus on just one thing for a set amount of time?

The author of the article has these recommendations assuming the task to be accomplished is on the computer.

First, he says, shut down the Internet connection. Close all windows irrelevant to the task at hand. "Clear your desk. No need to spend all day on this—shove everything in a drawer or put it in a box to be sorted later." Finally, put some music on. These are all rituals to train your mind that an important single task is ahead.

Now focus on that important task, say, for five mintues. Then take one minute off. Do this alternately for half an hour. Then take a longer break. Resume. Next day, do an important task for ten minutes and take two minutes off.

And so on and so forth until there comes a day, when you can concentrate on one task for 30 minutes at a time. No need to go further. After 30 minutes, it's important to take a health break for stretching and walking around for a few minutes.

Being able to focus on a single task for 30 minutes at a time, says the author of the piece, will dramatically improve your life and your ability to get things done.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Norwegian Folktales

My comments on the Norwegian Folktales by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen & Jørgen Moe are up on the American Chronicle website.

Picture Day Friday

This is the Sultan Ahmed I Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey.

Image is copyrighted by Darrell Godliman .

Image copyrighted by Brian Lawrence of

Image copyrighted by

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Call for Papers for the Journal of Popular Romance Studies

The Journal of Popular Romance Studies is looking for essays, interviews, and pedagogical materials on love and religion in global popular culture, for a special issue guest-edited by Lynn S. Neal, titled Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction.

How do film, fiction, popular music, and other media represent the complex relationships between love and religion? How do these representations compare across national, cultural, and theological divides, and what happens when they cross those boundaries? How have they changed over time? What can a sophisticated understanding of love in religious discourse—from whatever tradition—teach us about individual songs, films, novels, or other popular texts?

Topics of particular interest include:

  • Theologies of love in popular song: Leonard Cohen, U2, Richard Thompson, Al Green, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Niyaz, Shye Ben-Tzur, etc.
  • Sacred and secular love in popular culture: drawing boundaries, blurring distinctions
  • Interfaith romance (Jewish / Christian, Hindu / Muslim, etc.) in popular culture
  • Love, Religion, and Politics in popular culture
  • Romance vs. Religion: warnings, advice literature, debates over idolatry, etc.
  • Romantic love as a surrogate or secular religion
  • Christian inspirational romance fiction, and its non-Christian equivalents: studies of individual novels, publishing lines, reader behavior, etc.
  • Crossover texts and figures: Rumi, the Song of Songs, etc.
  • God as lover and beloved in popular culture
  • Sacred love stories in popular culture (Krishna / Radha, Majnun / Layla, Adam / Eve, etc.)
  • One Love, or many? Rastafari, Wiccan, and other traditions of love in popular culture

  • Go HERE for more details about the CFP and submissions guidelines.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Do Authors Kill Their Books?

Image copyrighted by Ben Wiseman of the New York Times. "Writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub. Sometimes the damn tub sinks. It’s a wonder that most of them don’t." —Stephen King

"A book itself threatens to kill its author repeatedly during its composition." —Michael Chabon

To us aspiring writers, this is reassuring. Thank goodness this process feels like this even for highly accomplished writers, too. Writing is not just hard, because you're unskilled, but it's hard, because it's just a difficult thing to do.

Such realization takes a load off the mind. It accords the freedom to resume experimenting with words, taking risks with characters' emotions, blithely sending plots into twists, and generally causing mayhem on the page.

Image copyrighted by What is even more reassuring to know is that every famous writer has those unfinished and abandoned stories dancing with dust bunnies under their beds.

The New York Times article Why Do Writers Abandon Novels? gives specific examples of who committed hara-kiri on their books and why.

Michael Chabon said of his unfinished novel Fountain City, "[It was] a novel that I could feel erasing me, breaking me down, burying me alive, drowning me, kicking me down the stairs." And so Chabon fought back: he killed Fountain City in 1992.

More dramatically, in 1925 Evelyn Waugh burned his unpublished first novel, The Temple at Thatch, and attempted to drown himself in the sea after a friend gave it a bad review.

Image copyrighted by Harper Lee had written more than 100 pages of her second novel, The Long Goodbye, before To Kill a Mockingbird was even published in 1960. But the attention accompanying the wild success of Mockingbird slowed her output to a trickle until she gave up.

Richard Price said, he quit 300 pages into Home Fires after realizing that "the driving force behind the novel was panic about not having a novel."

Junot Díaz wrote "a whole lot" of Dark America, a science-fiction novel about mutants, before abandoning it 10 years ago because, he said, "it was hopelessly stupid and convoluted."

Go HERE to read this delightful article in its entirety.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Library inside the Parliament building in Ottawa, Canada. It is said to be the most beautiful room in Canada.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Today in History

September 7th is the 250th day (251st day in leap years) of the Gregorian calendar. On this day in 1822, Brazil won its independence from Portugal. It's also the National Threatened Species Day in Australia and Victory Day in Mozambique.

On this day in...

70 – A Roman army under Titus occupies and plunders Jerusalem.
1191 – Third Crusade: Battle of Arsuf – Richard I of England defeats Saladin at Arsuf.
1776 – World's first submarine attack: the American submersible craft Turtle attempts to attach a time bomb to the hull of British Admiral Richard Howe's flagship HMS Eagle in New York Harbor.
1812 – Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Borodino – Napoleon wins a Pyrrhic victory over the Russian army of Alexander I near the village of Borodino.
1864 – American Civil War: Atlanta, Georgia, is evacuated on orders of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.
1876 – In Northfield, Minnesota, Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang attempt to rob the town's bank but are driven off by armed citizens.
1893 – The Genoa Cricket & Athletic Club, to become the first Italian football club, is established by British expats.
1895 – The first game of what would become known as rugby league football is played, in England, starting the 1895–96 Northern Rugby Football Union season.
1901 – The Boxer Rebellion in China officially ends with the signing of the Boxer Protocol.
1906 – Alberto Santos-Dumont flies his 14-bis aircraft at Bagatelle, France for the first time successfully. 1911 – French poet Guillaume Apollinaire is arrested and put in jail on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum.
1916 – Federal employees win the right to Workers' compensation by Federal Employers Liability Act (39 Stat. 742; 5 U.S.C. 751)
1921 - In Atlantic City, New Jersey, the first Miss America Pageant, a two-day event, is held. 1927 – The first fully electronic television system is achieved by Philo Taylor Farnsworth
1936 - The last surviving member of the ">thylacine species, the Tasmanian Wolf or Tiger, dies alone in her cage at the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania.
1940 – World War II: The Blitz – Nazi Germany begins to rain bombs on London. This will be the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombing. 1940 – Treaty of Craiova: Romania loses Southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria.
1942 – Holocaust: 8,700 Jews of Kolomyia (western Ukraine) sent by German Gestapo to death camp in Belzec.
1945 – Japanese forces on Wake Island, which they had held since December of 1941, surrender to U.S. Marines.
1953 – Nikita Khrushchev is elected first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
1963 – The Pro Football Hall of Fame opens in Canton, Ohio with 17 charter members.
1970 – Bill Shoemaker sets record for most lifetime wins as a jockey (passing Johnny Longden).
1979 – The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, better known as ESPN, makes its debut.
1979 – The Chrysler Corporation asks the United States government for USD $1.5 billion to avoid bankruptcy.
1986 – Desmond Tutu becomes the first black man to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa.
1988 – Abdul Ahad Mohmand, the first Afghan in space, returns aboard the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz TM-5 after 9 days on the Mir space station. 1996 – American Hip-Hop star Tupac Shakur is fatally shot four times on the Las Vegas strip after leaving the Tyson-Seldon boxing match.
2004 – Hurricane Ivan, a Category 5 hurricane hits Grenada, damaging 90% of its buildings.
2005 – First presidential election is held in Egypt.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Boke of Cookry

Copyright and Robert ShellLast year, I blogged HERE about Þe Bors Hede Boke of Cookry and the recipe for Frytor of Erbys. Here's another recipe...


Middle English

Take Henn99 Conyng99 Veel oþ99 Flessh ā hewe hem to gobett9 waische it and seþe hit well • grynde Almand9 unblānched • and drawe hem up wtþe broth case þ9 inne raysons of Corance • sug˜ • Powdo˜ gyng˜ erbes ystewed in grees • Oynons and Salt • If it is to to thynne • alye it up wt flo˜ of ryse oþ9 with oþ9 thyng and colo˜ it with Saffron

The Forme of Cury, London BL Add. 5016, a 15th C. copy of a M.S. probably compiled in 1390

Modern Translation

Take hens or conys or veal or other meat and chop them into pieces; wash them and boil them well; grind unblanched almonds and mix then into the broth; add to this currants, sugar, powdered ginger, herbs stewed in lard, onions, and salt; if it is too thin, thicken it with rice flour or with some other thing and color it with saffron.

Working Recipe

1 lb boneless chicken breast (or veal or rabbit meat removed from the bone)
2 cups water
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
2 cups fresh mixed herbs (chives, southernwood, mint, oregano, and parsley)
4 Tbsp rice flour
1/2 cup unblanched almonds, ground
1/4 cup currants
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
pinch saffron, crumbled

Cut the chicken breast into 1-inch cubes. Place it in a medium saucepan with the water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium frypan over medium heat, sauté onions in butter until onions become translucent. Turn heat to low, add fresh herbs, and sauté for two more minutes. Remove about half a cup of broth from the saucepan and beat rice flour into it. Add the rice flour mixture back into the pan, stirring well. Added the sautéed herbs and the remaining ingredients to the saucepan with the chicken. Mix well. Continue to cook over medium heat until mixture thickens.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Cowrie Shells are the shells of small and large sea snails that are shaped like an egg and are rather flat on the underside. These shells have historically been used as currency in several parts of the world, as well as being used very extensively in jewelery and for other decorative and ceremonial purposes.

Image Copyrighted by Nicholas Reynard for the National Geographic