Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Handeling" Christmas

The Blog:
The glory of Handel’s Messiah seems to burst through and wrap itself around the spirit of Christmas. When my older children were just four or five, I think I can say it was the first Christmas music they latched onto, and they would sing along with “Wonderful! Counselor! The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!” and mean every word.

In college, a peer introduced me for the first time to the idea that the Lord had inspired and used sacred music through time to convey truths to the world, from the illiterate to the wealthy patrons of art. Whenever I hear the Messiah, I’m sure this must be true.

The Etymology:
The word that in English is often used as the equivalent of "wahoo!" comes from Hebrew hall lû-y h, or "praise Yahweh."

The Picture Book:
Try reading this one with your kids: Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, by M.T. Anderson with pictures by Kevin Hawkes. The book, a Boston Globe-Horn Book award winner, beautifully summarizes Handel’s life and career, and the artwork is fantastic. It culminates with his inspiration to compose The Messiah. Not only does the book explain who Handel was and how the music for The Messiah came about, but it also shows how one person rose to success and dealt with failure. Libraries file this book under nonfiction, or you can order it from Amazon for about seven dollars.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's Thanksgiving--So Let's Talk Guajalote

The Blogymology (Blog + Etymology)
I felt particularly enlightened in a college Spanish class to learn that quite a few names in English and Spanish for native animals and foods, especially those ending with “-ate” or “-ote,” come from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.

Try coyote and ocelot (ocelote in Spanish). Originally coyotl and tlalocelotl in Nahuatl, they’re animals indigenous to this continent. Then we have foods like chocolate (xocoltl, from xococ, bitter, and atl, water), tomato (from Spanish tomate, from Nahuatl tomatl, meaning swelling fruit), and elote, a Spanish word for corn, coming from the Aztec word elotl. Avocado is a folk etymology (meaning someone heard the original word wrong and turned it into something more familiar) for Spanish aguacate, coming from Nahuatl ahuakatl.

Now, after all the preamble, let’s combine food and animal and talk turkey. That is, in Spanish, guajalote. Which is borrowed from Nahuatl huexolotl.

Unlike tomatl to tomate to tomato, obviously we didn’t turn guajolote into an English word like waholo or something like that. Why not? Why turkey? Part of the reason probably lies in the fact that turkeys weren’t first eaten by Europeans on their home ground. Instead, Europeans first imported the birds from the Americas in the 1500’s. Incorrectly thinking the fowl came from the same family as some other delectable birds which they (also incorrectly) thought came from Turkey, they assigned the name turkey.

So now we talk turkey instead of waholo or guajalote or huexolotl. I don’t know; I think talking huexolotl sounds intriguing…. Let’s talk huexolotl.


The Book
I define “talking turkey” in terms of other idiomatic expressions like cutting to the chase or getting down to the nitty gritty or getting to the business at hand without beating around the bush. Eoin Colfer’s lead character Fletcher Moon in the middle-grade mystery Half-Moon Investigations is a twelve-year-old detective chagrined by his weaknesses (wimpiness, uncoolness, etc.) but compelled by his strength, detecting, and he tells his story in detective straight talk. In other words, he talks turkey. It’s a fun book with unexpected twists, turns and friendships, and I’ll look for the next one in the series.

To learn more about Eoin (pronounced "Owen") Colfer, go to http://www.eoincolfer.com/.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Exploration: Final Frontiers

The Introduction

To wrap up October's Exploration theme, I asked doctor and writer Rene Allen to share some thoughts, as her personal and professional experience seemed to lend themselves well to the topic. You may also want to explore her article on Tucson's Rattlesnake Bridge in the October 2008 issue of Highlights Magazine. Thank you, Rene.

The Blog

When I was young, Disney produced “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” It has since been remade, but seems lackluster to my memory of that first cinematic adventure to the earth’s core and its many remarkable discoveries. The exit route was also dramatic – I recall a sort of cup made of stone containing the explorers and a blast from a volcano.

Sarah has asked I share a few thoughts on this kind of exploration that takes us to the inside, in this case, to the core and center of ourselves where the landscape is mutable and where you, too, will make remarkable discoveries.

On this trip, we may study the geography of memory. There will be mountains and valleys, vistas of swelling emotional recall and those which flit passed with only small tugs at our heartstrings. A well-known character from literature whose seasonal remembrance is almost here, Ebenezer Scrooge, was deeply touched as he was taken by the Spirit of Christmas Past back to his own childhood. Many of us hold unresolved in memory pieces and chunks of our childhood that can be like landminds in some circumstances, going off with an emotional ker-bang that leaves us stunned. Returning to such memories is not for the faint-hearted or ill-supported, yet they often demand one way or another we return and finish the business of growing up.

There is also the landscape of contemplation, of search for answers and truth, where you let your mind wander, permit it to construct for you the solution to whatever problem frustrates the surface of your existence. The answer is often a spontaneous thought that comes unexpectedly, as a whisper or image, perhaps, but also having a kind of resonance that it is, indeed, the solution you are seeking. This is the kind of pleasant journeying through the unconscious that is whacked into hiding by anxiety and the perfectionist’s need to always be right. It is a tender, fragile thing, and requires serenity to flourish.

There is also the exciting landscape of creativity. Here is where, with you in the director’s chair and your mind the screen of your own talent and creativity, you let go, trust the process, and watch and listen and feel. Then through your own vision, through your fingers and ears and eyes, you translate, produce, and refine. Your inner landscape has evolved, been changed and solidified. You have made it real, turned it into story or art or music or whatever and shared it.

The thrill, I believe, is similar to that last wild ride from the center of the earth on the breath of a volcano.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Explore this Nonfiction

The Brief Blog
I've got the in-a-hurry-but-not-quite-done feeling about October's Exploration theme. I'm in a hurry because it's November and I'm behind again, but I'm not quite done with October. In fact, I'm still looking forward to a guest blog on October's theme--so in the meantime, I'm going to add in my suggestions for adult exploration reads.

The Books
I love finding nonfiction that grips and propels me through the book--something I expect in fiction but which surprises me in nonfiction. Here are three engaging, relatively short "exploration" reads:

Longitude, by Dava Sobel: Longitude recounts the late 18th century race to find a reliable way for sailors to determine their longitude, thus preventing the frequent tragedy and economic loss that stemmed from ships perpetually being lost. John Harrison, an English clockmaker, found a solution but then had to battle the academic establishment for decades to gain recognition for his accomplishment. I couldn't put it down.

The Wild Muir, edited by Lee Stetson: Tales told in John Muir's own words of his adventures and explorations from sliding down an upper-story slate roof in his childhood Scotland to riding an avalanche in the Sierras. One of my all-time favorite books.


Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Written by Charles Lindbergh's wife, this is a must-read for women. With its gentle allegory of the ocean, the book illuminates how to find balance between personal fulfillment and external obligation...definitely falls in the "internal exploration" category. I reread it whenever I need grounding.

The End! (for now (: )

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I Think, Therefore I Explore

The Blog:
When I hear “explore,” I tend to think first of men like Columbus sailing past the edge of the earth. For most of us, though, the majority of the exploration we experience in life involves not going anywhere. Instead, it’s about questioning and soul searching. The middle grade novel I chose this week includes some of each.

The Quotes:
Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.
Frank Borman

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started... and know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot

The Book:
Middle Grade Novel: A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park (Newbery Winner)

None of my kids has read A Single Shard—yet—but it’s my very favorite middle grade novel. Set in a twelfth-century Korean potters village, the story follows an orphan boy who wants to learn to make the celadon pottery the village is famous for. Beginning with this simple longing and ending with a dangerous journey, the story is poignant and beautifully told and well worth the read, for adults as well as kids.

The Links:
To learn more about Linda Sue Park and her work, try her website at http://www.lspark.com/.

The Metropolitan Museum has a fun interactive site about celadon pottery; to check it out, go to http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/celadon/html/startpage.htm.

I found the above exploration quotes at the following link. To find more, look at http://thinkexist.com/quotations/exploration/.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Columbus and the Age of Exploration

The Theme: Exploration
I thought about using an obvious theme for October like Halloween or mystery but settled on exploration instead since Columbus Day falls in October. I couldn’t resist exploration since I can, with some creativity, place two of my very favorite books under that umbrella.

Mystery is also a strong pull, though, so if I’m really with it maybe I’ll manage to pull off both themes. We’ll see! In the meantime, on with exploration.

The Example
A strip of desert about twenty feet wide ran between the west patio wall of my childhood home and the chain link fence which marked the edge of our property.

We called that strip “The Jungle.”

For us, it was a jungle in the desert. Pungent creosote bushes grew thick and waved above our heads; in the middle, bushes once weighed down by a freak winter snow bent their tips together to form a shelter of sorts. A mulberry tree grew next to the shelter. Large, sloping branches sprouted from a thick trunk only a couple of feet from the ground. A small tree with dark, rough bark and long, twining leaves grew at the south end of the Jungle near a forever-locked gate.

We spent hours there, setting up house in the shelter, picking insect exoskeletons from the tree, examining small furry plants with purple flowers and yellow berries.

I learned in the Jungle that journeys long or short begin internally, with questions, and that if no far-reaching explorations move on our horizons, the familiar can be forever re-discovered.

The Book: Land Ho! Fifty Glorious Years in the Age of Exploration, by Nancy Winslow Parker
“We suffer from a disease that only gold can cure.”
-Hernan Cortes, quoted on title page

Starting with Christopher Columbus, discover the life and times of twelve explorers. Each explorer has a fun two-page spread with text, maps, pictures, and text boxes. My son, nine or ten at the time we purchased the book from Scholastic book orders, couldn’t put it down.


Try the link above to preview the book.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Author Interview with Joyce DiPastena

I'm excited to wrap up September's castle theme (let's pretend it's still September) with an interview with Joyce DiPastena.

Author of LOYALTY'S WEB. Joyce DiPastena fell in love with the Middle Ages when she first read Thomas B. Costain’s THE CONQUERING FAMILY in high school. A graduate of the University of Arizona with a degree specializing in medieval history, Joyce lives in Arizona with her two cats, Clio and Glinka Rimsky-Korsokov.

Joyce, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. To start off, could you tell us how you became interested in the Middle Ages?

Thank you, Sarah. I appreciate this opportunity to talk with you today.
How did I become interested in the Middle Ages? It sort of came about as a "narrowing down" of interests. I've enjoyed learning about history for as long as I can remember--ancient Greek history, ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Tudor, Stuart and Regency eras of England, and the American Revolutionary War. I read a lot of Regency romances in junior high, high school and college. Regency author, Georgette Heyer, was a huge influence on me back then. So I was very interested in many different eras of history for a long time. Then, during high school, I read a series of books by Thomas B Costain that dealt with the Plantagenet kings of England. Edward I was the first Plantagenet king to intrigue me, but then I read about Henry II (who actually came first chronologically) and I completely fell in love with him. Not in a romantical way. There was just something about his personality as described by both his friends and his foes that fascinated me. And because I was so interested in Henry II, I began studying his time period more in depth, so that when I finally chose a time period to attempt my first novel in, I set it in the time of Henry II.
I still enjoy reading books set in other time periods, but the more I wrote about the Middle Ages, the more I seemed to bond with it. So that's where my stories continue to be set today.

Do you have what you would consider an area of expertise or special interest during this time period?

I don't know that I would label myself an "expert" on anything. As I said, however, I do have a special interest in the time period of Henry II of England. I enjoy playing with the disfunctional, and ultimately, tragic relationships in his family. My novel, Loyalty's Web, uses as a backdrop the conflict between Henry II and his second son, Richard, who eventually becomes Richard the Lionheart. I've written a follow up novel, titled Illuminations of the Heart (presently unpublished), that plays with the tensions between Richard and his eldest brother, known as Henry the Younger. Such historical tensions always remain a backdrop, rather than the ultimate focus, of my novels, though. Historical characters may or may not actually appear in cameo scenes in my books. I prefer to "make up" my own characters, kind of "plop them down" in the time period, and then see how each reacts to the political environment they find themselves in.

Do you have a favorite castle or site rooted to medieval history?

I'd be thrilled to be able to visit any medieval castle someday! But I think I would have a special interest in visiting the castle of Chinon in France, which was one of Henry II's primary residences. It was a castle the he seemed to love. It's also where he died in 1189, and is buried nearby in Fontevraud Abbey, which I would also like to visit.

Tell us about your blogs, Medieval Vignettes (http://medievalvignettes.blogspot.com/), and Medieval Research with Joyce (http://medievalresearch.blogspot.com/).

I started Medieval Vignettes just as a kind of fun way to "fill in the blanks" of events that are mentioned in Loyalty's Web as having taken place in the past, but having little to no actual bearing on my book's plot. For instance, there is a mention in Loyalty's Web of "that last Christmas we all spent together" between my heroine's and a neighbor's family. What happened that Christmas has absolutely no effect on the plot line of Loyalty's Web, but I found myself wondering what everyone might have talked about at that "past" Christmas. So I wrote a scene to find out! And just in case any of my readers were interested, too, I decided to post the scene on a blog. A second "flashback scene" shows a "vignette" of my heroine, Heléne, receiving some of her earliest lessons in herbal healing. Both of these scenes probably give a little more insight into my characters, but again, they're for fun, and are not strictly necessary to enjoy the narrative line of Loyalty's Web.

I started Medieval Research with Joyce as a way to share the research sources and some of the research techniques I used to write Loyalty's Web with other writers of medieval fiction. My original goal was to share new research sources as they corresponded to new stories that were being published. I've pretty much covered the sources I used in Loyalty's Web, and as Illuminations of the Heart remains at the moment in manuscript form, Medieval Research with Joyce has kind of been put on hold. But maybe I'll browse through my medieval library and see if I can come up with a new post soon to tide my readers over during the interim.

Your book Loyalty’s Web will shortly be coming out from Leatherwood Press. Can you summarize the book for us?

To quote from the back cover blurb:
The year is 1176, and the Earl of Gunthar and his knights have been sent to France by King Henry II of England to enforce a peace treaty. The rakish earl falls in love with Heléne de Laurant, the younger, spirited sister of the beauty he is supposed to wed in an arranged marriage designed to unite the two countries. But when Heléne and her family are accused of plotting against the king, Heléne is torn: should she betray the man who could send her family to the gallows, or should she follow her heart and risk her safety to save him?
Loyalty's Web is scheduled to begin appearing in Deseret Book stores in November, but it can be pre-ordered now at http://deseretbook.com/store/product/5011757.

What made you decide to write historical romance?

As a reader, I've always preferred books with happy endings. In my opinion, life is hard enough to muddle through. We're surrounded by a world of frightening scenarios that we can't control, and can't tune out. At the end of the day, I just want a break from "reality", even if it's only for a few minutes. I want the reassurance that somewhere, even if it's only in someone's imagination, regardless of all the struggles the characters I'm reading about are going through, everything comes out right in the end.
Ultimately, I'm a romantic, I love history, and I like to write. It just seemed a natural combination to put together. And if I can use whatever talent the Lord has given me to provide a few hours of simple entertainment to someone else, a temporary release from the cares of the world, then that's all I really want to accomplish with my writing. (Well, and if I can stir an interest in the Middle Ages, that would be a nice bonus.)

What do you like most about writing? Least?

What I like most about writing is seeing my characters take on a life of their own. I love it when they surprise me by charging down a path I didn't expect them to go. That's when writing gets exciting!
What do I like least? Facing a new blank page every day and wondering whether my talent completely dried up over night. That tiny little voice that haunts me every time I sit down "fresh" to write, that says, "Sure, I had a great writing session yesterday, but that was yesterday. What if I can't think of anything to write today?" That little voice of self-doubt can be terrifying and paralyzing. And it makes nearly every day a new struggle to write. I have learned that if I'll just push my way through the fear and start typing anyway, I'll get caught up in the story and characters again and that fear will go away. But I also have learned that it will be back the next morning. I don't know if every writer faces this, but I do. And that would have to be absolutely the worst part about writing for me!

Tell us about any upcoming projects.

As I mentioned earlier, I've written a kind of "spinoff" to Loyalty's Web, but I can't tell you much about it, because unless you've already read Loyalty's Web, it might give too much of that book away. If you have read Loyalty's Web and would like a clue (just a clue, mind you!), you can email me at jdipastena@yahoo.com. I'll tell you who the "spinoff" character is in Illuminations of the Heart, but after that, you'll have to draw your own conclusions for now. :-)
Also, please be sure to check out my website at http://www.joyce-dipastena.com. That's where I'll keep you updated about future writing projects. And sometimes I hold drawings just for fun, so check back often and click on my News & Contests page while you're there!

Thanks so much, Joyce.

Thank you for inviting me, Sarah. It was a delight to talk to you and your readers today!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Castles New and Old

The Examples:
I’ve been thinking about European and American castles, spurred on after reading Revenge of the Shadow King, reviewed below. I’ve been to a few European castles. At Edinburgh Castle, time-blackened parapets brooded above the city, ready in centuries past for defense. Thick wooden steps at Chateau Chillon in Switzerland, worn smooth and hollowed in the center, silently reminded visitors of their centuries of use. It’s a very cursory view of the castles, but they breathed history.

The only American castle I’ve been to is Biltmore, a Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, North Carolina. I remember it was big, really big; apparently the Vanderbilt brothers had been in competition over who could build the biggest and best house. Extensive grounds rolled into woods and meandered to a winery down the hill. In the home, a little Renoir hung on a guest room wall, roped off so no one could really see what was in the picture. An empty, fully tiled swimming pool hid in the basement, I think next to the bowling alley. It’s a very cursory view of the castle, but it breathed…money.

What does the contrast between the two illustrate about two cultures or societies? Any thoughts?

The items below are geared for (possible) adult-child conversation…

Fun Links:

The Etymologies: Castle
From Latin castellum, fortress, diminutive of castrum, fortified place
And Fort:
In a roundabout way from Latin fortis, strong. Think also of forte in music; fuerte, strong, in Spanish…and what else?

The Book: Revenge of the Shadow King, Part I of the Grey Griffins Trilogy
by Derek Benz & J.S. Lewis
Revenge of the Shadow King is the quintessential boys’ novel, starting with the billionaire 10-year-old protagonist living in a castle in Minnesota and ranging from cool treehouses and magical books to catacombs and goblins at the window. My eleven-year-old (at the time) couldn’t put it down.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The Example

“Daddy,” my four-year-old asks from her secure perch in his arms. “Can I have one chocolate?” Her pigtails swing and she opens her eyes wide. “Please?”
“Uh, sure,” he says, and she flings her arms around his neck. Then she casts a triumphant, sidelong glance at me.
What Daddy doesn’t know is that she already asked me for chocolate, and I said no. No, you just brushed your teeth, no, you’ve had enough sugar for today, no, you’ll get it all over your face right before bed, no.
Ah, undermining.

The Definition: Undermine

“To subvert or weaken secretly. “ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/undermine.

The Etymology: Undermine

In the middle ages, forces attacking castles would mine under the outer castle walls, shoring up their tunnels with wooden beams. Then they would set the beams on fire, run like crazy, and wait for the tunnel to collapse once the supports no longer held it up. The portion of the castle wall over the tunnel would collapse too, and behold! A breach to the inner fortress.

The Book: The World of Castles and Forts, by Malcolm Day

This is a fun, do-able survey of castles and forts from China to England, from Roman to modern times. Each castle or fort appears in a two-page spread well-balanced with illustrations and text. I read it with my nine-year-old son, and the format made the book easy to pick up and put down.

Watch for the illustration of undermining!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Into the Game: About this Blog

After months of thinking about blogging, reading about blogging, and dipping my toes into the blogging world, I'm finally ready to give this a try. I think. Coming off the technology sidelines into the game is a bit scary.

Exciting, too. I've always want to share thoughts on reading and writing and language and here's a forum. Wahoo! I'm envisioning posts from etymology to book reviews to general family matters; I'd like to bring in guest bloggers to mix things up a bit.

My hope for this blog is that the content will be thought-provoking, fun, and worth discovery. Maybe a mom will read a post or something off a list that will serve as fodder for a dinner-time discussion; maybe a child will try a book off the list or find a new tongue-twister. Maybe a grandma will find a link that will help a grandchild with a report.

I hope! So if you visit here, please let me know what you think, what could be improved, what you'd like to see--and tell your friends.

See you later!