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Sat May 02, 2015 at 06:00 PM PDT

Research Rewind: Forward, Boy Commandos!

by Ellid

The end is near.

By this I mean that I'm entering the home stretch of this year's six week long experiment in reprinting old diaries as I lurch grimly toward Kalamazoo.  The paper is partially done, I'm tearing my hair out by chunks, and the Double Felinoid are avoiding me lest I spontaneously combust and deprive them of their major source of food, water, and heat source on cold nights.   Exhaustion, comfort food, and staring dazedly out the window of my car as I drive to and from my day job are now the norm, and I'm hoping to God my paper is written in something that approaches English.  That the said paper might, just might, make sense is not yet apparent.

The one exception to this dreary grind is my visit to the Heck Piazza Dodecaplex to see Avengers:  Age of Ultron last night.  This intimate film about a lonely robot that only wishes to execute its programming to protect the world by exterminating the human species, was the sort of warm, soothing, comfort flick that allowed me to relax and de-stress even better than a Calgon bubble bath, and -

Oh, for crying out loud, who am I fooling?  Age of Ultron was EXPLOSIONS and ACTION and hilarious dialogue and great special effects and Chris Evans' GLORIOUS BUTTOCKS and Jeremy Renner's ARMS and Scarlett Johansson's EYES and Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo DOING SCIENCE and Chris Hemsworth's HAIR and EVIL KILLER ROBOTS TRYING TO KILL EVERYONE and the Avengers trying to pick up Thor's hammer and failing mightily and everything I could possibly want except a cameo by Captain Marvel and that's okay since her movie will be out in a couple of years and  CAPTAIN AMERICA WEARING A VERY TIGHT T-SHIRT AS HE RIPS A LOG IN HALF LENGTHWISE, LENGTHWISE I TELL YOU!!!!!!!! and -

Ahem.

Yes, I'm a geek.  Sue me.

There were some flaws - there was almost too much plot, a couple of twists came out of left field, and one or two sequences that made me blink at why they were included, particularly a gratuitous romance - but I liked what I saw enough that I will see this lovely art house flick at least once (or twice, or thrice, or whatever comes after that) more before it finally heads to DVD/Blu-Ray sometime before the 2016 Presidential primaries.  For right now, though, I need to focus on my paper.  At the same time I can't get comics off my mind, which is why the next two weeks of Research Rewinds will be devoted to funny books.  

The first of these installments is a look at a creative team whose work cheered the home front during World War II, allowed millions of little boys to dream about fighting the Krauts, and led directly to me hyperventilating in the theater at the aforesaid scene of Captain America preparing for a second career as an axe-less lumberjack (and let me just say that if Chris Evans does not get the Oscar for Best Log Ripping Scene in Cinematic History, there is no justice).  Silly names, child soldiers fighting for freedom instead of crazed warlords, wooden shoes, and tropes that show up again and again - come below the 0.5 Orange Kaiju for a little diary from last year as we all cry

FORWARD, BOY COMMANDOS!
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A month from now, my captivity will all be over.

That's because I'll have, God willing, finished my paper, driven out to Kalamazoo with Ysabel, delivered my paper, become part of the new troika in charge of the Pseudo Society, talked about revising last year's paper for publication with my editors, driven back from Kalamazoo with Ysabel if she hasn't strangled me in my sleep for grinding my teeth, taken several days off from writing, and fallen face first into my wee bed once I've shoved the Double Felinoid onto the floor so there's room.  Dobby will be free! with plenty of time to romp, play, repaint my bathroom, and head over to the Heck Piazza Dodecaplex for my second and third and possibly fourth viewings of Avengers:  Age of Ultron.  

It'll be glorious, especially the parts about sleeping in my wee bed and ogling the gluteal regions of certain lead actors in Age of Ultron please ignore me I'm WWWWHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEE urgh argh help ack thump

The road trip itself promises to be exhausting but fun.  I've traveled with Ysabel before and we're reasonably drift-compatible, at least when it comes to bathroom use and meals.  We'll be staying with friends in Buffalo to break our journey, our hotel and car reservations are set, and as long as we can agree on music/audio books to listen to, it should all go well.  Traveling should be fun, after all, at least when it's voluntary and for pleasure.

Tonight's Research Rewind concerns such travel.  I've been to several countries, both physically and in the mass of tissue known as "Ellid's brain" in the Common Speech of the West, which has done as much to equip me for our regular trips into Badbookistan as anything else.  The diary includes several books that proved useful before trips to Europe and Great Britain, but the real meat is a trio of Travel Books So Bad They're Good:

- A popular, influential, and 100% bogus compendium of medieval wonders that inspired generations of travelers who longed to see wool trees and men with their faces in their chests.

- A lively, entertaining, and utterly misguided look at the America Civil War, written by a military observer who should have known better.

- A brisk little romp through 1930's Germany that somehow managed to miss the GIANT RAVING MEGALOMANIAC O'DOOM and his earth-toned followers marching through the streets.

All are worth a second look, which is why I now invite you all to venture below the 0.5 Orange Kaiju for a diary from late in 2011 that I called

AROUND THE WORLD WITH CLUELESS TOURISTS
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I'm still not free.

Those of you who read my diary a couple of weeks ago know that I'm basically in Stealth Mode from now until May 16th, when I'll emerge like a butterfly, wet and dripping and ready to spread my wings after six weeks in the Chrysalis of Knowledge, as I struggle to wrestle raw data into something that approaches a coherent paper for presentation to the academic world.  I'm making a few exceptions - just try to keep me from seeing Avengers:  Age of Ultron opening weekend - but last week, this week, and the next four weeks are Research Rewinds that allow me to work and you to savor old diaries.

Tonight's installment was specially chosen because of its subject.  I'm a medievalist, after all, and what is more medieval than Vikings?  The very word reeks of blood, thunder, and mayhem, plus names like "Harold Hardhead," "Eric Bloodaxe," and "Harold Bluetooth" (a real human being, not an electronic gadget) are the stuff of legend, heavy metal album cover art, and airbrushed minivans.  Add in some extremely bad, extremely misunderstood archaeology, and the result is about as perfect a subject for one of these diaries as it's possible to get.

Come with me, then, below the 0.5 Orange Kaiju to read a diary from February of 2014 that I like to call:

THE VIKINGS OF RHODE ISLAND
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A few weekends ago I was a star.

It was only for a few hours, in a couple of places, but man oh man was it fun.  I had people take my picture, I had people shout at me from across the road, and I was fangirled more than once.  It was a heady feeling, and I found myself rather liking it.  I'm not used to being complimented on my looks, even if this time it was because I was dressed like someone else:

Peggy Carter, hell yeah!
For the uninitiated, this was my attempt at cosplaying Agent Peggy Carter, World War II spy, co-founder of SHIELD, and among the best kickass females on television since Emma Peel fifty years ago.  Smart, strong, fearless, and blessed with a fashion sense to die for, Peggy has gone from the pretty girl Captain America pined for in the 2011 movie to a fully fleshed-out character in her own right.  Her eponymous TV series was a social media sensation thanks to strong scripts, a story arc that pulled no punches in detailing the sexism that women faced after the Second World War, and wonderful period details in the costumes, set design, and writing.  

There hasn't been a better female action lead on TV in years.  That's why even though I'm older, heavier, and not nearly as attractive as Hayley Atwell, the actress who portrays Peggy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I decided to spend a few hours on a beautiful spring Sunday dressed, made up, and shod as much like Peggy as I could.

Of course I wasn't perfect.  I'm wearing modern business clothes, modern shoes, and modern underwear.  I'm carrying my aunt Betty's old briefcase, which usually sports a shoulder strap.  I'm wearing MAC lipstick and Bare Minerals Foundation, and I had to practice putting my hair up in pincurls for a week before I finally got the look I wanted.  The only thing that's authentic to Peggy's time period is my hat, and that's only by a fluke; I once had the good fortune to encounter a hatter who not only had a beautiful piece of wool felt and a hat block from 1937, but the skill to shape the felt and proportion the brim in the correct period style.

So...for all that people were praising my costume and shouting "Agent Carter!  You look great!" across Seelye Lawn at me, at best I was only a pale imitation of the original.  I'm hoping to do better by the next time I portray Peggy (probably at PI-Con in August), with a skirt instead of trousers, more comfortable shoes, and possibly even a dress taken from a vintage pattern.  I love the character, love the look and cut of the clothing from that period, and if I'm going to go to the trouble of creating a costume, I want it to be as close to accurate as my means allow.

I'm scarcely the only person who's attempted to do this.  Re-enactment groups abound for every time period from the early Byzantine empire to the 1970's, with standards that range from the loose (the SCA, at least for beginners) to the anal retentive (Revolutionary War groups that require cloth from the same British tailor that made redcoats' dress uniforms in the 1770's).  Period pattern books are available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and secondhand stores like Powell's and local used book emporia.  Historic clothing enthusiasts have a rich variety of source material to draw upon, and that doesn't even count the actual vintage clothing and resized patterns for sale on eBay, Amazon, and from commercial companies like Vogue and McCall's.

It's a real shame that some of this source material is not precisely - dare I say it - entirely accurate.  Many older costume books are based on bad research and redrawn paintings, not actual garments, and plenty of "vintage" patterns are anything but.  Serious reenactors almost always end up learning to draft their own patterns and make their own garb, whether that means a Venetian matron's gown from the 1520's, a steampunk gentleman with gears on his monocle, or Rosie the Riveter stomping on a battered copy of Mein Kampf.  

I'm no exception.  I may have thrown Peggy's outfit together from clothing I already owned, but my SCA wardrobe is almost all homemade.  I've struggled with bad costume books and less than workable patterns for years, and I'm far from the only medievalist who's done so.  

Tonight's rewind is dedicated to everyone who's ever dreamed of dressing in the fashions of a bygone era.  Originally published in February of 2012, it discusses two very interesting costume books indeed, one by a Victorian lady, the other by two professionals who suffered from lack of proofreading and a certain odd prudishness that makes them more than worthy of being considered Books So Bad They're Good.  I've even added some of the illustrations from the former, and if what they depict doesn't count as Pageant Costumes So Bad They're Good, I shudder to think of what does.

Join me, then, for a nostalgic trip to Badbookistan that I like to call

WHAT NOT TO WEAR, HISTORIC EDITION
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Wed Apr 08, 2015 at 07:53 AM PDT

Question on hand surgery

by Ellid

I was just diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome after years of occasional numbness and tingling, particularly on the left.  I went to a neurologist last week and was told that the nerves themselves are fine, with no sign of neuropathy, but that I should probably have surgery at least on the left hand.

My doctor is working on getting me an appointment with a surgeon to go over my options.  Fortunately I have good insurance and plenty of sick/vacation time accumulated so that's not an issue, but I have some questions:

- How long before I'll be allowed to go back to work?  I'm not scheduling anything on my dominant hand at this time.

- When will I be allowed to type?  Knit?  Drive?  Hold a book?  

- How painful is this surgery?

- How much physical therapy is involved?

Any advice or comments would be welcome.  Thanks!

Discuss

This weekend is my last taste of freedom.

Before anyone panics, I'm not going to jail.  As those of you who read these weekly excursions into life, Badbookistan, and everything have probably guessed, I'm one of those obnoxiously truthful, law-abiding creatures that other human beings wish to slap on a regular basis.  I don't smoke, either tobacco or herbal mixtures, I rarely drink, I pay my taxes and parking tickets with a minimum of complaint, and I do my best not to indulge in common American customs like jaywalking, cheating at cards, or squeezing the toothpaste from the middle of the tube.  

I don't even walk on the grass, at least not until it's actually grass and not those weird little greenish patches of fertilizer, zoysia seeds, and mud that will eventually become what we in New England call "lawns."

So my lack of freedom has zippedy-do-dah to do with the law.  No, I'm about to go into what I like to call Stealth Mode, when I clear my schedule, fire up the computer in the Garrett, and get to work on my next conference paper.  The next six weekends of my life will be devoted not to these diaries but to finishing up Captain America 2:  Vibranium Boogaloo! my next presentation at the Kalamazoo Medieval Studies Congress in mid-May.  I'll surface occasionally to eat, drink, go to the day job, and wave at you, my most faithful readers, on Saturday nights, but original material will have to wait until May 16th.

Rumors that I will take a couple of days off to watch Avengers:  Age of Ultron over and over and over until they drag my drooling husk from the theater and fling me bodily into the nearest locked ward will not be dignified with a response.

That's why the next six weeks of diaries will be Research Rewinds, when I'll repost an older diary for your dining and dancing pleasure.  I'll include a short introduction for those of you who might have managed to avoid these tidbits of proof that yes, I am one of the Peculiar People of Easthampton, Massachusetts, but everything else will be a rewind.

Tonight we begin with a diary from September 2013 about a movement that's managed to fly under the radar basically unchecked for most of the last half century.  Avowedly religious, conservative to the point of reactionary, and surprisingly influential, the so-called "Christian Patriarchy Movement" preaches feminine submission, wifely fecundity, and daughterly meekness.  The subjects/alleged authors of tonight's Book So Bad It's Good have all but disappeared from the Internet thanks to the dramatic, sudden, and decidedly unchristian actions of their movement's leader, but their book survives.  

It's both hilariously bad and utterly terrifying, at least if you're a woman who aspires to be anything more than a child-swollen adjunct to your husband, but anyone who wants a glimpse into the mindset behind so many of these modern attempts to turn back the clock on women's rights should venture below the 0.1 Orange Kossack Kaiju for tonight's Research Rewind:

BACK TO THE KITCHEN, MODERN JEZEBEL!
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I grew up believing an untruth, and it was all my grandmother’s fault.

Not my mother’s mother, who’d raised six boys (Julius, Oscar, Charlie, Louie, Dan, and Bob), one girl (Mum), and one extremely spoiled princess (Betty).  Oh no.  That grandmother lived until I was ten, and even as an elderly woman she was the dictionary definition of “formidable.”  She’d been the driving force behind the entire family long before my grandfather had been crippled by arthritis and a taste for bootleg beer, and she was still climbing onto sewing machine tables to change light bulbs, slamming back Peruna when she felt poorly, and bossing the fruit of her loins well into her seventies.  I can’t say I remember her all that well, but remember her I do, particularly after a second cousin told me a few years back that I looked a bit like her.

No, the grandmother who inadvertently lied to me, my parents, and pretty much everyone else was my father’s mother.  She hasn’t appeared in these diaries before because I only saw her once or twice before her death in the early 1960’s.  The only thing I recall about her is that she lived in a smallish house somewhere north of Pittsburgh, that she was partial to chintz and dark wood furniture, and that she had a couple of scatter rugs in her foyer.  I’m not sure I saw a picture of her until I was an adult, and most of what I know about her came from my mother, who hadn’t known her well.

I’m not even certain of her first name; family records refer to her variously as “Harriet,” “Hettie,” “Nettie,” or “Anetta,” which is, to put it mildly, confusing.  I do know that she was in her 30’s when she married my grandfather, and pushing forty when she gave birth to Dad in 1923.  Her age is almost certainly why Dad was an only child, and why she looks more like his grandmother than his mother in family photographs.

Dad and his mother.  Note the "spinning wheel" in the background....
The somewhat stern expression on her face is probably at least partially thanks to being rather older than the average mother of a young child in the 1930's.  She looks even sterner (and older) in pictures taken after Dad was drafted in 1943, not that I blame her; my grandfather had died of pneumonia that winter, and she had no way of knowing if the brand new blue star in her window would be replaced by a gold one before the war was over.

Fortunately for her (and me), Dad came home safe and sound in the fall of 1945. His next few years were busy with college, graduate school, work, and taking pretty young colleagues to dates at gay bars jazz clubs, but he remained close enough to his mother that her wedding present to him and his bride was the neat little house in Edgewood that my grandfather had bought new thirty years earlier.  My parents fixed it up and lived there for the next three or four years, and of course they visited Dad’s mother whenever they could.

It must have been on one of those visits that my grandmother told her daughter-in-law the lie that Mum told me, and that I believed until I was well into my teens.  As I said above, I don’t believe it was a deliberate falsehood, not at all.  By all accounts my grandmother was not given to making things up, and she probably thought she was sharing a precious bit of family lore that the future mother of her grandchild should be able to pass along in her turn.  She wasn’t a genealogy buff like her cousin-in-law Kate Evans Tharp, and absent those skills she was all but certainly just repeating what she’d been told.

The lie was simple, and patriotic, and even plausible.  Mum thought it was true, and Dad thought it was true, and so did I until I actually decided to see for myself whether my grandmother was descended from the first signer of the Declaration of Independence.

That’s right.  My grandmother, whose maiden name was “Hancock,” was convinced that she, her son, and her son’s daughter, were the great-great-great-great-issue of John Hancock.

Who had died childless in 1793.

Oops.

In my grandmother’s defense, she’d probably heard about her family’s non-existent connection to John Hancock during the Colonial Revival of the early 20th century.  This was the era when middle class Americans, enthralled by the magnificent art, architecture, and historical monuments they’d seen in Europe during World War I or on the Grand Tour, were determined to explore their own glorious past.  Books like The Flowering of New England, art like Wallace Nutting’s tinted photographs of quaint cottages, wealthy collectors like Electra Havemeyer Webb finding value in cigar store Indians:  all fueled a new, and somewhat less than critical, interest in the early days of the Republic.  

Furniture modeled after 18th century originals, fashions allegedly inspired by post-Revolutionary styles, linens from the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework, restored hostelries where George Washington (or Paul Revere, or even possibly John Hancock) had allegedly slept – these were only a few of the ways that early 20th century Americans explored the culture and folkways of their country.  It’s no accident that many of the living history villages that dot our landscape, from Colonial Williamsburg to Old Sturbridge Village, were founded soon after the doughboys came marching home.

A great many families, especially of the white Anglo-Saxon persuasion, were so caught up in the Colonial Revival that they seized upon the merest hints that they might have some connection to the hardy patriots of that earlier time.  That my grandfather actually had such a connection thanks to Evan Evans was a fine thing – but wouldn’t it have been even finer if his wife could claim descent from the bold, brave man who’d signed his name in large enough letters that King George would be able to read them without his glasses?

Whether my grandmother actually knew that Hancock had only had two children, neither of whom survived to adulthood, is of course impossible to determine.  My mother never questioned what she’d been told, and neither did I until I happened to read a passage in Esther Forbes’ Paul Revere And The World He Lived In that made it clear that John Hancock was not my forebear.

I wasn’t very happy to learn this.  Not only was I quite proud of being related to the man for whom they’d named an insurance company (and later a big, bland skyscraper that shed so many glass panels it had to be clad in plywood while its owners figured out how to keep the whole thing from being blown into Copley Square), I’d even modeled my own John Hancock after his.  Finding out that Mum (and my grandmother) had been wrong was a cruel blow for a teenager.

Fortunately for me, my revelation came in sufficient time for me to avoid boasting about my illustrious ancestry at college.  Smith in the 70’s may not have been the bastion of old money and older families it had been a generation or so earlier, but when one’s housemates include scions of men and women who were drinking buddies of Myles Standish, claiming descent from a childless man would have been the rough equivalent of Greg Louganis missing the springboard completely and splatting himself on the judging platform next to the diving pool.

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And am publicly apologizing for misattributing the source of the editorial urging her to run for President.  I saw it very late at night when I had a toothache, and I am sorry for my assertions in the diary, my own stupidity, and for not checking my own source.

I  apologize to everyone involved.

Have a good day, everyone.

Ellid

Discuss

My family came from The Garden of Wales.

This may surprise long-time readers of these diaries, many of which begin with a story about my upbringing in the less than bucolic suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Not only that, the majority of these anecdotes concern my maternal relatives, who were descended from a sturdy clan of farmers, cobblers, and factory workers who had clawed their way into the middle class thanks to a combination of Grandma's business sense, Bob and Dan's farming for the war effort, Oscar's CPA, and Mum's teaching certificate.  This side of the family emigrated from Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz in the mid-19th century, and my grandmother and great-aunt were in close touch with their cousins in the Old Country as late as August of 1939.

So they were most definitely not Welsh.  "You're a Kraut, and don't forget it," Mum would say once in a while, and even my miserable failure to learn German as a second language did not change this.  They were Teutons, probably with a good dash of Slavs and possibly Magyars in the mix, and proud to say so.

No, the ancestors I speak of today were my father's ancestors.  

I always knew a little about them, thanks to one of Dad's cousins.  Her name was Kate Evans Tharp, and she may have been the first member of the extended family to be interested in American history.  Kate was a proud member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, founder and first Regent of the Waubonsie Chapter of Clarinda, Iowa, and a fervent patriot and genealogy buff.  She'd managed to trace the family back as far as the ancestor who'd fought in the American Revolution, one Evan Evans, and made sure that Dad's family was given a copy of her research in case any of the women wished to join.  

To the best of my knowledge none of Dad's aunts did so (why, I have no idea), and I'm about as likely to join an organization that includes Phyllis Schlafly on its rolls as I am to desecrate a grave.  However, I do still have copies of Kate's research should I decide to change my mind and become one of those civic-minded little old ladies who weeds the parklet around the Civil War Memorial Statue on the town common.  As long as they don't mind me showing up in my typical stylin' threads, it could potentially work.

Kate's research is actually quite interesting.  It seems that I'm a direct descendant of one "Evan Evans," a Welshman who came to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century, married a woman named "Jenet," and had issue named things like "Margaret," "James," "David," and "Cadwallader."  I'm not descended from the grandly named Cadwallader damn it, that would be SO COOL, but from his brother James, who married a woman named Griffith.  One of their children married the daughter of a Scotch-Irish immigrant named Robinson, and one of their kids fathered a son who fathered the man who eventually fathered me.  

That the family also produced someone named "Hiram Evans," which is a name that belongs on a patent medicine bottle, amuses me no end.

Alas for Kate, she was unable to trace the family back past Evan Evans.  Little wonder; not only was it much more difficult to trace one's bloodline in those pre-Ancestry.com days,"Evan Evans" is the rough Welsh equivalent of "John Smith."  Worse, Kate didn't even know the maiden name of Evan's wife Jenet so had no way of determining just which Evan Evans she was looking for, and which part of Wales birthed him.  Short of actually traveling to Berks County, Pennsylvania, and spending several years combing through church records, Kate had about as much chance as finding about more about the Evan Evans who served under Captain John Robeson in the Revolution in the early 1900's as she did of winning the yet-to-be-established Pulitzer Prize.

So the matter lay for many, many years.  I was mildly interested in knowing more about Evan, but since he'd died 170 years before I was born it wasn't as if Dad had told me heartwarming stories about his great-great-great-great-grandfather to encourage me.  Evan Evans was a name in a record someone else had compiled, nothing more.

Then my friend Bunkie, who's a genealogy fanatic, decided to get involved.  How she managed to do this is still not clear; from what I could tell it involved a proprietary combination of mad Intarwebz skillz, years of experience on Ancestry.com and similar web sites, and just plain luck.  Regardless, it took her less than fifteen minutes not only to track down my Patriotic Ancestor, but his wife, his town, and his parents' names.

Thus it is that I now know the following:

- The family can trace its roots to Caernarvonshire in the early 14th century, then moved about the countryside before ending up in Llanmihangel-ar-Arth in Carmarthenshire, a farming region called "The Garden of Wales."

- They might have been Quakers or Methodists, but Evan himself was no pacifist; not only did he fight in the Revolution, he was a veteran of the French & Indian War twenty years earlier.

- Evan was born in 1720, came to the new lands of America no later than 1740 or possibly a few years earlier, and married no later than 1750, when he was around 30.

- His wife, Jennet Hughes, was only 14, meaning that Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddad was either a raging pedophile or (far more likely) following the custom of his time.  

- Evan had died in 1790, followed by Jennet fifteen years later.

- Their descendants fanned out all across Pennsylvania and the Midwest by the early 20th century, and can be found pretty much everywhere from Massachusetts to California.

-  I may be an only child, but go back a couple of generations and I probably have more cousins than Sir Joseph Porter of HMS Pinafore fame.

- Genealogy is a lot more interesting than you'd think.

I'm not sure how much farther back I want to trace my family tree; between work, these diaries, setting the world afire with my mad textilez research skillz, and making sure the Double Felinoid has food, drink, and comfortable places to sleep, my time is limited.  I have, however, managed to learn a bit about Llanmihangel, a sleepy little community notable for a 15th century church that was restored in the 19th century:

The Ancestral Church of Ellid, where Evan Evans was shoved, naked and screaming, in a baptismal font sometime in 1720, and only took until 1740 to beat feet for the comparatively drier climes of Berks County, Pennsylvania.  
Church of St Michael, Llanmihangel (John Lord) / CC BY-SA 2.0
I have been unable to confirm rumors that the town has recently welcomed a casino called, I kid you not, "Llas Vogas" and an airport boasting a large plastic head of Sinead O'Connor.  However, given that this is the place that eventually led to me, it's not out of the realm of possibility.  

Yes.  Really.

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I warned you this might happen.

I'm not talking about anything truly bad, like annoying co-workers, undrinkable coffee, kaiju larvae boiling out through your plumbing system, wildfires fueled by nicotine addicts flicking their butts into a lake of magma, the GIANT TURKEY PUPPET O'DOOM using your birdfeeder as an apperitif, kaiju larvae boiling out through your sprinkler system, or Ben Carson pontificating about the eeeeee-vuls of organic steel cut oatmeal over Froot Loops as a part of a complete breakfast.  I'm not Will Robinson's badly designed robot rolling about and flailing its ridiculously short arms while bellowing WARNING WARNING DANGER I WILL PROTECT YOU LITTLE FRIENDS.  I'm just a kid from Pittsburgh who somehow ended one of the world's leading experts on medieval quilting, and there are times I still wonder just how that happened.

What I do not wonder about is how much time it takes me to research, write, edit, and rehearse an academic paper for presentation.

This is both more and less time consuming than it might appear.  Research time can vary from a couple of days in a local library to a couple of years and a week overseas, depending on just what I'm writing about this time.  It can also entail a trip to New York to visit Bella, which is always fun, even if I end up driving Roomie nuts singing the score to On The Town before and after.

Once I actually start writing it usually clicks along pretty well, with a few days of dithering followed by two weekends of good, solid work.  After that it's rehearsal time with the kitchen timer so I don't run over during my presentation, a great deal of very loud, very bad language over what I have to cut, and then roadtripping to Kalamazoo.  This year I'll be driving there and back again with my friend Ysabel, and a merry time we shall have, hey-ho, hey-ho!

This year's paper is on a new subject and for a new session, so I'm anticipating this taking a bit more time than, say, last year's paper on Indo-Portuguese quilted capes.  It may go well and quickly, or I may end up tearing out my hair and wishing that kaiju larvae would come boiling out of my microwave to put me out of my misery and get me off the hook so I can write fanfiction and go to Age of Ultron fourteen times in a row.  I won't know until I actually start, and won't that just be yummy funz?

Either way about it, this means that I will be doing what I mentioned I might in my first quarter scheduling:  devoting several weeks to reposting older diaries rather than writing fresh material.  Whether this is for good or ill is not for me to judge - I'm not the consumer of these little forays into Badbookistan, just the producer - but this is what's going to happen since, y'know, I got commitments.

Remember, I did warn you.

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I once had a dog with a musical ear.

His name was Toto, aka Toto Barbarossa, aka Totempole, aka Totie, and he was a dark brindle Cairn terrier who was the light of our lives for sixteen years.  We acquired him when I was all of five (hence the name) and had him until my senior year of college, when old age and disease caught up with him.  I had a dog before him, and Mum had a dog after him, but Toto was such an original that it's hard to imagine any other canine taking his place in my heart.

He came to live with us in the winter of 1965-1966 courtesy of my uncle Oscar.  Our wire-haired fox terrier, Terry, had died very suddenly, and of course my parents wanted to get another dog.  Terry, smart and patient, had been my parents' darling since soon after their marriage, then segued into my playmate, protector, and best friend since the day my parents brought me home from the hospital.  He'd chased off dogs twice his size if they so much as curled a lip in my direction, let me dress and play with him as if he were a living toy, and generally put up with me mauling him until I learned to be gentle.  

If he occasionally snacked on my Crayolas when no one was looking, well, that was just about his only flaw.

Terry's death was my first real encounter with the long night that comes to us all, and I was inconsolable until Toto arrived, courtesy of my uncle Oscar advancing Dad the cash when it turned out that a purebred Cairn terrier puppy from excellent bloodlines cost a truly shocking amount of money.  "I can't stand to see her like this," my uncle told my father, and Dad, who was proud but not stupid, agreed.

The puppy, small, dark, and wiggly, arrived in Dad's pocket the next day.  I immediately snatched him to what passed for my heaving bosom, proclaimed him "just the puppy I wanted," and proceeded to hug, kiss, pet, and carry my new little friend around the house until he (and I) were all but dropping with fatigue.  He slept with either me or my parents almost immediately, and the light came back into our lives as I delighted in his energy, his playfulness, and his complete lack of interest in my Crayolas.

As for Toto, he realized almost at once that he'd landed in clover, with not one but three Giant Slaves to see to his needs.  This we did despite learning that Toto was not only cute and affectionate, but opinionated, stubborn, and so fiercely loyal to his Giant Slaves that any burglar who'd been dumb enough to attempt entry would have been reduced to his component elements in about five seconds, tops.  We all loved him back, and as the months and then years rolled along Dad taught him tricks, Mum taught him good manners, and I taught him the finer points of music.

Yes, really.  

My parents, like so many others, thought that music lessons would be a fine way to advance my cultural and intellectual development.  They both loved to sing (especially Mum, who had a sweet, warm alto), both could play an instrument, and when I expressed an interest in the piano, they ordered a spinet from Sears and I began my lessons.  Soon I was good enough to justify private lessons, and soon after that I was banging out Beethoven sonatas, Clementi sonatinas, the occasional Mozart Mendelssohn piece that was not the Italian Symphony, and Bach's keyboard suites.  

That was about the time that Toto got interested.

Toto had frequently been in the room when I practiced - it was his house, too, even if Dad's name had been on the deed - but about the time I graduated from the cute little minuets that Mozart wrote between such worthy pursuits as teething, toilet training, and Child Prodigy European Tours to compositions intended for adults, he started actually listening.  Originally he'd lie underneath the piano bench, but after the dozenth time I bodily moved him so I could use the pedals, he moved to the hearth rug a few feet away.  There he would sit, patient and calm, until I'd finished up with my five-finger exercises and moved on to pieces with names, tunes, and a decent beat.

That was when the show would start.  Toto, who had gotten into the habit of napping flat on his back, all four feet sticking up in the air, would flip over sunny side up as soon as I'd pulled out my sheet music and struck the first note.  Soon he'd be snorting, flinging himself back and forth, and even rolling himself completely into the hearth rug to show his approval of my work.  By the time I'd finished practicing there would be a dog-shaped lump next to the hearth, with only a flicking tail and the occasional deep, happy sigh to prove that the family companion animal had not expired of sheer joy.

This was not to say that Toto liked everything I played.  He loved Bach and other Baroque composers the best, and it's entirely possible that my obsession with Handel's operas may have had its roots in the dog's fits of ecstasy over The Harmonious Blacksmith.  He also enjoyed Mozart's sonatas quite a bit, and I'm fairly sure he liked Clementi.  At the same time, he was no fonder of Bartok's Mikrokosmos than I was, and was distinctly indifferent to Mendelssohn, Schumann, and the other mid-19th century Romantics.  He showed no particular interest in Gershwin or other American modernists, shrugged at show tunes and movie soundtracks, and only liked one or two Christmas carols.  

Only one composer really seemed to drive him crazy, and it was a real shame since he was one of my favorites:  Ludwig van Beethoven.

I first noticed this when I was working my way through Beethoven's easier sonatas.  Toto, who was still recovering from his usual burrito imitation during Bach's French Suites, jerked awake, shoved himself free of the hearth rug, and made a less than pleased noise.  A few seconds later he'd trotted out of the room, tail ramrod straight, nose in the air.

I shrugged and went back to my work.  I was only ten or eleven, so it truly didn't occur to me that the dog might actually like one type of music or not another.  Toto probably had other things to do, like worrying at the the bone he'd "buried" on top of Dad's pajamas, napping on the sofa in the family room, or crawling under one the beds in quest of the Dark Secret Places that only he could see.  There was no reason for me to think anything of his abrupt exit.

No reason, that is, until it happened again.  

And again.  

And again.

Soon Mum was asking why Toto, who loved music so much, was basically fleeing the living room midway through my practice time.  I was just as puzzled as she was, especially after he started coming back to the living room as soon as I'd finished up the Beethoven and shifted to something like the Songs Without Words or even Mikrokosmos.

'Twas a puzzlement, at least until we realized that it was Beethoven, and only Beethoven, that sent Toto flouncing off in high dudgeon.  Something about the great symphonist's works offended his tender sensibilities enough that he felt compelled to leave the room whenever I attempted to plunk out The Moonlight Sonata.

And it wasn't just the master's piano works or adaptations, oh no no no no.  I soon learned that Toto would take a powder as soon as I dropped the needle on William Steinberg's gorgeous interpretation of the Pastoral Symphony, Gary Graffman's luscious version of the Appassionata Sonata, or Herbert von Karajan's magisterial take on the Leonore Overture #3.  The dog simply did not like Beethoven, artist, conductor, or work be damned.

Our friends found it amusing, that a mere dog had definite ideas and preferences when it came to classical music.  Surely we were exaggerating, especially Mum.  "He's only a dog," they'd say.  "He can't possibly know the difference."

"You have no idea," Mum would murmur, and then ask me to play some Bach followed by some Beethoven, just to see how the dog reacted....

People have accused my family of anthropomorphizing Toto, and there may be some truth to this.  He was a dog, after all, albeit an unusually intelligent one.  But a dog that actively shunned Beethoven and all but had multiple orgasms over Bach is not precisely normal.  Add in all the other ways he simply refused to behave like a stereotypical canis domesticus, and is it anys little wonder that Mum began referring to him as “your hairy adopted brother”?  Or that the closest I came to having sibling rivalry was being jealous over Mum cooing about what he was a good boy right after excoriating me for not doing my Home Ec homework about the joys of breastfeeding and infant care?

Or that I grew up to an adult who has always had pets?  Or that I tell people that though my name may be on the deed to the Last Homely Shack East of the Manhan, that I may be the one who pays the taxes, covers the utilities, and nearly blew out my shoulders waving around a roof rake trying to clear the ice dams in the gutters earlier this week, it’s actually Diamond Girl’s house?  

Being an animal lover has its moments, let me tell you.

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Yesterday I lost one of the most important men in my life.

It wasn't a relative, or a boyfriend, or a buddy.  It wasn't even someone I'd actually met, and I very much doubt that he'd ever heard of me.  The closest I ever got to seeing him in the flesh was the summer night a few years ago when I was driving home from work and saw a good fifty people standing in line on Main Street, waiting for a chance to see a new exhibit and meet the artist.  

I nearly stopped.  I wanted to stop and take my place in the line.  I was so tempted even though I couldn't possibly afford any of the photographs, or probably even the exhibit book -

I was still recovering from surgery a few weeks earlier, though and tired easily.  So I drove on, and drove home, and missed my chance to meet someone whose work profoundly changed my life.

I speak of course of Leonard Nimoy.

I first saw him in 1967, when my father I watched the second season premiere of Star Trek.  Trek fen will remember that this was "Amok Time," the Theodore Sturgeon-penned episode where Spock quite literally went into rut and either had to marry or die.  Perfectly directed and beautifully acted (particularly by William Shatner, Majel Barrett, and of course Leonard Nimoy), it was one of the best Trek installments ever, second only to "City on the Edge of Forever."

It was also terrifying, at least to seven year old me.  I had been taking my nightly bath during the first half of the episode and showed up during Spock's disastrous wedding, when he was right in the middle of the plak tow, or blood fever.  I sat on Dad's lap, petrified, as the rest of the story spun out:  lust, rejection, combat, seeming death, trickery, and ultimate triumph and a happy ending.  I don't remember much beyond asking Dad about "the man with the funny ears," but I do know I didn't see another episode of Star Trek until 1973, when I was old enough to understand what was going on.

That was when I fell in love with Mr. Spock.

It was October of 1973, and Star Trek was in the midst of its transformation from "interesting but failed network series" to "syndicated cult phenomenon."  I was over at my aunt Betty's house, everyone but my uncle Lou was out, and as Lou settled down in his recliner to watch whatever was on WPXI in the late afternoon, I plopped myself down on the sofa, pulled out whatever book I was reading, and figured I'd join him.

I didn't read the book that afternoon.  Instead, I found myself mesmerized by "Operation:  Annihilate!," which concerned squishy mutated evil brain cells grafting themselves onto people's nervous systems and killing them.  They'd already wiped out most of a Federation colony, including Captain Kirk's brother, and now he had to find a solution to save Kirk's nephew Peter, the remaining colonists, and Mr. Spock.

Spock was not perhaps the beau ideal of thirteen year old girls in the early 1970's.  Quiet, saturnine, intelligent, sarcastic, clearly an adult, just as clearly not a "cute boy" with fluffy hair and bell bottoms, Spock was like no other character I'd ever seen on television.  He was different - very different - but in a good way, and by the time "Operation:  Annihilate!" ended, I had fallen and fallen hard for a green-blooded fictional character as personified by a middle aged actor from Boston.

My love for Star Trek, and for Mr. Spock, have endured ever since.  I no longer binge-watch episodes, or write Trek fanfiction, but I can still quote large sections of the dialogue from the classic episodes.  My love of sleek, simple clothing and slightly exaggerated eye makeup comes straight from Lieutenant Uhura, my entry into fandom began with a Star Trek convention in New York in 1979, and my first attempt at a novel was a piece of fanfiction that I wrote in secret after Mum was in bed.  

Most important of all, my belief in a society that mixed races, ethnic groups, religions, and nationalities in harmony, in diversity as a good thing, began with Star Trek.  It was one of the very first TV series to have a multiracial cast playing non-stereotyped roles, and as corny as the scripts and dialogue may seem today, seeing an African woman, an Asian man, a Scotsman, a Southern gentleman, and a Russian as colleagues - nay, as friends - was a revelation to a girl from a white upper middle class background.

This is why Leonard Nimoy's death hit me so hard yesterday.  He was my favorite, my first true crush, and I have never ceased to admire him and his body of work.  Actor, writer, director, photographer - he did excellent work in all these fields, and was opening new gallery shows as recently as 2010.  Even his singing and poetry, neither outstanding, were firmly in the "so bad they're good" tradition I love so much.  Losing Leonard Nimoy, losing Spock - it hurt, and it still does, and I'm not ashamed to say that I almost broke down at my desk when I saw the news.

I couldn't find it in myself to be funny last night, or even marginally clever.  Next week I should be fine, which means you'll get to read about humans with very, very special relationships with their animals.  Tonight, though - tonight you'll get a Mourning Rewind as I think about the actor, and the character, that exerted more influence on my life than anything except possibly The Lord of the Rings.

Return with me, then, to the early days of these diaries...to the fall of 2011, when I wrote about those bland little novelizations of movie scripts that used to show up a few weeks or months ahead of a major motion picture.  One of the novelizations was anything but bland, while the other was a hugely disappointing adaptation of - you guessed it - the latest Star Trek film....

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