December 1st

Kage Baker was of the school of Christmas decorations that held: you should wait until December to decorate. So am I, so is my family.

I notice that the custom is growing, to begin Christmas lights, at least, as early as Thanksgiving. That’s fine if you want to do it, especially if it is a family tradition. But it’s not what Kage liked. We had a specific and strict schedule: lights go up on the 1st, tree goes up on the 15th, tree comes down on New Year’s Day, lights come down on 12th Night (which is January 6th.)

We pretty much follow that schedule here, now, at my family’s house. However, instead of taking down the outside lights, they stay up and are altered to suit the season. Thus, today, we have taken down the orange and yellow lights, and are adding blue ones to the white lights on the front porch. On the iron fence around the front yard, coloured lights are strung all around our perimeter. There is amazingly little bulb theft. It must be the spirit of the season.

The garland that always hangs over the arch into the dining room changes now, too. It has been autumn leaves and tiny orange lights, which makes the entire living room look like the famous Amber Room in the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg. Of course, the original walls panels, crafted from Baltic amber, were looted in WWII, and have since been replaced with new ones – but no one knows where the originals got to, as they have never been found. Personally, I think they are decorating some high-ranking Facilitator’s digs in the European Company base … but the faux effect in our living room is still gorgeous during autumn.

Now it will change to a fir garland, with white lights. And under that, a string of lovely pointy Edison lights, with visible filaments like bottled lightning.We have recently added a beautiful white porcelain stag’s head over the mantle, and he will get a wreath around his neck – holly leaves and berries, and white faerie lights. The.mantle will also be decked, with greenery and candle lights; and, yes, we will unashamedly hang stockings! Kage and I always did, even in years when we had to hang them on door knobs.

This year, though, we are planning on a major change to our tree ritual. We ordinarily have a lovely artificial tree, because Kimberly and I object to cutting down living trees, and because my late brother-in-law was allergic to most resins and pollens. This year, a new resident has made us change our technique. The addition to our household of a black Maine Coon, who is now – although at 10 months he is technically still a kitten, and will continue growing for a couple of years – is currently more than 3 feet long, weighs 15 pounds and is demonstrably capable of limited flight.

Therefore, this year, we are putting up a tree of only lights, in the front bay window. Green lights for the outline, coloured lights for decorations, and a snowflake at the top. Edward will still be fascinated and poke his black velvet paws and nose everywhere, but it will prevent his scaling the usual 7-foot tree. If he behaves well, we may try a tiny real tree on a table to one side. After all, as Kimberly observed optimistically, there are only so many times Edward is willing to get shot with a squirt gun … Whatever we do, it will be lovely. And madly amusing.

And today, Dear Readers, I actually went shopping! Only one stop, and Michael had to push me in my chair (a festive and seasonal red), and I collapsed into an immediate nap once we got home – but I did it! I managed! Wore my mask just as I ought, and had a lovely time. It’s hard to get presents for your chauffeur when he is actively pushing you, but I’ve done most of the big items by mail order already. Trips to places like Cost Plus are for sweeties, and goodies like enormous tins of ginger snaps. And, of course, for weird candies.

Kage would approve of all of this, I fervently believe. She adored shopping, and she and I always made an enormous deal out of Christmas shopping trips. I did most of the lighting effects – ladders do not faze me – but she designed ours for the most part; which meant that, no matter how small our dwellings were, they dripped lights and gave off illumination that drew fascinated wild animals to come investigate. If the Witch had had coloured lights, she wouldn’t have needed a Gingerbread Candy house to lure Hansel and Gretel – they’d have come to the light display like little moths in clogs and caps.

I hope our beloved dead come to the lights, as well. Christmas is a time for ghosties, according to the Britanno-Celtic heritage we shared. And as the years go by, I am more and more willing to peer out of our jewel-blazing windows and try to catch sight of Kage’s bright hair and black, sparkling eyes.

Here is the bonfire, burning as always with all the colours of the heavens. Come and be warmed, come and be remembered.

The lights will blaze all night.

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The Earthquake Hour

Kage Baker used to say she wanted to go “all of a piece”, like Oliver Wendell Holmes’ Wonderful One-Hoss Shay.

If you, Dear Readers, are unfamiliar with the famed 19th century American jurist and poet Holmes. it would do you all good to get to know him. Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia Britannica or any poetry anthology worth its ampersand will give you information on him. His career on the Supreme Court is especially interesting; he remains one of the few Supreme Court Judges known for his scholarship. As a poet, he displays a rather dated voice, often hilariously so by modern standards. But he is a decidedly American poet, sometimes excruciatingly folksy but also heroic and emotional in a manly way. Kage liked him.

(When we went aboard the U.S.S. Constitution on a trip to Boston, Kage stood on the deck and recited Holmes’ Old Ironsides. The crew was unperturbed; they are are used to it. In fact, though there was no tour then scheduled, they invited her below decks for one anyway.)

The point here is that the carriage in the title doesn’t wear out: it is logically designed so that no one part is any stronger than another – so it continues on and on, not subject to decay because it all ages at the same rate, and thus no part can fail.

This struck Kage as a good way to age, personally. Her goal was to have all major bodily systems quit at the same moment, allowing her to fall gracefully dead or at least into a pile of dust. That, you see, was the eventual fate of the Wonderful Shay – at precisely 100 years to the day from its completion, it gave a dreadful lurch and was reduced to a pile of shavings and splinters.

This was also the day and moment, historically, of the Great Lisbon Earthquake in Portugal. This is an event rarely remembered to day, except in Portugal, and associated islands like Majorca and the Azores – this despite the fact that it was a humdinger of a 7.7 complete with fires, gaping fissures and a tsunami. But it was recent history for Holmes, and a disaster of such astonishing magnitude that he considered it appropriate as a death-knell for the Wonderful Shay.

Anyway, that was what Kage wanted to do when she died. I wished it had been that way, too, instead of the relentless months-long deterioration of her last months. Though she bore it with astounding courage and cheerfulness, it was hard. But that last day, at least, it did happen almost as she wanted. She fell peacefully asleep in the literal arms of her family, in her own bed, with the sound of the sea in her ears. By the time her poor tired body stopped, she was long gone into the West, and there was nothing else for her to do. It was as close to a quiet crumbling as she could manage.

I, too,wish to go like the One-Hoss Shay – and for decades, as I bounced evidently unharmed from disaster to disaster, it seemed that I might succeed. I healed with inhuman speed; I either recovered from diseases with insouciant ease, or never caught at all plagues that felled everyone around me. I entered my 60’s confident, content, and probably fairly arrogant.

Well. I fell from grace and health with a speed and thoroughness more suited to some classical Greek king bad-mouthing the gods. Whole systems failed en masse, or in chorus-line sequence; things went wrong I had never even heard of in a lifetime of care-giving at other peoples’ beds. I did not know, for instance, that you could break two valves at once in your heart; or that a hole could then be torn in your heart by the valves acting up like pistons in a cartoon. I never knew that after heart surgery, it was common to have all your hair fall out. (That alone made me almost reconsider the benefits of surviving, for a little while.) I had somehow never learned that going on a ventilator was considered a permanent disability – but when I woke up 3 weeks after heart surgery, I was not expected to walk, talk or breathe on my own again. I was expected to stay in a nursing facility, like a good little turnip …

Wonderful Shays are not consigned to the back of the stable and left to rot. I was having none of it, and with my family’s support, and by being both stubborn and a really bad patient, I made it home. Since then. I have been working at returning to something approaching normalcy. It’s been ridiculously hard, Dear Readers, which is why these blogs have become few and far between. It’s like climbing a cinder-cone: climb 13 inches and slide back 12. Days go by with small but definite improvements – then some minor thing exhausts me or trips me up, and I sleep for days. I want to be part of my household again, but all too often I am merely a piece of furniture.

I am neither drivable, nor a pile of dust. It’s freaking depressing.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bad patch – fell down 3 times in as many days, one of of them a nose-first bash into the living room floor. Not only did I scare my poor sister, I bruised most of myself, and then wrenched the rest by the contortions required to get me upright again. It’s still difficult to type, after scrunching my hands.

Then today, I encountered a new problem. While dining on leftover Chinese food – s one does; the only thing better is leftover pizza – I realized that my mouthful of barbecued pork was simply not going down. I had chewed it thoroughly, swallowed it properly, I had not inhaled it: but apparently my throat is now narrower by some tiny but crucial amount, undoubtedly due to unsuspected scar tissue. It was bizarre, surreal – I couldn’t talk or make a sound, had (somehow) nothing to throw to get attention … and it was suddenly getting harder to breathe …

So I Heimliched myself. I had no idea if it would work, but no one had ever told me it wouldn’t, which is always enough for me … I clenched my fists together and punched myself as hard as I could just below my sternum. That moved things enough for me to croak “Help!”, and then explosively vomit everything I’d eaten that morning. I hadn’t eaten much, but I couldn’t stop. It was disgusting and messy, but it worked! I could breathe again!

I fear I scared my family half to death, but it worked! Within 20 minutes, I was pretty much fine – clean, in fresh clothes, breathing easily. Shaking like an aspen and really wobbly, but it was a vast improvement. Kimberly made me some lentil soup when I was up to it, which was warm and wonderful – one is always so hungry after throwing up, once one finally stops.

Anyway, Dear Readers, I Heimliched myself successfully. I am inordinately proud of this. I am also exhausted and vow to eat soft food slowly for the next several days. And it was really good Chinese food, too … sigh. Kimberly observed what an interesting blog post this would make; what occurred to me was how Kage would have yelled at me for the entire silly incident.

But, you know, I just have to resign myself that the elegant fate of the One-Hoss Shay is not to be mine. Probably I won’t even manage Kage’s dignified departure. I am just more the pratfall type, the person who stands under the falling safe, steps on the banana peel, is mistaken for fresh salmon by a hungry bear … decapitated by a nutjob with a thrift-shop katana. Badly. Kage was the One-Hoss Shay, but I am the unfortunate city of Lisbon.

It’s going to take an earthquake hour to make my end. And in consideration of the last two years, I think that is how I really want it.

*https://www.gutenberg.org/files/45280/45280-h/45280-h.htm

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T’is A Season

Kage Baker had a tremendous emotional dependence on the steady progression of the seasons. She wasn’t afraid of their not progressing -she liked the beat, man; she heard, and loved, the heartbeats of the year. Don’t roll your eyes and say white women don’t hear the beat; she’d roll her eyes right back (and, oh, could she roll her eyes!) and tell you that a white woman certainly could hear the beat; she just heard a different beat.

But she heard it all the time.

Some it it, I am sure, was a sensitivity to rhythm that was unique to Kage herself. A sort of internal metronome; an instrument, incidentally, that fascinated Kage. I offered frequently to get her one, just for amusement’s sake. But she demurred, saying she didn’t want anyone to know that she could be entertained by just sitting around listening to a metronome tick. I thought she could use it as a meditation aid, but she said, No, that’s what the Who turned up loud was for …

The rest of her hearing the annular beat was just – listening. Listening with extreme sensitivity to vibration, as many animals do; developing an intensely delicate aural palette, that could hear the grass growing and tell the difference between the fall of mist and the fall of star dust. About 14 tons of stardust falls to Earth every day, you know; that’s a freaking lot more dust that falls than water, here in Southern California. Maybe the difference helped.

Kage claimed she could hear the music of the spheres, and loved our years in the oak forests and in Pismo Beach – the emptiness of where we lived allowed any noise to translate into the subtle ringing of crystal spheres and glass gears. For Kage, these were sounds most prevalent on windy spring and breathless hot summer nights. But they were background noise to all the seasonal sounds – for Kage, waves of chilled or heated air sweeping over us from the deserts and the seas, the constant straining and sighing of plants, even the sounds of particular animals prowling at night.

Living in the empty places exposes you to an amazing lot of feral noise …

Vixens are both paranoid and opportunistic; they will hide their babies from you until one evening you hear a yipping at the front door, and open it to find a tired mamma fox and three kits half her size inquiring after possible leftovers? Deer will come 24/7; you learn when the soughing noise is the wind, and when it is a doe eating your cotton and linen clothes off the line. And it gets exciting when something hits the side your house or trailer in the middle of the night, and you need to wait until daylight to find out if it’s a bear or a stag. And even if is a stag, it is not very calming, because it left hoof prints the size of dinner platters, and Kage keeps reciting the story of the Ceryneian hind sotto voce (it had golden antlers and breathed fire and was twice the size of non-inflammatory deer). Badgers, though, are nearly perfect neighbors: quiet, handsome, uninterested in the garbage.

Here on the edges of the LA River and Griffith Park, I have learned how much amazing bird noise persists in such an urban setting. I can tell the difference between a crow and a raven; crows seldom sound like parrots or thumb pianos, and ravens do. Hawks are good at marking out the seasons – in spring they shriek their desire from high in the air, and scream while they plummet together in ecstasy; in fall, the year’s fledglings sit amid the thinning leaves and cry for their moms to come feed them. (Which they seldom do.) Mockingbirds sing all summer and all night, so if you hear a song sparrow or a finch or Jethro Tull at midnight, it’s probably a mockingbird. Peacocks sound like cats being murdered, and mark summer. Geese not only trumpet, their wings beat strongly enough to hear them in the cold autumn air.

In fall, rain and leaves fall. You learn to tell if the whispering patter is falling leaves or rain across the porch. After years of sleeping at Faires in buildings held together with duct tape and dried beer, I have become ridiculously anxious about both sounds, and now have to get up and pace through the house to make sure everyone is under a roof and the roof isn’t leaking. And if you’re sleepy enough, you can get awfully confused as to what season it really is – while mostly what it does in LA is not rain, what it alternately does is rain whenever the hell it feels like it.

Kage tried to keep time with all of it. While this sometimes necessitated changing in mid-stride from a burgomasque to a pavane, that didn’t faze her. She could dance to the counter-beat if it struck her. She was a genius at harmony. But you could see the physical delight in her steps and movements when she fit them, half-unconsciously, to the beat of a woodpecker or a blacksmith’s hammer, dancers’ bells, or a drum, or a thousand hands thundering in applause.

Now it’s nearly winter. The mornings are cold and silent, except for the distant chorus of the geese, which tempts me to leap out of my warm bed go haring off after them down the frosted street. (I would fall over, turn blue and ascend to fly with the geese within half a block … but one does remember one’s youth at times like that.) The stars have begun to sing; the owls have begun to chant. And now the faint sweet chiming of the holiday lights has begun.

Have you never noticed that, Dear Readers? As the strings of lights go on and off, each small bulb gives a tiny, delicate ting! as it switches back and forth. You must lie very still to hear it – but if you do, then all the blinking lights on the tree, the mantel, around the windows and railings of the porch give a constant song as soft and clear as a baby’s breathing. All night; all winter.

It is the sleeping heartbeat of the world, transmitted through the coloured fire we light to mark the winter darkness. Listen for it this season, Dear Readers. The planets and the sweet darkness between them all sing to us, assuring us of rest and quiet sleep.

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Extinction

Kage Baker was very personally bothered by extinction – the idea of it, the realization that it occurred. To begin with, she just didn’t like the idea that things end, though she realized it had to happen. The cycles of life matter, and if no one ever goes away the world runs out of room.

It was both the dreadful loss of extant species, and their stubborn insistence on occasionally being “rediscovered”, that led to Dr. Zeus taking shape. Kage liked plants  more than fuzzy critters, so Mendoza was a botanist. Kage branched out into classic literature and music readily enough, but I (a fanatic zoophilist) had to nag her into saving endangered cattle and the like. (Someday, I’ll get “The Teddy Bear Squad” published, though, and all those fuzzy creature castles in the air will be opened at last to the public.)

Though Kage did feel that there were entirely too many of some things. Kissing bugs. Alligators. Fungi. Republicans. I could never get her to admit the total obliteration of nearly anything in the biome would be throwing a gigantic spanner in the works. She felt that, as she personally had no chance at all of rendering anything completely extinct, she wasn’t morally required to pretend she loved everything and wanted it all to live. She could safely despise disease-carrying bugs and crocodilians, because their odds of being wiped from existence by her malice was effectively nil. She could cheer when one of them was killed.

So the death of individuals didn’t upset her, not as much as the obliteration of species. Kage was not uncomfortable with the passing away of a lemur, a sea cow, a snow leopard: Nature, given half a chance, could make more. It was once the template got scratched or the mold broken that problems came in, and that was what bothered her.

You might be able to deliberately back breed for an extinct species, but the results so far have been mixed. Wild tarpans (a vanished equid, not an ancient and prized game fish) are coming along, but slowly – horses, it appears, have a delicate genome. Aurochs, the enormous wild native cattle of Europe, have been rather more successfully back bred: but humans have been messing with the breeding of cattle for millennia, and we probably bred into the aurochs gene pool in the first place, so presumably the information is still there.

That business with cloning hasn’t worked at all well so far. Forget the mosquitos; the little buggers will not be redeeming themselves for malaria by helping us bring back dinosaurs. In fact, we can’t even get a respectable start on rendering the damned mosquitos extinct, though we seem able to kill everything else …  People have been promising mastodons fresh-baked in elephants for years, but have yet to produce a viable zygote; and for every beloved pet or prize bull cloned, there are reports of twice as many failures and hoaxes. Even Dolly the sheep, an undoubted success, nonetheless died of early senescence. And no one knows why.

No, the best way to keep a flickering species’ light going is to help it breed like crazy before it’s down to two bachelor males in a zoo. Before it’s down to six breeding pairs on a tiny island, and a zoologist with a hungry pet cat moves in …. the fastest extinction on formal record, that, as Tibbles (the cat in question) brought her master a dead bird every day for a couple of weeks and thus wiped out a species. 

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Well. I have just spent half an hour attempting to put a link in this blog – an action I have done dozens of times – and I cannot make it work. I’ve deleted part or all of the blog a dozen times, and it was only my OCD addiction to saving that has enabled me to get back into it at all. I am ready to scream.

Instead, as I am a card-carrying adult (thank you, Social Security) I shall simply close for the night, Before I send the rest of this into the Uttermost West.

My only real point tonight anyway was the suitably vague observation that we shouldn’t destroy what we cannot replace. All life matters. Nothing is disposable. All you need is love – and a good conservation program, I guess.

You know, Dear Readers, Kage believed (on some level) that what she wrote up as Saved, was actually saved somewhere, some when. Somewhere Eohippus gambols with its fabulous extinct descendant, the Unicorn – alongside the Javan rhinosaurus. Somewhere crocodiles with six-foot long legs race about, being stomped into submission by the immense Demon Ducks from Hell. Somewhere the last several iterations of the human race sit around toasting one another’s health, while enormous clear-eyed wolves loll about enjoying the early fruits of domestication.

Somewhere, Kage has the blueprints for everything.*

 

*There should have been an amusing illustration here, but I can’t make that work, either. Sigh.

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All Souls

Kage Baker loved the day after Halloween: traditionally, in the Catholic Church, all Saints day. All Souls Day comes on November 2nd.

Nowadays, especially in California and most especially in Southern California, the day is most obviously celebrated as Día de los Muertos: the Day of the Dead. Kage loved it; her family had a tradition themselves of visiting their loved dead at home: in the cemetery, what with her mother being from North Carolina. Also, Kage loved all the multicultural traditions of Los Angeles, and with its marigolds and incense and sugar skulls and lovingly constructed family altars, it is hard to beat the panoply of the Day of the Dead.

I loved it, too, but a child – Alas, most shallowly! – I loved it because we didn’t have to go to school on November 1st. We were raised Roman Catholic and All Saints Day was a holy day of obligation – thus, Mass was compulsory, and school was dismissed because we were supposed to spent the day in prayer and contemplation, (and, in the days before John XXIII and Vatican Two, fasting.) What actually happened, in the warm days of the early 60’s, was that we went to early morning Mass, went home to hot cocoa and doughnuts, and then spent the day lolling around eating candy and occasionally going by the public school to taunt the non-Catholic kids still in durance vile behind their fences. This did nothing for Christian tolerance, and often led to fights. However, being able to run while our enemies were trapped on the playground. we usually got away.

And then, that night, Momma made macaroni and cheese for dinner, so we could abstain from meat. Her mac and cheese was marvelous, and it was particularly no hardship because we still had all that candy …

I repent my childhood self-absorption. Of course, before age 10, I didn’t even know anybody who was dead. For reasons obvious and sad, I’ve come to collect a whole separate address book just for my dead, and over the long years have grown more attentive to their memories. So I hope I have made up for being captive to the mounds of loot I gathered on the dark streets under the camphor trees, which made the whole neighborhood smell like incense; and I hope the dead enjoyed our childish delight, dancing in the dark in our insane festive courage. I think they did – it wasn’t ever just the candy, but the way we came by it. The running through the dark, the masks and disguises and open flames, the shrieking down the darkest streets to the white sanctuary of a street lamp. It was all good, all innocent, all joy.

It would be years before we discovered what was chasing up through the October nights; years and miles and faces we had come to love watching us in the darkness. And not a friendly street lamp to be found. I miss the guaranteed comfort of sweets and glee and a warm dinner, but the mature love and memories of those I have lost is a more than adequate exchange,

When you get older, you need the memories more than the candy or even the mac and cheese. And remembered love outshines even the best street light.

As Kage always sang: Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine et lux perpetua luceat eis.

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By The Light of Burning Theobromos

Kage Baker disliked boundaries – by which I mean those set up by other people, borders that she was not supposed to cross. I think she mostly never even noticed them, until we were leaping down the wrong side of a fence, hearing a baying hound getting closer and closer … we seemed to spend half our adolescence doing that, because she just had to get closer to some ruin in the Hollywood Hills. When we were young enough, we could get away with carrying a leash and inquiring mournfully if the outraged householder had seen our dog? … but Kage got tall, and we both got curvy, and then it was harder to sneak around in jolly trespassery.

Kage still hated other people’s boundaries, though.

Ritual boundaries were different. She observed all the holidays she personally liked, the more so if they were a part of her own cultural heritage. Halloween was primary of those, the remains of the Celtic Samhain, with the costumes and carved lanterns so happily augmented by all the candy you could get your hands on. Yes, Halloween is the old Celtic New Year, and she duly observed that – but her main joy was honouring our beloved dead, and all – that – candy.

Mind you, we did always set an extra place at the table for anyone who cared to wander in (the offering tenderly disposed of in a secret place the next day, often when I was not even home). We toasted all the ones we had lost, and told stories of them to one another while we ate our holiday meal of roast pork, grain and ale. Then we waited for the few trick-or-treaters we got in the Hills or in Pismo, and ate the unused candy by candle light. We usually ended up on the dark beach late at night; where, due to the autumnal vagaries of the Pacific, the waves often burned green and blue with algae blooms and Kage kept watch for spectral pirates.

Tonight – well, we will be sitting close together here by Griffith Park, The traditional holiday meal at Kimberly’s house is pizza, which is a jolly good meal on a cold October night. And it is chilly here, at last; foggy, too, though the moon will not rise until late and only as a waning crescent then. A good night for running around in the dark yelling for candy! We are not handing out goodies tonight, as Kimberly is still wary of crowds; her teaching years have impressed her with the ecological role small children play as plague ratties. I am still at risk – not from COVID, as I am thoroughly vaccinated, but from all other kinds of respiratory diseases. But we can listen to the tide of little monsters and fairies and cartoons and superheroes running in and out on the block.

There is an owl hooting outside, most wonderfully. The air smells of wood smoke and crinkly brown leaves and burning pumpkin (I love that smell!) The local bats are flittering through the dimming air – we are a full-service neighborhood and have all sorts of beasties here. Later, we will hear the coyotes singing together, and hear them running down the midnight streets like primeval dogs chasing little Cro-magnons back to the family fire … there may be huge cat prints on the cars tomorrow, which we will tell one another are bobcats and pumas; and who knows what may crawl damply up from the LA River a mere 6 blocks away?

And there are always the local legends to ponder, too. Various Sepulvedas and Felizes, mostly female, are supposed to mourn or murder unlucky lovers on these nights, and white ladies prowl Los Feliz Boulevard. Then there are local Bigfoots – tall and lanky, reputed to be furred in purple and green, for whom there has never been a good explanation and who are reputed to go running through people’s backyards. My own father claimed to have seen one once, but my dear old dad had a very frangible connection to reality. Great story, though.

Memories. The treasured dead. Lights and voices in the trees, tiny unseen footsteps rushing to and fro, creatures materializing out of the shadows in a torrent of flying leaves and glitter. And all the candy in the Western Hemisphere. Oh, good and holy times!

For your delectation, Dear Readers, I include a couple of interesting seasonal links. Someone has invented edible candles! And they are made of chocolate. They also have edible wicks, so you can light up your cake, make a wish, blow out the candles – and then horrify your old granny by eating the candles. No end of fun!

tinyurl.com/4sa93spa

And, in case you are intrigued with the storied history of carving lanterns out of vegetables, here is an amusing link to the oldest sort of veggie lantern I know: the noble turnip! They are difficult to carve, being of the consistency of marble when raw, and in these modern times it is very difficult to find one left in the fields long enough to have grown to the size of a volleyball. It was the old stony ones that were customarily used before the larger, softer, pumpkin was drafted. You can get a good nasty little face on a turnip, though,

https://tinyurl.com/smvfsszk

Finally, Happy Halloween, Dear Readers! Now, I am off to eat candy and watch monster movies until midnight; when I shall begin working on this year’s NaNoWriMo.

And so good night unto you all …

My favourite bat wishes you Happy Halloween!
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Whoops

Kage Baker tried earnestly to write constantly. She managed it an amazing amount of the time, to a quite inhuman degree. I have tried to emulate her sterling example, but I have run into some problems she never encountered.

Granted, she died during this noble effort, which eventually put a stop to her output: as soon as I had run through the easier of the notes she had left me. That took about a year, during which time I also managed to start and establish this blog. I also attained a steady, if slower, production of other stories, made up out of more of the errant static in my own mind. That was going along pretty well, until (from my viewpoint) I also died.

It was a bummer, Dear Readers. The year of 2020, which I largely spent in a nursing facility, was as a season in hell. For many months, I despaired of ever escaping, either. But I did – and have spent most of 2021 returning to a semblance of humanity. I am a piss-poor imitation of my former self, but I am alive and no longer in hell.

However, I still have bad days. I seem to have caught a little cold. Since I have all the respiratory stamina of a corn dolly, I’ve spent the last few days sneezing (which hurts everywhere between my sinuses and my waist), dripping, aching in every joint, and more or less drowning in my own skull. And, alas, every hitch in my breathing brings on a panic attack; they can be overcome, but try to imagine how hard it is to calm down when you cannot take a deep breath.

Anyway. Not to be a whiny crybaby, but I have really not had a great weekend. I have a real blog partly written, but it will not be ready until tomorrow. I have to find where I put some necessary notes. No place safe, I hope – I’ll never see them again, if I did …

Anyway, here is a little visual impression of my last several days. Consider her a spirit animal making a guest appearance.

And tomorrow, Dear Readers, will be better.

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Candy Season

Kage Baker loved candy. This is hardly unusual, nor portentous – but Kage took great pride in never, ever forgetting a sweet she had once loved. Even if it no longer appealed to her adult taste, though this was vanishingly rare for Kage, she recalled in exquisite detail whatever had enthralled her at age 4 or 11 or 19.

She could talk about it for hours. And she did. We both did. It was an especially entertaining version of “Do you remember?”, especially after Kage discovered the internet in general, and eBay in particular. You can get anything there. And you know what? Absolutely no incarnation of circus peanuts – marshmallow apparently made out of frog scum, and coloured in Day-Glo orange and yellow – Has. Ever. Been. Edible.

However. there are lots of other venerable sweeties that are still delicious. At least, there are lots that be lovingly recalled, and sometimes still re-discovered. In today’s market, chocolate is King. And Queen. And the Crown Prince, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Taoiseach, depending on your loyalties. Nor did Kage ever neglect her appreciation of theobromos. But, despite the delights of solid chocolate – See’s, Cadbury’s, Ghiardelli, Lindt or Toberlone; and not to neglect the homegrown joys of Hershey and Russell Stover – Kage actually did have some sweeties she liked almost as much as chocolate. Especially during this last season of the year.

Holiday candy, most particularly for Halloween and Christmas, is the best. And frequently, the weirdest.There were and are treats you only found in your Trick or Treat bags: Chick O Sticks and Abba Zabba were among my favourites – the former being a peanut nougat in a hard candy shell, and the latter being a crumbly peanut butter jam in a coating of white toffee. Kage welcomed them for their rarity, but didn’t like eating them. She did like Charms Pops and Safety Pops, and a kind whose name I do not remember – but they were large suckers, and one side was patterned like tuck and roll upholstery. Kage loved them, especially since the odd one came with a token for a free sucker – if you could locate somewhere they were still sold. And who doesn’t like Tootsie Pops? Very satisfying for breaking teeth and/or extracting fillings.

There were Smarties and Sweet Tarts and Sour Worms. Chuckles. Tootsie Roll Fudge (which did not taste like a Tootsie Roll OR fudge). Bit O’Honey, Black Cow, and Look bars. Now and Laters – which, except at Halloween, could only be found in grape (good) and banana (deadly); at Halloween, you could get cherry or raspberry or apple. Nowadays, they come in what are apparently GMO versions – two or three unlikely flavours at once, which are frankly horrifying. And Starbursts just do not compare …

Full-sized brand name chocolate bars were always rare, and so much the better to get in your bag. What you mostly got, and still get, were either Hershey’s Miniatures (with an abnormal weighting toward the loathly Mr. Good Bars); and the outright lies called “Fun Versions” of good stuff like 3 Musketeers and Mars Bars. Who the hell ever thought a chocolate nubbin the size of a 6-year old’s thumb was fun? Mind you, we ate all we could keep out of our parents’ hands, but most of the fun was in complaining how teeny weeny and not fun they really were … that, and seeing how many you could get in your mouth at one time without throwing up.

I liked raisins and apples; Kage felt they were cheating. During the last days of our Trick or Treating, when I was still getting candy because I was shorter than Kage’s youngest sister Jenny, Kage was often offered a cocktail or a glass of wine by hosts who reasonably figured she was the adult. I protested; Kage was smug. She ate my candy, though.

Kage’s absolute favourite Halloween treat was wax shapes filled with coloured sugar syrup. These days, about all you can find – except in huge, specialty candy stores like Chocolate Heaven* on Pier 39 in San Francisco – are Nickle Nips, 5 little wax bottles in a pack and assorted colours. But when we were young! … You could get skulls, and arm and leg bones, and witches, and broomsticks and pumpkins and cats. They were expensive – the big ones were as much as a quarter apiece, which was outrageous! But they were great, and with a little cleverness and care could be drained and still left amazingly intact. One year, Kimberly had an entire necklace made of skulls to go with her ghoul costume.

Those things were the best, for Kage. She got them in season in Morro Bay and Pea Soup Anderson’s and Pier 39. But every year they got harder to find, and she spent more time balefully sucking the juice out of Nickle Nips and lamenting the fallen glories of our youth …

My mother had made fantastic divinity, caramel apples, and popcorn balls – but in these benighted days, no parent in their right mind would let their kids eat homemade treats. Come to think of it, my own mother put the kibosh on those somewhere in my teens. I never knew anyone personally who was poisoned on Halloween, or got a razor blade or broken glass in their loot; but it certainly would have been a bummer if I had.

Of course, our parents always went through the bags before we could eat any – but we always figured that was just to score the good candy bars. God He knows, Kage and I and our grown sisters always checked the little ones’ bags first – and not just to make sure we got some Hershey bars and Smarties.

Today, Kimberly and Michael stopped at a local See’s store on their afternoon errands. We have Halloween candy to last through All Soul’s Day, now. They got Sour Stars for me, chocolate marshmallow jack o’lanterns for all, solid chocolate ghosties, teeny foil-wrapped chocolate pumpkins: and also the ultimate non plus ultra of See’s Halloween treats: orange fondant wafers drizzled with milk chocolate. Those are THE BEST. You cannot find them every year – last year, we never scored, and the three shops closest to us claimed they never got them in at all. Kage and I ate them one at a time, with many eldritch toasts and commemoratives, and cherished every crispy-soft nibble of them. And so will Kimberly and Michael and I.

Each and all of you, Dear Readers, must have your own favourites. Maybe you have a secret letch for Violet Crumbles or licorice bats or – quelle horreur! – Boston Beans. (What are those things, anyway? Boiled peanuts? Mummified nougat? Rat bones?) It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you remember it with love, and go out of your way to find it in this season of remembrance.

The honoured dead must include loved books, loved songs and – maybe most of all – loved and peculiar candies in this dark end of the year.

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Blow, Wind, And Crack Thy Cheeks

Kage Baker loved Shakespeare. She also loved Autumn, and the particular weather phenomena that accompany it in California: wind. Fog. Clear skies once (and if) the fog blows off. Sudden apocalyptic drops (or rises) in temperature.

So, the wind began blowing last night; hence the Shakespeare quote. It blew most of the windows in the house open, which terrified the cats and made Harry laugh and lose his mind. The black cat, Edward, is not quite 8 months old, and was both startled and then intrigued by the uproar in the air. It provoked him into zooming around the house and leaping at windows, apparently in the conviction he could catch the wind.

He was wrong, but not for lack of trying. He is still barely out of kittenhood, but he is enormous – nearly 3 feet long, excessively floofy, with extravagantly tasseled ears and huge, soft, floppy feet. So, when he descends into what is quite normal kittenish insanity, it’s rather like having a furry cannonball tearing around the house, giving little mad chirps and trills like a weaponized tribble … Kage wouldn’t have liked that; but if she could avoid being run over by 14 pounds of velvet dementia, she would have found it pretty amusing. Especially when he runs into something and falls over on the floor, panting.

It also got really cold last night. While it got up to about 80 today – for about 10 minutes, at noon, behind a windbreak and in the full sun – it never really got very warm at all. All our animals were therefore exhausted and cuddly, attempting to sneak into people’s shirts and hibernate. Luckily, they are all very soft and warm, so that was fine with me. Especially since I have become dreadfully sensitive to cold myself, and spent all day curled up under blankets and cats and a bird, a pile of survivalists in my recliner … symbiosis can be very comfortable. At least if you’re the head symbiont.

Anyway, I never got much done today. Slept a lot, shivered a lot, watched Halloween cooking shows. But I vowed I would get a teeny blog in tonight, and now my fingers are as thawed as they’re going to get for the next several months, I suspect ….

Time to break into the Halloween candy, I think. It’s Tootsie Roll weather for sure.

Stay warm, Dear Readers!

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Now Is Come October

Kage Baker loved summer. It was her favourite season. But second in her heart came – not a season – but the month of October. She wasn’t that crazy about Fall; except in special places, far North of where we usually lived, California doesn’t have much seasonal colour, and Kage fervently hated being cold.

But October is special. It is the gateway to the three-month festival of the end of the year, which was a merry-go-round of holidays dear to Kage. It’s when coloured lights and special candy begin; roasted meats and harvest vegetables, hot rum and brandy potables … And most of all, it is the season of Halloween.

This is the season of reminiscence and ghost stories; weird history and ancient rituals, and all the peculiar family history that could combine the two. At least it did in our families, and Kage loved telling scary stories by candle and fire light. We had Halloween parties where no electric light was permitted in the house, and everyone had to tell a spooky tale – except for the unbearably sensitive, who usually ended up in the kitchen huddled together over a candle, bogarting the candy bowl and singing loudly to drown out the grisly story of Old Green Eyes still haunting the cemetery at the Chattanooga National Military Park …

Stags would pace down our street in the Hollywood Hills, antlers silvered by moonlight; coyotes raced and howled. People in masks would peer into our flickering windows. At least, we hoped they were masks. Everyone screamed anyway.

Mind you, October is just the perfect holiday party start. Here in California, it rarely rains – and never stopped us when it did – and the weather can either be wood smoke-crisp or haunted bayou hot. If we’re gonna get thunder and lightning, this is when we get them, with wind storms that howl in the eaves and strip the trees of leaves – and sometimes, leave the trees in the streets in a creaking maze, which was a total gas whether we had to climb through them on our way to school, or to trick-or-treat. Sometimes we had to go blocks out of our ways to make sure we found blocked streets to climb through.

Due to Kage having tons of younger siblings, and then nieces and nephews about as soon as possible, we did Halloween chaperone duty until I was 30 years old. By that time, I was shorter than the tall kids, who had all outstripped me in the height department; with a modicum of black gauze and skull makeup, I got to collect candy without question. Kage paced along solemnly with a lit pumpkin in her arms like a severed head. It was great.

Later in life, the Northern Renaissance Faire often ran late, well into October. On the last weekend, we would carve pumpkins on the front table, which let us acquaint the customers with the ancient customs of Samhain and All Hallows. The historically determined would carve turnips, instead – those were the vegetable lanterns of choice before pumpkins were imported from the New World. They are also incredibly hard and difficult to carve, so all kudos to Stacy and Rebecca, who actually succeeded in producing wicked little faces on them! The last weekend nights of Faire, we’d put light sticks in them and set them out on the fence line, and scare the security guards who were always wary of lit candles.

And there was always the joy of giving out candy, once we were all too old to take to the streets. The parade of little kids in costumes is endlessly wonderful; even the awkward teenagers still hopefully extending their pillow cases are fun. I have never said to anyone: Aren’t you too old for this? That’s a sure way to incur supernatural wrath.

So, here we are in October once again. This year, I am still pretty much a revenent – no excursions for me, be the weather ever so mild. Kimberly doesn’t even want me to answer the door, if we do get any trick-or-treaters; because my health is mostly expressed in negative values. But I am getting better, albeit frustratingly slowly. I can walk for at least 30 feet before I start gasping; I can talk and rarely have to cough. I can sing a little. But I am horribly sensitive to both cold and heat. And I do have this ghastly divot in my throat – it’s healed as much as it is going to heal, but it leaves me with a lurid purple hole I can fit two fingers into. I wear scarves when I go to the doctors’ offices. I avoid mirrors.

However, it is time for me to get off my butt – symbolically speaking – and resume communicating with the world and with you, Dear Readers. My long lapse is no one’s doing but my own – Kimberly has urged me constantly to get my act together and shout once more into the void. Now, tonight – with the temperature falling, and the wind howling in the trees, and leaves being driven in head-high waves past the windows – now is a good time to prove I’m still here. I may be a revenent, but I’m not dead. It doesn’t seem likely that I will be any time soon, either. I have officially survived.

Today, my dear old friend Rebecca called to ask Kimberly if I was, indeed, still among the living. Kimberly swore I would resume my bloggery. It’s the least I can do for Kimberly, who has nursed me though so much; and for Rebecca, who has fronted the inquiries from so many of my concerned friends. She seems to be person of choice to poke me with a stick.

It’s the season to talk to the dead, and tell old tales. Since I am, amazingly, not among the dead, I have things to say and remember and invoke. There is candy to eat, pumpkins to carve, lights to be lit against the echoing dark. I’m really here.

And I still have things to say.

This is my favourite bat. And it’s real!
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