A Cabinet of Wonder

Kage Baker liked lists. She made them all the time, from prosaic lists for groceries (though her grocery lists were rarely mundane) to royal jewels lost, found and/or cursed.

She liked brainstorming. That was when we sat around in the gum drop lights of the Lava Lamps and aimlessly explored wild varieties of topics. Often it was the current state of a story in progress; she would lay out the ideas she had stored up for possible inclusion, and we’d try to find ways to fit them into the plot. Sometimes she actually used them; sometimes they changed the plot entirely because she just had to have a scene with a Patent Gravy Strainer in it.

She blamed that latter tendency on the influence of Vincent Crummles from Nicholas Nickleby.*

Sometimes that sort of thing led to an entirely different, second story, as whatever dramatic necessity was gnawing at her got shunted onto the Future Ideas List. There is a scene in, I think, A Night On The Barbary Coast where Mendoza glances at a weird timepiece and tells Joseph he has to get her out of San Francisco by 1906 – the central image of that scene, Mendoza hauling out a huge gold watch that isn’t quite a mere chronometer, was originally composed on a bus on I-5 somewhere around, oh, 1980, and tried on for size in a dozen different stories before she finally used it in 2003.

Of course, any missing library was automatically on the Gotcha List. Either its loss or salvation was a story in itself, or it was a throwaway somewhere. It’s almost a requirement for writers of Time Travel stories to account, somehow, for the fate of the Library of Alexandria, and Kage dutifully tossed a reference in early on. The library she really rooted for, though, was the Botanical Library whose 1500 type specimens were rescued from the 1906 San Francisco Fire by the redoubtable Alice Eastwood: Alice was one of Kage’s personal saints. Mendoza’s, too.

Kage also kept lists of needy wonders. Those were things that had supposedly vanished, but that she thought were probably still there – reduced in numbers but grown in canniness, perhaps, and hiding out from Homo sapiens. There were also the many, many things she was sure had already been collected: thylocenes, the Irish Royal Jewels, Judge Joseph Force Crater. She saved them up to use them in future tales, gifting them with Company rescues, like an historically-minded fairy godmother.

I also keep lists of oddities, paradigms, miracles and such, collecting them because Kage would have. (Also because they are frequently hilarious and always entertaining.) Then, from time to time, I can share them with you, Dear Readers, or use them to monopolize conversations … And as I am now mustering blog energy for the first time quite a while, (and because it is Saturday and I am lazy) I have gone back through my notes and found a few interesting bits to disseminate without burning out my brain.

Many science fiction writers have postulated long space flights preserving their crews via hibernation. To my amusement, however, the model of choice is not bears but ground squirrels. Apparently the little buggers are especially good at it. I’ve my doubts about its efficacy, though, as humans are a lot closer to being bear-sized than ground squirrel-sized … https://www.realclearscience.com/video/2022/016/could_squirrels_be_the_key_to_long_distance_spaceflight_821948.html

This one is neat – a book that seems to be cursed, as it both sank in the Titanic and was burned to ashes in the Blitz. Kage figured the Company has both of the originals, and someone is collecting the set. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-57683638?utm_source=pocket-newtab The Great Omar

I noticed years ago that the most consistent oldest-human-age seemed to be about 119. It’s a weird age, but it happens again and again and again. Here’s the latest. https://tinyurl.com/45y8je8k Oldest person dead at 119 – again

The famous New Zealand Kakapo parrot once had a svelte Australian cousin. And now it has one again. Huzzah! More kakapos! Breeding these must have been hilarious. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_parrot Night parrot

And speaking of birds – which I love to do – are these extinct? Or not? Proponents of both sides are loud and insistent. Again, think of the fun had by the Operatives who’ve been breeding these gigantic guys. https://tinyurl.com/y5t9xxsb Ivory-billed woodpecker

Garlic festival: one of Kage’s favourite festivals. This year’s edition of the beloved Gilroy Garlic Festival has been canceled and the future of the annual event is uncertain. Oh, woe! The Associated Press reports.

UPDATE! The Garlic Festival is back! Huzzah! https://tinyurl.com/3s6yccsy

Google’s AI, LAMDA, has achieved sentience, according to one of its engineers. And Google promptly fired him. Hmm – sounds suspicious to me. https://tinyurl.com/59snb8h8

I have to admit, I have no idea why on earth I saved this fragment of The Goblin Market. Maybe it was the reference to wombats. The mysterious “ratel” turns out to be a honey badger. Neither wombats nor honey badgers are native to England, of course, but they can be excused on account of being goblins. “One had a cat’s face, one whisked a tail, one tramped at a rat’s pace, one crawled like a snail. One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry, one like a ratel tumbled hurry scurry.” From The Goblin Market, by Christina Rossetti.

Lastly, here is a photo of a tree-climbing albino alligator. Once again, I don’t know why – there were a lot of very hazy days in the past couple of years. However, it is both terrifying, and possessed of a high aesthetic. Enjoy!

A white arboreal alligator. Why not?

I hope these amuse you, Dear Readers. Some of them may be a little funny, some a little scary; that alligator certainly gives me the colly wobbles. Suggestions on any of these topics will be happily entertained by me. Pass them around your friends and families, if you wish to share. All knowledge is useful, you know?

Even those bits bits for which I have not yet found a purpose.

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Today Is Kage’s Birthday

Kage Baker would have been 70 years old today.

I think she would have disliked it intensely, and it may be rude of me to point it out. However, folks continue to celebrate birthdays for many people who have been dead for much more than 12 years, as Kage has been. Besides, this was always the time of year when I teased her about being 2 years older then me – and nowadays, I need every reminder of youth I can muster, no matter how spurious.

Me, I shall be 69 soon, and aside from the gauche high school jokes about that number, there is nothing funny about it. My state of personal decay is quite obnoxious.

But today is a high holy day for me. This morning, I got some lovely emails In Memorium for Kage, from the wonderful people at Tachyon Publications. Jacob, Jill, Rick: thank you so much for remembering her birthday. And I suggest, Dear Readers, that you go check out their site at Tachyon (https://tachyonpublications.com/) – there are wonders galore there to explore.

Now, I know I have been silent a long time. And I cannot honestly promise to resume my bloggery with profound philosophy and attention to daily content. I am coming through a bad patch right now, and I make no promises at all, But I will try. I miss you all – I miss being alive and competent and interested in the world. And this is a perfect date on which to attempt (yet another) comeback. This is the start of the summer, Dear Readers. As Dylan sang long, long ago – There’s a party going on/ It’s gonna last the summer long *

Kage loved that song. And I find, I am not quite done singing myself.

*Down the hill from where I live
There’s a road rolling by
Wonder where it’s going ?

In this house full of doom
Discontent in every room
And it’s daily growing

I’m gonna ride on down those miles
I’m gonna ride on down those miles

Hook my thumb out in the air
Catch a friend with wheels to share
To take me far away from here

It’s a trip I gotta take
Big decision, mine to make
I don’t feel any fear

I’m gonna ride on down those miles
I’m gonna ride on down those miles

I’m gonna ride on down those miles
I’m gonna ride on down those miles
I’m gonna ride on down those miles
I’m gonna ride on down those miles

Cats are leavin’ every day
Summer’s here, they’re on their way
Hitchin’ down the highway

There’s a party goin’ on
It’s gonna last the summer long
Sleepin’ under the Milky Way

I’m gonna ride on down those miles (I’m gonna ride on down those miles)
I’m gonna ride on down those miles (I’m gonna ride on down those miles)
I’m gonna ride on down those miles (I’m gonna ride on down those miles)
I’m gonna ride on down those miles

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Dinner, with the Sounds of War

Kage Baker, like most people our age – middling-old folks, kids – grew up watching war on the telly over dinner.

In our youngest days, it was watching The 20th Century with Walter Cronkite; it was pretty much a replay of WWII: grainy B&W footage of smoking ruins, lines of soldiers marching head down through what seemed to be endless rain, mud. Lots of mud. Sometimes it was French mud, Belgian mud, German mud, Polish mud – sometimes it was jungle mud.

Being at most 5 years old when this unfolded before my eyes and Sunday bowl of spaghetti, I was left with the impression that some portion of European beaches were washed by the warm waves of the blue Pacific. A little South of Normandy, I figured … both Kage and I believed that WWII was, in fact, still going on until we were in second or third grade, when the nuns disabused us of that interesting impression.

Then, by 5th or 6th grade, it was the Vietnam Show during dinner. Still Walter Cronkite, though, for years and years. I knew what was real by then at least, though. I picked up a lot of the history of Indochina from various documentaries and the newspapers. A version of it, anyway; although I remember associating the greens of the Asian jungle with the pale green of the afternoon paper – Los Angeles had morning and afternoon papers back them, and the Herald Examiner was mint green. It was what I usually used for the many, many papers we had to write about the War. (I was also fairly confused when M.A.S.H. started running in 1972; I was already a bit temporally unhinged, I guess.)

The Vietnam War saw us through our high school years, and then some. And by the time it (officially) ended in 1975, it seemed clear to me that small ugly wars would be popping off all over the globe for at least the duration of the 20th Century. I followed the news in the paper (only the LA Times by then) but not on the telly – Kage couldn’t stand it, and with every year dove deeper and deeper into her writing. Finally, she started working out the Company history and writing the future the way she felt like, and she just stopped paying attention to the Present. Who was fighting whom and why, she said, was of no interest to her. Besides, she figured it was everyone all the time and for no freakin’ good reason, so they could all got to hell in some hand basket other than hers …

Then the war in Iran started in 2003. We were at work when the news came over the radio in the manager’s office that shelling had begun. The ladies in our department who had significant others in the Armed Services all got very quiet, and then went home early. Kage and I went home and – for the first time ever – we turned on the new-born CNN and proceeded to eat dinner to the soon-to-be-familiar voices of Wolf Blitzer and Bernie Shaw and Peter Arnett. And we had our morning coffee with them, too, for months; and evening after evening we spent eating dinner and watching tracer fire like malignant green fireflies over the jewel of ancient Mesopotamia, the City of Peace, reflecting in the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.

It was in colour, though. And the CNN credits were read in by James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader and probably of God. We were duly impressed. And I couldn’t say we actually got bored with the coverage – after a childhood thinking Europe was still under the heel of the Nazis, war for real on the telly was all too serious. What we got was … tired. Sick and tired. The US began to get crazier and crazier, and the novelty of the 24/7 news cycle wore off real fast even with the addition of colour television. One day, we just didn’t turn the damned television on every morning and evening; the computer became our magic window on the Big Wide World, and it was a lot easier to avoid watching horrors.

I never wanted to watch a war on television ever again. And for some years, it was easy to avoid.

However. The world rolls on, and there are no new ways for people to be bad: only new weapons, wider coverage, younger voices on the news. A different old city echoing with bomb blasts, a different decayed empire trying to rebirth itself from someone else’s ashes. No tracer bullets yet, but it’s all still in colour. The bomb smoke over Kharkiv is a delicate shade of peach against the eastern sky.

I’ve spent the winter huddled and hibernating. Time to start writing again. The world cannot be ignored forever, you know?

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Company News & Related Stuff

Kage Baker was always interested in peculiar appearances and disappearances. She read UFO reports with avid disbelief – there was never enough – or even halfway logical – proof for her, but the mystery was fun. She wondered what happened at the Library of Alexandria, of which some fabled but un-provenenced volumes have turned up at intervals since its destruction. She wondered about OOPARTS – the nails, live frogs, Energizer batteries, gold and silver jewelry and assorted tools that show up in ancient solid rocks.

Where did Frances Bacon get that metallic talking head? Who thought up the Antikythera Mechanism? Elizabeth I’s astrologer, Dr. John Dee, possessed a couple of crystals in which he foresaw the future – they were said to have been more-or-less acquired from thin air. Kage lusted after them, and really wanted to know what they were.

Where did Lazarus species go before they were found again? She collected all those articles about plants and animals discovered in hidden canyons and dubious woods, and speculated on the questions. Who would even care about the goblin shark or the New Guinea Big-eared Bat? And why? It was her casual collection of such that finally coalesced into The Company one morning over the breakfast table: she decided someone had to be responsible for all this activity.

It started with animals, but before long it was anything that had vanished and been found again: plants. Music. Manuscripts. People, even. Being Kage, there had to be a method and a motive for saving all of them – hence the for-profit ethos of the Company, and their ruthless recruitment methods.

Many readers, especially our friends, sent notes and URLs and article to Kage, excitedly pointing out the re-discovery of unique mammals and weird insects. Most of them still do, too. Thank you, all of you! I file every one in Kage’s archives, and I still hope to use them in something.

In the meanwhile, I continue look for these things myself. They are everywhere. And not just rescued objects, but things Kage speculated about appearing in the future. That’s something all science fiction writers look forward to happening – or dread, depending on what it is they are predicting. A lot of people, for instance, were unhappy when the USA started exploding actual nuclear devices, although writers had described the methods several places already. They’d have been more unhappy if it had set the atmosphere on fire – which was one of the disasters predicted – but, of course, it didn’t. It hasn’t proved to be good for anyone, but at least the atmosphere hasn’t burned yet. It’s apparently going to take climate change to do that.

In the merry meanwhile – there is water on Mars, just as Kage speculated. The heart of Mars is not cold, but still displays a faint, banked heat, ditto. Strange plagues are having their way with humankind; Kage would not have liked that, but she certainly would not be blaming Wuhan Province in China.Maybe it would be sort of comforting to suspect cyborg corporate evil of the deed.

On a lighter note, computers are now so small and versatile that they are can basically be regarded as the Bukes Kage wrote into her stories. And if you find itty tiny keyboards a pain to use, someone has now come up with a new kind of keyboard. Check out this link: https://tinyurl.com/wdpyph8fhttps://tinyurl.com/wdpyph8f It’s a button-ball, just like Alex uses!

People are cyborging themselves in various ways – especially to let themselves use the Internet more intimately. Or control prosthetics, whatever function you most desperately desire … Several manufacturers now make spectacles that will take photos, record sound and videos (Kestrel, Snap Inc.), play videos or television (Facebook, and the venerable Ray Ban). And of course Windows and Google are still out there available as recording glasses, if you want to risk the excitement of getting your lights punched out. Can ring-holos be far away?

Pandas have had a population explosion in 2021. Two dozen of the little buggers were born in sanctuaries last year, cocking black-masked snooks at extinction with their false thumbs. Monarch butterflies have inexplicably flocked to the California Central Coast in hundreds of thousands, when last year they were almost unseen in their usual haunts.Where the hell did they all come from? Why did they leave, and what brought them back?

In the last couple of decades: original scores by Holst were discovered in a New Zealand library – where he did not live. One by Rachmaninov was found in a mail bag. A second, different Vivaldi opera of “Orlando Furioso” was located; works by Brahms, Mozart and Bach have all been found in odd places, and authenticated. Master tapes from Bob Marley recording sessions were found in the water-logged basement of am abandoned London hotel. And 600 lost recordings from a BBC Radio show of Alistair Cooke’s were found in, of all things, a muck-spreader in a diary farm shed in Warwickshire.

This kind of stuff happens all the time.

Even the poster-child of extinct birds, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, although it has been officially declared extinct by the US government, is suspected of being alive and well – in Cuba. Which is almost as inaccessible as a muck-spreader in Warwickshire, I guess.

All these speculations – and there are gazillions more, in Kage’s notes and my aging head – may one day soon matter. For one thing, I persist in trying to sell something new; and while my health has been damnably bad this last year, I am getting better. I haven’t even caught Covid!

And there is a very good chance that AMC is going to commit to making a series of The Company stories. Nothing is signed yet, but the almost-deal is looking good. They may even want me as a consultant. There is no guarantee, of course, that AMC will not make a pig’s eat out of the series (Television does that a lot. Usually, even) but Kage’s name would be OUT THERE. And all her stories would still be safe and sound on our shelves, Dear Readers, in printed versions that cannot be diluted, smudged, disregarded or violated.

Kage always called this the Gypsy Horse Traders’ method of publication.

Cross your fingers, Dear Readers, and hope the horse is sold … and comes trotting back to its home stable in a night or two. That’s the way to sell something.

Dee’s Crystal
Dee’s Claude Glass
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January Gets Colder

Kage Baker loathed modern politics.

She was fond of several old monarchies (mostly Tudor and Windsor), and could recite king lists in half a dozen European and Middle eastern dynasties. (Don’t sneer; most Americans cannot list more than half a dozen Presidents in sequence by date.) Her emotional needs were just more satisfied by kings, queens and that sort. Elected officials struck her as – well, common.

When you consider the American Chief Executives, they have rarely been actual aristocrats; at least, not since the earliest days. Most of them have been rich – it takes an obscene amount of money to aspire to high office in this country. However, despite the pedigrees of Washington and Jefferson, Adams was a poor lawyer. Lincoln was only a little less poor. Even JFK, although a native American aristo and rolling in money, was not well know to the general public: not like a prince. And note, no Rockefeller or Rothschild has ever made it.

Americans are just as royalty-crazy as anyone else, but they prefer to bestow the accolade on their heroes personally. Kage was sure that was why there have been war heroes and actors galore elected as President. We call the dazzling lure “celebrity” here in the USA, but it amounts very nearly to the same thing. And Kage did not quite approve.

“At least,” she was wont to grumble, “in Britain, they breed bureaucrats on purpose. They have manners, and training, and stuff.”

But democracy was the way here in America, and Kage did her best to navigate her way through all the lies, bullshit and idiocy. She voted in every election in which she had standing, and did her research on the candidates and measures. She did not, however, graft her eyes and ears to the television reportage. She couldn’t stomach the debates and the posturing. She rarely even read the newspapers, relying instead on me ( her personal file clipper) and the info from the Voter’s Information from the California Secretary of State’s office.

I, on the other hand, am a low-level news junky. As I have gotten older, my attention to media coverage of political affairs has gotten more and more deliberate. At this point, I subscribe to 3 newspapers (LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post), watch the news most nights, and am unabashedly addicted to Rachel Maddow. I’ve not yet sunk to the depths of “Meet the Press” or “Deadline: White House”, but I fear it is only a matter of time. I already watch Chris Hayes most of the time …

This last year I have watched and read more than ever. The reasons should be fairly obvious. I was personally, viscerally horrified by January 6, 2021. I’ve watched in growing terror and disbelief over the last year, as those responsible – especially Donald Trump, the Prime Mover of Sedition – have doubled down and doubled down yet again in their insistent attack on democracy. It just keeps getting worse and worse.

Tomorrow, of course, is the one year mark since that ghastly morning at the Federal Capitol. I know there are people all over the country preparing to stand against a second attempt, but is it enough? Is it in the right place? Is it, God save us, already too late?

I don’t know, Dear Readers. And while I realize that, statistically, some of you must be on the other side of this issue than am I – I honestly don’t care very much. What I saw a year ago was American participation in a kind of politics I never thought to see in this country. I am disinclined to shrug it off, or accept it as free speech. It horrified and repulsed me. I’m afraid tonight. I’ll be afraid tomorrow, too, as I scan the news in hopes that no such another riot will rise to stain our history.

Sleep well tonight, Dear Readers. but not too heavily. I think I will never sleep well again, as long as this is not pursued, as long as those responsible go unpunished for their treason. Or maybe I will. Who knows? I am old and tired.

I don’t think so, though.

Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

Sir John Harington, Epigrams, Book iv, Epistle 5.

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January … 4th?

Kage Baker was a little leery of the first few days of any new year. She didn’t like to leap in with both feet and no caution; she felt the entire enormous span of the next year should be approached delicately. Even suspiciously.

When she learned of the Mayans’ tendency to assign a certain number of days at the turning of the year as a dead zone – to avoid activity and new enterprises while the annual clock got its act together for another ratchet – she felt that was really the most careful thing to do. Who knows what could happen? Maybe cosmic dragons would decide to come eat the Moon. Maybe the dark eye of the galactic center – where we now know the black hole Sagittarius A lurks, eating light and roughly midwifing stars – would open full and stare into our collective soul.

Maybe the Big One would hit. For Angelinos who lived through the quakes of 1971 and/or 1994, the mountains dancing are never far from our minds.

Anyway,she liked to take it quietly. For decades, of course, we had to return to school or work shortly after the New Year; Kage kept things low-key by returning in body only, wandering through the first week or so in a stated of somnambulism. When she retired to write full time, it was of course much easier – she just curled up in her armchair with her Christmas stocking full of sweeties, and watched movies.

I’ve got to admit, since I too retired and moved back to Los Angeles, I much prefer Kage’s way. Now is absolutely the time to eat leftover prime rib and ham; to munch steadily through the seasonal sweeties, and read your Christmas Book, and nap in the short, silver afternoons. It helps, of course, that this is the time of year when Los Angeles gets its coldest weather – it hits near to 32 at night and seldom gets above 55 in the day. There is frost on the lawn, on the cars, on the lights still hanging. One wakes up under cats, which is extremely warm and fuzzy, and spends the day wrapped in lap robes. I do, anyway.

I used to be fairly immune to cold weather – and yeah, I realize our dry California cold hardly compares to what the rest of you have to endure, but this is as cold as we get here in the Basin, and it’s bad. Kage literally spent her days in her sleeping bag, with lap robes and shawls layered on top, and a hoodie sweatshirt over her shirt. Harry slept in the hood, nestled in her hair.

Due to my habitual indolence at this time of year, I haven’t got a lot to say right now. I will observe that today is the birthday of such gently opposed people as James Ussher and Isaac Newton, Jacob Grimm and Max Eastman, Admiral George Tryon and Col. Tom Thumb, and a really unnecessary number of football and rugby players. Tomorrow is 12th Night, and we will change out the lights and green boughs in the house.

And in 2 days it will be a year since assorted goons, minions, fanatics and anarchists tried to overthrow the American government. I think I will try to snatch a little more peace and quiet before then, just in case things go all wahooni-shaped. Again. It’s nerve-wracking, wondering what will happen and what the rest of us will have to do about it …

In the meantime, please forgive my winter indolence. Stay warm, stay safe, stay careful.

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Christmas Day 2021

Kage Baker wasn’t always a successful writer. She wasn’t always the Well-known Name who could forget a $2,000 check on the dining room table for two months – which she actually did on a couple of occasions.

On the one hand, this was good. It kept her modest, she averred (wistfully before the money started coming in, smugly afterwards) and it kept her spending habits careful. However, her natural inclination was to spend her money free, and when her money it was all gone (to paraphrase a sea chantey), she would boldly go back to sea.*

On the other hand, that really was her natural inclination. When she upgraded from a weekly paycheck drone in the pink collar ghetto to a Real Writer with only 2 or 3 – but huge – paydays a year, she went kind of nuts for awhile. She didn’t really buy anything actually silly, except maybe a surfeit of Chinese food and a lot of British Naval memorabilia; but she had never really gotten the hang of what the balance of money in the checking account actually meant …

This was solved comfortably when Kage just tossed all our finances to me. She kept a list of things she wanted – books, music, collectibles, furniture – and every couple of weeks she’d simply inquire how much she could spend on them. I’d tell her, and she would stick to the budget I set. I paid the bills and the rent and got groceries with my weekly paycheck – Kage got to make extravagant purchases without going totally feral, and enlivened our pantry no end with adventurous comestibles. We’d both grown up poor; sticking to a budget was easy enough, once we figured out which one of us was better at it.

But she was adamant that holidays should be celebrated with as much pomp and conspicuous consumption as possible. They had to be special. We learned how to take disasters in stride, and to improvise feasts out of anything. She was an artist at improvising feasts – not just what was to be eaten and drunk, but the way they were consumed. Kage could give two peanut butter sandwiches and a can of off-market cola a sense of occasion. One of the things she introduced into our routines was Universal Toasting – whatever we had, we’d clink bits together in a toast to our great good fortune. We clinked champagne glasses and breaded oysters; halved day-old doughnuts; prime rib on decorous forks and charred bangers in greasy fingers. It always seemed to work. I recommend it.

Yestreday, we had our traditional holiday plumbing catastrophe when the dish washer refused to drain. At least, it refused to drain down the drain, although it was enthusiastic about draining out the front and out over the kitchen floor. Michael, who is exceptionally handy, set to on the ask of repairing it … but one problem led to another, and another and another … until he found that the back wall of the washer had been gnawed open, the drain pipe chewed freaking off, all the wires he could see chewed in half, and the front of the machine was stuffed full of dried grass, presumably imported by whatever had done all the chewing and gnawing. How it had been working at all was a deep mystery, and Michael considered we were lucky not to have burned the house down. The entire thing was declared dead until we can get a plumber in.

Then, this afternoon, Kimberly and Michael began the happy tasks attendant upon Christmas Day dinner. They were bustling about in the kitchen, when suddenly a silence fell. Michael came striding solemnly into the living room with the prime rib in his hands. He offered it to me and asked what I thought of it. I took a sniff and it was appallingly clear that our Christmas roast had turned to the Dark Side. Despite being purchased only 2 days before, with its sell-by date two days in the future, it freaking reeked.

No prime rib for us. Kimberly and Michael dashed out to the store to find any sort of roast as all. No luck, our part of Los Angeles was suddenly beef-free. They came home, and we sat for a little bit staring all disconsolate at one another. Then I got to work on my computer, searching local restaurants. Against all odds and popular legends, none of our local Chinese restaurants was open. We ended up ordering from Domino’s. Better a crust of pizza where love is, you know, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. Proverbs 15:17 KJV: We were content.

An hour later, the phone at Domino’s was a recording stating they were closed, and the online site showed our order had been in preparation for an hour and 9 minutes. No cheesy bread for us … there was a bit more screaming this time, mostly from me; but then Kimberly suggested Jack In The Box! Our family’s favourite junk food emporium! (Except for when 7-11 has those weird hot dog shaped hamburgers.) We quickly worked out an appalling and delicious order, and Kimberly and I made our halting way down the driveway and to our car.

AND JUST THEN … the Domino’s car with the blazing icon on its roof came rushing up to our house and screeched to a halt. A very flustered young man came running up with a pile of boxes, pushed them into Kimberly’s arms, begged her to call tomorrow and yell at his absent boss about the stupid automatic system that closed down the phones and locked customers out of the order system, and then vanished into the night like – I don’t know, an overworked elf.

I said it was a Christmas miracle. Michael said it was the craziest Christmas Night ever. Kimberly sensibly sent the food indoors with Michael and helped me back in while making sure I did not fall off the porch and down into the wet leaves in the flower bed.

So now we are sitting here, happy together in the warmth, comfortable eating pizza and pasta in Alfredo sauce. We are watching The Hogfather, laughing immoderately. The cats are stoned on socks full of catnip, and are another fine show on the floor. We have sweeties galore, the lights are lit, the fire is warm and it’s Christmas! We’re together and it’s Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of you, or a Happy Hogswatch, or whatever celebration of eternal light you favour.

We’re together. And it’s Christmas.

*Adieu, Sweet Darling Nancy

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Christmas Eve, 2021

Kage Baker loved Christmas Eve. All the last minute fooferah and deco, the stockings, the last presents trotted out to tantalize for a few hours … as often as possible, a fire lit and candles everywhere; no electricity, except what was necessary to light the tree.

Due to the exigencies of still having two separate households to visit on Christmas Day, we always had our formal holiday dinner on Christmas eve. So the household was also replete with the perfumes of roasting beef, baking Yorkshire pudding, boiling plum pudding – which were then digested in happy comas until midnight, when we would exchange presents. We’d ooh and ahh and giggle over whatever we’d bought one another, and then stagger off to bed for a few hours sleep before it was time to go wake up our sisters’ households.

There are few things I love more about Christmas than the memories of lounging around before our living room fire, nibbling plum pudding in the blinking coloured light from the Christmas tree. Or getting up at 3AM, in order to drive through the paling night so we could get to our families’ houses by dawn – the idea being, the crazy aunties would wake up the kids still abed, the little sluggards, and ring chaos in with the holiday morning.

I still can’t sleep late on Christmas morning. These days, though, I wake up, register that The Day has indeed come, pray my thanks and roll over and go back to sleep for a few hours. All the holiday lights will still be blinking softly, their tiny chimes sounding in the silent house, because we leave them on all night on Christmas Eve – you must leave lights burning, you see, so the sun knows to come back. Otherwise, all you get on Christmas Day is a big ball of burning gas in the sky, when what you need is the newborn spirit of Light spilling over the curve of the world …

It’s been a rough year and a rotten day here at my house. Better than last year, by a very great deal – but still hard, and most of that unexpected. We have avoided the plagues rampaging all around. But no one feels well anyway; my continuing slow return to good health has been slowed to a crawl the last few weeks and I am afraid my present-wrapping will be sparse indeed. My family must be content with the fact that we have presents at all – and they are, and we all will be, because everyone is exhausted and ill and so we are taking considerable comfort in what we have that so many other people do not.

It can be hard some years to avoid the black tide of depression at Christmas. But it’s gotten no higher than my knees this year, and I know I can keep my head above the waters until daylight now.

We have a warm house and we are all together, Kimberly, Michael and I. No-one can find the stockings, but we have sweeties to put in whatever surrogates Kimberly comes up with to use. There is a prime rib in the refrigerator, a new splendid pan for Yorkshire pudding, all manner of trimmings and garnishes for the feast; there will be pie. We are damned lucky and we know it. We may be worn out and on our last nerves, but we are at home together.

I wish you all a warm Christmas Day with someone you really love, Dear Readers; maybe something nice to eat, or at least a candy cane or two. May you only get socks if you want them. May the Light of the new day fill your hearts and homes.

Happy Christmas!

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Christmas Eve Eve

Kage Baker was not a fluffy sort of person. She was a romantic, in a stern way, and a traditionalist; but the addition of ribbons and bells and cute animals to a holiday never delighted her much. Unless it was a holiday about ribbons and bells and cute animals – which usually restricted the field to the Blessing of the Animals. and Easter for the very young. Then, it was alright. For other people.

But not so much for Kage. The closest she ever got to warm fuzzies was a spastic wind-up bunny with inexplicable red eyes, whom she named General Woundwort.*She loved him dearly.

But her preference for dignity over cuteness was why she despised my habit of referring to Christmas Eve Eve. She thought I was indulging in sticky fairy tale cutity. What I was really doing was stretching out the holiday anticipation by an extra day.Which is my story, and I’m sticking to it … plus, I always start losing track of the days when we get this deep into December. I spent all this morning, for instance, thinking it was December 24th, and having pointless panic attacks every time I remembered I hadn’t wrapped any presents yet.

My family has been very patient about correcting me each time I frantically start up, asking if we have enough paper, or creamed spinach, or time to bake the fruitcake. How long will the prime rib need to roast? We need to reset the outside lights timer so they burn all night long! Where are our stockings?

I’ve had worse Christmas Eves, though.

Kage’s last Christmas Eve Eve, she developed a ghastly headache. By Christmas Eve, she was nearly blind from the pain; then I got a bellyache, and started throwing up uncontrollably. We ended up on the bathroom floor, planning how on earth we were going to get to the phone to dial 911 – which we obviously needed. We crawled into the living room like two drunken crabs, leaning on one another and giggling madly.

Several hours, one MRI and a slew of lab tests later, our giggling stopped. I turned out to just have some monster gastroenteritis. Kage, though … her cancer had returned as a brain tumour, and she needed surgery ASAP. Though even that was not expected to help much. We sat there in the ER, staring at one another. Kage said, “Happy fucking Christmas, huh?”

And then we started laughing hysterically again.

But I am comfortable enough with all this now to wish all of you, Dear Readers, a Merry Christmas Eve Eve. Doubtless, many of you are also occasionally confused by the rush to the holiday, and now you have a greeting for that day when you can’t find your stocking stuffers because you put them in a safe place a month ago. Or remember exactly what the heck Auntie Lisle put in her dressing, or which cousin cannot abide nuts in fudge, or how to shut up your brother-in-law before he triggers anyone else at the dinner table with screwball politics.

Christmas Day, for all the rush and the deadlines, and the madness of feeding festive foods to 27 people in a house with 18 chairs – is nonetheless inevitable: we’ve made the it to The Day, and it will all unfold automatically. It may be insane, but it’s self-propelled. But Christmas Eve is fraught with anxieties and last-minute hysteria. So Christmas Eve Eve deserves a special salutation and attention, because it gives us that extra day to accomplish, complete – and yes, lose our minds just a little more.

Kage and I always ended up laughing hysterically at some point while getting ready, even in years where nothing went famously wrong, like a brain tumour (or the toilet bowl being shattered by a falling conch shell: a different tale altogether.) And Kimberly and I traditionally have laughing fits while trying to coordinate everything that has to somehow be ushered in and out of a single oven. Ah, demented laughter in the oxygen-and-sugar rich air of a hot kitchen! There’s nothing like it. Insanity can be fun, when shared with the proper people.

Tomorrow, things get real. Merry Christmas Eve Eve, Dear Readers.

  • the rabbit villain from Watership Down.

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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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