Friday, January 20, 2017

7 Quick Takes 48: The Second Amazon Gift Card Edition



1. Yes, yes,  I know you've got plans to read lofty books this year. You're currently in a bidding war on ebay with an Orthodox seminarian for the complete works of St. Augustine in Latin. You're just hoping it's Pig Latin. But Lent doesn't begin until March, so it's time for my second annual January round-up of books you can buy with your Amazon gift card, which just happen to be written by talented friends of mine who still let me hang out in their online critique group, even though I haven't attempted a novel for two years. All are easy reading - but after all that work keeping the family happy over Christmas, you deserve it.

Sexual content. Ho hum. One person's mild curry is another person's too spicy. So, I'm giving my personal opinion. If it helps, I'm bored by sex scenes that are only there because hey, it's time for a sex scene. On the other hand, I don't mind more graphic sex or violence if justified by the context. I guess that didn't help, but it's my disclaimer.

2. A Savage Exile: Vampires with Napoleon on Saint Helena by Diane Scott Parkinson
"Napoleon and vampires?  I really shouldn't, but it sounds so tempting..." Yes, I can hear you thinking ;)  Diane has written a couple of parodies, and I think her lighthearted side shows through in the paranormal part of the novel. This is scary light, a story to enjoy, not keep you awake at night. Or, you could read it for the sensitive and poignant portrait of Napoleon's small court in exile on Saint Helena. Sexual content: mild to medium. It has sex outside marriage, but does that count with an abhuman? Maybe Saint Augustine has something to say about that, because he has something to say about almost everything. So you know you'll find the answer during Lent. Which is your excuse to go ahead and read this first.

3. The Scandalous Lady Mercy by Maggi Anderson
I've said this before, but it was maybe a year ago, so I'll say it again: I don't read any mainstream romance except for Maggi's books. The sexual content in general is mild to medium, usually after marriage, and most also have an element of thriller or mystery as a subplot. This is the fifth and final installment in the Baxendale Sisters novellas, and they feel like old friends to me by now. Lady Mercy is in her first Season, and her parents expect her to make a good marriage, but she wants the right man, not the richest. However, an accidental scandal means she must get engaged to the distant Viscount Northcliffe. Can she escape a wedding, or should she try to find love in a marriage of convenience? A short, put-your-feet-up-with-a-cup-of-tea-and-indulge-yourself read.

4. Tuesday's Child by Rosemary Morris
I've probably also said this before, but I admire Rosemary. She spent decades trying to break into publishing, and was about to throw in the towel when her novels were picked up. Now she has a career as a novelist in her 'retirement'. Inspiration never to give up. Her books would be classed as "sweet romance", with the bedroom door always firmly closed. I think this Days of the Week series has grown stronger book by book. Tuesday's child is Harriet Stanton, a penniless young widow with a son, who has been reluctantly taken in by her father-in-law, the Earl of Pennington. However, the old man soon has plans to take control of her son's upbringing. In her fight to save her son, she discovers an ally in the Reverend Dominic Markham, but soon realises she is also battling her loyalty to her dead husband as her feelings for Dominic grow.

5. Flora's Secret by Anita Davison
"Deja vu all over again" as my husband says. I reviewed this novel under its original title of Murder on the Minneapolis. At the time, I mentioned that the publishing company had been sold to a firm that didn't have a big fiction list. Thankfully, this series got a deserved reprieve with another publisher. I mean, who doesn't want to read about a couple named Flora and Bunny? I'm running out of time writing this, and so I'm cheating with a cut and paste of my original review:

Governess Flora MacGuire boards the SS Minneapolis with her young charge, Viscount Trent (Eddie), bound for England. Soon, she finds a body on deck. Despite the evidence she has seen otherwise, the incident is declared an accident. But another murder soon follows. Are Flora and Eddie in danger because of her involvement? And what of the budding shipboard romance between Flora and the upper class Bunny Harrington: surely the class divide will be too strong once they reach the shores of England?
This is a deftly written, classic, cosy whodunnit, with a large net of characters hiding secrets and probable motives, unexpected twists, plus a charming romance.


6. Erasmus T. Muddiman: A Tale of Publick Disptemper by Katherine Pym
In full disclosure, I've read part of this novel in the drafting stage, but not yet the final printed copy. However, from what I saw, Katherine employs her usual skills with dialect and detail to thrust you into the heart of seventeenth century London. This is part of a series set in the 1660s, leading up to the Great Fire of 1666, and the spectre of the flames hovers through the books. In this novel, we are up to 1665, seeing the city and war through the eyes of eleven-year-old Erasmus as plague and pressgangs close in to threaten the survival of his family and those around him. Although the protagonist is a young adult, it makes an enjoyable adult read, too.

7. Lastly, since I try to be honest in my book reviews, I want to mention that several of these (Tuesday's Child, Savage Exile, Erasmus) are published by Books We Love, a mainly e-publisher which takes on only previously published authors. The plus side to this is that they have a lot of very talented writers on their books who, in the great publishing lottery of life, weren't picked up by larger publishers, or whose relationship with a bigger publishing house has ended. The minus is that the covers aren't always the best, and the number of typos can be irritating (to be fair, errors for ebooks are slightly higher in general, and usually quickly spotted and corrected). So please don't judge their books by either :)

 Lastly lastly, Amazon keeps changing its review policy, which is pretty hard on self-published authors, or those who hover at or below mid-list. Currently, books get on a "recommended reads" list with twelve or more reviews. So, if you like a book you read, please help the author with a quick review. I usually just pen a few lines - no need for a paraphrase of the plot - but it can make a big difference.

On your way to Amazon, don't forget to check in with Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum for more quick takes

Friday, January 6, 2017

7 Quick Takes 47: The Twelve Steps of Christmas

1. What do "Britain's stingiest woman" and an atheist 70s vintage junkie have in common with many writers in the C/catholic blogosphere? Answer: They've all been discussing cutting back on - or ignoring - Christmas altogether. Maybe it's just that I veer towards nonconformists, but it seems to me that more and more people are not just moaning about the commercialization of the season, but actually taking action about it.

My name is Susan, and I'm a recovering Christmasaholic.

2. Life in thrall to Christmas was tough. Beginning in November, I would hand write letters to add to dozens of cards. I made my husband risk life and limb - and use up his swearing quota for the year - cutting down and setting up the perfect tree. I hoarded Christmas paraphernalia, fearing the Yuletide equivalent of the zombie apocalypse. I proclaimed such a fervent belief in Father Christmas that my (post belief) daughters had to sit me down and explain how I traumatized them. I even once constructed a 10-foot swag of magnolia leaves, sprayed gold and pieced together one by one.

How did my reformation happen? Not my girls' intervention; I still believe in Father Christmas. No funny or momentous revelation, either. Just being overwhelmed, gradually coming to my senses - oh, and still being swept up on the tide of KonMari fervour :)

3. The slow demise of the Christmas card is a topic that really got me thinking. We used to cover three surfaces with all the cards we received. In the past couple of years, that's gone down to one. Probably most some of those people have struck us from their list, but many more are choosing to post a photo of their kids/dog/python under the tree on Facebook, wishing everyone Merry Christmas, and being done with it.

And I'm getting there. I've gradually scaled down from those letters to hand written notes in cards, plain cards, then photo cards with printed names, and this year's 7QT Christmas letter. My husband is trying to persuade me to give up sending cards altogether, but that's easy for him to say because he hasn't personally sent one in twenty years.

4. I didn't even put up all the decorations this year. We had a Saturnalia party for my daughter on the 17th, and festooned the entrance way with a banner and roman columns - and I just liked it too much to take it down straight away. After all, Saturnalia goes on for nine days, and I wouldn't want to offend Saturn. And when I finally did, I couldn't be bothered to mess with climbing on a ladder clutching handfuls of drawing pins (thumb tacks) to put up my Victorian Christmas friezes.

"What's wrong? I only had to knock over two ornaments to sit here."

5. This year, I'm also finishing the purge of my nutcracker ornaments. I had several, mostly gifts, that I dutifully displayed or hung on the tree because they're a Christmas icon, but the truth is I find them creepy. So they've gone off to the thrift store to give someone else nightmares.

Don't close your eyes...

6. The tree. We used to have a Christmas tree farm within walking distance of our house, and the girls and I enjoyed choosing and tagging a tree after Thanksgiving, then going back at the last possible moment to cut it (but not my husband - see above). Then the farm closed, and the nearest is thirty miles away and erratic in its opening times. In a zero waste fit, we started cutting down trees in our yard, which weren't always the prettiest, but the price was right. My brother tagged them "frankentrees". But after a sustained drought this year, we weren't even going to get to frankentree standard. Then a friend told us that the local DIY store were selling half price trees. I'd never bothered to try bargain hunting. From what I remembered, if you touched one of those trees with your little finger, all the needles would drop off. But genetic engineering has come a long way - those needles don't budge, even when the tree is dry as tinder. I ended up with a seven-foot Douglas fir for $20. Granted, it was rejected by everyone else in town, but after years of 'natural' trees, it looked top notch to us, and anyway, I'm an expert at hanging ornaments to fill and disguise gaps.

7. A recovering or frugal Christmas isn't complete without making do. I had a couple of fake taxidermy crows (half price, of course) that I'd got from a craft store for Halloween. I couldn't bear to banish them for Christmas, so I put some dollar store tinsel around their necks and hey-ho, Christmas crows (that was the thirteenth day of Christmas, of course). And one of them looks pretty good on the second tree. Yes, I said second. I have a tabletop tree to display my special ornaments, because I'm recovering, not recovered.




For more quick takes, fa-la-la-la-la over to Kelly's link up at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, December 23, 2016

7 Quick Takes 46: An Open Christmas Letter



1.Welcome to the curious (or bored?!) friends and family who followed my invite here! Quick and obvious explanation: Seven Quick Takes is a Friday blog link-up (where bloggers, ahem, link up) with, amazingly, seven quick mini posts on whatever. And it's all steered by the capable helmswoman Kelly Mantoa at This Ain't the Lyceum.
So why have I brought you here, apart from an ill-disguised plan to up my visitor numbers and avoid handwriting Christmas notes? Well, this is how I've been reflecting on my life, life around me, or the random things that pop up in my head for the past couple of years. However, being a dedicated introvert, I manage never to actually talk about me or my family in plain detail. So it struck me that it wasn't an entirely hokey idea to use the blog to share news with family and friends, and to pull back the curtain (just an inch or two) for those who check in on my random musings  - and even sometimes post a comment.

I also, by the way, turn the introduction into post number one when pressed for ideas :)  So onto #2 and an actual round up of our year.

2. Alcuin has graduated from baby to toddler - he's nineteen months old. I love the toddler years so much more than the infant stage. I love the dialect each child develops. I love the mobility. He basically lives outside, which keeps him happy but the house not very tidy. He is obsessed with foxes and the moon. Of course, he's emperor of the household. Beatrice recently pointed out his close resemblance to Napoleon: short, not much hair, pink, plump, prone to digestive upsets, thinks he should rule the world. But he doesn't have a Corsican accent. In fact, curiously, despite being brought up in Mississippi by an English mother and Texan father, he seems to be spontaneously developing a Welsh lilt.

I wonder why "doo" was one of his first words?

3. Beatrice, Beatrice, Beatrice. T.E.E.N.A.G.E.R. Or is that spelled S.N.A.R.K.Y. ? Smart, sharp, all-around favourite big sister. Currently wants to be a paleontologist. Plays oboe and violin, and sings soprano in a concert choir. She was also part of the brains behind the marketing and writing teams for her Robotics club, which made the regional semi-finals in the annual BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology) competition. In her spare time, she earned a gold medal on the National Latin Exam, and published fan fiction. Now I've put that into writing, it makes me wonder why she gives me the impression she hangs out in her room all day, wasting time. She's within a hair's breadth of being my height (which is five feet one and a half, if you want to know), so spends a lot of time hanging on my shoulders, trying to crush me a little shorter.
Update: In the two weeks since I drafted this, she has overtaken me. I'm now second shortest in the family, which isn't saying a lot since my competition is under three feet tall.

Trying to pretend she's also taller than her sister.

4. We only have one teenager now that Magdalen has reached the ripe old age of twenty (which makes us even riper and older). She has basically moved to Boston. She's only been back to Mississippi a few weeks this year, and met us in England over the summer. Having a child of legal drinking age was fun. We started a game of taking as many photos of her in a pub with her baby brother as possible. MIT seems a wonderful fit for her. If Alcuin is running with chickens, she is running with nerds. Plus, I get to go to Boston once a year to visit the city my daughter :) She began the year down on the Texan border aiding a Teach For America teacher, and spent the summer working on a research project for an MIT Math(s) Professor. She has moved into a women's cooperative dorm, where she gets to indulge her love of organization and cooking, as well as find out what shovelling snow is really like, because it's just a wee bit colder than Mississippi up there.

Fuelling up for a clifftop hike on a drizzly summer afternoon.

5. As for Ted, if it's Thursday, it must be Novosibirsk. Ted (a mathematician for those who don't know) has been zipping about this year. He's been to Slovenia (as usual), Italy (usually as usual since it's on the border with Slovenia), Croatia (ditto), Hungary (ditto), the UK of course, Siberia... I'm getting jetlag just thinking about it. He just got back from three weeks in the smog of Beijing, where he perfected his skills in haggling over everything, from the taxi ride from the airport onwards. He's probably looking forward to going nowhere over Christmas.

No prizes for guessing why I chose this photo.

6. What, me? I think I'll be writing a book entitled "My Year of Doing Nothing", which has been a lot more fun and time-consuming than it sounds. I'm taking a sabbatical from the workforce - with the arrival of Alcuin, we found ourselves pretty blindsided, and sanity had to prevail. I've been blogging, taking stock of my life, sending out birthday cards on time for once, making foundational plans for a home-based business (aka thinking), and generally chasing a toddler in and out of puddles. And actually reading books I don't have to teach. And sometimes blogging about those, too.

We don't take photos of us. This is the best of 2016 :)

7. Finally, as this is seven quick takes, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Cool Yule, Io Saturnalia, Serene Solstice, Seasons Greetings, Jolly Crimble, and (from my inner chinchilla) a Hap-py New Yeaaaar.




Friday, December 9, 2016

7 Quick Takes 45: Geriatric Mother 1.5

Seven takes that end up surprisingly - and unintentionally - not that snarky.

Alcuin hit eighteen months recently. Well, actually, what he hits is his sister, the rooster (who deserves it) or anything else within range of a stick. That means it's been more than two years since my life turned upside down - and I've hit a lot of milestones along with him.

1. Maybe my "mummy brain" is worse than young mothers'. I'm not sure. One thing that did dawn on me lately is that, when pregnant, I'd declared to my elder daughter that I was going to call myself a "Vintage Mother". Only apparently, I forgot and started this blog series as "Geriatric Mother". Vintage is so much more hip. Can we all pretend we have memory lapses and let this series be rechristened?

This is us all the time, except we have cats.
                                     

2. Yes, the first year was pretty bad in parts. Actually, at times, I didn't think I could go on. But I have a husband with a better memory for facts, who reminded me that the infant months are always the toughest for me. Some people love that time when the baby is helpless; I'm always relieved when he can actually roam around and tell me what he wants. I think I'm a pretty good toddler mother right now.

3. My reflexes may be slower and my eyesight worse, but after twenty years, I've seen most of the tricks, so I can anticipate trouble and accidents and (mostly) still stop them in time.

A flock of hungry chickens and a toddler. What could go wrong here?

4. But yes, I'm still dog tired. He still doesn't sleep through the night, and isn't night weaned, though his sisters were by now. Part of that is moral weakness, part the above-mentioned tiredness. Then again, my thirteen year-old was leafing through her baby book the other day and remarked: "You didn't fill in the place for when I first slept through the night." A pause. "Actually, I don't think I've ever slept through the night." I rest a genetic case here.

5. And my back still aches, even though I'm being more religious about stretching. However, at least some of that is due to said teen, who is a hair's breadth from being the same height as me and likes to try to hang onto me and compress my spine. At least Alcuin groans in sympathy with me in the mornings.

6. It's struck me that I'm half way between being a mother and a grandmother - in age and attitude. I have a ton more patience (for a very impatient person, anyway), I'm happier(ish) to let tasks go by the wayside in order to spend time with the baby, and I don't feel like I'm missing out on my career. Even though I don't always believe myself when I say it, I know that everything I have a hankering to do  - work, another visit to Rome, yoga classes - will still be there when Alcuin is older.

7. Many things never change in a house with a toddler. Stuffed animals still breed. Annoying little plastic 'toys' still appear by spontaneous generation. And lisping toddler dialects are still soooo sweet.

Sometimes I wonder how I managed to produce something this cute at my age :)


Wow, so you'll have to go somewhere else for a hefty dose of sarcasm this week, Try Kelly's link up at This Ain't the Lyceum.






Friday, November 25, 2016

7 Quick Takes 44: Murder Most Fowl

... and rodent, and insect. In fact, it's pretty much like Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot have taken up residence around here.

1. I lamented our new rodent lodger (courtesy of the cats) in the previous Seven Quick Takes. Just two mornings later, I opened the bedroom door to find the offending brown and white mouse stretched out, untouched, on the threshold, as if the cats were saying, "OK, enough of the internet shaming. Here's the fracking mouse." Praise and cat treats abounded...
Then, a couple of days later, I heard a yell in the kitchen as my husband jumped up to stop the mouse dragging lunch off the counter. Bob the Mouse was alive and well. I can only presume the body was a counterfeit the cats caught and left out to stall the complaints and threats to reduce their rations by a mouse's worth a day until he was dispatched. Or there's a colony of mice living in the walls. I don't want to think about that.

2. Bad housekeeping that lies firmly at my door, on the other hand, is our resident dead fly. It was perched on our larder door for a while. I thought it was just hanging out... and hanging out... and hanging out. Eventually it dawned on me it must be deceased, but since removing it required more than bare fingers, it stayed there. Then my daughter pointed out its backside had fallen off. Eventually, I decided to take a photo. And still left it there for another couple of days. But now it's gone. Unlike the mouse.

Still life with dead fly.


3. Sweet death: I could (and might) write a whole 7QT on our ant wars of the past several months, but here's a taster. The long months of drought here have meant that desperate ants are invading homes in the area, especially those tiny larder ants with a taste for sugar. After weeks of putting everything into ant-proof jars and caulking every crack in the kitchen we could find, I thought we'd almost beaten them back, but yesterday, I put a jar of honey back in the cupboard without realising the seal wasn't on correctly - today, it was swarming with ants bent on a viscous death. What to do? I strained it out and rebottled it, ant free. Waste not want not, and honey is anti bacterial :)

4. A positive commercial break:  Alcuin is going through another stage when he's adding to his vocabulary every day. The only thing is, he isn't too fond of beginning vowels. He'll help make the fire with "ick"s and "ogs", for example. This wouldn't be noteworthy, except that we have (d)ucks. I look forward (not) to explaining that at library story time.

5. Back to death: My husband wasn't even out of US air space when disaster struck. For the first time ever, a hawk got one of our chickens. Of course, it was one of my favourites, our only silkie hen, Mrs Dick Turpin. Alcuin and I entered the chicken yard to find all very quiet. At first, we thought the chickens were huddling under the coop to escape the cold weather. Then I got that feeling something was wrong. As we began an inspection of the perimeter, a hawk burst out of the bushes.  Of course, I knew what I'd find. Alcuin was pretty excited about it all - he's not been able to stop talking about the "awk".

6. Once again, she proved the truth that chickens never seem that big until you have to dig a grave for them. Especially when there's been a drought for months and the clay soil is more like granite. At least the sore hands and aching back distracted me from my grief.
The ducks, by the way, were quacking happily on their little pond the whole time. I guess they were saying something like, "Nah, nah, you're not an osprey. You can't catch us."

It was Thursday night, and I'd run out of photo ideas.

7. Out on our morning walk this past weekend, I spotted a shoe in the ditch - and then its partner close by. A nifty pair of Vans Off the Wall low-top converse (whew, that's a mouthful). And they looked to be exactly my size. Now, if this was the UK, I'd leave them on the nearest wall so that the barefoot loser could retrace her steps and rescue them. But here, with no pavement, or houses nearby, they could only have been tossed from a moving car, and there's no way of getting them back to their owner. So I took them home,washed them, and - they fit perfectly. And retail for $50 on the manufacturer's website. I feel ninety-eight percent triumphant, and, given how things are going around here, two percent worried they are the vital clue in a murder case.

Hope your Thanksgiving involved nothing deader than a turkey. For more Seven Quick Takes, hop on over to Kelly's at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, November 11, 2016

7 Quick Takes 43: Nah, No Wrigrets More

Where what started out as a structured idea morphed into a stream of consciousness post.



1. It's November - we all know that's NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. At least, over half the people on my FB feed do. And there's something about it that ignites even those of us who have sworn off novel writing. Because, although I've given up all ambitions for literary fame, I spend a lot of time in my head, and my little inner bubble gets boring even to me sometimes, and - pop - out comes a story.

2. And then, a little voice starts up: Hey, 50, 000 words in a month! That would be fun!! Just the intellectual challenge I need!!!  Except it's totally unrealistic given I've got a toddler who is a one-man deconstruction company. OK, maybe if I did nothing else while he was asleep, including sleeping myself. So that's a no-go, right? Except... my husband is going to China in the middle of the month (yes, literally), so what would he know? As long as the view on the video camera when we Skype shows a clean space in the house, how would he know the baby is living off the knee-high pile of cat food on the kitchen floor, and the dust bunnies are evolving into woolly mammoths? And if my teenager gets to live on Papa John's pizza and sleep in as long as she wants, she won't be telling...

Ahem, back to reality and my rambling point.

3. What actually happens when I see NaNoWriMo, is my poor aging brain does a double take. At least, I don't know whether it's my brain or my eyesight, but nowadays, I find myself glancing at words and totally misreading. I'll see a jar of "Squirrel Jam" or a can of "Tundra Flavour Car Food". So what actually pops into my head is "nah, no more....". Which led me to think, how about a lighthearted, themed post on what could I say no to in November?

4. ...Which turned out to be hard, because I've got about the willpower of a jellyfish. If someone told me I had to give up tea and chocolate or die, I'd start writing my epitaph. The only times I've been able to turn over the proverbial new leaf were when I was pregnant. With my first child, I gave up drinking like the college student I was, and to this day, only drink lightly. With number three, the thought of having to give birth at forty-five drove me to exercise every day. And now he's on the outside, I still exercise almost every day because my back hurts too much if I don't. Maybe if I'd had fifteen children, I'd be near-perfect.

5. But I do have NahNoWrigglingMouse. At least, we wish we could say that, but we have a rodent lodger of many weeks standing. Sometimes, our cats diverge from their shock and awe strategy and allow some of their prey to be eligible for their catch and release programme. That is, catch it outside, and release it inside. The current mouse has taken up residence in our walls, and occasionally emerges in the kitchen to drag off pieces of pizza and dodge the cats and (humane) mouse traps. We are about to reach our final solution: name it. In the past, giving up and adopting the mouse usually results in its demise within a couple of days. Any suggestions for good names?

6. Then there was the news of the week: NahNoWrightMountain. That is, something to really get outraged about: Toblerone has changed its shape.




It's supposed to look like a mountain range; now it looks like a mountain range with a motorway cut through it. Perhaps it's meant to be a stark comment on the state of the environment. Or a bid to cheat us on the amount of chocolate we're paying for. It's a toss up.                        

7. And to end, how about, Nah, No More Wrigrets? That's not me, because I can still worry about things I did 25 years ago, but sometimes I get the urge to rrrrrroll my rrrrrrrrs and do a little Edith Piaf. And I think we need it this week.



Well, good luck to those of you who are really, truly churning out those 50, 000 words. And of course, for the best writer's inspiration, pop over to Kelly's link up at This Ain't the Lyceum. Even better, please read this post and consider helping her family fund their hosting of two Latvian orphan siblings this Christmas.




Friday, October 28, 2016

7 Quick Takes 42: Unhallowed Confessions

In which the more I write, the more I tie myself in knots over the upcoming holiday, and explain why my husband thinks I'm a witch.

1. I start with a dangerous point, since readers of Seven Quick Takes are mostly American. But there's a nagging guilt I feel this time of year, that, up until this point, I've not been woman enough to confess to the Internet: I really dislike Halloween, US style. There, I said it. Thanksgiving - now that's a wonderful holiday. But Halloween? I've just never been able to understand what dressing up as a princess and walking around with a plastic bucket collecting cheap candy actually has to do with Halloween.

2. And what's with the Halloween season? Surely it's pretty tiring for a ghoul to be out of the grave from early September to the end of October. Having said that, I confess we have a total of one house on our street decorated in full Halloween style, and it's the one rented out by - and sitting next to - the Southern Baptist church. But I live outside town, where houses are far apart. I think we've had one single trick-or-treater in nearly twenty years. Most of the time our porch is darkened while we're in town getting richer pickings, because my children love the holiday even if I don't, and I'm not a total pumpkinpa-loser.

3. Actually, I'm more sorry that it's gaining such traction in the UK, because (cue alienating even more 7QT readers) it overshadows one of my favourite holidays: Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes). And let me quickly say to Catholic readers that, growing up, it was all about bonfires and fireworks, with a nod to celebrating our escape from the plot to blow up Parliament and the King in 1605. I was an adult before I learned that there's a remote place or two in the UK that actually has an anti-Catholic slant to the celebration. Generally, if we burn an effigy that's not Guy Fawkes, it's a modern-day politician. Not that I'm trying to give election-weary American voters any ideas...

And while I'm at it, here is an ad for fireworks safety from my childhood:



4. Aha, you say, so Guy Fawkes has evolved and that's OK, but it isn't acceptable that Americans have shaped All Hallow's Eve? And does it matter, anyway? There's no linear history of Halloween; like most liturgical holidays in the British Isles, it has the flavours of older cultural traditions. The one most cited - Samhain - is a festival reinvented by pagans. We know little about the original other than it was perhaps a time to celebrate before winter set in, and maybe a time when the veil between the natural and supernatural worlds was believed to be very thin, like Midsummer. The Scottish most likely brought over their version of Halloween to the US, where the middle classes eventually tamed the wild parties into something approaching the celebrations that go on now. Or some such narrative.

Well... no, I didn't say that. I've just never been able to feel the masquerade spirit. That's for Mardi Gras, another holiday the US does really well. I lived in Louisiana for a while. Enough said :)

5. We didn't really have trick or treating in England when I was growing up, but we did have the odd Halloween party, where you dressed up as a witch or ghost or something supernatural, and did things like bobbing for apples and telling scary stories. We didn't have pumpkins for sale at the greengrocer's, either. I remember buying a turnip to carve as a lantern for a Girl Guides (Girl Scouts) party. Sad, but true.

As far as I remember, mine looked about this pathetic.


6. And I was scared on the night of October 31. Really scared. I used to gather up all the crosses I had, tuck them under my pillow, and long for it to be past midnight. That was 'real' Halloween. No, I don't want my children to get nightmares, but I do want them to grasp the concept that there is a supernatural world, and that there are negative spiritual forces, but that we can overcome them every time. Just preferably not dressed as Barbie. Maybe Buffy, though.

7. And now you know I'm a Halloween hater, how is it that my husband still thinks I'm a witch? Well, the other week, he was suffering from being the last one in the family to catch a weirdly long-incubating stomach bug. As he was stretched out prostrate in the armchair, clutching his stomach with one hand and typing his symptoms into Google with the other, I offered to make him a cup of mint tea. He looked up from the World Wide Web and groaned, "Witchery." Which, as I pointed out when I stopped laughing, is technically true since herbalism comes under the umbrella of witchcraft by some definitions. But Google is apparently run by witches, too, since that was the number one remedy he found.

So, if anyone is still reading at this point, or can see the screen through the Holy Water they've thrown at it after #7, please hop over to Kelly's at This Ain't the Lyceum. I'm sure she loves Halloween through and through.