Ring Out Wild Bells

Verses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

These are only the first two verses of an eight verse poem. I quote only the first two verses because the poem is an elegy, a lament for someone who has passed away. But these two verses seem appropriate for the passing of the old year and the ringing in of the new one.

I wouldn’t want to listen to bells all the time, but I enjoyed hearing the carillons that sung out the hour from the chapel at my alma mater. One of the churches in my town also had a carillon that played from time to time. I enjoyed that, too, but if I’d lived in the neighborhood and had to listen to them all the time, I might not have liked them as much. The carillons at my university still play, but the ones at the church have long since been stilled. I miss them when I go to the library in that neighborhood.

Last night the accursed fan was turned off ten minutes after the beginning of “quiet hours” at ten p.m. The fan went back on promptly at eight this morning and has been on ever since. Unless management intervenes, I expect it to be on for the next ten hours. I need to call them anyway, when I do I’ll remind them of what I mentioned in an email to them a couple of weeks ago–that a fan left on for so many hours can cause a fire.

If I can concentrate I’ll do another blog post later on.

Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound, in the spring. The carillon would remind me that it was time to leave the library and go to my next class.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Rental Hell

My image of rental hell, even though my apartment building looks nothing like this.

Why would anyone run their bathroom fan all night or for hours at a time during the day? Are they cooking meth or crack? Are they trying to block out radio signals from outer space because their aluminum foil hat no longer works? Or do they think they can blow the coronavirus out of their living space by keeping the fan on? Those are the things I wonder about whenever I hear that fan growling on and on.

Must be someone sending evil messages from space. Right?

What’s the big deal you might think? It’s only a bathroom fan. You must be over-sensitive to noise. It’s true. I am sensitive to noise, but it’s not just me. I live only about a dozen miles from a military base. From time to time a chopper flies by. It doesn’t make as much noise as the fan, which sounds as if the helicopter had landed on the roof of my building. I can hear the fan in the living room, in the kitchen, in my own bathroom. In bed, while wearing earplugs and with the bedroom and bathroom doors closed. 

These things don’t make as much noise as that fan. And they fly away quickly.

Last night I had to drug myself to sleep with melatonin ( a naturally occurring hormone that helps induce sleep) and Tylenol. I managed to get four hours of sleep. Today I had to take two naps. I don’t feel like eating. I can’t concentrate on anything. While up during the night I got online and emailed management. Silly of me to expect a response. In the seven years, I’ve lived in this apartment, I don’t think I’ve ever had a response to my emails. Going to the leasing office in person when this sort of thing happened before was no help.

One of my friends is a lawyer who specializes in real estate law. I contacted her to ask if it’s true that management could do nothing about the noise, which sometimes includes doing laundry at midnight, which I can also hear. My friend explained that it’s not indifference on the part of management. This is “normal noise,” unlike throwing loud parties, that management can do nothing about. Perhaps the tenants work swing shift and do their laundry when they get home. Absurd! There are twenty-four hours in a day, people have days off. NObody needs to do their laundry at midnight. What’s normal about running a bathroom fan for five or six hours at a time in the middle of the night? I’ve worked second shift and never did laundry when I got home because I have neighbors and don’t want to disturb them. I guess I’m just weird.

I didn’t call courtesy patrol last night because there’s several inches of snow on the grounds, which at three a.m. was no doubt frozen. I didn’t want to call someone out in such conditions. Tonight, if the fan roars on, I’m not going to be as considerate.

I wish I could afford to move to a house.

Can any of my readers think of an explanation for why someone would run a fan at all hours of the day and night, especially when temperatures outside are in the twenties? (-3 to -6c)

Weird, seemingly unrelated images show up when I search stock photo sites. One of the tags for this photo was “depression.” It came up when I searched for apartments. Maybe it’s not so unrelated after all. I’m not a guy, but this photo perfectly depicts how I feel when I hear that relentless fan.

All images from Pixabay.

It Ain’t Always What It Seems

Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” But not always. Maybe she’d never seen a Rose of Sharon bush, which is not a rose at all. Several plants have been called, “Rose of Sharon.” 

Pretty, but not a rose. Hibiscus has also been called, “Rose of Sharon.”

Misleading names are common to many things, including food.

Most of us know that french fries are not really from France.

I’d like some french fries right now.

And that there is no ham in hamburgers.

But how many folks know that “Rocky Mountain oysters” are not seafood? They’re actually the testicles of a bull. Yes, people cook and eat them.

Once, in my younger years, I made a dish called “Welsh rabbit.” No bunnies were sacrificed. The variation I made was a cheese sauce seasoned with mustard and served over toast. The name is probably a derogatory implication that the Welsh are too poor to be able to afford to cook a real rabbit. The name seems to imply that they’re also too poor to buy a gun to shoot rabbits and not smart enough to make a snare to catch them. In the term “Welsh rarebit” the latter word is a corruption of rabbit.

Variations of this dish are called Scotch rabbit and English rabbit. They all sound like grilled cheese sandwiches to me.

Another food with a deceptive name that I once made is steamed pudding. It’s not the creamy, custardy dessert that you’d expect. Instead, it’s more like a very moist, delicious cake. 

Steamed pudding, all dressed up for Christmas.

So what’s with all this writing about things that aren’t what they seem? Because a few Latvians are still arguing about the proper meaning of ķūķu or is the word ķūči? Or is it the same word declined?

Some people insist that the dish is a porridge. One source I found said that ķūčis (singular) is a dish made of grain, without defining it further. Cakes are made of grain. Yet another source claimed that ķūčis is a dish made with pig’s ears. So which is it? Go figure.  

Latvians make a dessert called “debessmana,” mana from heaven. It’s made out of farina, which is a form of milled wheat, You whip the heck out of it as it’s cooking until it turns into a fluffy, mousse-like substance that’s served with milk. No one that I know of calls it porridge. Of course, that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t call it porridge.

Gruel is the name for a thin porridge made of oatmeal or other meal. So confusing. 

Turns out that ķūķu cliffs are an outcrop of Devonian rocks on the banks of the Gauja River in the Cēsis district of Latvia.

It’s been fun researching this information and learning something while I’m at it.

Cake Controversy

Someone’s bound to say this isn’t really a cake. It’s stollen” a German baked good. Latbians make them in the shape of over-sized pretzels and call the “klinģers.”

It seems that I’ve stirred up a bit of a squabble with yesterday’s post in which I called Christmas Eve in Latvia “Cake Evening.” I made the mistake of posting the link to a social media Latvian food group.

“I never heard of that!” exclaimed a couple of people.

If you’ve never heard of the star, Aldebaran, which is 65 million light-years from the sun, does that mean Aldebaran doesn’t exist?

For a small country, Latvian has many regions and many different dialects, and very different names for the same thing. The Latgalian dialect, spoken in Latgale, is quite different from standard Latvian if there is such a thing.

Please bear with me, I’m going to include a little history to show that Latvia and the Latvian language are more diverse than would seem at first glance.

The Baltic people have lived on the shores of the Baltic Sea for more than four thousand years. Does anyone know what their ancient traditions regarding the Winter Solistic during their entire four thousand-year history? Okay, so they probably didn’t have cake for the first couple of thousand years or so. But we don’t know for sure that they didn’t. Cakes have taken many different forms over the centuries.

Despite the hole in the middle, it’s still a cake.

Before Latvia united as one country it was made up of tribes of Couronians (Kurzemnieki) Latgalians (Latgalieši) Zemgalieši (Semgallians) Sēļi, and many smaller tribes each with their own language and traditions.

To add to the confusion, over the centuries, Latvia has been occupied by Swedes, Russians, Poles, and Germans. Many words from those languages have entered the Latvian language. One of my mother’s uncles was married to a Russian. My mom scattered many Russian words into her speech. Half the time I didn’t know if a word she used was Latvian or Russian. French and German words also snuck in.

As an example of the differences even in modern Latvian is the word for “kitchen.” Many Latvians know it as virtuve. But my mother grew up calling the room, “ķēķis.” Two very different words for the same thing. Both words are Latvian but from different regions. There are many such examples. 

So, when I researched my “cake” post, did I miss seeing the little diacritical mark under the “K” in “ķūķu” for “kūku” i.e. cake? Possibly. But round cakes, symbolizing the sun, are a part of the special, magical foods served on Christmas Eve, which is a celebration of light. Some would call it The Light of the World, a term that means different things to different people.

“Cake Evening” is more catchy than “Nine Foods Evening” and more fitting for a celebration of the sun, a holiday observed in winter for thousands of years by many different cultures.

Latvians call this a “torte.” Is it still a cake? I call it delicious.

Cake Evening: A Latvian Winter Celebration

This is a mocha torte similar to the cakes that were served at Latvian gatherings during my childhood. They were baked by Latvian ladies. The frosting on the sides had fancy swoops.

I have to admit that I did not know that in ancient Latvian tradition, Christmas Eve was also known as “Cake Evening.” Until I started researching my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, serving nine special foods on Christmas Eve was a part of the celebration. Each food has a magical meaning. Considering that feasting is a major part of holiday traditions everywhere, “Cake Evening” and nine special foods conveying sympathetic magic should come as no surprise. 

1. Peas and beans, so you don’t cry. 

2. Pīrāgi, so you’ll always have a nice surprise. They’re little bacon buns filled with diced bacon, Canadian bacon, onions, salt, and pepper. These days there are vegan variations.

Pīrāgi can also be made with ground meat (beef, maybe) so you can still enjoy a Latvian treat, even if you can’t have bacon.

3. Beets and carrots for good health.

4. Pork for good luck.

5. Poultry for success. Would that be because hens cackle to announce their success in laying an egg?

6. Sauerkraut in order to be strong. Rinse and squeeze before cooking in bacon fat, butter, or even olive oil, with or without onions, sliced thin. Some people like to add shredded carrots. Add caraway seeds and brown sugar to taste. You don’t use much liquid. The fat is mostly to give it flavor. There’s enough liquid in the kraut to cook it until it’s a light golden brown.

7. Fish, so you’ll always have money. The scales resemble coins.

8. A round cake. Its shape symbolizes the sun.

9. Piparkūkas, so you’ll always have love. The literal translation is “pepper cakes,” but many other spices go into them, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. Usually, they’re just little brown cookies with a slice of almond pressed in the middle but they can also be decorated with icing.

The little nut-like thing is a cardamom pod. I remember grinding the seeds with a mortar and pestle before cardamom was available already ground.

I don’t know why piparkūkas symbolize love. The dough is rolled out thin. Many are cut into heart shapes, but they’re also cut into star, bell, Christmas tree, and ginger people shapes. Or maybe the cookies symbolize love because baking them is a labor-intensive labor of love. Perhaps because spices are expensive, so the cookies are baked for those you love and traditionally only at Christmas time.

It was July when I visited Latvia for the first time. I went to a public event I no longer remember. I do remember the piparkūkas that were offered to guests. I took a cookie shaped like a bunny, decorated with pink, white, and green icing. Instead of eating the cookie, I took it home in a little cough drop tin. I kept it for years, but somehow, during one of my moves, it got lost. Bunny tears.

Because this is a celebration of light, whatever its symbolism means to you, candles are included in the decorations.

The Sun in Latvian Mythology

A Benevolent Mother

Winter sun reflected on ice, Snake Lake.

The sun, Saule, in Latvian mythology is a female. A mother goddess. Her husband is the moon. Their children are the stars. She is reborn on the 22 of December. 

Saule has the attributes of a mother, a protector, a comforter, someone who warms you. She ensures the fertility of the earth and the humans who dwell on it.. Not surprisingly, considering the duties of mothers, she is the symbol of perpetual motion. Saule symbolizes honesty, compassion, inner strength, and vitality. She is the guardian of the helpless and unfortunate, especially orphans and young shepherds (in Latvia the duties of shepherds fell to children)

Those of us who live on Earth live under the sun. The souls of the deceased pass beyond the sun.

Sun symbols appear on all sorts of Latvian objects–clothing, jewelry, ceramics, wood engravings, and on the tools used by women. When a young woman marries she is supposed to present her groom with a pair of mittens, which she has knit, that incorporate the sun symbol.

The simplest of the sun symbols is a circle. Because of the sun’s importance, there are many variations of her symbol, each more ornate than the other. Some are so fancy that it can be hard to recognize them for what they are.

Saules zīme — teorija. Vizuālā māksla (Skola2030), 1. klase.
These are all sun symbols
The eight rays of the sun symbol represent the annual holidays: the summer and winter solstices at the top and bottom, the equinoxes from left to right, and in between the cross-quarter days which fall midway between an equinox and a solstice. February 2, Candlemas, is an example of a cross-quarter day.
These are sun symbols, in white, on a weaving I got in Latvia
The sun symbol on a sash that goes with a Latvian folk costume, like the ones in the Solstice video and also in my blog’s logo.
This is the photo from my laissez-passer, a passport issued by the UN to stateless persons. I am wearing a sun brooch made by my father in the DP camp where we lived.

Welcome Winter Solstice

At dawn in winter, the sun peeks over the right shoulder of Mt. Rainier. Today it begins its journey back north.

Winter Solstice

Winter arrived in the Northern Hemisphere today with a veil of white–fog–rather than a blanket of snow. It’s been so blah outside that the day reminds me of Thomas Hood’s poem, “November,” which I posted in an earlier blog.

Today may be the beginning of winter, but that’s not how it looks like here. This is aphoto from last February.

I looked and looked for a poem to share with you, but found nothing that pleased me. Poets wrote about “bleak December,” breaking boughs, blowing winter winds. Not even Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” conveys what I have in mind. 

For me, the Winter Solstice is a time to celebrate the return of light. We are approaching a time of new beginnings, a time to put behind us the mistakes, sorrows, and bad thoughts of the old year. I turned to my Latvian heritage to find what I was looking for.

In Latvia, this is a time for reflection. A time to look into yourself. It’s a calm, quiet time of year. A time to seek inner peace and to connect with nature. It’s the time of the rebirth of the Sun Goddess. A fire festival. A flaming wheel of straw is rolled down a snowy hill as a symbol of the sun’s journey.

For centuries Latvia has been an agrarian society. As in the other seasons, the fertility of the land and people was essential. Work for the season was over, so there was time for young people to meet, visit, and get acquainted. If a girl went to bed hungry, she was bound to dream of her future groom. Presumably, someone who would be able to ensure that she and their future children would always be fed.

In the olden days, evil spirits were presumed to roam the earth during the darkest time of the year. To scare the evil spirits people dress up in costumes portraying creatures such as cranes, foxes, the devil, etc. The mummers (budēļi) 

roam from house to house, raising a ruckus, the more noise the better. In return, they expect to be served food and drink.

These are only a few of the many traditions and rituals with which our Latvian ancestors welcomed the return of the sun. Soon green growing things will also reawaken.

Some plants don’t go dormant and keep winter from being so bleak.

This is the spirit of revelry and celebration I was looking for. I can watch this video over and over. This is a fine way to welcome the sun and longer days. “Kaladu” is simply a nonsense word like “tra-la-la.

Latvians are a singing and dancing people even in snow at this cold, dark time of year. This video is worth sharing again and again.

Mummers celebrating the arrival of winter.

The woman in the green shawl is wearing a necklace of “barankas.” They’re like a cross between bagels and pretzels. On a string like this is how “barankas” are sold in Latvia. When I visited my relatives there and told my uncle how fondly my mother used to reminisce about gnawing on “barankas” he brought me a string of them the very next day.

Those are sashes the dancers are leaping over. Normally they’re worn with folk costumes, wrapped two or three times around the waist (depending on the girth of the person) and tied in front.

Tweeting Agent Pitches

Is it for the birds?

This fellow’s much cuter than the well-known logo.

Today was #PitMad day, also known as Pitch Wars. These are quarterly events during which unagented writers are invited to pitch their finished, polished novels on Twitter using only 280 characters. Agents and publishers search the tweet pitches for something that interests them.

Adding to my stress today was losing my internet connection for a couple of hours. ARGH!!! It took me a while to figure out how to get it back. It was a simple fix if you know that modems have a reset button. I didn’t. Once I found it and pushed it my connection didn’t resume until maybe an hour later. ARGH!!! At least my modem hadn’t died.

I’ve pitched A Home for an Exile’s Heart for at least a year now without one nibble from an agent or publisher. Today I pitched my other novel, As Wind to Flame. The only folks who paid attention to that tweet were a few fellow writers who re-tweeted my pitch. I re-tweeted a few of theirs, too.

Let me tell you about my book. Telling a friend or two is not enough.

I’m terrible at promoting my writing but I’m trying to do better. So, before PitMad began and now that it’s over, I’ve posted a few tweets about As Wind to Flame. The story is set during the mid-Nineteenth Century. My main character is Theodora (Thea, Tay) Lowell. The inciting incident is the death of Thea’s mother when Thea is ten.

Since I’m promoting myself, I might as well include my tweets. The more exposure, the better, right? Who knows who might be reading my blog or my tweets? Just because the #PitMad pitch event is closed doesn’t mean agents and publishers aren’t still looking for stories.

This is how self-promotion should be done.

Promo Tweets

#As Wind to Flame, trilogy
1841- Boston
Adam age 6 meets Thea
She - 1 hr old

They’re parted, reunited, and parted again & again.

He never dreamed she’ll grow up to be a tough, resilient, beautiful woman who will save his life and steal his heart.
* * * * *
 #AsWindtoFlame, trilogy

Thea’s 10, her mom dies.
Dad is lost in grief. Thea is like a mom to her dad. Everything in Boston reminds Daniel of his wife.
He takes the family to CA to be close to his best friend, Adam’s dad.
With Adam as her minder, Thea can be a child again.

* * * * *

Thea age 15 kisses Adam
Adam age 22 Don’t do that
She I love you
He You’re just a child
She I know a girl of 13 who’s engaged.
He That’s so wrong
She You’re a prude
He I love you too. You’re not the sister of my blood, you’re the sister of my heart.

Thea could’ve wept

* * * * *

#AsWindtoFlame trilogy
1852, CA

He’s 18
She’s 11
He’s her minder
She’s his fierce defender
To him, she’s like a little sister
+11 yrs of love & adventure & heartbreak
He’s her only love
She’s an ex-Civil War nurse
He has a bullet wound & is engaged to her sister.
The nurse
 has a knife...

The next PitMad event will probably be during the first week of March.