Monday, August 28, 2017

Summer Bounty

It's late summer and the garden keeps giving. This afternoon I picked a basketful of cucumbers: Russian Brown, English Telegraph, and lemon cukes. The Russian Browns are nice in that, like the lemons, they don't get bitter. When they're ripe, the skin turns rich brown and sometimes gets crackles. We will eat 1 or 2 per bowl of salad. (you can see a little container with purslane from the garden at the upper left.)




Then there are the pear trees. One is a Comice, the other a variety we haven't been able to identify. It's a little like an Asian pear but tastes terrible raw. When cooked, however, it is flavorful and intensely sweet.



I picked a couple of baskets, including bird-pecked ones, chopped and seasoned them with cinnamon, cooked them until just tender, and canned them in quart jars. I brought some extra to a gathering at the home of a friend, where they were much enjoyed. Some years I will slice and dry them, too -- sweet as candy -- but I still have some left from last year.





This process will go on for a while, many quarts' worth, as the "Asian pear" tree bears heavily. I'll refrigerate the Comice pears to eat fresh.

Then there are 2 apple trees...but those are fine when chopped, tossed with a little sugar and ascorbic acid, and popped into ziplock bags and the freezer. They are slightly spongey that way but go wonderfully in oatmeal, where the cooking softens the texture just right.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

[political rant] I cannot keep up with Trump's sh*t

Let me get this straight. It's Friday, August 25 and:


  • Trump pardoned convicted Arpaio
  • Trump signed the transgender military ban
  • Trump's close adviser (and Bannon ally) Seb Gorka is quitting
  • Mueller  issued subpoenas for officials with ties to Manafort 
  • North Korea just fired short-range missiles

Oh, and there's a hurricane bearing down on Texas (although it seems to be losing power and may be downgraded to a tropical storm...too bad the same cannot be said aboutTrump's atrocities)

What's Trump's response? A Tweet that says "Good luck" as he takes off for a vacation at Camp David, leaving the rest of us mortals to deal with the unfolding crises. Plural, many of his own making.

I am so appalled, there are no words.

You can read more details in the Washington Post article.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Jewish Heroine of the Renaissance

Here's the story behind the story: "Unmasking the Ancient Light," in Nevertheless, She Persisted (ed. Mindy Klasky, hot off the press at Book View Cafe and other vendors)

Back in the 1990s, when themed anthologies were all the rage, I heard about one that was right up my alley and open to submission. Ancient Enchantresses, to be edited by Kathleen M. Massie-Ferch and Martin H. Greenberg for DAW. The editors wanted historical fantasy featuring strong women characters and magic, as is clear from the title. As I cast about for a subject, I found myself more and more – excuse the pun – disenchanted with Western European historical characters. It seemed to me that the women of interest had been portrayed more than frequently enough, and I had little interest in Celtic mythology. When I lamented my lack of inspiration to a friend – not a fantasy writer, but the director of a pre-school at a Jewish community center – she suggested I take a look at Written Out of History: Our Jewish Foremothers, by Sondra Henry and Emily Taitz (3rd ed, Biblio Press, 1988). Posthaste, I ordered a copy of the book and then pored through it. The chapters were short, more summations than in-depth histories. Although quite a few of them piqued my interest, only one suggested a story, that of Dona Gracia Nasi. The section began:

Unlike Benvenida Abrabanel, Beatrice de Luna belonged to a family that had chosen to become Marranos [converts to Catholicism – also known as conversos] so that they could remain in their home in Portugal. They had a successful business and a rich life. Beatrice was born in 1510, thirteen years after the expulsion of all practicing Portuguese Jews. Those remaining in Portugal worked hard to hide any Jewish allegiance from the world…

I devoured the section, all four pages of it, from Beatrice inheriting her husband’s share of an immense commodities business to her flight from one country after another, the Inquisition hot on her heels, to her imprisonment in Venice, her transformation into Dona Gracia Nasi (her childhood Jewish name), to her eventually settling in Turkey. But all this was so abbreviated as to be tantalizing without deep substance.

In the footnotes, however, I discovered that historian Cecil Roth had written an entire book about Gracia, The House of Nasi: Dona Gracia (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1947). Although the book was out of print, I was able to borrow a copy from a local university library. Within those scholarly pages, I discovered a story as dramatic, tragic, and inspiring as anything out of Hollywood or New York.

I could have tried to tell Gracia’s entire story, but that would have meant either another Il Ghetto, the old foundry district. I cut out an image from a tourist brochure of a person in the traditional Mardi Gras costume called bauta (including a white mask, tricorne hat, and a black tabarro, a short cloak) and pinned it on my bulletin board, hoping to find a story that would capture the sense of brooding menace. (As an aside, I’m not comfortable with clowns, either.) Armed with image, memory, and scholarly text, I embarked upon the tale.
abridged version or an extensive tome. I decided, therefore, to focus on a shorter period of her life: the flight from Antwerp (when Queen Marie of Burgundy, Regent of the Low Countries and sister to Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, schemed to marry off Gracia’s young daughter to one of her courtiers) to Venice. I’d visited Venice briefly during the time I lived in France (1991) and had vivid memories of the shadows under the bridges over the canals, the ancient plazas and towers, and the omnipresence of the sea. I wandered through the original ghetto,

“Unmasking the Ancient Light” is a tribute to the perseverance of a woman under extraordinary reversals and dangers. Life was perilous for European Jews in the Renaissance, as it had been in centuries earlier. Jews had been expelled from (among others) England (1290), France (1182, 1306, 1321, 1394), Spain (1492), and Portugal (1497). The series of expulsions forced Jewish communities to find safe (or safer) havens, in the Netherlands, Venice, and Islamic countries, such as the Ottoman Empire. They developed international systems of commerce and banking, as well as close familial and communities ties. Gracia’s family was no exception. From Spain (“convert, leave, or die!”) they relocated to Portugal, then to Antwerp, and so forth. While in Italy, Gracia dropped the pretense of a converso and began finding ways to support her fellow exiles, whether lending material aid to individuals to becoming a patron of the arts to creating a printing house to publish Jewish texts in Hebrew and also Spanish (the Ferrera Bible) for those unable to read the ancient languages.

The list of Gracia’s accomplishments could easily fill the word count of a piece of short
fiction, but I wanted her story to be more than a list of the amazing things she had done. I wanted to capture the spirit of the woman – if not historically accurate, as is always the challenge with fantasy – but one that would speak to the hearts of readers as Gracia had spoken across the centuries to me. I focused, then, on her struggle to survive the political intrigues and animosities of her time while preserving and nourishing the spirit of her people. The magic, as it were. Here I found a second inspiration in various treatments of the feminine aspect of the divine and the equivalence of the Shekhinah, sometime called the Indwelling Spirit, with light, without getting too dogmatic or theological.


As a final note, since I dutifully returned Cecil Roth’s book to the university library, my husband presented me with a copy of The Woman Who Defied Kings: The Life and Times of Dona Gracia Nasi, A Jewish Leader During the Renaissance (Andree Aelion Brooks, Paragon House, 2002). If you want to know more about her, I recommend this highly accessible book (which has a ton of footnotes, for the historians among you).

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Deborah's Excellent Solar Eclipse Adventure

Tailgate party at Lassen
I've posted earlier about my trek up to Lassen to view the annual solar eclipse in 2012. My same friend organized an expedition up to Oregon for this year's total eclipse, but for various reasons I didn't go. However, my older daughter, Sarah, and I did get a grand view of it from near home (about 72%).

Our first thought was to walk up the street to a place unimpeded by redwood trees, but Sunday morning brought such a heavy marine layer, one that didn't clear until early afternoon, that we looked for an alternate plan. I called various friends farther inland and finally connected with one, about an hour's drive away, who hadn't ordered eclipse shades in time. So Sarah and I, eclipse shades in hand, hit the road very early in case there was significant rush hour traffic. There was.

So the eclipse began with me behind the wheel and Sarah peeking out the window through
Deborah viewing the 2017 eclipse

Sarah viewing the 2017 eclipse
her shades going, "Wow." I tell you, if I had not already seen that first teensy bite out of the Sun, I would have been majorly bummed. Instead my reaction was one of joy -- my kid was thrilling to the very same thing I had loved.

It soon became apparent that we weren't going to arrive until the maximum coverage. I was talking myself into that being okay. Sarah called our friend, who said that the overcast was pretty heavy at their place. So, since we were in sun with only a few clouds, we pulled off the freeway, turned on to a side street and then the first open parking lot. It happened to belong to the Tzu Chi Foundation for Compassionate Buddhist Relief. We scrambled out of the car to see the eclipse at about 25%, with all the ooohs and aaahs and I remember how cool this is! excitement.

Then came the best part. The foundation offices looked closed, but a volunteer drove in and came over to see what we were doing. In huge excitement, I offered her my shades. "Oh, can you see it from here?" she asked. And then looked. Amazement and delight lit up her face. We talked about what was happening in the sky, she looked again and again...and then she ran inside to bring out all the workers she could find. All of them reacted in the same way. Including the special needs children who were doing a cleaning project. Later we toured the facility and talked about giving kindness and love. We didn't specifically talk about sharing wonder, but that was the high point of the eclipse for me. Not seeing it myself, but seeing the delight in someone else's experience of the heavenly wonders.

By the time we got to my friend's house, the skies and cleared. She'd tried to watch it through a colander, but the holes were the wrong shape, leaf-shaped instead of round, and it didn't work. But there was still about 25% left of the eclipse, so she and her family got to see it after all.

It's wonderful to view such a rare and glorious phenomenon. It's even more wonderful to make it possible for another person to have that same experience.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Breakfast, With Blackberries and Grapefruit

In the midst of all the political upheaval, trolls going sideways, and general upsetness, it's a good thing to take a deep breath and savor a meal. 




The grapefruit (about the size of an orange) is from our tree, which for some reason has decided to ripen the fruit several months early this year. The blackberries are from our neighborhood. Under the steel-cut oats are chopped pears from our trees, and this is the right season for them. 

The tea is Trader Joe's Mango Black tea.

Ahhh...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tuesday Cat Blog: On the Scratching of Yoga Mats

Gayatri, the One-Eyed Pirate Wonder Queen here:

I wish to lodge a formal complaint about my owners on the subject of suitable scratching materials. Yes, I know this environment has been amply supplied with scratching posts. As a thoroughly civilized feline, I am acquainted with their appearance and use. I do use them, and my svelte figure at the august age of a decade is ample proof of my dedication to such exercise. However, they lack a certain je ne sais quoi. Such quoi was sadly lacking in my life until...

...the yoga mats appeared. O heavenly plushy stickiness, of the perfection for the sinking-in of claws and the ripping-forth with great satisfaction.

Needless to say, my monkeyswere Not Amused by the exercise of my natural rights. They rolled the mats up. I found them. They put the rolled up mats into the compartment of a cabinet. I found it, crawled in, and indulged myself.

I must admit that never once did my monkeys shriek, roll up newspaper, or throw their feces in my general direction. They are civilized monkeys.

And inventive. Recently when I searched out the cubby containing my now-favorite scratching material I found it was covered -- draped -- with a fleece blanket.

I present, therefore, my protest portrait.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Cover Reveal: Lace and Blade 4

Here's the cover for my latest anthology editing project, the fourth volume of Lace and Blade, a series of elegant, witty, romantic fantasy short fiction, with occasional swashbuckling, derring-do, and duels with words and swords.





It won't be released until next Valentine's Day. Dave Smeds did the cover design. The table of contents is here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

An Anthology of Persistent Women

My story, "Unmasking the Ancient Light," about Jewish Renaissance pioneer and visionary Dona Gracia Nasi, appears in the newly-released anthology, Nevertheless, She Persisted, from Book View Cafe, edited by Mindy Klasky. You can also find the ebooks and print edition at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.





“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Those were the words of Mitch McConnell after he banned Senator Elizabeth Warren from speaking on the floor of the United States Senate.
In reaction to the bitter partisanship in Trump’s United States of America, nineteen Book View CafĂ© authors celebrate women who persist through tales of triumph–in the past, present, future, and other worlds.
From the halls of Ancient Greece to the vast space between stars, each story illustrates tenacity as women overcome challenges–from society, from beloved family and friends, and even from their own fears. These strong heroines explore the humor and tragedy of persistence in stories that range from romance to historical fiction, from fantasy to science fiction.
From tale to tale, every woman stands firm: a light against the darkness.
Table of Contents:
“Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan
“Sisters” by Leah Cutter
“Unmasking the Ancient Light” by Deborah J. Ross
“Alea Iacta Est” by Marissa Doyle
“How Best to Serve” from A Call to Arms by P.G. Nagle
“After Eden” by Gillian Polack
“Reset” by Sara Stamey
“A Very, Wary Christmas” by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
“Making Love” by Brenda Clough
“Den of Iniquity” by Irene Radford
“Digger Lady” by Amy Sterling Casil
“Tumbling Blocks” by Mindy Klasky
“The Purge” by Jennifer Stevenson
“If It Ain’t Broke” by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
“Chatauqua” by Nancy Jane Moore
“Bearing Shadows” by Dave Smeds
“In Search of Laria” by Doranna Durgin
“Tax Season” by Judith Tarr
“Little Faces” by Vonda N. McIntyre

Lift Your Eyes to the Clouds

While we on Earth have been agonizing over politics (from both sides), spacecraft Juno has been sending back amazing, awe-inspiring images from Jupiter. I think it's a good reminder of what human beings are capable of: our gift for technology, our ability to work together, and our insatiable curiosity about the universe. The space race of the 1960s, was spurred by anti-Communist fears of the Soviet Union launching missiles from orbit, but it had the consequence of boosting our engineering, mathematical, and scientific prowess that could then be focused on peacetime exploration.

After seeing (and loving) the movie Hidden Figures, I picked up the book on which it was based, by Margot Lee Shetterly. As usual, the book is deeper and more detailed -- and wider-ranging -- than the film, but both remind me of the fervor of the time. (I remember when the Soviets launched Sputnik -- my homemade Halloween costume that year was the satellite.) While I don't hold out much hope that the current strain of antipathy towards science will inspire everyone to cheer on the exploration of our solar system and beyond, I firmly believe that the upcoming generation will find the prospect thrilling. (And will want to grab on to all the math, science, and engineering courses they can!)  The awe and wonder of images like that transcends gender, race, national origin, and political affiliation. At lease I hope it does.







About 8,000 kilometers in diameter, the anticyclonic storm system was spotted in Jupiter's North North Temperate Zone in the 1990s. That makes it about half the size of an older and better known Jovian anticyclone, the Great Red Spot, but only a little smaller than planet Earth. At times taking on reddish hues, the enormous storm system is fondly known as a North North Temperate Zone Little Red Spot.

Monday, August 7, 2017

[political rant] Trump Adviser Spews Stalinist Antisemitic Insults

A few days ago, the news featured an exchange between Trump adviser Stephen Miller* and CNN White House reporter James Acosta, in which Miller dismissed Acosta's questions as evidence of "cosmopolitan bias." (Cosmopolitan, by the way, means "familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures," as opposed to provincial or nationalist.) For much of America, the story came and went. Neo-Nazis and the alt-right erupted with glee. Those of us with somewhat longer memories, especially those whose families perished or narrowly escaped either the Holocaust or the pogroms of the early 20th Century, or Stalin's persecution of Jews (among others), we were horrified.

"Cosmopolitan" is a coded insult, aimed at Jews (and others), in much the same way veiled references to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a document now proven to be forged, used to drum up animosity against Jews in pre-Revolutionary Russia and then Nazi Germany and still circulated in alt-right circles today) or white hoods and burning crosses are.

Jeff Greenfield of Politico provides some historical background:
One reason why “cosmopolitan” is an unnerving term is that it was the key to an attempt by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to purge the culture of dissident voices. In a 1946 speech, he deplored works in which “the positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded.” It was part of a yearslong campaigned aimed at writers, theater critics, scientists and others who were connected with “bourgeois Western influences.” Not so incidentally, many of these “cosmopolitans” were Jewish, and official Soviet propaganda for a time devoted significant energy into “unmasking” the Jewish identities of writers who published under pseudonyms.

Greenfield focuses on the way the term has been used to target anyone suspected of not putting nationalistic loyalty above all. The word "cosmopolitan" implies citizenship and loyalty not to any one nation but to a global community. In Trump's highly divisive world-view, anything that detracts from lock-step patriotism (and personal loyalty to him, has he has demanded of his nominees) amounts to treason. But let us not forget that this was yet another tactic in the underlying persecution of Jews. The "canary in the mine" warning of impending crackdown on anyone who dares to think, speak, or belief in ways that threaten the tyranny of the administration may be Jews this time. Or blacks or transgender people. Or immigrants or Muslims. Make no mistake, an attack against one is an attack against us all.

Terms like "cosmopolitan" serve as a surrogate identity test, separating "us" from "them," the "us-we-can-count-on" who are "just-like-us" versus the "them-who-don't-conform." In the way Miller used the term, it was also an ad hominem argument. That's the "you're only saying this because you are/believe x" method of invalidating another's opinion. It doesn't address the issue itself, it discredits the speaker instead. Even without the history of the term "cosmopolitan," such a response from a government official would be outrageous. It is a mark of the breakdown of civil discourse that a reporter's question be negated by such tactics.

This administration has become notorious for its scorn and animosity for the press. It is by far not the first to be the object of scathing editorials and even more devastating investigative journalism. But always before there has been a recognition of the essential role of journalism in a thriving democracy. In 1954, President  Dwight D. Eisenhower declared that "no institution is more necessary to our way of life than a free press." Trump, through his surrogate, has placed his own vanity above the health of the nation's political life. Now journalists' questions are not only an affront to his self-image, they are at risk of becoming the brands of treason. Not to the United States or its people, but to a petty child aspiring to be Stalin's pale echo.

In summation -- Do we really want the representative of the President of the United States using the same hate speech that Stalin did?

*Stephen Miller is now also under consideration for White House communications director.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Life in Four Parts

The Argus Deceit, by Chuck Grossart (47 North) reads like a long, repetitive episode of The Twilight Zone. In four different time periods, four differently-aged versions of the same character, Brody Quail. In one version, he is an embittered and suicidal middle-aged widower; in another, a teenager in the throes of his first serious crush; in yet another, a disabled and possibly alcoholic veteran; and finally a happy 10-year old with friends and an adoring younger brother. Each of these vignettes leads to tragedy that Brody attempts to avoid as the scene re-plays itself, and as these replays lead to even more complications, the time lines merge. It’s a nifty Twilight Zone-ish conceit that is unfortunately marred by excessive repetition (I skimmed long passages that remained the same from one go-round to the next) and an overly late rabbit-out-of-the-hat denouement. Too slight for its current length, the story would have made a more successful novella.