Remembering William McGonagall

Monday, May 19, 2008

I first came across information about the gentleman (1825-1902) years ago in Gilbert Highet's book of literary essays A Clerk of Oxenford, but William McGonagall has been brought to my attention again by a news item in The Wall Street Journal. (Thanks, Brother Paul, for sending me the link!)

McGonagall is widely accepted as the worst poet in the English language. Here, for example, are the closing lines of his "An Address to Shakespeare":

"Immortal! Bard of Avon, your writings are divine,

And will live in the memories of your admirers until the end of time;

Your plays are read in family circles with wonder and delight,

While seated around the fireside on a cold winter's night."

He wrote many poems about disasters, such as "The Clepington Catastrophe," which begins:

"'Twas on a Monday morning, and in the year of 1884,

That a fire broke out in Bailie Bradford's store,

Which contained bales of jute and large quantities of waste,

Which the brave firemen ran to extinguish in great haste."

There is a lovely website devoted to his work; I recommend it, whether you have time to read only a single verse or the entirety of his autobiography.

But the inspiring news of the day is that, in a Friday auction, 35 of McGonagall's broadsheets brought $13,200 from an anonymous buyer: in the words of the Wall Street Journal article, "$1,200 more than was bid at the same auction for a collection of Harry Potter first editions signed by J.K. Rowling -- and much more than a set of first editions of Sir Walter Scott, a wildly popular writer during Mr. McGonagall's time."

It is somehow sweet that the poet, who died in poverty and was buried in an unmarked grave (though it is marked well these days), produced a body of work that is cherished today -- for whatever reason.


Underdog for young audiences

Sunday, May 18, 2008

One of the advantages to being in a different house is the ability to evaluate that household's DVD collection. I've been noting the content of Underdog: The Ultimate Collection (a three-DVD set, 9 original shows, 18 complete episodes) currently playing in the Thompson household in Maryland.

It contains, not only the expected adventures of the super-identity of Friendly Lovable Shoeshine Boy, but also the features "Hunter," "Go Go Gophers," "Klondike Kat," "Tennessee Tuxedo," and "Tooter Turtle." (The [Native American] Gophers, by the way, are just about as non-PC as you can get -- except that they're smarter than the military types whose lives they complicate.)

They're definitely adventures of another era -- but I note that almost without exception the wildest violence happens offscreen. Villains may tote tommy guns, but it seems to me that less damage is done than in the average Warner Brothers cartoon. Explosions abound, but the results tend toward holes in walls and scuff marks on those involved.

And how do the adventures seem to fare with today's children (aka 7-year-old Jonah and 4-year-old Grace)? The kids seem to be having a good time. As am I.


Starbucks Splash Sticks

Travel can expose you to many delights you don't encounter if you stay locked in a limited routine.

Linda Holmes had blogged some time ago about the utility of Starbucks splash sticks, and I'd kept an eye out for them at the assorted Starbucks kiosks I encounter in the course of a month or so. But I'd never seen one of the little devils. The catch is, of course, that a Starbucks in an airport or in a bookstore isn't necessarily an actual Starbucks-owned venue: a part of the chain, per se. But Denise and I were in the neighborhood of a true Starbucks site on Friday, and (in the midst of sipping a Mint Chocolate Frappacino Venti) I asked about the availability of the splash sticks.

The kindly proprietor smiled benevolently and handed me five! I gave one to Denise, we showed one to a customer seated at a table when she asked to see one, and I am now the proud owner of four Starbucks splash sticks: at least one of which I shall carry with me on coffee-purchasing shopping trips. What a great idea! (Thanks, Linda! Thanks, Starbucks!)


Adventures in Grandparenting

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I'm relaxing in the course of a pleasant evening that has been spent babysitting 7-year-old Jonah and 4-year-old Grace. We're winding down after supper and (at Grace's request) have watched the entirety of the Scholastic DVD that begins with Laurie Keller's Open Wide: Tooth School Inside.

Naturally enough, we follow up with the Scholastic DVD that begins with the perennial Jonah favorite, also by Keller, The Scrambled States of America. I've always enjoyed both books, and the DVD adaptations are nicely done. But the remainder of the "children's book" adaptations on the second DVD are not quite so based in children's literature; the second "story" is, while based on the children's book's pictures by Kathy Jakobsen, really primarily Arlo Guthrie's performance of his father's song "This Land Is Your Land."

So I'm still mellow, and the kids begin by sitting passively enough -- but soon, with little warning, a dispute begins. "This land is my land!" says Grace. "No, it's my land!" retorts Jonah. "It's quieting down time," says Grandma Maggie. "My land!" "My land!" "Settle down." And so it goes for all umpty verses of a song which is itself, if you listen closely, not quite as mushily sentimental as some people think.


Betsy Curtis: A Hunt for Illustrations

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My mother was Betsy Curtis, whose science-fiction stories began to be published in the 1950s. It's weird that it hasn't occurred to me till now to try to track down the art used to illustrate those stories, but I've been chatting with George Hagenauer recently about the possibility of locating one or more of the pieces.

Her bibliography (in chronological order) is as follows:

"Divine Right" F&SF (Sum 50) NO PIC
"The Old Ones" Imagination (Dec 50) Ramon Raymond
"The Protector" Galaxy (Feb 51) David Stone
"The Ones" Marvel Science Stories Vol 3 #3 (May 51) Lee J. Ames
"A Peculiar People" F&SF (Aug 51), HC The Best Science-Fiction Stories 1952 (Everett F. Bleiler & T.E. Dikty); The Best Science Fiction Stories: Third Series, 1953 NO PIC
"The Trap" Galaxy (Aug 53) Emsh (unsigned)
"Temptress of Planet Delight" Planet Stories (May 53) Kelly Freas
"Of the Fittest" Universe (Jul 54) H.W. McCauley, reprinted in Authentic Science Fiction #73 (Sep 56) John Mortimer
"Rebuttal" Infinity (Jun 56) [a story responding to Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star"] John Giunta (pic also used for "The Star")
"Latter-Day Daniel" If (Mar 67) NO PIC
"The Steiger Effect" Analog (Oct 68) [Nominated for Hugo Award] Leo Summers
"The Key to Out" 1970 HC, Alchemy and Academe; 1980 SC, Alchemy & Academe NO PIC
"Earth to Earth" Amazing Stories (Sep 72) Steve Harper (unsigned)
"Of Course" Amazing Science Fiction (Jun 73) NO PIC

The Old Ones

The Protector

The Ones

The Trap

Temptress of Planet Delight (clearly)

Of the Fittest (Universe)

Of the Fittest (Authentic)


The Steiger Effect

Earth to Earth


Ah, Those Good Intentions

Monday, May 5, 2008

It's what I get for declaring how often I'd be contributing blog entries. Mea culpa.

When I left the house on Friday to see Iron Man (which was well worth seeing: one of the best comic-book screen adaptations), my home Internet connection was working fine. When I got back, it wasn't working. Turn it off, turn it on again, three different computers, try each, yadda, yadda.

Trying again Saturday (Free Comic Book Day -- did you get yours?), it still wasn't working.

Sunday (a mini-convention in Oconomowoc) morning, Sunday evening, the same.

I'm at the office this morning -- which is why I can post right now. I've reported it to the provider. We shall see. Snarl.


DAN! and GFCF: Gee, It's Ghee!

Friday, May 2, 2008

About the acronyms: DAN! stands for Defeat Autism Now! and it's a controversial treatment for autism. I don't give much of a hoot about the controversy; I know that in the case of 5-year-old Grandson Devon the DAN! protocol has helped incredibly. Yes, it's anecdotal -- but there had been no progress until the experiment of removing gluten and milk from his diet resulted in almost instantaneous progress many months ago. So this anecdote in this case says it's doggone well worth the experiment, folks.

GFCF is what the diet change is called, and it stands for gluten-free, casein-free. And, boy, is it fun shopping for groceries when you're trying to follow that protocol! All those good-for-you multi-grain "healthy" cereals and breads are off-limits for starters. My beloved Cornell Bread recipe is entirely based on what GFCF diets can't have: nonfat dry milk, wheat germ, and soy flour.

Oh, yes, that's the third torment. Even GFCF cookbooks seem to shovel in the soy. And, in Devon's case, anecdotal though it is, diet restrictions include soy -- at least for the time being.

But there was a development yesterday that I haven't seen in any of the (admittedly limited) hunts I've made on bookstore shelves and online. Daughter Valerie mentioned that Devon loves it when his meals are prepared with Ghee but, she added, it was expensive. But, I replied, Ghee is just clarified butter! See "remove gluten and milk" in that first paragraph! Ak!

Yes, it is -- but, in clarifying the butter, you remove the casein! Didn't see that in the GFCF cookbooks I checked -- at least one of which kept using "non-dairy margarine" as a butter substitute. (Ik.)

Heck, clarifying butter is easy; I used to do it in preparing meals where I wanted the butter without the low smoking point. Commercially available Ghee is apparently hard to find and expensive when you locate it. But butter? It's in every refrigerator case. And Ghee has lots of advantages; you can even keep it at room temperature for a month or so without its going rancid.

To clarify butter, you bring it to a boil at medium while stirring (keep an eye on it; you don't want to burn it). Skim off the foam -- and keep skimming it, This process takes about 7 minutes, at which point, the butter will be golden and you'll have skimmed all the froth. You can let it cool a bit. Then carefully pour it through fine mesh (like a fine strainer or three layers of cheesecloth) into Pyrex or similar dish, leaving the brown solid residue in the bottom of the pan. Store the Ghee in an airtight container -- but it'll keep OK at room temperature. And then you can use it in GFCF food preparation: no soy, no need to avoid butter in recipes.

And a final tip (which a friend told me this morning, when I shared the Ghee anecdote): In a lot of baking, you can try substituting applesauce -- measure for measure -- for oil or shortening in recipes that call for it. As opposed to Ghee, I haven't tried that for myself. Just saying.


Oh, sweet comics, you rule my life

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Or something. In any case, tomorrow is Iron Man Day, and the Appleton Hollywood theater has showings at 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12:30, 3:30, 6:30, and 9:30, according to (I have the Fox Trot Sunday strip among my choices -- and note that there's even an Iron Man reference there.

That should mean I can get shopping (including camcorder cassettes for Free Comic Book Day recording Saturday) done in the morning and still take my pick of afternoon show times. Mind you, it looks as if thundershowers and temperatures in the upper 50s will be the norm for the weekend -- but they grow us tough in Wisconsin. We can do it.

And I'll spend part of the weekend brainstorming with John Jackson Miller about this site to figure out what items I can add. We'll both be at a mini-comics-convention on Sunday -- and I hope to come out of it with a schedule of Stuff to Post. Stay tuned.


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