Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Often, a few perceptive quotes are all you need to get through your day. Here are a few that have recently arisen in my life.

Alan: My dreams are understaffed. I need five bunnies to drive the tractor, not four.

Student in my class: What would unite our world?
Another student: Brainwashing.

And in case you can’t read my teabag, it says “Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.” –Unknown. 

Please note the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club mug, a gift for presenting to them long ago for the Oakland Hills book. The club is a hugely benevolent group in Oakland, responsible for establishing and maintaining Children's Fairyland and fundraising to reinstate the necklace of lights around Lake Merritt. Club members start each meeting with a rousing rendition of Oh What a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma...and yes, they meet really early. For breakfast.

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Witchcraft panel

What will you be doing on the afternoon of June 22? Will you be in the environs of St. Petersburgh, Florida?

If so, please consider signing up for the Historical Novels Society conference, where I'll be part of a witchcraft panel titled The Witchcraft Window: Scrying the Past. It takes place at 1:30 p.m. on June 22 . . . right after lunch. I don't think I'll be able to eat a thing.

My fellow panelists are Kathleen Kent, Mary Sharratt and Suzy Witten. I'll be discussing some of the choices I made in the writing of The Witch's Trinity, my novel set in medieval Germany about an old woman accused of witchcraft by her own daughter-in-law. And I can't wait to hear what the others have to say. From Salem, Massachusetts, to Pendle, England, and Tierkind, Germany: we all have different settings and approaches to our novels.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sacramento train station

This weekend I picked up an old friend at the train station in Sacramento, David Nicolai. He now lives in China and was visiting for a few days before returning back.

I made a point of parking so that I could go inside the train station and wait for him...and I was rewarded by the sight of a vaulted ceiling and what was once a very grand station indeed. It needs some work--and that scaffolding looks like it's been there a while. But I could see past all that to something beautiful that just needs a little rehab work.

There was also a fantastic mural depicting the arrival of the first transcontinental train. I asked David if George Pardee (Oakland mayor and Calfornia governor) would have been in the picture, and he scoffed and said no, far too early. And maybe even too early for Enoch Pardee, George's father and also an Oakland mayor. More on my adventures with David soon.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pardee porcelain on display

The Pardee Home in downtown Oakland---home to California governor George C. Pardee and his globetrotting, antiques-collecting wife--is hosting an afternoon tea with the chance to look over Mrs. Pardee's wonderful collection of porcelain. If tea isn't your thing, simply take a tour to see the exhibit.

The home itself is well worth exploring, with intact furnishings from the time of the Pardees (turn of the century collections that the Pardee daughters never changed. The last of the Pardee line died in the 1980s, and the home was then turned into a museum.) "You won't want to miss Miss Helen Pardee's collection of exquisite demitasse cups, teacups and tea pots." www.pardeehome.org.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Package for Indiana Jones

I'm coming to this late and some of you may have already seen this...

Someone sent a package to the University of Chicago addressed to Henry Walton Jones, Jr. The label is typed and of a vintage style (rectangular, with trimmed edges, limned in black), and the stamps and postmarks are from Egypt. The handwritten zip code doesn't appear to be vintage handwriting (and zip codes wouldn't have existed at the time this package would have been sent to Indy--1917 or so)

Henry Walton Jones, Jr. is of course Indiana Jones, and now the U of C is trying to figure out who sent the package, full of goodies like Abner Ravenwood's dusty diary with narratives like discovery of the Staff of Ra and what the Holy Grail might be made of, and photographs of Marion Ravenwood.

Here's the university's announcement of the wonderful, strange package. The school asks, "If you’re an applicant and sent this to us: Why? How? Did you make it? Why so awesome?"

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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Sacramento Train Museum...and its Oakland lamp

Long before Thomas the Tank Engine entered my life, I experienced an attraction to the railroad. In high school I had a gorgeous Art Deco poster of a Wagons Lit poster on my wall, and I've always thought longingly of what it would be like to travel in the golden days of rail.

The Sacramento Railroad Museum shows amazing examples of cars, engines, and even....the element I most remember from my first trip a decade ago....the china and flatware used on various trains. An entire dining car is set for a meal with each seat showcasing the place setting of a different line throughout the U.S.

We visited again in December, and the car that is "dressed" for night, with windows blackened and occasional lights flashing, that rocks as if you are underway, was a real thrill for the younger set that accompanied me. In fact, I think we went through that train at least ten times. There's even a fellow (mannequin) sleeping in the lower bunk bed in the last car.

And right outside it, I noted a gorgeous dome lamp hanging from the ceiling: enormous, municipal and simply ravishing. And it turns out it is from the 16th Street station in Oakland, one of three chandeliers that once hung there. The station was damaged in the 1989 earthquake and I believe was recently restored and used in several movies as it is a truly grand example of a light, airy aesthetic station.

Although it's hard to tell in the photo, the lamp's glass looks like mother of pearl, and indeed a plaque at the museum notes that it was created at the Kokomo Opalesescent Glass Company in Indiana in the early 1900s. I love finding Oakland reminders, and this was a lovely one.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Louis XVI's blood in hollowed-out gourd

It's strange to imagine that a man who so mightily ruled France might be reduced to the blotches on a handkerchief, dipped in his blood post-guillotining, and then stowed in a gourd kept by an Italian family for over 200 years--until it underwent DNA testing recently to be confirmed as his blood.

Here's the link to the BBC news article.

Accounts of the French Revolution reveal an appallingly blood-thirsty populace. Wow, just typing that made me go to the kitchen to pour a glass of wine. I'm not kidding.

But it's white wine, not red.

The squash was inscribed, "On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation."

I can't help but imagine the crush of people at the scaffold. How and why did Bourdaloue get close enough to dip his handkerchief? And what do you do afterwards: fold it up and put it in your pocket, or carry it aloft all day long as you sing revolutionary songs, waving it like a flag as its drops fly? Shudder.

I also looked at a Telegraph article which added a little more information, such that the handkerchief itself has long since decomposed and it was the bloodstained interior of the squash that was tested. The bloodstains were a close enough match to the DNA of what is believed to be the mummified head of Louis IV, an ancestor of the Sixteenth's, to call it conclusive.


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