Friday, November 30, 2012

In My Backyard - Issue #5 - Mistletoe

We all know mistletoe to be that beautiful holly look-alike that people hang up around Christmas time in doorways to catch wandering couples and embarrass them. But did you know that the plant is not really like holly?


The mistletoe plant grows in many different trees, most often seen at or near the top, resembling an old squirrel nest, or the semblance of a worm infestation. Upon a closer look, it appears bushy with white berries and smooth evergreen leaves. Another thing you might not have known about mistletoe is it is a hemi-parasitic plant, one of few, meaning that is receives some nutrition from its host, in this case, a tree. Now when discussing parasitism we end up wondering how it came to find its host. Mistletoe's story is quite interesting.

It so happens the berries are eaten by birds, the seeds which then pass through the bird end up in their feces. Then the seed germinates and attaches itself to the tree where it begins to grow. Mistletoe has a haustorium that protrudes into the tree as its roots. It does not get all its nutrients from the host, however, and therefore must photosynthesize as well.

The plant is poisonous but there are many different suspected usages. Herbalists suggest using the leaves and young twigs for treating circulatory and respiratory system problems. And then, in South Africa the berries are chewed until the sticky substance in the berries form strands which are then attached to branches to catch small animals and birds. Its questionable as to just how poisonous they are and how some of these uses are possible. I would not recommend trying any of these until one is extremely sure of the proper way.


The word mistletoe, or formerly mistletan, is Anglo-Saxon for literally "dung-on-a-twig". What a nice notion. So how, you must wonder, did the tradition of kissing under such an object begin? As with all traditions and customs within our cultures no one can really know for sure how it started but here is one story of how it came to be.


In Greek mythology the story goes that Balder, the god of the summer sun, had dreams of his death. His mother, Frigga, the goddess of love and beauty, to protect her son, made all the elements, such as air, fire, water, and earth, as well as all the animals and plants, promise not to hurt her son. All of them did except for mistletoe for it was supposed that the plant was too young. The god of mischief, Loki, made a dart from the poison of mistletoe and managed to kill Balder. His mother was horrified. Her tears were said to have colored the mistletoe’s berries white instead of red and therefore brought her son back to life. Afterward, everyone who walked under the mistletoe would receive a kiss from Frigga in gratitude for her son's life.

Now how that started the actual tradition, I have no idea.

There was more to the tradition than just a mere kiss. For in 1820, it was mentioned by American author Washington Irving in his "The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon":

"The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases."

Clearly, the privilege only lasted as long as the berries remained. And another belief was that it brought good luck. Any couple who did not kiss under the mistletoe should expect bad luck throughout their marriage. A single woman would burn a sprig of mistletoe and if it burned well she would make a good marriage but if it burned badly she would marry someone no good. And so on they go. Tradition after tradition but no sure answer to where it came from.

As with so many customs in our culture they eventually come to take on their own meaning. They are the element of Christmas that makes us realize it has finally arrived. Or they are a symbol of the joy of the season. Whatever they mean to you, they mean something different to the next person. And how pleasant it is to put them up each year. Its that time again.

Picure from Karen'sWhimsy.com
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review #2 - Lion of Babylon, book One in the Marc Royce Adventures

Synopsis
After the death of his wife, Marc Royce, former CIA agent, just tries to make it from one day to the next as an accountant. But when his old boss comes to visit, Marc finds out that his best friend and someone else, both CIA operatives, have been kidnapped in Bagdad and no one on either side of the line wants them found.

Landing in Bagdad, Marc sets out for information, finding some and also finding trouble. The high tensions of the Iraqi people reveal the strain of the times as everyone is eager to forget the last dictator, Saddam Hussein.

Sameh el-Jacobi is an Iraqi lawyer with a passion for saving the innocent. But when an esteemed leaders son is taken, Sameh comes to realize that the kidnappers want more than ransom. Having had dealings with Americans before, Sameh finds himself appointed as Marc Royce's guide. The two get to know each other eventually finding out that they might be able to benefit one another.

When Marc hears of the kidnappings, he temporarily turns to this new mission, yet still digging for any info on his friend. During his visit to the Green Zone, he learns that not only are the two CIA operatives missing but an American missionary woman and the son of a wealthy Iraqi as well.

The situation begins to come to light but Marc finds himself stumped when trying to seek the help of the US government. Sameh, likewise, finds that no one wishes to speak on the matter.

Meanwhile, talk of a new government regime arising inflames the stout muslim leaders but the young and restless find it hopeful. While political powers play chess, Marc and Sameh join up with a well-trained Iraqi police force and make a name for themselves, ousting potential terrorists, and rescuing kidnapped children. The public thrill, leaving the groups enemies sulking in corners but the worst is far from over as the group find it harder and harder to get the information they seek. Using his training, Marc gathers his group and prepares for the mission that might just be his last.

My Opinion
After reading Gold of Kings, I thumbed through the books on our shelves and found this one. It sounded like a good one to try so I did. And I am glad I did. I consider this even better than the first I did a review on. Which has nothing to do with which scenario is more to my taste. In fact, the treasure hunting plot immediately grabs my attention while the political, military plot is not usually my first pick. The plot holes I saw in Gold of Kings were nonexistent in this novel. Bunn did an absolutely excellent job in weaving this tale of suspense. Now I am sad that I don't have the second book, Rare Earth, just as you will be if you read Lion of Babylon and don't have the second book.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving - Quick and Easy Pie Crust


Is the pie crust one of the worst parts of making pies? Do you usually buy your crusts so that you won't have to make them? Well here is the recipe for you.

Okay, so that sounded like a commercial. But I do have a pretty good recipe here.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp (raw) milk
  • 1/2 (?) c. oil (olive oil, melted coconut oil or butter) 

Add the flour and salt directly to pie dish. Mix in milk and oil being careful with the oil. You might need less or more oil, all depending upon the desired consistency. Too oily and the crust will fall, too dry and it will easily crumble. Once well mixed, start patting down with your hand, working all the small crumbles smooth and melded together. Then work the dough up the sides to form crust. Prick with fork and bake for 10-12 minutes or until crust looks slightly crispy. Let cool.

I use this recipe for cold pies (cream pies), hot pies (baking it all together), and even for my quiches, when I want a crust.

You might think, as gourmet as I want to be, I would use a more traditional pie crust recipe involving rolling it out and shaping the top. And I have tried that before. But this is really good for quick, and tasty, crusts. We've actually been using for years now.

Note: I didn't remember until a second ago that I didn't bother to crimp the tops of the crust. Oops. All well.



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Change - Or Finding My Niche

Well, lets see. Let me get my thoughts un-befuddled. Its terrible how that happens sometimes, isn't it? First of all, I have now realized why I haven't received any comments, ever, on this blog. And everyone says that's strange. I think its strange because even on my old blog I received comments and it didn't have as big of a domain name as this one. Now this may sound a little juvenile to you, but it all had to do with my settings. Yep, I know I should have already checked it but I thought I did. Anyhow, I now have comments enabled so feel free to let me know your thoughts.

To get on to other things, last week I checked out the book Blogging for Bliss: Crafting your own Online Journal by Tara Frey at our local library. Sadly to say I haven't got very far, but some of what I have read has been really helpful to me. I wish I had had this before I started this blog, it would have been really helpful. But since I didn't I will just have to make amends along the way. One thing I know is that I need to open up a little more if I want it to be readable. Who's attracted to a random blog that doesn't seem to have a point or purpose? You might read one post but nothings predictable. There's really nothing to bring you back again. You never know what might be the topic of the day. Tara Frey has helped me to see that I need to hone in on specific topics, within reason, because I am not very specific with my topics I write about.

I've actually been thinking about this for a while, realizing that I need a little more life, a little more about me, if this is going to be my online journal. I have to admit to you, though, I'm not too keen on displaying my life on the internet even though I like the online journal idea. Safety and all that. But if you bear with me I will get organized and find my niche. I'm trying.

Actually, the past few years of my life, at least the last year, has been all about finding my niche. As an aspiring writer, I have really been trying to find the type of writing that is right for me. At first I wanted to move into the freelance writing scene, thinking that was the answer to my looking for work. And though I haven't changed my mind, right now its a little off base for me. Meaning, I have stories to finish, a blog to reform, my business to promote, crocheting, yada yada yada. (Okay, that was annoying). Plus I don't live alone which means I have responsibilities to others and not just myself. Being a part of my family is incredibly important, even if I am single and living at home. Some say this is the age of freedom but I like to think of it as the age of learning. You don't know what's next for you or how long this time in your life will last, so make the best of it, not by shurking your responsibilities but by learning to honor them.

Okay, I chased a little rabbit there. Sorry. I am now off the soap box.

During my freelance writing research I found out that not all writing is for me. Journalism, for instance, the reporting of news, is really not my thing. What is my thing is creative writing, which is, well, what I do. Basically what you will find here on my blog comes under the heading of creative writing. I write about anything that inspires me. And that can get a little random at times so you see what I mean about trying to pull it all together in a less random style. I guess this is just a blog about my passions. That's what it really should be anyway.

I have also learned that my blog template at the moment is a bit hampering. In fact what I really wanted in template design was a virtual scrapbook. Yes, I am a scrapbooker too. But as you might have read in a previous post, my scrapbooking is a bit unique in that I don't scrapbook about people but things. Its hard to explain really. Basically its like creating a theme on a page. And thats what I want for my site. Lets just say I am not the most tech savvy. That's why I am taking so long on getting it to the way I want, I have to do a lot of research. But I am getting there. Slowly.

For those who do read my blog, thanks for the patience. And I'll see you back here soon at Over the Horizon. This is GoldenSails signing off.



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Is It Really Okay?

In light of the latest political turnout, many people are very down today. Of course, there are those who are rejoicing as well, but this blog post isn't about them.

A lot of young adults, my generation, have been commenting on the election with responses similar to these:

-"I'm glad the election is finally over. Now we can get back to life."

-"Come on people, its not the end of the world. You just need to get over it and do what you are supposed to. Live right, raise your children right, and treat each others right."

-"What's the big deal? So what if he's not the one you voted for. Its not that bad."

First of all, anyone who views the future of our country with such nonchalance needs to step back and take a good look at their nation. They'll see that America's not as prosperous as it used to be, and then they need to ask themselves why. Just because what happens in Washington doesn't (usually) immediately affect us doesn't mean we should sit back and take it easy. If we, the young one's of this generation, are so blind and uninformed as to let people in power con us into handing over the future, and not only our future but the future of our children and their children, then we deserve the judgement that is coming on America.

To those who don't think it affects us, what about when they take away our freedom of speech in the form of illegalizing homeschooling, and guns, leaving us at the mercy of mad gunners (who you know are going to get their guns anyway), and force medical demands on our children, or conversely, refuse them from us when we don't meet their standards, and etc. Does this not affect us?

Have we come so far as to forget the principles we were founded upon? What is freedom of speech when we live like the next socialist nation? I inquire honestly and sincerely. If we continue in this form of government any longer we can expect to have nothing but freedoms taken away and restrictions put in place. Our founding fathers realized this, that is why they painstakingly prepared the Constitution with all its principles and statutes, to keep powerful men from placing us back in Egypt, if you will, or 16th century England.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. How fitting for this latest news. We all know the reason we celebrate this holiday and the story behind it. After suffering religious persecution, Christian's decided to find something better for their families and those to come. They took incredible risks to ensure this, risks I doubt many of us would be willing to go through today. And God blessed them and has been blessing America ever since. But when a nation turns their nose up at the God who gave them their prosperity, when they shake their fist in his face and refuse to give Him the allegiance He deserves, this is what they get, a crumbling nation.

We are coming a complete 360, people. Coming from a nation that defined your every move and told you what you would do, then to living free and finally understanding the meaning of liberty only to return to that restriction again. After tasting freedom, can we so willingly walk back into that cage now called socialism? No, it may not be willingly, but its ignorant.

Are we really okay? Tommy and Sarah, who just got married and plan to homeschool their children. David and Mary, who hear of the shooting in a downtown shopping center and wonder what they can do to protect their children, and themselves, from being the next victim. Or Bill and Becky, who have a child with Down's Syndrome and the doctors don't bother to give them the option of keeping the child because they now have the right to decide themselves whether its a life worth saving.

I realize this might seem a little over dramatic. But tell me, if you put yourselves in any of these situations, wouldn't you agree?

Is it not really a big deal, the direction of our country? Maybe you have a job, maybe you have all the money you need to survive, with no family to care for or maybe with one, but what about the father who can't get a job because the government is bankrupt and no one can afford to hire any more workers. The single mom who has the schooling she needs but no one will hire her? And you say there's nothing to worry about. No wonder God sees fit to let us face judgement for while. Its because He loves us and He sees what we don't. We are proud like the Isrealites in the Old Testament. Have you ever read the Old Testament and thought how dumb the Israelites were for falling for that same old trick? We are just like them. Losing the blessings God has given us for so many generations.

Search God's word, its the only unchanging authority. Its good for any situation. And tell me we are on the right track.



Monday, November 5, 2012

Lost to History

With her eyes closed she willingly followed the hand pulling her onward, into a new place. The excitement threatened to boil over as the time passed and still she was unable to look. Finally she heard a great creak from large oak doors being swung open and his hand once again tugged her forward. A few feet more and the hand stopped, willing her to stop as well. She stood alone as the other person whisked away, leaving her almost giddy now with anticipation.

"Can I open my eyes now?"


"Not yet." Replied the husky voice.


She waited longer, hearing a swoosh of curtains and the man's feet across the ground, here and there.


"Now?" She asked again.


"Okay... Now."


She opened her eyes and immediately a gasp escaped her lips. Before her, in amounts too numerous to count, were books, books, and more books, from floor to ceiling. The room itself was immense and stretched not only wide but upwards for at least five or more stories. Gilded spiral staircases wound at intervals throughout, leading up to the next levels of the library, on which beautiful molded mahogany bookcases lined the walls. Rolling ladders reached across shelf after shelf and she saw that each level itself was taller than any average story.


She moved forward slowly not taking her eyes off the amazing sights surrounding her. In keeping with the incredulity of the room, the rug was larger than any other she had ever seen and ornately designed with many colors and shapes. Tall plush chairs sat by an extensive table overlaid with a scarlet runner and not far from it  she spied an antique globe probably many centuries old. To make it all the more inviting, a roaring fire blazed from the marble fireplace on the farthest wall from the door.

The man to her right spoke softly as though he would break the wonder of the moment with speech.

"All this... is yours."


Slowly she turned and faced her benefactor. "All of it?" Her voice hardly above a whisper.


"All of it."



Now anyone who has ever seen the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast can tell exactly what I have written. And not only that they can picture the incredible library Disney's artists drew for the cartoon. I must say that that depiction has been the source of my love for great libraries for as long as I could remember. Living in a small 70's house we have no room for a library, no matter how small, but we have all grown up with a love of reading good books. We just have to keep the books in bookcases scattered throughout the house instead of in one reading room.

Needless to say, my dream is to have a library one day, and if I let myself dream big, a library like the Beast's. Oh, the hours I could spend in there. Sitting by the fireplace on cold, cloudy days or choosing a window seat on the warm, sunny days.

Austrian National Library (beautiful-libraries.com)

That is something else I've always dreamed of, having a window seat in an upper story room that overlooks a beautiful courtyard or has a view of high peaked mountains. When I was little I read a book by Elizabeth Enright called The Four-Story Mistake. The four siblings parents had just moved them to a interesting house where the fourth story was more like a tower with windows looking out toward every direction. They would spend their days reading, or playing, in their special tower. And the thing I remember most about that story is they had a window seat.

Of course, if I got into my dreams, I don't think I would stop very soon, so I'll stop now and go back to the first subject, libraries.


Sometime back I discovered a site I found to be very distracting. Beautiful-Libraries.com shows pictures of almost any library imaginable, from small home libraries to incredibly ornate and magnificent public or government libraries. I must admit the beauty of some of these libraries was staggering. I can imagine how Belle felt when the Beast showed her the grand library that was to become her very own.
All someone has to do is give me a library like that and I'm putty in their hands. Who can resist all those books and all that beauty?

Library at Biltmore House (beautiful-libraries.com)
Modern libraries are lush and sleek, but as is typical of my nature, its the old musty libraries that attract me the most. When you enter, the smell of old books leaves you feeling you no longer are in the present. Knowledge. History. The unknown. What an aura of excitement. Being a history lover, someday I want to have the chance to visit some of the oldest libraries and dig through its centuries old records. Like treasure hunting. All by myself, transported back in time, or somewhere where time doesn't exist, digging through history previously lost to the world. Whoo!

In the book Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn, of which I did a review (available here), Storm, in search of clues is led down into the depths of an old building where researchers lose track of time and become book worms. Cool! Okay thats geeky.
But thats me.

So until that day, its still me with the big dreams of grand castles, large libraries, in foreign but beautiful lands.