Welcome

in welcome

Hi there!  Welcome to my blog*.  I am Liza Olmsted, reader, writer, and renaissance lizard**.

I blog about whatever catches my attention.  Often it’s food, technology, or my own brain as I train myself to be a full time writer.  But it changes a lot, I never know what’s going to come up next.

I write speculative fiction, but I don’t have any samples for you to read yet.  I’m particularly fond of space, historical fiction, fairies that aren’t as nice as they look, and lately ZOMBIES keep catching my attention.  I don’t know why.

I read a bit of everything, but sci fi and fantasy are my first love.  Also, historical fiction*** seems to press that same other-worldly button in my brain that fantasy does, except it’s the real world and there’s no magic.  Go figure.

I’m fascinated by how the world works and how people work.  Astronomy, linguistics, evolution, philosophy, law, whatever, it’s caught my attention.  I double-majored in Computer Science and History, and then discovered it’s easier to earn a living using the CS than the history.

Also, I have freckles.

—-

* With footnotes.

** er … human.

*** Including fiction written in the past, which means they were contemporary at the time, but are now historical fiction.  E.g. Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde.  And the poetry of Catullus.

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Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer wrote something like 50 books, and just in the past week I’ve read four of them.  I noticed that they vary a lot in quality, pace, and genre.  So, here’s my quick guide to the ones I’ve read so far.

Note: near as I can tell (from a sample size of 4), all of her heroes are 37 years old.  It’s bizarre.

Venetia

(Sweet) Regency Romance.  Characters are multi-dimensional, and the twists were surprising.  Also, the heroine is pleasantly mature.

Sprig Muslin

Regency um… Adventure?  With a little romance tacked on.  Cartoon-ish and very silly, but the characters are fun and unexpected, and the twists are definitely surprising.  I found it annoying because I couldn’t decide who I wanted to be rooting for, so I felt out of place.  I wouldn’t read it more than once.

The Reluctant Widow

Regency Gothic Mystery, with a romance duct-taped on.  Very cartoonish, the characters are mostly one-dimensional.  Very silly, but fun.  I wouldn’t read it more than once.

Frederica

(Sweet) Regency Romance.  First two chapters focus entirely on characters who are unpleasant and uninteresting, which makes for an awkward start.  Once it gets going, the MCs are multi-dimensional, and the plot is fun, with mature characters.

After reading four books, I noticed that Regency vocabulary and sentence construction are taking over my brain.  It makes normal communication silly.

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Sculpture of a Modest Roman Matron 1st century BCE

I’ve been thinking about Roman names.  Really, I’ve been puzzling over them on and off for years, since I studied Latin in high school and Roman history in college.  Before I can ask my question, I think I need to explain their naming structure first.

Ok, so the first thing is that Romans had up to three names.  Praenomen – the first name; Nomen – the name, or family name; and Cognomen – the extra name.  Extra names were given to people who were special, and then their descendants would keep that third name.  So it ended up indicating which branch of a particular family you were from.  So, for example, everyone knows about Julius Caesar.  But we always just call him Julius Caesar, as though his first name is Julius and his family name is Caesar.  His name was actually Gaius Julius Caesar.  Gaius was his personal name, Julius was his family name, and Caesar was the name of his branch of the Julii.  Mark Antony, whom everyone also knows about because he had a long relationship with Cleopatra, was actually Marcus Antonius.  Personal name Marcus, family name Antonius, and he didn’t have a cognomen.

So far, so good.  If I were Caesar’s best friend, and I wanted to say hi, I might say, “Salve, Gaio!”  “Salve” means “hello”, or more accurately “be of good health”.  And when I tell someone else about Gaius, I’d call him Gaius, but because of the way Latin endings work, when you talk to someone you use the vocative ending, which for names ending in -us is -o.  So, Gaio.  No problem.

Where it gets really weird, though, is with women.  All women were called the feminine form of their family name.  They didn’t have first names.  So Gaius Julius Caesar’s daughter was named Julia.  If he’d had a sister (and I honestly don’t know if he did), she would’ve been named Julia, also.  If he’d had three daughters, they all would’ve been called Julia.  WTF?

So how did they tell each other apart?  My teachers have told me they’d be called Julia Maior and Julia Minor, Big Julia and Little Julia.  But seriously, that only works if there are two of you.  What if there are three girls, and a couple of aunts, and oh by the way cousins?  Not to mention that there were only about a hundred family names in Rome, so you’d have extended family up the wazoo, people you really couldn’t claim to be related to but who have the same name as you.  And every single daughter of every single Aurelius family would’ve been named Aurelia.  Marcus Antonius’ sisters?  All named Antonia.  Big and Little only get you so far.

So what I’m seriously curious about is what they really called each other.  Cuz you figure, you’re bored one Saturday afternoon, so you and all of your closest friends go to the Coliseum to watch some gladiators fight, and guess what so did half the town, it was a popular thing.  So you all get there, and you meet a bunch of your neighbors and some people from across town, in other words you mingle in society.  And how many other Aurelias are there that you encounter?  Your friend says, “Hey, Aurelia, I was wondering…” and ten people turn around?

And in a household you might have unmarried aunts and cousins and things, so within the house they must’ve called each other familiar names.  Do you think they gave each other silly nicknames like Pumpkin, Flower, or Cupcake?  My friends have suggested it’s probably more like “Red” or “Bird Painter” or “Blonde”.  Or in Chile you might be called “Black” or “Telephone”, because telephones used to be black.

The problem comes because no one kept familiar writing.  And people didn’t write about family life.  And the times we know more about, the later Imperial period through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, naming had changed from the period I learned about.  It could be that I’ll never know what they really called each other.  I might die of curiosity.

Don’t worry, I’ll let you know if I do*.

——

* Die of curiosity, I mean.  And also if I learn the answer.  :)

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or, Where Should We Put This Thing, Anyway?

I promised you the story of the Adventures of the Rocking Chair, and here it is.

Once upon a time, I went on a road trip with my significant other to visit family in Oregon*.  And we happened into a shop that sells wood things made locally.  In fact, many of the things were made in that very shop, as we discovered when we** asked and were shown the huge rooms full of uncarved wood, and the huger room full of tools and more uncarved wood, and the hugest room yet stacked full of uncarved wood and great big tools.  Not to mention the shop across the street with the saw-of-some-sort that could cut a 20′ piece of wood.  But in the front of the shop were gorgeous things: clocks, shelves, tables, bowls.  And rocking chairs.  They came in three sizes: small, medium, and large.  First thing, we had to sit in them.  Ahhh, comfy.

This is the first one I bothered to take a picture of:

Chair in the store

We ogled.  We asked the shop owners about the chairs.  (We bought a couple of pieces of uncarved wood.)  And then we left.

A few days later we were back in town, and back at the shop ready to choose a chair and make a deal.  We sat in every single chair they had, including the dozen in a storage unit around the corner.  We wanted the right balance of comfort for me, comfort for Ben (we’re not the same size), and attractiveness.  They were all made by the same guy, so there wasn’t a lot of variation in style, but most of them were made out of very nice wood, and a couple were made of absolutely gorgeous figured wood.  (I didn’t get a picture of the most gorgeous one.  You’ll have to take my word for it.)

We hemmed and hawed.  And finally we chose the same one I’d taken a picture of when we first saw it.  It really is pretty.  It’s a little big for me, and a little small for him, but better than any other chair we tried.

And we told them we’d be back in a couple of days to put it in our truck.  Have I mentioned the truck?  We have a FWD truck with an awesome cap on the back that fits a mattress and all of our camping gear underneath, so we can go camping in comfort and luxury, without the crummy gas mileage of an RV.  So we figured, sure we’re buying a piece of furniture, and sure we have to drive it 500 miles home… but we have space!

See?  It totally fits.  (It’s behind the pillows.  Yes, those are our pillows.  We sleep on them.  Also, they protect the delicate corners.  Worked a dream.)

Chair in the truck

Here’s closer view:

Chair in the truck, closer

The only question then was, where were we going to put the chair whenever we needed to put ourselves in the back to sleep at night***?

As it happens, earlier in the week we’d decided we wanted to camp at this one specific campsite, because everyone knows that Oregon’s campsites are the best evah.  When we called to make a reservation, they only had a campsite with a yurt left.  It’s more expensive, but it’s a yurt.  We looked at each other and said, “Sure, that sounds like fun.”

Turns out the yurt is basically a tarp-covered frame with furniture inside.  The windows were all velcro’ed closed, so it smelled mildewy and awful.  Also, we would’ve had to strip the bedding out of our truck and put it on the bed in the yurt.  We looked inside the yurt, and we looked at our comfy mattress in the truck, and we said to ourselves, selves, we said, we’ll be much happier sleeping in the truck.  And the chair can sleep in the yurt.

Chair in the yurt

So that’s how the chair ended up sleeping in its very own yurt that can sleep six plus furniture.

The next night was slightly less exciting for the chair.  We hadn’t made reservations and we couldn’t find a spot anywhere we wanted to camp†, so we ended up at a Holiday Inn Express.  It was really nice.  The pillows were nice, the mattress was nice.  Having a place to rest and change so we could go out for dinner was nice.  Our pillows stayed in the truck, cushioning the chair as it slept.

The next morning we hit the road, refreshed and excited to find somewhere nice to camp.  Maybe somewhere along the Avenue of the Giants.  But lo, it was not meant to be.  There was smoke from a fire somewhere in Oregon.  Once we got beyond that, it was hot and icky.  Once we got beyond that we were back in civilization and there was no reason to try camping.  Instead, we stopped at my grandparents’ house, where my aunt had just arrived for a visit.

And because we are weird, and we really like our setup in the truck, we slept in the truck outside, while the chair slept in the house.

Chair at grandparents' house

Everyone admired the chair, and we felt quite pleased with ourselves and ate too much ice cream, as one does, and we left for home the next morning.

Chair at home

And we all lived happily ever after.

——

* Gorgeous up there, by the way.  I really liked being in the middle of nowhere.  The only downside to small towns in the middle of nowhere is that when you ask the gas attendant^ if there’s a coffee shop with WiFi anywhere nearby, she literally laughs out loud.

^ Cuz Oregon doesn’t let you pump your own gas, you know.

** This is the euphemistic “we” used by couples.  In this case the “we” didn’t include me, though I did follow along.

*** We did, in fact, try to put the chair into the cab of the truck.  Because of the runners, the chair was just a couple inches too big, no matter which way we angled it.  And then as we tried to pull it out again, I felt like the guy with the couch in DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY, who gets his couch stuck halfway up the staircase in his apartment building, and then when he models it on the computer he finds there’s no way the couch could’ve gotten into that position without knocking a hole in a wall. If you haven’t read it, you should totally read DIRK GENTLY. It’s Douglas Adams. It’s hilarious. There’s time travel, ghosts, and a couch stuck in a staircase that couldn’t possibly have gotten there. And a dodo.

We did remove the chair without removing any part of the truck.

† We stopped at one place by the beach.  Ben went into the restroom, I did not.  He left without having used it.  Apparently it was really really bad.

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SCOTUS seal, source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seal_of_the_United_States_Supreme_Court.svgI’ve been having fun digging into Supreme Court cases lately.  It started with listening to the oral arguments for the DOMA case in April, and then reading the full texts of the opinions and dissents about DOMA and Prop 8 in June.  But then it branched out.  I read the petition for writ of certiorari (that’s the document asking the Supreme Court to take the case) for a case about a murderer/rapist who pled guilty, but then the jury deciding his sentence were told they could take into account the fact that he didn’t testify as indication that he didn’t feel remorse, so they gave him a more harsh sentence than they otherwise might have (though honestly, it was probably going to be harsh regardless).  He’s arguing that the fifth amendment gives him the right not to testify against himself, but the other side is arguing that that only applies during the trial, not during the sentencing.  FASCINATING, I tell you.

One thing that surprises me is that the court documents are remarkably easy to read.  They’re very very long, but each document (at least, the petitions and the opinions) clearly explains what the issue is at the beginning and why it’s before the court.  So you can really start at any end and understand enough to keep going.  And when the opinions and dissents cite precedent, they (almost) always explain what the relevant aspects are and why they apply here, so you don’t have to already know the cases in order to understand the point they’re trying to make.  You just need to have a few hours.  :)

One thing I love about the oral arguments is how the justices are often funny or snarky.  And they’re all clearly smart*, so they don’t waste time discussing things they already understand.  You have to have a strong constitution to be an attorney in front of them**, because the justices interrupt all the time and then expect you to be able to pick up right where you left off, almost mid-sentence***.  Just today I was listening to a case about whether Maryland police (and therefore any police) should be allowed to take DNA samples of arrestees before they’re convicted, and after answering several questions in a row the lawyer said, “and to answer the question Justice Breyer asked a few minutes ago…“.  Because he was able to keep up with 9 justices, and remember to get back to previous questions.  Impressive!

Another thing that surprised and pleased me is just how hard the Justices work to keep their hands out of the decision-making unless they absolutely must. They want to tell us what the constitutions and laws say, not to decide what they ought to say.  In DOMA they tried incredibly hard to conclude that they shouldn’t make any ruling, and in the Prop 8 case they did conclude that they shouldn’t make any ruling.  Not because the issue wasn’t valid, but because the petitioners, who were defending Prop 8, don’t have standing to bring the case before a federal court.  This ends up being more interesting than the debate about same-sex marriage, in the long run.  California has a ballot initiative system so that the people can create laws even when we don’t trust elected officials to get it right.  For any law, it’s the responsibility of the Governor and the State Attorney General to defend the law in court.  In this case, they opted not to defend the law, so the people who put Prop 8 on the ballot were allowed to defend the law.  Because the Supreme Court decided that those people don’t have standing to defend the law, it means that no one seems to have standing except the governor and attorney general, who are elected officials.  So if the people don’t trust the elected officials, so they propose and vote for a ballot initiative, but then the elected officials choose not to defend the initiative, then the people don’t really have power over the elected officials after all.  Uh oh.

And this is why the supreme court tries to be very careful about which cases it makes any decisions about.  The Prop 8 decision seems like a non-decision, except it has huge implications for all other ballot initiatives being challenged in court.  Every decision they make has implications.  Woah.

——

*  Although who can tell with Clarence Thomas, he never talks…

** I’m almost certain there’s a specific phrase for this, but I can’t think of it.

*** One of my CS profs had this ability.  In class he’d be lecturing, stop mid-sentence or mid-thought to answer a question, or sometimes several, and then would pop the last idea off the stack and resume as though there had been no interruption.  Since he taught me about stacks, I thought that was pretty cool.

 

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Funny comment

in uncategorized

no spam!

I just got a spam comment whose whole content was:

If you are a tech-savvy individual, you need a keyboard.

True dat.

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Productive Food!

in noms

The inside of my freezer - lots of food inside.  :)

So far this summer, we’ve frozen corn, peaches, apricots, pluots, pesto, more corn and more peaches, blueberries, blackberries, and, uh, some random bottles of water that we put into coolers.

Yesterday we made:

  • our last batch of pesto for the season using fresh basil and fresh lemon from our neighbors’ parents’ yard,
  • hot sauce,
  • a huge container of salsa with tomatoes from our neighbors (which doesn’t freeze well, so we’re going to be eating a lot of salsa this week),
  • lemon juice from our neighbors’ parents’ lemons (the frozen lemon juice is in the kitchen freezer, so you can’t see it here)
  • cleaning fluid out of lemon rinds, basil stems, and some rosemary sprigs soaking in vinegar,
  • apple sauce from two sad apples that fell off the tree,
  • which went on our pancakes,
  • and beet/carrot/ginger/pear/red bell pepper/parsley juice.

I feel quite proud of us.  (No wonder I spent all afternoon tired on the couch.)

There’s still hot peppers and tomatoes to acquire and process this month, and then starting in late september will be apple season (we have 3 producing apple trees).  I’m trying to figure out better (i.e. more nutritional) things to do with the apples than just making apple juice, but everything I come up with takes a lot of peeling and slicing.  We had boxes and boxes and boxes of apples last year, I’m not sure I can handle slicing and slicing and slicing and peeling and peeling.  But I was thinking of trying an apple slicer.  Anyone have opinions about apple slicers?

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Back Now

in Travel

Selfie at Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland

I went away and did ALL THE THINGS!  Disneyland, Oregon, a gorgeous wooden rocking chair, I had my picture taken with Pluto* and my sisters, and I bought a silly tiny mad-hatter-does-tinkerbell hat.  And we made saurkraut!  Not at all in that order.**

I want to tell you about all those things because they were fun and silly and I have PICTURES.  (Not enough, though, because my dad has a bunch of them, and my aunt does, and other people, and I haven’t gathered them all to me yet.  And also because I forget to take pictures.)  But it’s going to take time, because I’m a slow story-writer, which might not be obvious when you only see the output (or you listen to me talk), but is totally obvious when you’re in my head.  Or when you know that I started composing the Adventures of the Rocking Chair over a month ago, and still haven’t finished it, or even gotten the pictures in order.  I’ve been busy, I swear.

In other words, this is the post to tell you I have stories to tell you, but it isn’t actually the stories, because they aren’t written yet, but I want to get back on the blogging thing today, even if it’s just to say I’ll tell you stories later.  And I have Writing to do now***, so I’m going to go do that, and I’ll get back to you with stories later.

Here’s the silly hat:

My "Mad Hatter does Tinker Bell" hat.  It has wings on the back, which you can't see.

———

* Who I thought was Goofy, because I’m a spaz and forgot which one wears clothes.

** And if you’re my friend on facebook (or my friend in general), then you might’ve heard about most of it already…

*** Umm… after I finish getting distracted making myself silly avatars on the internet.  I can’t claim that’s Writing, not even a little bit.

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Dear BrainBy the way, guys.  Analytical mind, if you’re poking around, you may, but please keep your opinions to yourself.  We are safe here and don’t need to be correct or perfect.  I promise!  Muse, I’m here and ready to play!

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Dear BrainOk, analytical mind.  You’re awesome, and you aren’t needed here right now.  You can come back after we put the notebook down.  Heya, Muse, you still here?  Let’s play!

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A brief letter to my brain

July 21, 2013

Analytical Mind, if you’re here, now is a good time for you to take a break. And Muse, if you want to come out now, I’m here and I’m listening.

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