Friday, December 18, 2015

My Top Three Favorite Christmas Movies of 2015

I’m currently catching up on the vlogmases (vlogging Christmases) of several YouTubers, and just watched Zoella’s top ten favorite Christmas Movies.  It’s funny, she mentioned that it isn’t Christmas without the movies she loves to watch (for her), and later said she has to have watched all the Christmas movies there are. (I’m not sure if that’s possible, but if it is, she’ll probably be the first.)  I actually have only watched less than a handful of the films she suggested (Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Jim Carrey, and Love Actually), and would only watch Love Actually again.  I just personally think Jim Carrey isn’t funny, and but I might give Elf another try… maybe.  The other movies she suggested I will certainly look into.  Here’s a link to Zoella’s video (, and I hope you enjoy my own take on this Christmas love’s list!

3.) Love Actually.  I first watched this movie last year, because it was so beloved by all these people I like to watch on YouTube.  The reason I really decided to give it go really was that I literally have heard of more than half of the cast!  I mean, it’s got Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant (there you go, Jane Austen fans), Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy (for your Pirates of the Caribbean fans), and Martin Freeman.  I mean, most of these actors seem to have been in multiple movies already together, so they’re likely already all best friends in real life.  If you haven’t seen it, Love Actually is based around the Christmas stories of multiple pairs, from disgruntled married couples, loving siblings, love in the “work place”, to the best friend of the groom who actually loves (Get the pun?) the bride.  My favorite is the stepfather and preteen stepson who in the aftershock of their loved one’s death, learn they can be a true father and son, but not without a few hurtles.  Everyone is somehow related or friends, which tie everything together, like a nice Christmas package: especially at the end!

2.) A Christmas Carol, starring Patrick Stewart.  I mentioned above that I didn’t appreciate the Jim Carrey and Will Farrell films too much.  That’s because there’s a great Shakespearian actor to contend with when it comes to classic Christmas films.  This is one of the two Christmas films my mom and I have to watch every Christmas Eve.  I have seen several versions of A Christmas Carol, see plays of it nearly every year, and have read many book versions of it, including the original, of course.  Patrick Stewart is the perfect Scrooge, and the rest of the cast is perfectly done as well.  There are darker parts, sad parts, joyful parts, and heartwarming parts.  The music and costume also add the ideal early Victorian sensation, and the acting is on point.

1.) The Tailor of Gloucester.  This is my other top Christmas film to watch on Christmas Eve.  The Tailor of Gloucester was one of the famous children’s stories by the English writer Beatrix Potter, in the early 1900s (author of Peter Rabbit).  Most of the books were adapted to film in the 1990s, and I watched them on VHS growing up.  My two favorites are The Tale of the Two Bad Mice, and The Tailor of Gloucester.  The Tailor of Gloucester is the story of a desolately poor tailor in the town of Gloucester, in the 1700s, who has been chosen by the mayor to sew his wedding clothes.  This job is a godsend for the tailor, but he unfortunately falls ill a just a few days before Christmas Day, when his work is to be completed.  His cat, Simpkin, tries to help his master, but is angered when the tailor frees the mice Simpkin has caught.  It turns out the Tailor has been helping the mice in small ways for a long time, and this last act before he falls ill proves that giving, even in small ways, brings unexpected rewards, when the mice return the favor.  The film’s animation is adapted from Beatrix Potter’s own well-known work, and there are fun characters, which are mostly anthropomorphic animals.  The film begins and ends with live-action scenes showing 1900s Lake District England, in which Ms. Potter tells the story for her young friend in a Christmas Card.

Monday, December 14, 2015

“What Kind of Dog is That?” – My Long-Haired, Soft-Eared German Shepherd Story

That is the most common question my family gets when we’re out with our German Shepherd.  Our most common comment is “What a beautiful dog!”  It’s true, especially as most people are simultaneously intrigued and gushing when they meet her.  The long fur and floppy ears also often seem to make a often feared breed far more approachable.  Maybe people think she’s a Golden Retriever-Shepherd mix!

Although I certainly support adopting shelter dogs, German Shepherds are in the “difficult to adopt from a shelter” category.  (I’d love to hear anyone’s successful shelter adoption story!)  We have had three dogs, all German Shepherds or Shepherd crosses, all from puppyhood.  Anyway, when our last Shepherd passed away two Decembers ago, we wanted to go the puppy route again.

Tora is a long-haired, red and black German Shepherd (GSD), from a breeder not too far from us.  Because of going the breeder route, we got to meet the other dogs in the breeder’s “pack”.  The dogs we met were absolutely outstanding in personality, training, and beauty.  We also returned for a couple of visits to let her hang out with her dad and another lovely male, as well as a time when all the dogs of her litter were invited to play together.  (They were a mass of mud-puddle diggers, all running around, with our super-social one often leading the games.)

Our last two dogs were trained, but not through a program.  They were both well-socialized and well behaved, but we wanted to work even harder on this one.  We were lucky enough to come across the sweetest Doberman on a walk when she was only a few months old.  He played so well with a puppy a third of his size, we had to tell his owner how impressed we were.  Our last dog had been mobbed by about two dozen Cocker Spaniels when she was a puppy and always associated small dogs with that horrible encounter.  This was one of the factors that helped us take the Doberman owner’s advice and “enroll” this one in the local Petco puppy playtime.  It was actually free, and met every Saturday and Sunday in the afternoon (check your local pet store for similar programs, if you don’t have a Petco).  After a day or two of hiding behind us, she finally was coaxed into playing with a few friendly puppies.  Over the next several weeks, she played openly with Labs, Huskies, Weimaraners, Pitbulls, and Scottish Terriers.  Our eighty-five pound German Shepherd is now the best-socialized dog we’ve ever owned, and I personally think all puppies should experience playtime with a group for a couple months.

Let me know your dog adoption story!  My first two dogs were great, but we have put so much training and socialization effort into our most recent puppy, that I believe she is nearly the most perfect dog we’ve had!  I have plenty to write on in the subject of dogs (we also have cats and rabbits), so I may be posting more along these lines in the future.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Rant: Cleopratra’s Daughter

This is not the first Michelle Moran novel I have read, and it was not my favorite at first, but I have grown to enjoy the lush descriptions of ancient Rome as much as the depictions of ancient Egypt in the previous two novels.  As with several of Ms. Moran’s works, the protagonist is a young girl who grows both mentally and physically through many years that the story covers.  Noted in the first few pages, Kleopatra Selene and her mother (the famous Kleopatra VII, last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt) spell their name in the traditional Greek way.  One of the antagonists, later in the novel, purposely Romanizes Selene’s name, which whether or not true, certainly happened at some point (or we wouldn’t be seeing “Cleopatra” in every wig search at Halloween!).

                                                        (Image from
Selene is the main character, choosing her second name to differentiate herself from her famous mother.  One of the reasons I have gravitated toward this book is the attractive personality of Selene and many of the characters she interacts with.  With many of the historically-based novels I frequent, the main character’s prerogative is to hold nothing back from the reader.  It is not a diary-like, first-person method, but an even deeper, more unrestricted kind of reading.  As with all of Michelle’s protagonists, Selene has a special skill (aside from the natural inside and outside beauty exhibited by many of her protagonists).  In this case, it’s drawing, but not in a poetic, abstract sense.  Selene combines her natural geometry and artistic abilities to create stunning and realistic architectural drawings.  This was particularly clever of Michelle, because it allowed her to showcase many of the fantastic architectural works of the age to her audience, some of which have been lost to time.

As mentioned before, I was drawn to the story not because of the detailing of Rome at first.  This is because Rome is sadly one of the last on my list of interesting historic places.  I have been infatuated with Egypt and Mesopotamia far longer, and even basic historical documentaries on Rome don’t tend to hold my attention.  I think it because of the focus on warfare and the notably grotesque interests of the people living at the time (think of their favorite forms of entertainment).  Michelle Moran has salvaged my impression of ancient Rome, just as she broadened my passion for others, such as New Kingdom ancient Egypt.  For that, she has my undeviating position as a huge fan of many of her works.  This is another fascinating peak into the lives of men and women who lived so long ago.  Great work Michelle!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Ballads of Food: The Correlation between Irish Immigrants to America and the Food They Ate

This is an archaeological post from my four weeks at Strawbery Banke Summer Field School 2015.

“The fort we reached was beautiful,
With works of custards think,

Beyond the lake.

Fresh butter was the bridge in front,
The rubble dyke was fair white wheat
Bacon the palisade.
Stately, pleasantly it sat,
A compact house and strong.
Then I went in:
The door of it was hung beef,
The threshold was dry bread,
Cheese-curds the walls.
Smooth pillars of old cheese
And sappy bacon props
Alternate ranged;
Stately beams of mellow cream,
White posts of real curds
Kept up the house”

(Crotty 2010 pp 58).

“The beef and the beer of the Saxon may build up good, strong hefty men;
The Scot goes for haggis and porridge and likes a ‘wee drap’ now and then;
The German may spice up a sausage that’s fit for great Kaisers and Queens,
But the Irishman’s dish is my darling -- a flitch of boiled bacon and greens.
They laughed at the pig in the kitchen when Ireland lay groaning in chains,
But the pig paid the rent,
so no wonder our ‘smack’ for his breed still remains,
And what has a taste so delicious as ‘griskins’ and juicy ‘crubeens’,
And what gives health, strength and beauty like bacon, potatoes and greens?”

(“Bacon and Greens”, Con O’Brien)

“To what meals the woods invite me
All about!
There are
water, herbs and cresses,
Salmon, trout.
A clutch of eggs, sweet mast and honey
Are my meat,
Heathberries and whortleberries for a sweet.
All that one could ask for comfort
Round me grows,
There are hips and haws and strawberries,
Nuts and sloes.
And when summer spreads its mantle
What a sight!
Marjoram and leeks and pignuts,
Juicy, bright”

(Crotty 2010 pp 12).

The history of people has always fascinated me.  Although I am not of Irish background, I am composed of various European backgrounds, and am a self-proclaimed anglophile.  Anything about the British Isles and Ireland interests me.  From the Celtic and Gaelic music and other cultural influences, to what life was like for these people throughout different times in history.

This brings us to Strawbery Banke, and the large amount of Irish immigrants in the 1800 to 1900s to America, including Portsmouth, NH.  I have spent the last four weeks involved in an archaeological dig around the perimeter of the Yeaton-Walsh house (shown below, from Strawbery Banke).  The aim of this project is to preserve as much of the artifacts around the dilapidating building as we can, to try to find objects to be used to more accurately date the house, and to find the builder’s trench.  (All before the builders come to repair the house to its state in the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries.)

Even in the first few days I was amazed to discover bags and bags of ceramics of various patterns and manufacture, marbles, a pocket knife, thimbles, buttons, and most interesting to me, the budding biological anthropologist, many, many pig and cow bones (from femurs, to ribs, to vertebrae).  The team and I even found several whole pig mandibles and several teeth (an example of a pig tooth is shown below).  These findings spoke to me where the patterned ceramics and glass bottles spoke to others.

The Yeaton-Walsh house at Strawbery Banke was mainly lived in by Irish immigrants (multiple generations of the Walsh family were the longest to live there), and the amount of pig bones in particular interested me the most in understanding of the people who lived there over a hundred years ago.  The image below shows a map of Strawbery Banke’s houses color-coded by where the families originated, whether from Italy, Canada, Russia (Jews), or in this case, Ireland.  It shows that the Irish were housed in several of the houses in the early 1900s, and are shown as light blue.

The backyard of the Yeaton-Walsh held many butchered bones, and in the course of my research I discovered pig to have been a large component of Irish food, whether in Ireland or in America.  The lyrics of the songs above are a combination of making fun of the various immigrants to this country, grouping them by what they preferred to eat as a clear a category as what they wore, looked like, or practiced as a religion (in the case of O’Brien).  The other two examples are poetic lists that are filled with enough flavorful adjectives to make anyone understand the kinds of delicious foods these people might have eaten.  The Walshes were not wealthy, at least when they began to live at the house, but they are still an important example of how Irish people lived and ate, as mealtimes, especially to tight-knit families, are often the most important times of all (Smith 2007, pp 111).

Works Cited

Clifford, S. (1992). Ballads of a Bogman. Cork, Mercier Press.

Crotty, P., Ed. (2010). The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry. London, Penguin Books Ltd.

Smith, Andrew F. (2007). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink
Oxford University Press. pp 111.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Directions

Hey everyone!

I told you back in January that I had something special to share with you.  That was my acceptance to the Koobi Fora field school in Kenya.  I have since realized the reality of the expense, although waited until the end of last month to make my decision, because of the chance of an amazing fellowship opportunity.  I did not get the fellowship, but I am going to reapply next year, because as a budding anthropologist, and my overlapping passions in paleontology, archaeology, and history, it would be simply incredible to have the experience.  Koobi Fora was where Mary and Louis Leakey's son Richard did much of his work.  I grew up watching a BBC period drama film with my mom called Wives and Daughters, which ends with two of the main characters walking together in the Rift Valley during a 19th century research trip.  I have dreamed of going ever since.

In the meantime, I am going to graduate in less than a month, get my boating and scuba certifications, work, get field experience closer to home, write, and of course, relax with my friends and family.

“I daresay it seems foolish; perhaps all our earthly trials will appear foolish to us after a while; perhaps they seem so now to angels. But we are ourselves, you know, and this is now, not some time to come, a long, long way off. And we are not angels, to be comforted by seeing the ends for which everything is sent.”  -- Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters

Friday, January 30, 2015

Taking One Step at a Time

Hello everyone!

I just realized today's blog title is similar to last week's, but there was unintentional purpose in that.  Last week I found out some amazing, life changing news (yes, it is coming soon!  Just waiting for more details.), which was "One Last Step" in my undergraduate career.  In "Taking One Step at a Time", I mean the little things in life that get you down, pull you up, or make go the direction it goes.  These steps are your steps.  My steps.

I have disclosed to my friends and family that I am not enjoying work as I did the last three years because we have been moved to new locations.  This is temporary for some, but I'm leaving in May, so that is the last step.  That does not mean I can't make the most of where I choose to take my steps.  I've been feeling down because of the changes I can't help, but I've decided to, in the very least, make an effort to see everyone I used to work with by working in two locations, and cutting out a few days where my work feels redundant.

I'm hoping that with only taking four classes, and making time for work and friends, I can end this final semester on a high note, even if I can't sing during my shift anymore.  Maybe they'll understand and let me, or even join in!

Be safe if you live in the Northeast, hope you get rain in California, and have a great weekend everyone.

(Insert kitten picture here.): HAPPY KITTEN - You can Do it

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Last Step!

Hey everyone!

My winter break went very well, even though we didn't get enough snow consistently to go sledding like last year.  Christmas was relatively quiet, but our 11-month-old long-haired German shepherd made things a lot more fun.

My beloved first legitimate workplace has closed for the semester and we have all been moved to two other locations.  So far, we miss our old home base!  The managers have all been demoted, but that can only be expected when we don't know our way around a new place.  Our amazing boss is temporarily at the other dining hall, and we never see her and other state workers unless we go see them.  It stinks not having the big open dish room and kitchen, and being able to see everyone.  I also miss blasting music and singing with my friends, as we're not allowed even radios, and we don't always get to work together.  Oh, well.  The start of my last semester as an undergraduate hasn't gotten off to the best start, but I'll try to focus on the positive, and hope that more good things happen!  Exciting news has finally reached me, and I have a special post in mind coming soon!