Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Strike

Atlas Shrugged

By Ayn Rand
Read Katy Reading


“Where/why/who is John Galt?”

Summary: An apocalyptic novel, in which a vice-president of a transcontinental railroad and a few other bigwigs struggle to make a profit against the socialite bureaucrats, the latter-doing their best to curtail the former. Furthermore, the great bigwigging minds of the country are disappearing, one by one.

Rating: A must-read.

Rating of the reader: So-so. She could’ve read a lot slower than she did, but the accents –were- kind of nice.

If you want to hear someone rant about their lifes’ philosophy for 45 hours, this book is definitely for you! And, despite the strong ideological standpoint, gleaming from its pages, (and the three-hour monologue that one of the characters broadcasts to the public in the last section of the book), it does have plot value.
The heroine, Dagny Taggart, is surrounded and fawned upon by likely assortment of male suitors in high places. Sadly, only one of these dies in the end, forcing me to believe that the woman had a serious attachment to her characters.

And now, I shall return back to bed and nurse the cheek still swollen to the size of a small orange.

Viva, objectivism~!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Short post due to inordinate amounts of pain.

Errant's gotten her wisdom tooth (a lone, lone creature) taken out yesterday.

The entire epic sage took just over 4 hours, what with running around to get blood tests, sitting in waiting rooms, and so forth. The actual cutting part took about 15 minutes. The doctor had some 30 years of experience and really knew what he was doing.

The tooth had to be physically cut out, and, of course, done with only a local anesthetic. It was actually quite interesting to experience!

It also goes without saying that Err's too sore, woozy, and stuffed with pain-killers to write much of anything at the present time. Except for one thing.

These are the new African violets.

The little white-and-purple one is Rob's Loose Noodle, my first-ever official named variety. :D

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Short post due to travel.

Almost didn't get this in.. This past weekend, we drove 6 hours there and 6 more back to see Elrin's parents. T'was a full weekend, I've got 3 violets to show for it (2 of them- miniature!!), and much squee-ing was had over a brand new sister-in-law-to-be. (El's brother's getting married, as well.)

To get to the point..

Gouache and acrylic metallic paints on Bristol board
4x9.5 inches

Panel 1 out of 6 (or, possibly, 8).
Gouache and metallic acrylics on Bristol board.
4x5 inches.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Atlas continues.

On the book end, I'm still listening to "Atlas Shrugged", disk 37 out of 40-some. This book is filled with moral lectures on capitalism vs. socialism, and contains only one strong female character worth noting (all the others, having either been eeeevil, or committed suicide). Still, it's a captivating little read. The narrator actually gets better as the book goes on, able to mimic individual accents and nagging tones of certain personages. The author herself had a pretty interesting life, as well.

In a sense, "Atlas" is a pre-apocalyptic novel, along the same line (and with much more effort) as World War Z, except that instead of the failure of human bodies, it deals with the failure of human spirit. While I still don't agree with some of the ideas in it, this is the one book that is going to be squarely in the "must-read" category.

As far as other things in life go, I've started taking ceramics classes at the local museum. Also started is another painting of the "winged serpent" variety, likely to be 6 panels or more. The wedding invitations are -almost- ready to go out, we've found a musician, and are going to take care of the cake and flowers this weekend. Once again, I find it difficult to believe how busy non-college life can be.

Oh. Also, some lasagna was made this week. El loved it. I think I shall be using it as a bribe in the future. ;D

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Birds, bikes, Biltmore.

After a wave of heat, come days of almost-rain. We pull through those, too, letting the season of dandelions, and cherries, and blooming bulbs, fall by the wayside. Last weekend, Elrin and I went biking for the first time. It was a 3-hour ride down the Creeper Trail, in which we’ve gone about twice as far as we ever have on foot.

Needless to say, it was uphill both ways.

What else is new? Birds continue to come to the feeder, from thrashers to rogue bluejays that eat OtherKitty’s food.

Mr. Barrel and mystery cat #5 appear to be on friendly terms with one another.

Our trip to the Biltmore estate this weekend was another plus. Flowers make me smile, and I must’ve pulled a muscle or three by the end of that particular trip. I also learned that the red almost-pomegranate-like bushes on the sides of the road are flowering quince! (And the holly-like-thing with complex leaves- a leatherleaf mahonia).

Learn something new every day.

The conservatory and greenhouses of the estate are to die-for. As Elrin's got a season pass as well, now, we're planning to go back in May to drool over the above-mentioned (as well as the most awesome grounds and the house itself) sometime in May.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Artwork update

Posted on Saturday, since on Sunday we're -finally- getting out to Biltmore.
4x10 inches
Gouache on bristol board.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Self-helpfulness, and more history.

Empire of Gold: A History of the Byzantine Empire
The Modern Scholar series

By Thomas F. Madden
Read by the same


“Eastern Roman Empire, Against All Odds!”
“Political Backstabbing in Southern Eurasia”

Summary: A series of lectures concerning the history of the Byzantine empire.

Rating: A good educational resource, if you’ve the time and interest for it.

Rating of the reader: Similar as his previous lecture series. Not a strong speaker, but does well enough in his field of expertise.

Every time I check out a Modern Scholar ‘book’, I can’t help but notice how much is skipped over in all the lectures. I mean, a great empire, condensed into 7 disks? Can’t be done.

What also irked me about this particular one is an almost-complete absence of commentary about the relationship of Russia and Eastern Orthodox church. Not sure why that is.

The Most Important Year in a Woman’s/Man’s Life
By Mark Devries, Susan Devries, Bobbie Wolgemuth, and Robert Wolgemuth

“Man, Listen to Your Woman.”
“Woman, Listen to Your Man.”

Summary: A sort of a Christian self-help/guide book on successfully managing the first year of marriage.

Rating: A must-read for a young couple, even if they’re not Christian.

Elrin’s grandparents sent us two books on marriage. Taking the hint, we’re reading them. Now, I usually rather dislike people pushing their religion onto me, but the “Most Important Year” is actually pretty mild, as far as religious tracts go, and does have a lot of good advice along the lines of different issues the couple’d have to face. It is also brutally honest about the fact that sometimes, you’re simply not going to like some things about your significant other. That’s truer than most people recognize. The trick’s in getting past the rough patches and agreeing to disagree without making the said issues a cat fight. And then there’s the concept of normality in both of the peoples’ backgrounds…

Speaking of good parenting advice, a blog that Elrin follows has had a rather good series of posts on the raising of children, with many of which I agree. Now, just to wait 6 years and keep fingers crossed about not being sterile…

Currently reading:
Staying in Love for a Lifetime
By Ed. Wheat, M.D. with Gloria Okes Perkins

As far as religious tracts go, this one is a heavy hitter. There are some parts of it that I simply disagree with (such as the absolute no-no of a divorce), which means that this will be a slow, slow read. There are some positive points within it, but they are sandwiched between Bible quotations.

Currently listening to:
Atlas Shrugged
Ayn Rand

A super-long commentary on socialism vs. capitalism, and one that I do not entirely agree with, either. However, the story makes it worth it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Biking, birds, and happiness.

This entry is a bit late.

I blame Mina.

I blame her for introducing me to the 17-mile biking trail down a certain mountain.

It took us about 7 hours to do, mostly due to us dismounting and wandering off to ooh and aah at the environment, just about every 5 minutes. This means that at the end of it all (what with me not having biked for something like a year), both her and I were –beat-!

Monday was perpetual agony in muscles that I didn’t know I had. The blog post, which was usually written on Monday morning, didn’t get written. Surprisingly, the handle-burns on the insides of the palms disappeared within the day. Odd.

Of course, the trail was bloody great. It wound down the mountain, along a raging mountain stream-turn-river. There were beavers alongside the river. I think I saw one.

These are some of the formations that they've built.

A beaver pool right under the biking bridge.

Also seen were the clubmoss ferns.

Yellow violets.

Dutchman’s breeches.

Some sort of trillium.

And views to die for!

Now that Elrin’s finally ordered a bike for himself, hopefully we’ll be getting out there more often!

On that news, I’m finally getting back to driving. After six months of home-boundness, it’s bound to be interesting, and not a little hazardous!

Home front.

The tulips are still blooming, and the veggies are growing larger by the day.

The common birds in the back yard these days are limited to titmice, cardinals, house finches, bluejays, and mourning doves. Woodpeckers are also sighted daily, albeit in a distance.

Otherwise, it’s been mostly sunny with a 10% chance of nuthatches.

An occasional mystery cat dropped by to stare at the birds. (This one’s #3, I believe).

With everything coming into bloom, the scenes from the bedroom windows could only be described as ‘something else’.

In other news, we’ve been keeping busy, wedding invitations have come in (they are currently being modified), and Elrin’s got a new computer chair, which he is unfairly excited about. (But some of us get to take ceramics class at the local art museum, so HA. Hooray for tax refunds!)

Time is really flying by. When I first moved out here, I’d have never thought that being a “simple” stay at home artist could be so involving. Moving out of college and into a household was challenging, in that initially, I was restless about getting things done, and accomplishing something, and.. I’m not sure how to put it. Being “successful”?

It’s funny, that I feel more fulfilled right now than I’ve ever felt during the 6 years of college. Computer addiction's dissolved into nothing. (Got the vide ogame "The Witcher" some week ago, and have yet to even start on it!) Hiking, biking, cooking, gardening, cleaning, painting, reading, writing… Doing all that, and having a loving significant other as well as friends to do those things with.

I would’ve never thought that I’d say these words, even as recently as a year ago.

But, here goes.

I am happy.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thieves of spring

In a slight deviation from Daonic theme, two birdie-beastie paintings.
Gouache and metallic acrylic paints on wood, for both of them, the first is 5x7, while the second one's 6x8.

Strawberry Thief

Thief of Dandelions

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Time travel, menstruation, and the Crusades.. But not in that order

Flow: The cultural story of menstruation

By Elissa Stein and Susan Kim


“A loosely woven feministic tale of the red tide, and the response to the same”
The Return of the Menstrual Avenger” (A video mentioned in the closing chapter of the book. Not safe for work.)

Summary: Two women take on the tale of menstruation, menstrual products, marketing, menopause, and the evils therein.

Rating: It’s a pretty interesting read if you’re a female, falling squarely into “read if you’ve got a spare moment” category. I would absolutely love to hear a guy’s response to this book.

The authors do go a bit heavy on corporate bashing, which is only to be expected, considering the overall tone of this book. It was interesting enough in its own right for recreational reading, but didn’t make a stunning impact that a good story might have.


By Kurt Vonnegut
Read by Ethan Hawke


“The third science fiction book that I’ve ever liked”
“World War II… and aliens!”

Summary: A fragmented narrative of the bombing of Dresden, along with the ‘before’ and the ‘after’. Alien abductions and time travel factor into this tale rather heavily.

Rating: A must-listen-to.

Rating of the reader: A stunning, whispered account. Makes me want to write fan mail Ethan Hawke.

I’m not a big fan of science fiction, primarily because there are seemingly so few good authors in the genre. The ones that come to mind are Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s guide series), Ray Bradbury (Short stories) , and Neal Stephenson (Snowcrash, which I need to reread, badly). Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t a mere sci-fi junk novel, however. It’s a social commentary, it’s a war story, it’s an almost-humorous account through sheer human ingenuity with the concept of time.

It is vaguely Memento-ish and Blood-red Snow-ish at the same time. No wonder it’s a classic.

“God Wills It!”: Understanding the Crusades
The Modern Scholar series

By Thomas F. Madden
Read by the same


“Byzantine empire, the early Sweden”
“Crusades: it was all the Catholic’s fault”

Summary: A series of lectures concerning the history of the Crusades.

Rating: A good educational resource, if you’ve the time and interest for it.

Rating of the reader: So-so. The material is interesting, but the guy lacks a certain emotional appeal that might make some of the facts sink in better.

The Modern Scholar series is a pretty good one if you want to fill in the gaps in your knowledge on certain topics. After doing about 5 of the individual courses, I must report that the overall quality is pleasantly good, and that while the lecturers themselves may not be the top-notch voice actors, they certainly know their stuff.

According to this one, the first three crusades were the most effective ones, the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem existed just short of 200 years for sole purpose of controlling the territory for the pilgrims to holy sites, the Muslims were mostly ignorant of the crusaders’ purpose throughout, and the split between Catholics and Protestants as well as the increase in royal authority contributed to the Crusades’ eventual decline. (And then there were the Mongols…).

A pleasant 7-disk program, altogether. I’m glad that the local library carries a huge number of these.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Trains, lost cows, and wildflowers.

Cherry trees all over Abingdon are bursting into bloom, along with pears and eastern redbuds. The effect is an explosion of pastels, faint and soft-edged, hovering over the streets in a surreal attempt at clouds. Edges of Virginia Creeper trail sprout crocuses.

We haven’t slept well recently, waking up to the bellowing horns of trains, as they speed by this tiny mountain town on their way to somewhere. Trains fascinate me. They symbolize another world, where solid placement in lower class made certain that public transportation was the only feasible way from one place to another. I don’t exactly miss that world anymore than I miss trash on the streets, and human shit in the bushes, and lack of public water fountains. But just because I don’t romanticize it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hold a certain nostalgia for the old country.

One time last fall, Elrin and I sat on a bench by the Art Depot, just as a massive cargo train roared a mere thirty feet away. We’ve admitted to one another afterwards, that the speedy passage of this machine made us feel a deep unease, a primordial feeling nearing to terror. Very few of its freight wagons were decorated with graffiti, unlike those back home in Champaign. In Illinois, the trains which passed seemed short, painted over and dumpy, disused relics in the world of highways and trucks.

Here, in the mountains, trains remain a force to be reckoned with, roaring down well-maintained railways like some behemoths from the past.


El and I have done significant distances on the Creeper Trail, both the stretch starting in Abingdon, and another location closer to Damascus. The latter proved to be a wonderful walk down flower-studded slopes, alongside what I suppose to be Holston river, and one residences too many.

This is a river bank, down which we've traveled some ways before getting back on the trail.

A type of common blue violet, called the confederate violet.

Some spring beauties.

I'm pretty sure that this one's a sharp-lobed hepatica.

Bloodroot is a pretty common spring flower. Its roots can be used for dye of the obvious color.

And a full bloodroot flower! Courtesy of Elrin's steady hand.

This is a corydalis flavula, or yellow fumewart.

Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum commutatum. Both this one and the yellow fumewart were identified by the nice folks at Gardenweb.

We met a calf, which was on the wrong side of the fence..poor terrified bugger.

And a snapshot from the drive back.


No new bird sightings, surprisingly. Starlings continue to prevail over the surrounding lands, and house finches have increased in number. The resident mockingbird’s been entertaining us in the early mornings with its creative interpretations of other birds. He (or she?) repeats everything two or more times, before moving onto some new sound. Does the bird have a short attention span, or what?

Also, while there aren't any new bird pictures, here's a rather cute spider.


Here’s a planter update.
Some cucumbers have hatched in the bucket, as of yesterday. Salad greens are coming up, too, though there hasn’t been a sign of scarlet runner beans.
Hyacinths have finished blossoming, only to be replaced by tulips. We've two varieties of those, pure red and pink-with-white-edge.

And the whole planter!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cheap Joe’s and the lustful lure of the art supply stores.

Let it be known that art supply stores are traps for anyone who’s ever picked up a brush/pencil/etc and declared themselves ‘artist’. Metalsmiths are twice as bad, actually, since they may be drawn to both hardware (“I’m not going to buy anything... Aww, lookie at the cute pair of pliers! … Well, maybe just this one thing. Though, come to think of it, I –could- use more steel wool and copper wire..”) and art supply stores.

It’s obvious what the above statement is leading up to. I went along with two Wednesday morning painters (both-teachers at a local museum, ironically) to Cheap Joe’s in Boone. The town itself was sort of blah, but the store was delightful. Therein, a number of items (wanted, not necessarily needed), was acquired. I’ve manfully passed over a display of iridescent inks, for the record.. and brushes. At least, most of them. Thicker liners were actually on the agenda.

For the rest of the purchases, there is absolutely no excuse.


The second purple panel is finished. The problem with it is, that I’ve put it down and picked it up a day/two later way too many times. It shows, in effect not being very consistent throughout. It seems that I’m also moving further and further away from the principle of khokhloma. The principle is to fill up as much space as possible, while still retaining harmonious composition. Basically, I feel that the individual aspects of this painting stand out too much.

Ah well!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Some classicals, and some not-so's.

Tick Tock
Dean Koontz
Read by Paul Michael

“The Night of a Doll Snake Rat-quick Little Monster Thing”
“Writer Meets Witch”

Summary: A Vietnamese writer of detective novels buys a car, has a demon set upon him, wrecks the car, and meets the love of his life. Rewind-repeat the second and third actions within the previous sentence.

Rating: Read if bored. It’s a light, humorous novel of a purely recreational nature.

Rating of the audio: Decent. The guy’s voice is appropriate to the book, and he manages to convey it with all the necessary pauses.

The book starts out creepy, and shortly gets ridiculous. It’s one of those reads that makes you go “what the fluff” around the middle, and keep a perpetual raised eyebrow up until the end, where the raised bit becomes a concerned frown of the “what was the writer on…?” sort. Still, it’s a good waste of time, if you’ve got time to waste.

There is a brief writers’ insert after the end, which pretty much explains the genre that Koontz was going for. I’d almost recommend that one listens to it before the rest of the book, as it makes the listening to the rest less “wtf-y”.

The March
E.L. Doctorow
Read by Joe Morton

“Stephen King’s ‘The Walk’ meets diversity and social commentary”
“Rape-Pillage-Scavenging 201, with Special Emphasis on Dislocation”

Summary: A narrative which follows a number of people throughout the march of William Sherman and his army towards the coast, and the end of American Civil War.

Rating: Undecided. Not exactly a must-read, but not RIB (read if bored), either. I suspect the physical book would be somewhere around the lower tier of “Must-read if you enjoy historical fiction”.

Rating of the audio: Poor. The guy reads well, but there are insufficient breaks between chapters/points of view. This creates moments when, as you are caught in the flow of the story, you suddenly realize that they are no longer talking about Madam X, but Sir Y.

One thing I will say about this book: it does make you think about experiences of larger numbers of people affected by conflicts. Not that one needs to necessarily draw on the current on-goings in the Middle East, but that does come to mind.

The style of writing is vaguely reminiscent of Ken Follett, with a lot less implausible twists and turns. The author lacks the humane approach towards his characters, but does not particularly delight in graphic scenes of any sort.

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes II
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Read by David Timson


“The World’s Greatest Detective Makes Headlines with Logical Leaps and Bounds”
“Elementary, my Dear Watson”

Summary: A series of short stories about intriguing cases, solved by the great detective and his medically minded sidekick.

Rating: A must-read, on principle. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are kind of like Adventures of Tom Sawyer.. a classic.

Rating of the audio: Simply delightful. The guy has a perfect “Dr. Watson”-ish voice, and varies it as needed.

I’ve no particular opinion on any one story, outside their overall unpredictability. The 4 actual novels about this character have been added to the to-read list, however.