Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!


2013 is going to be a great year for OUTLANDER fans, with WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD expected sometime in the fall.

Happy New Year to all of you!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Year in Review

Here are some of my favorite OUTLANDER moments from 2012.

January 27, 2012 - Friday Fun Facts!

Looking around for something fun and different to use as a blogging meme, I came up with Friday Fun Facts: a collection of "odd, unusual, humorous, or otherwise interesting facts that I've learned from reading Diana Gabaldon's books", as I put it in the original post.  I choose five new facts every week, and post them on Friday mornings.

For something that I created more or less on a whim, the Friday Fun Facts (or FFF, as they've come to be known) have become amazingly popular.  It's very gratifying to me to see how much everyone enjoys seeing what new facts I choose to focus on each week.  And even Diana Gabaldon enjoys them!  She's called them "consistently entertaining", which is a great thrill for me, as you can imagine.

Here's the list of all my Friday Fun Facts posts so far.  And here is the index of topics, organized by book.  (There are well over 200 different items.)  If there's something you'd like to see in a future FFF post, please let me know!

March 6, 2012 - An Open Letter on Facebook

Starting in January, 2012, the admins of Diana Gabaldon's Facebook page began running weekly "casting calls", where fans could post photos of actors they'd like to see in the roles of Jamie, Claire, and the rest, and then vote on their favorites.  The movie-casting talk completely overwhelmed any other discussion on Diana's Facebook page for many weeks, and one day in March, prompted by a discussion on the Monday-night OUTLANDER chat on My Outlander Purgatory in which a number of people had expressed frustration over the nonstop focus on movie-casting, I decided to write an "Open Letter to the Admins of Diana Gabaldon's Facebook Page".

You can see the full text of the letter here.  The response to it was overwhelmingly positive, except for a couple of people who took exception to it on Facebook, and I'm grateful to all of you who supported what I was trying to do.  Including Diana, who passed the message on to the admins, and went out of her way to back me up in public.

In the end it was successful, and Diana's Facebook page has settled into what it was always meant to be in the first place:  a place where fans can get the latest information about new and upcoming releases, talk about the books and characters, share interesting links and photos relating to OUTLANDER, ask questions, and sometimes get answers directly from Diana.  Movie-casting does occasionally come up as a subject for discussion, but it's no longer the sole focus of that page.


May 21, 2012 - The e-book of "The Custom of the Army"

Imagine my shock, and delight, when the e-book edition of Diana's novella "The Custom of the Army" was published in May, and I saw the dedication page:

Click on the picture to see a bigger view.  "Aedile Curule" and "Chief Bumblebee-Herder" are references to my role as Section Leader of the Diana Gabaldon folder on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community.

"Custom" is a great story, and now it will mean even more to me on a personal level.  Thank you, Diana!!

June 29 - July 8, 2012 - My Trip to Scotland!

In the summer of 2012, I went on Judy Lowstuter's Celtic Journeys OUTLANDER Tour of Scotland, along with my mom and my sister Alice, and a group of other OUTLANDER fans.

We had a FABULOUS time, and I have so many wonderful memories of that trip!  Look here for my 8-part series of blog posts about the trip.

It really was the trip of a lifetime for me, and I'm so glad I was able to go. Many thanks to Judy for a wonderful tour!

August 5 - September 15, 2012 - OUTLANDER Photo Contest

In August, 2012, I decided to hold a contest in honor of the 4th anniversary of Outlandish Observations.  The rules were as follows:
Submit a photo showing one of the following:
  • Yourself, a friend, or a family member (including children or pets!) reading or holding one of Diana Gabaldon's books.
  • Your OUTLANDER book collection
  • A well-loved paperback edition (you know, one of those books that's been read so often it's nearly falling apart...)
  • Your favorite place to read the books
  • The most unusual place you've read the books
  • etc.
Be creative! The only requirements are:
  • At least one of Diana Gabaldon's books must be included in the photo in order to qualify for the contest.
  • The photo must be one that you took yourself, or that you have permission to use.
I was amazed by the variety and the creativity of the photos that people submitted.  There were 114 entries in all, and I think they're terrific!  Diana Gabaldon loved the collection, too.  You can see a slideshow with all the contest photos here (be sure to read all the captions!)  Thanks so much to everyone who participated.  I think I might do this again sometime.  It was a lot of fun.

October 23, 2012 - There WILL be a Book 9!

Diana Gabaldon made the following comments during a video interview at the Poisoned Pen bookstore on October 23, 2012:
"There will be nine books all told in the main series -- the big enormous ones -- so WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD is the eighth. There will be one more after that. But...I'm pretty sure that's the end."
You don't have to take my word for it! Go here to see the video. Diana's comments are at about 39 minutes into it. 

November 8, 2012 - A TRAIL OF FIRE

Diana Gabaldon's story collection, A TRAIL OF FIRE, was published in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand on November 8, 2012.  It's a collection of four novellas ("The Custom of the Army", "A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows", "Lord John and the Plague of Zombies", and "The Space Between"), and I enjoyed it very much!

I laughed out loud when I saw my name listed in the Acknowledgements as "Nitpicker-in-Chief".  That's a reference to the fact that Diana was kind enough to let me have an early look at these stories, and I sent her detailed comments on all four stories.  I'm glad she found my comments helpful.

For more information about A TRAIL OF FIRE, see my FAQ page here.

December 22, 2012 - A giftie from Diana!

Diana sent me this OUTLANDER book charm as a Chanukah present this year. I think it's lovely. If you'd like one for yourself, you can order them from the Author's Attic.

2012 was a wonderful, unforgettable year for me personally.  And I think 2013 will be a great year for OUTLANDER fans, with WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD expected out sometime in the fall.  Happy New Year to all of you!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 12/28/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) Have you ever wondered what the HMS Porpoise from VOYAGER might have looked like?
Jamie was standing with the Captain on the afterdeck, watching the approach of a large ship behind us. She was perhaps three times the size of the Artemis, three-masted, with a perfect forest of rigging and sail, through which small black figures hopped like fleas on a bedsheet. A puff of white smoke floated in her wake, token of a cannon recently fired.

“Is she firing on us?” I asked in amazement.

“No,” Jamie said grimly. “A warning shot only. She means to board us."

"Can they?” I addressed the question to Captain Raines, who was looking even more glum than usual, the downturned corners of his mouth sunk in his beard.

“They can,” he said. “We’ll not outrun her in a stiff breeze like this, on the open sea.”

“What is she?” Her ensign flew at the masthead, but seen against the sun at this distance, it looked completely black.

Jamie glanced down at me, expressionless. “A British man-o-war, Sassenach. Seventy-four guns. Perhaps ye’d best go below.”

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 46, "We Meet a Porpoise". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The photo above shows a model of a British man o' war called HMS Bellona.  (Click on the photo to enlarge it, and look here for more close-up views.)  Launched in 1760, the Bellona was the prototype for a class of 74-gun warships that were widely used by the British Navy in the latter part of the 18th century.  It may not be exactly the same as the Porpoise, but it's probably not too different.

The diagram above shows all of the different parts of a man o' war. Click on the picture for a bigger view.

2) One of the things that fascinates me about Diana Gabaldon's books is the way that tiny and seemingly unimportant details can form a link from one part of the series to another.  Claire's reaction to the smell of roses, for instance.

Here's a bit from DRAGONFLY, just after Claire and Jamie return to Lallybroch:
His mother, Ellen, had planted the late-blooming rosebush by the door. Its faint, rich scent still wafted up the walls of the house to the bedroom window. It was as though she reached in herself, to touch him lightly in passing. To touch me, too, in welcome.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 31, "Mail Call". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Contrast that with the scene from the party held in Flora MacDonald's honor in ABOSAA, nearly thirty years later.  I like to imagine that the roses Claire saw at River Run looked like the ones in the photo above.  But the effect they have on Claire this time is quite different, as she experiences a flashback to her encounter with King Louis:
The air around me was suffused with the scent of roses, and I heard the creak of the dress cage as Louis’s weight pressed upon it, and heard his sigh of pleasure. The room was dark, lit by one candle; it flickered at the edge of vision, then was blotted out by the man between my--

“Christ, Claire! Are ye all right?” I hadn’t actually fallen down, thank God. I had reeled back against the wall of Hector Cameron’s mausoleum, and Jamie, seeing me go, had leapt forward to catch hold of me.

“Let go,” I said, breathless, but imperative. “Let go of me!”

He heard the note of terror in my voice, and slackened his grip, but couldn’t bring himself to let go altogether, lest I fall. With the energy of sheer panic, I pulled myself upright, out of his grasp.

I still smelled roses. Not the cloying scent of rose oil--fresh roses. Then I came to myself, and realized that I was standing next to a huge yellow brier rose, trained to climb over the white marble of the mausoleum.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 54, "Flora MacDonald's Barbecue". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I think it's fascinating to compare Claire's reaction in the two scenes.

3) The photo above shows a 10-shilling note, an example of "proclamation money" printed in Colonial North Carolina.

What exactly was meant by the term "proclamation money"?  According to this site:
To get around the shortage of money, colonial governments printed paper money, and colonists used whatever foreign currency they could get their hands on -- Spanish dollars, for example. Today, global trading in currency sets exchange rates, but there were no international banks to set exchange rates in the 1700s. Instead, each colony set an official value in pounds, shillings, and pence on paper money and foreign coin. Because their value was set by proclamation, these currencies were called proclamation money
If you click on the picture above to enlarge it, you'll notice the signature "R. Caswell" at the bottom right. I wonder if this is the same Richard Caswell who appears briefly in FIERY CROSS and ABOSAA?

Here's another example of proclamation money used in North Carolina. This one is worth five pounds. Note the warning, "Death to Counterfeit", prominently displayed along the bottom and sides.
"You write a very fair hand, Mrs. Fraser,” he unbent enough to say, at one point, and gave me a brief, wintry smile. “It is unfortunate that you should have been the forger, rather than the murderess.”

"Why?” I asked, rather astonished at that.

“Why, you are plainly literate,” he said, surprised in turn at my astonishment. “If convicted of murder, you could plead benefit of clergy, and be let off with a public whipping and branding in the face. Forgery, though--” He shook his head, pursing his lips. “Capital crime, no pardon possible. If convicted of forgery, Mrs. Fraser, I am afraid you must be hanged.”

My feelings of gratitude toward Sadie Ferguson underwent an abrupt reappraisal.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 92, "Amanuensis". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
So why was forgery punishable by death in Colonial America? It seems a very severe punishment by modern standards.  Here's one explanation, from Wikipedia:
The theory behind such harsh punishments was that one who had the skills to counterfeit currency was considered a threat to the safety of the State, and had to be eliminated. Another explanation is the fact that issuing money that people could trust was both an economic imperative, as well as a (where applicable) Royal prerogative; therefore counterfeiting was a crime against the state or ruler itself, rather than against the person who received the fake money.
For more about money in Colonial North Carolina, look here.

4) This is the Old High St. Stephen's Church in Inverness, Scotland.  When I visited Inverness in July on the Celtic Journeys OUTLANDER Tour, I made a point of going to find this church (although I didn't actually go inside), specifically because it was mentioned in ECHO:
"After a bit, I found my way to Inverness and was sittin’ on the curb of the street, quite dazed by the huge great roaring things goin’ by me--I’d seen the cars on the road north, of course, but it’s different when they’re whizzin’ past your shins. Anyway, I’d sat down outside the High Street Church, for I knew that place, at least, and thought I’d go and ask the minister for a bite of bread when I’d got myself a bit more in hand. I was that wee bit rattled, ken,” he said, leaning confidentially toward Brianna.

“I suppose so,” she murmured, and lifted an eyebrow at Roger. “Old High St. Stephen’s?”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 72, "The Feast of All Saints". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
If you visit Inverness, I would certainly recommend taking a look at this church.  It happens to be located right next door to a fabulous second-hand bookshop called Leakey's, which is worth browsing in if you have the time.  You can see more about my trip to Scotland here.

5) And finally, here's a Scottish custom for Hogmanay, the New Year's celebration.
A firstfoot was to bring gifts to the house: an egg, a faggot of wood, a bit of salt--and a bit of whisky, thus insuring that the household would not lack for the necessities during the coming year.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 35, "Hogmanay". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I can't participate in a first-footing myself, even if I lived in Scotland (redheads being considered extremely bad luck on such an occasion), but I'd like to share these small tokens with you anyway.  For more about Hogmanay traditions in Scotland, look here.

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please stop by next week for more!

Happy New Year, and I wish you all the best in 2013!

Monday, December 24, 2012

REPOST: Christmas quotes

Here are some Christmas-themed quotes from Diana Gabaldon's books. I posted a similar list last year, but I thought it was worth reposting, for those of you who haven't seen it before.  I hope you enjoy these quotes.  Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating this week!

1) It's hard to imagine, from our 21st-century perspective, anyone losing track of the date this close to Christmas. But Roger had a lot of other things on his mind....
"What's the occasion? For our homecoming?"

She lifted her head from his chest and gave him what he privately classified as A Look.

"For Christmas," she said.

"What?" He groped blankly, trying to count the days, but the events of the last three weeks had completely erased his mental calendar.


"Tomorrow, idiot," she said with exaggerated patience.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 33, "Home for Christmas". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
2) Here's a quote from one of my favorite scenes in DRUMS, when Claire comes to find Jamie in the snow:
"What if I tell you a story, instead?"

Highlanders loved stories, and Jamie was no exception.

"Oh, aye," he said, sounding much happier. "What sort of story is it?"

"A Christmas story," I said, settling myself along the curve of his body. "About a miser named Ebenezer Scrooge."

"An Englishman, I daresay?"

"Yes," I said. "Be quiet and listen."

I could see my own breath as I talked, white in the dim, cold air. The snow was falling heavily outside our shelter; when I paused in the story, I could hear the whisper of flakes against the hemlock branches, and the far-off whine of wind in the trees.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 21, "Night on a Snowy Mountain". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
3) I think it's interesting--and rather sad--that Lord John should seek out Nessie, rather than the company of his own family, on Christmas Eve:
“Aye, well, it is Christmas Eve,” she said, answering his unasked question. “Any man wi’ a home to go to’s in it.” She yawned, pulled off her nightcap, and fluffed her fingers through the wild mass of curly dark hair.

“Yet you seem to have some custom,” he observed. Distant singing came from two floors below, and the parlor had seemed well populated when he passed.

“Och, aye. The desperate ones. I leave them to Maybelle to deal with; dinna like to see them, poor creatures. Pitiful. They dinna really want a woman, the ones who come on Christmas Eve--only a fire to sit by, and folk to sit with.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 24, "Joyeux Noel". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
4) The next quote is a reminder that Christmas was viewed differently back then than we think of it today. But of course many of today's Christmas traditions date from the 19th century or later:
Catholic as many of them were--and nominally Christian as they all were--Highland Scots regarded Christmas primarily as a religious observance, rather than a major festive occasion. Lacking priest or minister, the day was spent much like a Sunday, though with a particularly lavish meal to mark the occasion, and the exchange of small gifts.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 34, "Charms". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.) 
5) Speaking of Christmas traditions, here's one, from THE SCOTTISH PRISONER:
They’d brought down the Yule log to the house that afternoon, all the household taking part, the women bundled to the eyebrows, the men ruddy, flushed with the labor, staggering, singing, dragging the monstrous log with ropes, its rough skin packed with snow, a great furrow left where it passed, the snow plowed high on either side.

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 43, "Succession". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
6) And what would the holidays be without sweets? <g> Check out Outlander Kitchen's recipe for molasses toffee, as described in this scene from THE FIERY CROSS:
With a certain amount of forethought, Mrs. Bug, Brianna, Marsali, Lizzie, and I had made up an enormous quantity of molasses toffee, which we had distributed as a Christmas treat to all the children within earshot.  Whatever it might do to their teeth, it had the beneficial effect of gluing their mouths shut for long periods, and in consequence, the adults had enjoyed a peaceful Christmas.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 34, "Charms". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
7) Quakers don't have any special Christmas celebrations, but there's no denying that Denny and Rachel Hunter found Christmas, 1777, a particularly memorable occasion, thanks to Dottie!
"Well, that is odd,” Rachel said, turning to look first at her brother, and then at the small clock that graced their rooms. “Who goes a-visiting at nine o’clock on Christmas night? It cannot be a Friend, surely?” For Friends did not keep Christmas and would find the feast no bar to travel, but the Hunters had no connections--not yet--with the Friends of any Philadelphia meeting.

A thump of footsteps on the staircase prevented Denzell’s reply, and an instant later the door of the room burst open. The fur-clad woman stood on the threshold, white as her furs.

“Denny?” she said in a strangled voice.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 86, "Valley Forge". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
8) I love this quote, even though things didn't turn out the way Roger had expected:
She'd wanted to go to the Christmas Eve services. After that...

After that, he would ask her, make it formal. She would say yes, he knew. And then...

Why, then, they would come home, to a house dark and private. With themselves alone, on a night of sacrament and secret, with love newly come into the world. And he would lift her in his arms and carry her upstairs, on a night when virginity's sacrifice was no loss of purity, but rather the birth of everlasting joy.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 17, "Home for the Holidays". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Wishing all of you the best in this holiday season!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A giftie from Diana!

Look at what Diana Gabaldon sent me!

This is one of the new OUTLANDER book charms from The Author's Attic.  Diana doesn't have any financial connection to the Author's Attic site, as far as I know, but she obviously likes these book charms very much!  Kudos to Michelle Moore for a wonderful idea. <g>

You can see more information about these book charms, including pictures and ordering information, here.

The book charm is attached to a lovely silver chain, so I can wear it as a necklace.  Isn't it pretty?

Here's the card that came with it.  In case you can't make out Diana's handwriting, the card reads,
"Dear Karen--

from the bottom of my heart <g>

Merry Christmas (or other holiday, as the case may be) & a Happy New Year!

Love, Diana"

The "other holiday" is a reference to the fact that I'm Jewish.  And one advantage of being Jewish at Christmastime is that I don't feel any particular obligation to wait until December 25th to open gifts that arrive in the mail a few days early!

I was deeply moved by what she wrote on this card.  No, that's not quite accurate.  I had tears in my eyes when I saw she'd signed it "Love, Diana".  Wow.

As many of you know, Diana Gabaldon is not only an amazingly gifted writer, but a generous and caring person, and I'm honored and delighted that she considers me a friend.

Thank you so much, Diana!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 12/21/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) The photo above shows a maypop fruit (Passiflora incarnata), mentioned in DRUMS OF AUTUMN in the scene near the end of the book where Roger returns to the Ridge.
Nayawenne had told me that the scent of carnivore urine would keep rabbits away—and a man who ate meat was nearly as good as a mountain lion, to say nothing of being more biddable. Yes, that would do; he’d shot a deer only two days ago; it was still hanging. I should brew a fresh bucket of spruce beer to go with the roast venison, though…

As I wandered toward the herb shed to see if I had any maypop fruits for flavoring, my eye caught a movement at the far edge of the clearing. Thinking it was Jamie, I turned to go and inform him of his new duty, only to be stopped dead in my tracks when I saw who it was.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 66, "Child of My Blood". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The gorgeous purple flowers are known as passionflower.  According to Wikipedia,
Traditionally, the fresh or dried whole plant has been used as a herbal medicine to treat nervous anxiety and insomnia. A small clinical study suggested that in the form of a tea it may improve the subjective quality of sleep. The dried, ground herb is frequently used in Europe by drinking a teaspoon of it in tea. A sedative chewing gum has even been produced.
For more information about maypops, look here and here.

2) The illustration above, from an 1845 engraving, shows villagers bringing in a Yule log, just as we saw in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER.  (Click on the picture for a bigger view.)
They’d brought down the Yule log to the house that afternoon, all the household taking part, the women bundled to the eyebrows, the men ruddy, flushed with the labor, staggering, singing, dragging the monstrous log with ropes, its rough skin packed with snow, a great furrow left where it passed, the snow plowed high on either side.

Willie rode atop the log, screeching with excitement, clinging to the rope. Once back at the house, Isobel had tried to teach him to sing “Good King Wenceslas,” but it was beyond him, and he dashed to and fro, into everything, until his grandmother declared that he would drive her to distraction and told Peggy to take him to the stable to help Jamie and Crusoe bring in the fresh-cut branches of pine and fir.

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 43, "Succession". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Where did this tradition come from?  According to Wikipedia:
The first mention of the Yule log in Britain is a written account by the clergyman Robert Herrick, from the 1620s or 1630s. Herrick called the tradition a "Christmas log" and said that it was brought into the farmhouse by a group of males, who were then rewarded with free beer from the farmer's wife. Herrick claimed that the fire used to burn the log was always started with a remnant from the log that had been burned in the previous year's festivities. He also said that the log's role was primarily one of bringing prosperity and protection from evil - by keeping the remnant of the log all the year long the protection was said to remain across the year.
Here's a modern Yule log tradition you may be familiar with. (I remember this very well, growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s.  We used to watch it every year.)  And there's also an edible Yule log, known as a Buche de Noel. <g>

3) Here is a video of Johnny Cash performing "Folsom Prison Blues".  You can see the lyrics here.
Jem was hanging round, too, bored and poking his fingers into everything. He was singing to himself, half under his breath; she paid no attention, until she happened to catch a few words.

What did you say?” she asked, rounding on him incredulously. He couldn’t have been singing “Folsom Prison Blues”--could he?

He blinked at her, lowered his chin to his chest, and said--in the deepest voice he could produce--“Hello. I’m Johnny Cash."

She narrowly stopped herself laughing out loud, feeling her cheeks go pink with the effort of containment.

“Where did you get that?” she asked, though she knew perfectly well. There was only one place he could have gotten it, and her heart rose up at the thought.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 99, "Old Master". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I always have to laugh at the thought of Jem, age 5 or so, doing an imitation of Johnny Cash.  I like to think he and Roger must have watched Johnny Cash on TV, or listened to his records, when they went back to the 20th century.

4) The photos above show a couple of examples of an 18th-century architectural form known as a folly.  The top one is a folly in Stowe, England, called the Temple of Ancient Virtue, built in 1734.  The bottom one is the Temple of Pan, in Osterley, England, built in 1720. (Photo credit for both: curry15 on Flickr.  Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

What exactly is a folly?  From Wikipedia:
At best, some general guidelines can be produced, all of which have exceptions.
  • [Follies] have no purpose other than as an ornament. Often they have some of the appearance of a building constructed for a particular purpose, but this appearance is a sham.
  • They are buildings, or parts of buildings. Thus they are distinguished from other garden ornaments such as sculpture.
  • They are purpose-built. Follies are deliberately built as ornaments.
  • They are often eccentric in design or construction. This is not strictly necessary; however, it is common for these structures to call attention to themselves through unusual details or form.
  • There is often an element of fakery in their construction. The canonical example of this is the sham ruin: a folly which pretends to be the remains of an old building but which was in fact constructed in that state.
  • They were built or commissioned for pleasure.
Here's a description of the folly at Helwater:
The folly, a miniature Greek temple, had been erected by some forgotten architect, and while the site had much to recommend it in summer, being surrounded by copper beeches and with a view of the lake, it was an inconvenient distance from the house, and no one had visited it in months. Dead leaves lay in drifts in the corners, one of the wooden lattices hung from a corner nail, having been torn loose in a winter storm, and the white pillars that framed the opening were thick with abandoned cobwebs and spattered with dirt.

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 14, "Fridstool". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
For more about follies, look here.  You can see many more photos of England's follies here. And here is another page with wonderful photos of follies. (Thanks, Sandy!)

5) Finally, here's a fun fact for the holidays: Jemmy's first Christmas gift from his Grandda was a toy wooden horse, that might have looked something like the one shown above.
I glanced down in search of Jemmy; he had learned to crawl only a few days before, but was already capable of an astonishing rate of speed, particularly when no one was looking. He was sitting peaceably enough in the corner, though, gnawing intently at the wooden horse Jamie had carved for him as a Christmas present.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 34, "Charms". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Happy holidays to all of you!

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please stop by next week, for the final FFF post of 2012!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gaelic bits

Here are a couple of very brief audio clips of Gaelic phrases, courtesy of Cathy MacGregor, who posted these on Compuserve today.

Clicking on either of the links below will take you to a post on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community, where you will see the file as an attachment.  You will need an audio player that can play m4a files in order to listen to them.

"Fuirich agus chi thu"

That's "wait and see" in Gaelic. One of Diana Gabaldon's favorite phrases. <g> You may remember the Gaelic phrase from AN ECHO IN THE BONE.  Claire says it to Lord John in chapter 98, "Mischianza".

(Feel free to copy the button, by the way.  I created it a couple of years ago but I'm happy to share it!)

"Nollaig Chridheil, agus bliadhna mhath ur!"  (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)

Thanks very much to Cathy MacGregor for sharing these with us!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reading Challenges for 2013

As we approach the end of the year, I have been looking around for some reading challenges for 2013.  Here are a few that I think many of you would enjoy.

First of all, many thanks to Kristen from Home is Where the Book Is, for volunteering to host the 2013 OUTLANDER Reading Challenge!

From the announcement:
  • Challenge runs from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013
  • Goal is to read all of the Outlander novels as well as the Lord John Grey novels.
  • All book formats are accepted: Bound, e-Book, Audio.
  • Anyone is welcome to participate, you do not need a blog to sign up.
Please help Kristen get the word out to other OUTLANDER fans about this challenge!  Thanks.

American Revolution Reading Challenge 2013, sponsored by War Through the Generations.

Challenge Description:
War Through the Generations' 2013 reading challenge will be the American Revolution. The challenge will run from January 1, 2013, through December 31, 2013.

This year you have options when reading your fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, etc. with the American Revolution as the primary or secondary theme.

Books can take place before, during, or after the war, so long as the conflicts that led to the war or the war itself are important to the story.
This challenge should be pretty easy for OUTLANDER fans.  Certainly THE FIERY CROSS, A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, and AN ECHO IN THE BONE would qualify!  If you know of any other interesting books (fiction or non-fiction) about the American Revolution that might qualify for this challenge, I'd like to hear about them.

Seriously Series Reading Challenge 2013, sponsored by On a Book Bender and Reading the Paranormal.

This is a challenge about reading books in a series, so it's perfect for OUTLANDER fans, especially those of you who are trying to finish reading (or re-reading) the series in time for the expected release of WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD in the fall of 2013.
A series is considered complete in one of two ways: either as finishing all the books that you own in the series or as obtaining and reading all the books that have been published in the series to date. Because we don’t want this challenge to become a financial burden, how you choose to define completion is left to your discretion.

To allow for the greatest level of flexibility, we’ve separated series into three categories: series started before 2013, series started in 2013, and series rereads.
Again, this one shouldn't be difficult for most of you.

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013, sponsored by Historical Tapestry.

Many of you are readers of historical fiction in general, not just Diana Gabaldon's books, so this sounds like a good opportunity to try historical novels by other authors.  From the challenge description:
During these following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels:

20th century reader - 2 books
Victorian reader - 5 books
Renaissance Reader - 10 books
Medieval - 15 books
Ancient History -25+ books

You can tailor the challenge to suit you in whichever way you like!
These are only a few suggestions for reading challenges to keep you busy in 2013 while we wait for WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD (expected sometime in the fall of 2013, but we don't yet know the exact date). Have fun!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Historic Scotland Battlefields

For those of you who are interested in learning more about Scottish history, here's an article from the BBC website about a new database of Historic Scotland Battlefields.

"Thirty-nine sites of violent clashes on Scottish soil have been officially recognised in Scotland's Inventory of Historic Battlefields.  The database has been put together by Historic Scotland to give greater protection to the sites and to act as a guide to planning authorities.  It includes famous battles such as Bannockburn, Culloden and Killiecrankie."

The database mentioned in the article is here: Historic Scotland Battlefields

It looks like an interesting site to explore!

(I took this photo of the Fraser clan stone at Culloden on my trip to Scotland in July.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 12/14/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) The photo below shows a pair of gold bars, like the ones that Hector Cameron kept hidden away at River Run.  (You'll have to imagine the fleur-de-lis stamped on each one. <g>)

Gold will never tarnish, no matter how damp or dank its surroundings. It will lie at the bottom of the sea for centuries, to emerge one day in some random fisherman’s net, bright as the day it was smelted. It glimmers from a rocky matrix, a siren’s song that has called to men for thousands of years.

The ingots lay in a shallow layer over the bottom of the coffin. Enough to fill two small chests, each chest heavy enough to require two men--or a man and a strong woman--to carry it. Each ingot stamped with a fleur-de-lis. One third of the Frenchman’s gold.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 104, "Sly as Foxes". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's a very interesting video about gold, which was sent to me by Julia Miller (@ga_aak) on Twitter.  (Thanks, Julia!)  University of Nottingham chemistry Professor Martyn Poliakoff recently obtained special permission to visit the high security vault where the Bank of England's gold reserves are stored.

I was surprised to see from that video how heavy a single bar of gold is.  The standard gold bars in use today weigh 12.4 kg each (27.3 lbs).  No wonder they needed six people to carry the three chests containing the Frenchman's gold!

Bonus fun fact:  Did you ever wonder why gold bars are referred to as "bullion"?  According to Wikipedia, "The word bullion originates from the old French word bouillon, which meant boiling and was the term for a mint or melting house."

298 - Blue Sky

Golden Sea

2) Here are a couple of views of the coastline at Thurso, Scotland. This is the area in the northernmost part of Scotland where the Presbyterian fisher-folk in A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES came from.  (Photo credits: Top, North Light on Flickr; bottom, Rosemary Fretwell.)
"But they’re from the northern coast. They’ll be fishermen, Donald, not crofters.”

“Aye, but they’re willing to make a change, no?” MacDonald gestured toward the door, and the forest beyond. “There’s nothing for them left in Scotland. They’ve come here, and now they must make the best of it. A man can learn to farm, surely?”

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 5, "The Shadows Which Fire Throws". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Click on the photos to enlarge them.  You can see what Jamie means; it's totally different from the mountains of western North Carolina!

Have any of you ever been to Thurso?

3) A rush dip or rushlight was used in the 18th century as an inexpensive source of light when ordinary beeswax or tallow candles were unavailable or too expensive.

According to this site,
A rushlight, also known as a rush dip or candle, was made by dipping the pithy centre of a rush into kitchen grease. In summer children and adults picked rushes, the bigger the better, and put them to soak in water until they could be peeled. Skilful peeling left one narrow strip of the outer covering to help the rushes keep their shape. After the peeled rushes were dried, they were dipped in leftover kitchen fat. This had been collected over time in iron grease pans, which were then warmed at the fireside to re-liquify the grease.
They don't burn for long or give off much light, but I imagine you'd be grateful to have them if you were too poor to buy candles.

The photo above shows what rushes (Juncus effusus) look like.

There are occasional references to rush dips in the OUTLANDER books.  For example, here's Lord John visiting the loft where Jamie slept at Helwater.
The loft was dim, but even in the poor light, it was apparent at once which spot was Fraser’s. There were three striped mattress tickings on the floor, each with a lidded wooden crate beside it for clothes and personal belongings. Two of these were scattered with pipes, tobacco pouches, stray buttons, dirty handkerchiefs, empty beer jugs, and the like. The one on the left, a little distance from the others, was starkly bare, save for a tiny wooden statue of the Virgin and a rush dip, presently extinguished.

(From LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 20, "Ye Jacobites By Name". Copyright© 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Can you imagine Jamie reading in that loft, by the light of a single flickering rushlight?

4) The photo above shows what laminaria looks like.  It really is a form of seaweed. <g>


These are laminaria sticks, still used today as a natural method of inducing labor, in much the same way that Claire used them to help Marsali.  The one on the right is the original size; the one on the left shows what it looks like after insertion into the cervix.
I only hoped the contents of the jar were usable; I’d never had occasion to open it before. Laminaria, said the label, written in Daniel Rawlings’s flowing script. It was a small jar of dark green glass, corked tight, and very light. When I opened it, a faint whiff of iodine floated out, but no scent of decay, thank goodness.

Laminaria is seaweed. Dried, it’s no more than paper-thin slips of brownish-green. Unlike many dried seaweeds, though, Laminaria doesn’t crumble easily. And it has a most astonishing capacity to absorb water.

Inserted into the opening of the cervix, it absorbs moisture from the mucous membranes--and swells, slowly forcing the cervix further open as it does so, thus eventually causing labor to start. I’d seen Laminaria used, even in my own time, though in modern times it was most frequently employed to assist in expelling a dead child from the uterus. I shoved that thought well to the back of my mind, and selected a good piece.

It was a simple thing to do, and once done, nothing to do but wait. And hope.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 35, "Laminaria". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
It's lucky for Marsali that Claire happened to have some on hand when Henri-Christian was born!  (Seaweed of any type being rather hard to come by up in the mountains near Fraser's Ridge, I mean.  <g>)

5) This is a portrait of Molly Stark (1737-1814), the wife of General John Stark, hero of the Battle of Bennington in 1777.
There might have been two hundred men in the first wave; it was impossible to count them as they darted through the heavy wood. William could see the flicker of movement and fired at it, but without any great hope of hitting anyone. The wave hesitated, but only for a moment.

Then a strong voice bellowed, somewhere behind the rebel front, “We take them now, or Molly Stark’s a widow tonight!”

“What?” said William, disbelieving. Whatever the man shouting had meant, his exhortation had a marked effect, for an enormous number of rebels came boiling out of the trees, headed at a mad run for the guns. The soldiers minding the guns promptly fled, and so did a good many of the others.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 59, "Battle of Bennington". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The first time I read ECHO, my reaction was much the same as William's.  ("Molly who? What on earth is he talking about?")  For more information about Molly Stark, look here. And here is a blog with photos of the Bennington battlefield monument.

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please stop by next week for more!