Friday, June 29, 2012

Taking a blogging break

I'm leaving for Scotland TODAY!!
For those of you who don't know, I'm going on Judy Lowstuter's Celtic Journeys OUTLANDER Tour in the first week of July, along with my mom and my sister Alice (who lives in Israel), and a group of other OUTLANDER fans.

Naturally, I'm tremendously excited! This will be my first visit to Scotland.

This blog will go on hiatus until at least July 9th.  In other words, I do not plan to blog while I'm away, but I will definitely post pictures and share lots of stories about our adventures in Scotland when I get home!

I hope those of you in the US have a great 4th of July!

Friday Fun Facts - 6/29/2012

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

Aurora Borealis

1) The photo above shows the aurora borealis as seen from Quebec.  From William's Christmas Eve, 1776, letter to Lord John:
Did you see the aurora borealis when you were here, or was it too early in the Year? It is a most remarkable Sight. Snow has fallen all Day, but ceased near Sunset and the Sky has cleared. From my Window, I see a northern Exposure, and there is presently an amazing shimmer that fills the whole Sky, waves of pale blue and some green— though I have seen it to be red sometimes— that swirl like Drops of Ink spilt in Water and stirred.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 24, "Joyeux Noel". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Here's a video showing many different aurora borealis photos from around the world.  Just gorgeous!  And here is an explanation of the phenomenon, from the Northern Lights Centre in Canada.  I have never seen the aurora borealis. Have you?  And if so, where did you see it?

2) I've always imagined that the dragonfly in amber that Hugh Munro gave Claire as a wedding present in OUTLANDER might have looked like the one shown above.
I had not seen Hugh Munro again, but I had wakened in darkness the night before to find Jamie gone from the blanket beside me. I tried to stay awake, waiting for him to return, but fell asleep as the moon began to sink. In the morning, he was sound asleep beside me, and on my blanket rested a small parcel, done up in a sheet of thin paper, fastened with the tail-feather of a woodpecker thrust through the sheet. Unfolding it carefully, I found a large chunk of rough amber. One face of the chunk had been smoothed off and polished, and in this window could be seen the delicate dark form of a tiny dragonfly, suspended in eternal flight.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 20, "Deserted Glades". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

3) I always have to smile at this bit, because Jamie's too happy (and too obviously in love <g>) to be self-conscious about his singing voice.
He patted one of my rounder bulges and left for the stables, singing rather loudly the air from “Up Among the Heather.” The refrain floated back from the stairwell:
“Sittin’ wi’ a wee girl, holdin’ on my knee--
When a bumblebee stung me, weel above the kneeeee--
Up among the heather, at the head o’ Bendikee!”
He was right, I decided; he didn’t have any ear for music.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 24, "By the Pricking of My Thumbs". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
If you click on the video above, you'll hear an audio recording of the Irish Rovers performing "Up Among the Heather".  The lyrics to the Irish Rovers version are a little different from Jamie's, but it's recognizably the same song.

4) Here's a poignant moment that shows how Jamie and Claire sometimes think alike, despite their very different personalities.  In this scene from DRUMS, they're remembering their first daughter, Faith.
"I never told you--when we were in Paris, to see Jared--I went to the Hôpital des Anges; I saw her grave there. I--I brought her a pink tulip."

He was quiet for a moment.

"I took her violets," he said, so softly I almost didn't hear him.

I was quite still for a moment, tears forgotten.

"You didn't tell me."

"Neither did you." His fingers traced the bumps of my spine, brushing softly up and down the line of my back.

"I was afraid you'd feel..." My voice trailed off. I had been afraid he would feel guilty, worry that I blamed him--I once had--for the loss. We were newly reunited, then; I had no wish to jeopardize the tender link between us.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 42, "Moonlight". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I find this really moving, especially for the thought that Jamie, who has little use for flowers, who has never (at that point in his life) given Claire flowers of any kind, took violets to his baby daughter's grave.

5) Some of you may recall Jamie telling Claire in THE FIERY CROSS about a phenomenon called "Zugunruhe" -- the restlessness of birds preparing to migrate.  I looked into this a few years ago and was intrigued to discover that this does indeed have a scientific basis, as shown by a 2006 study. And here is an experiment that sounds very similar to the one Jamie described.

In the diagrams below, you can see the pattern of the birds' footprints in ink, all going in the same direction.

"It was as though they felt the imminence of flight, and the pull of it—-and that disturbed their rest. The stranger it was, because most of the birds that he had were young ones, who had never yet made the journey; they hadna seen the place where they were bound, and yet they felt it there--calling to them, perhaps, rousing them from sleep.”

I moved slightly, and Jamie lifted his hand from my leg.

“Zugunruhe,” he said softly, tracing with a fingertip the damp mark he had left on my skin.

“What’s that?”

“It’s what Sterne called it--the wakefulness of the wee birds, getting ready to leave on their long flight.”

“Does it mean something in particular?”

“Aye. ‘Ruhe’ is stillness, rest. And ‘zug’ is a journey of some sort. So ‘zugunruhe’ is a restlessness--the uneasiness before a long journey."

(From THE FIERY CROSS, chapter 107, "Zugunruhe". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The "restlessness before a long journey". That's exactly what I'm feeling this week, as I prepare for my trip to Scotland!

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts.

PLEASE NOTE:  This will be my last Friday Fun Facts post for a little while.  Outlandish Observations will go on hiatus for a couple of weeks, until I get back from Scotland.  But I hope to bring back lots of fascinating Scottish facts, along with plenty of pictures and stories from my trip!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June poll results

Here are the results of the June poll.  (I closed this poll a couple of days early, because I'm leaving for Scotland on the morning of the 29th.)

Have you ever been to Scotland?
  • 55.83% - No, but I'd love to visit there some day!
  • 15.55% - I visited Scotland long before I knew Diana Gabaldon's books existed.
  • 7.24% - I visited Scotland after I discovered the OUTLANDER books.
  • 6.36% - Yes, I've been there more than once.
  • 4.24% - No, I can't afford it.
  • 2.30% - I'm making plans to visit this year.
  • 1.94% - I've lived in Scotland all or part of my life.
  • 1.41% - I went on an OUTLANDER-themed tour of Scotland.
  • 0.53% - No, I like reading about Scotland but I don't have any desire to go there myself.
  • 4.59% - OtherJ
Here are all the "Other" comments:
  • I visited after Outlander books, but I had always wanted to go because of family
  • Scottish grandpa - long dead
  • No, but I'd do just about anything to go and visit someday.
  • No, but my husband is on vacation there right NOW!! That rascall! :)
  • July 2013 I'm going. I think DG should get a cut of the tourism she has generate
  • I went after I read the books but not because of them.
  • Going next year
  • No, but hopefully will make it there next year!!!
  • My sister and I plan to go together just because of the books for my 50birthday
  • it has been my dream to go to scotland and see the highlands,
  • I plan to go t take a trip to Scotland for my graduation present.
  • I've always wanted to go (scots ancestry), but want to more now. Maybe someday!
  • I want to go again now I have read Diana's books
  • my mothers from Scotland and visited as a child but would love to go back now
  • It's on my bucket list!
  • I just visited Scotland, and am going to move there, it's beautiful!
  • In 1994 I planned an itinerary and visited places Diane mentioned in OUTLANDER!
  • Yes, but I'm English so it's not a big deal for me, my pilgrimages are to the US
  • Went to Findhorn to visit my daughter.
  • Only in daydreams. But it is a goal of mine.I always feel Scotland calling me!
  • lived in Scotland on two separate occaission for a total of five years-loved it!
  • Yes, I've been there several times and I'm going back in July!
  • Just returned from an amazing 10 days in Scotland! You will love it!
  • I am going next year to do an Outlander tour
  • If a tour could accomodate physical limitations, I'd be there!
  • Been there once. Not sure if I'd read the books then or not. Loved it!

There were 566 votes in this poll. Thanks very much to everyone who participated! Please take a moment to vote in the July poll, which is all about your favorite opening lines in the OUTLANDER books.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My upcoming trip to Scotland!

Four more days until I leave for Scotland!!
For those of you who don't know, I'm going on Judy Lowstuter's Celtic Journeys OUTLANDER Tour in the first week of July, along with my mom and my sister Alice (who lives in Israel), and a group of other OUTLANDER fans.

Naturally, I'm tremendously excited! This will be my first visit to Scotland.

We will be leaving Friday morning, June 29, and returning Sunday night, July 8.

I will have internet access from the hotels during the tour, but I do not plan to blog while I'm away. The tour schedule is pretty busy and I expect we'll all be tired by the evenings. I will certainly post pictures here, and blog about our adventures in detail, when I get home, though!

I'll post one last round of Friday Fun Facts on the morning of the 29th, and put up the July poll, and then Outlandish Observations will go on hiatus for a couple of weeks, until I get back.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A TRAIL OF FIRE cover art


Here is the cover art for A TRAIL OF FIRE, the upcoming story collection (due out in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand on 11 October 2012) that will include four of Diana Gabaldon's shorter pieces -- "The Custom of the Army", "A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows", "Lord John and the Plague of Zombies", and "The Space Between". 

I like this cover a lot.  Very striking!  The gemstones will certainly attract the attention of OUTLANDER fans, and I like the "trail of fire" bisecting the circle.  What do the rest of you think?  (You can see a bigger version on here.)

For more information about A TRAIL OF FIRE, see Diana Gabaldon's blog post from May 2012.

Thanks very much to Nicole on Compuserve for letting me know about this!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 6/22/2012

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

1) Here's Roger's first impression of Brianna, in DRAGONFLY:
It was a Bronzino painting she reminded him of, he decided. She and her mother both gave that odd impression of having been outlined somehow, drawn with such vivid strokes and delicate detail that they stood out from their background as though they’d been engraved on it. But Brianna had that brilliant coloring, and that air of absolute physical presence that made Bronzino’s sitters seem to follow you with their eyes, to be about to speak from their frames. He’d never seen a Bronzino painting making faces at a glass of whisky, but if there had been one, he was sure it would have looked precisely like Brianna Randall.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 1, "Mustering the Roll". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.) 

Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572) was an Italian artist whose paintings included the pair of portraits shown above.  (Top: Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi; Bottom: Eleanor of Toledo with her son Giovanni.)

2) This video shows how to make roof shingles (also known as shakes) using a froe, and how to lay them on the roof of a log cabin.
Between them, Jamie and Ian had succeeded in getting a roof on the cabin before snow fell, but the sheds were less important. A block of wood sat constantly by the fire, the froe stuck through it, ready for anyone with an idle moment to strike off a few more shingles. That corner of the hearth was in fact devoted to wood carving; Ian had made a rough but serviceable stool, which sat under one of the windows for good light, and the shavings could all be tossed thriftily into the fire, which burned day and night.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 21, "Night on a Snowy Mountain". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The photo above shows an example of a froe, along with a wooden mallet used to pound the froe into the block of wood being chopped.

3) Whenever I read the part in BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE where Lord John encounters the mob at Tyburn, I think of William Hogarth's famous engraving, "The Idle 'Prentice Executed at Tyburn", from 1747. The amount of detail in it is just amazing. (Click on the picture to see what I mean.)  It certainly gives a very vivid impression of what it must have been like!
Grey shoved between two 'prentices who tried to squeeze in front of him, and elbowed one of them in the side hard enough that the youth squealed and pulled away, cursing. He could see Bates's gaze roaming over the crowd, and against his better judgment, waved his arms, shouting, "Bates!"

By a miracle, the man heard him. He saw the sharp eyes fix on him, and something like a smile beneath the mud and scratches.

He felt a stealthy hand at his pocket and grabbed at it, but it was a small hand, and the would-be pickpocket--a child of seven or eight--wriggled free of his grasp and dived into the crowd. He was barely in time to keep the child's accomplice from making away with his dagger while he was thus distracted, and by the time he was able to place his attention on the gallows once again, the executioner was moving the men into place beneath the dangling nooses.

(From LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 14, "Place of Execution". Copyright© 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

4) This is what a passenger pigeon looked like.  The species, Ectopistes migratorius, became extinct in 1914.

Here's an artist's rendering of a group of men in Louisiana in the 1870's, shooting passenger pigeons for sport. (You can see a bigger version here.)  Looking at this, you can get some sense of what Claire and Bree experienced.
Rushing out of the house, I thought at first that a storm had come suddenly upon us. The sky was dark, the air filled with thunder, and a strange, dim light flickered over everything. But there was no moisture in the air, and a peculiar smell filled my nose--not rain. Definitely not rain.

“Birds, my god, it’s birds!” I barely heard Brianna behind me, among the chorus of amazement all around. Everyone stood in the street, looking up. Several children, frightened by the noise and darkness, started to cry.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 82, "A Darkening Sky". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

5) The small ivory carving shown above is an example of a Japanese art form called netsuke.  According to Wikipedia:
Traditional Japanese garments—robes called kosode and kimono—had no pockets; however, men who wore them needed a place to store their personal belongings, such as pipes, tobacco, money, seals, or medicines.

Their solution was to place such objects in containers (called sagemono) hung by cords from the robes' sashes (obi)....Whatever the form of the container, the fastener that secured the cord at the top of the sash was a carved, button-like toggle called a netsuke.
These netsuke figurines are very small, just a couple of inches long, which makes the details of the carving and decoration even more impressive.  Just imagine how exotic these little figures would have appeared to Englishmen in the 18th century, like Lord John and his friend Arthur Norrington:
Norrington raised one thin brow and took the package, which he unwrapped with greedy fingers.

“Oh!” he said, with unfeigned delight. He turned the tiny ivory carving over gently in his large, soft hands, bringing it close to his face to see the details, entranced. “Tsuji?”

Grey shrugged, pleased with the effect of his gift. He knew nothing of netsuke himself, but knew a man who dealt in ivory miniatures from China and Japan. He had been surprised at the delicacy and artistry of the tiny thing, which showed a half-clothed woman engaged in a very athletic form of sexual congress with a naked obese gentleman with his hair in a topknot.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 15, "The Black Chamber". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

If you want to see more examples, you can do a Google image search on the term "netsuke" (or "shunga netsuke", for the ones with erotic themes).  I didn't find an exact match for the one described in ECHO, but you can certainly get the idea by looking at these pictures. <g>  But please use caution if you're viewing the "shunga netsuke" pictures at work or where young children are around.  Some of them are very sexually explicit.  (The one shown above is quite tame by comparison.)

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!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Map of Philadelphia in the late 18th c.

Diana Gabaldon posted this map of Philadelphia on her Facebook page today, and it's definitely worth looking at!  She described it as "a 'late 18th century' map of the city in online and maneuverable version--with markers for the locations of various historical events."

As those of you who've seen my Friday Fun Facts posts can imagine, I find sites like this fascinating. <g>  I love all the little snippets of historical background, like the one about how Gouverneur Morris lost his leg.

I wish I'd had this map handy a few weeks ago when I was listening to the part of ECHO that takes place in Philadelphia.  Obviously it will be very useful for locating the various places in the city mentioned in WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD, too!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What I think Jamie's hair looks like


Someone posted this picture on Diana Gabaldon's Facebook page today.  This man's name is Johnny Harrington.  He's the closest I've seen yet to my mental image of Jamie's hair color.  (Very close to my own, in fact. <g>)

He'd have to lose the beard, though.  But I could maybe see him as Jamie in VOYAGER, as Captain Alessandro, and in the scene with Claire in his cabin afterward, explaining in detail what he was planning to do once he got her alone. <g>

I have never seen this man before today, and I know nothing about him.  I'm not even sure if he's a model, an actor, or both.  A quick Google image search turns up only pics of him with a beard, which is a shame, because I'd really like to see what he looks like clean-shaven.  But I like the hair, definitely!

In my opinion, even with the beard, Johnny Harrington resembles the way Jamie is described in the books far more than hunk-du-jour Chris Hemsworth!  (No offense to those of you who like Chris Hemsworth, but I happen to agree with Diana Gabaldon about him; his very pronounced widow's peak is a major turn-off for me.)

UPDATE 6/18/2012 6:43 am:  I posted this picture on Compuserve last night, and Diana's response was, "Yeah, that's the hair and skin-tone, all right."

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 6/15/2012

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

1) The photo above shows a bottle of L'Heure Bleue perfume, by Guerlain.
I picked up the bottle of L'Heure Bleu and poured a generous puddle into the palm of my hand. Rubbing my hands briskly together before the scent could evaporate, I smoothed them rapidly through my hair. I poured another dollop onto my hairbrush and swept the curls back behind my ears with it.

Well. That was rather better, I thought, turning my head from side to side to examine the results in the speckled looking glass. The moisture had dissipated the static electricity in my hair, so that it floated in heavy, shining waves about my face. And the evaporating alcohol had left behind a very pleasant scent. Frank would like that, I thought. L'Heure Bleu was his favorite.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 1, "A New Beginning". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
L'Heure Bleue perfume was first introduced in 1912, so this year marks its 100th anniversary.  I don't normally wear perfume and I have no personal experience with this particular fragrance, but here are some customer reviews (both pro and con) to give you an idea of what it's like.  Have any of you ever tried it, and if so, what did you think?

(By the way, if you're wondering about the spelling of the perfume's name in the passage quoted above ("L'Heure Bleu" instead of "L'Heure Bleue"), that appears to be an error that was never caught by the copy-editor.  Diana readily admits that she doesn't speak French.  <g>  And when OUTLANDER was first published, in 1991, long before Google and Wikipedia, it was much more difficult to verify things like that. Maybe this is something that will eventually be added to the Errata list in the OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Volume II.)

Giant Puffball Mushroom

2) I had never heard of a puffball mushroom (pictured above; click on the photo for a bigger view) before I read the following passage from VOYAGER, where Jamie is talking to a very pregnant Jenny.
To distract both of them, he nodded at Jenny’s stomach.

“How close is it?” he asked, frowning at her swollen midsection. “Ye look like a puffball mushroom—one touch, and poof!” He flicked his fingers wide in illustration.

“Oh, aye? Well, and I could wish it was as easy as poof.” She arched her back, rubbing at the small of it, and making her belly protrude in an alarming fashion. He pressed back against the wall, to give it room.

“As for when, anytime, I expect. No telling for sure.” She picked up the cup and measured out the flour; precious little left in the bag, he noted with some grimness.

“Send up to the cave when it starts,” he said suddenly. “I’ll come down, Redcoats or no."

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 5, "To Us A Child Is Given". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to Wikipedia, giant puffball mushrooms can grow up to 28 inches in diameter (!)

I had no idea that any variety of mushroom grew to such an immense size.  Jamie's right, it really is an apt metaphor for a pregnant woman's belly.

Here are some more puffball facts if you're interested.

3) The gentleman shown above is wearing a banyan -- a loose dressing-gown.  Lord John Grey often wears a banyan in the evenings at home. (Portrait of Nicholas Boylston, painted by John Singleton Copley, 1767)

Banyan 1750-1775

Here's another example of a banyan, circa 1750-1775, from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  Click on the photo for a larger view. 
Having briskly stripped his master and draped him in a clean nightshirt, he went to retrieve Grey’s banyan, which had been hung to warm on the fire screen. He held this ready, peering closely at Grey in concern.

“You look like…” he said, and trailed off, shaking his head as though the prospect before him was too frightful for words. This matched Grey’s own impression of the situation, but he was too exhausted to say so, and merely nodded, turning to thrust his arms into the comforting sleeves.

"Go to bed, Tom,” he managed to say. “Don’t wake me in the morning. I plan to be dead.”

(From "Lord John and the Haunted Soldier", Part II, in LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS by Diana Gabaldon. Copyright© 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's more about the history of banyans.  I must say, they certainly look comfortable!

4) As you can see from the photo above, porcupines' front teeth really are orange, just as Jamie described them in his letter to Jenny in DRUMS:
Your son sends his Most Affectionate Regards, and begs to be Remembered to his Father, Brothers and Sisters. He bids you tell Matthew and Henry that he sends them the Encloased Object, which is the preserved Skull of an animal called Porpentine by Reason of its Prodigious Spines (though it is not at all like the small Hedge-creepie which you will know by that name, being much Greater in Size and Dwelling in the Treetops, where it Feasts upon the tender shoots). Tell Matthew and Henry that I do not know why the Teeth are orange. No Doubt the animal finds it Decorative.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 34, "Lallybroch". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The picture above shows a porcupine's skull, like the one Jamie sent to Lallybroch for Henry and Matthew.  Click on the photo for a bigger view.  You can see more porcupine skull pictures here.

Why do they have orange teeth?  According to this site, "Like all other rodents, porcupines have ever-growing incisors. The enamel on the front of the incisors is stained orange by iron salts that also serve to strengthen the tooth."

Why does Jamie refer to the creature as a "porpentine"?  It turns out that "porpentine" is an archaic word for porcupine.  You may recall the reference in Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5:
But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.
Bonus trivia question:  There is a reference to a "fretful porpentine" in the OUTLANDER books.  Do you remember who said it, and under what circumstances?

WARNING!  The next item contains SPOILERS for THE SCOTTISH PRISONER.  If you haven't finished the book, you may want to skip this one.   (For more about THE SCOTTISH PRISONER, look here.)

Iroquois War Club

5) This is an Iroquois war club.  (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)  Diana Gabaldon said on Compuserve that the one Siverly used on Jamie in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER "probably looked a lot like this."  (Many thanks to Diana for the link!)
The first thing he saw was not Siverly's body, but the weapon. It was the same odd, knob-headed club with which Siverly had attacked him, and he crossed himself at the sight, with a peculiar feeling that was not satisfaction but more awe at God's sense of justice.

Grey had recognized the thing from his description; had told him it was a war club, a weapon made by the Iroquois. Hardwood, and, in the right hands, a very deadly thing. Evidently, Siverly had run into someone who knew how to employ it--the knob at the end was thick with blood and hair, and...His eye tracked across the wide swath of blood that lay smeared over the floor of the summerhouse and came to rest on an object that he knew must be Siverly's head, only because it could be nothing else.

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 24, "Clishmaclaver". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
It certainly looks like a vicious thing, doesn't it?

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!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Olympic torch at Callanish stone circle

The Olympic torch arrived at the Callanish stone circle on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, yesterday.

I like the photo below very much, taken at dawn with the piper in the background.  (Photo is from the BBC website.)

And check out this video of the torch-bearer at Callanish, also from the BBC.

For those of us who have not seen the Callanish stones in person, the video gives a sense of the size, and particularly the height, of the standing stones. And I can't be the only OUTLANDER fan who wondered, watching this, what would have happened if the torch-bearer had run into that circle of stones....and vanished! <g>  (Yikes!  But it's getting close to the summer solstice, after all.)

Suggestions for future FFF posts

I continue to be amazed and delighted at the popularity of my weekly Friday Fun Facts feature.  Many thanks to all of you for the kind comments!

Some of you have started emailing me suggestions for topics to include in a future FFF post.  I can't promise that I'll be able to use all of your ideas (it depends on whether or not I'm able to find suitable pictures, video, or other source material online), but I welcome any and all suggestions!

You can leave a comment here, or on my Outlandish Observations Facebook page, or email me your ideas.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Finished the series....again!

As I've mentioned here before, I'm thoroughly addicted to the OUTLANDER audiobooks, read by Davina Porter.  It takes me at least a year to get through the whole series in order, listening for half an hour to an hour most days, usually while driving to and from work.

I finally finished listening to AN ECHO IN THE BONE this morning.  As always, it's sort of an odd feeling to come to the end of the series at last.  I feel happy, satisfied, but also rather emotionally worn out.

I found that I enjoyed ECHO somewhat more this time around than the last.  Even the long Jamie-less section in Part 4 (where the focus of the action turns away from Jamie and Claire, and we spend a great deal of time in William's point of view) was easier to get through this time -- possibly because I had forgotten how much I like both Denny and Rachel. <g>

The last part of ECHO is always hard to get through (I did cry a little at Ian's death, again), but somewhat to my surprise, I found myself able to enjoy the infamous "morning-after" scene between Claire and Lord John, in a way I never have before.  For the first time, I was able to relax enough to see the humor in it.  I laughed in a few places, and I particularly enjoyed Lord John's story about the white deer.

It took 33 months, but I think I've finally come to a point where I can enjoy this part of the book as much as any other, without my own initial strongly negative reaction getting in the way.  I promised Diana that I'd get over it, eventually.  I think as of today, I finally have. <g>  (Please note, this is just my own personal reaction, and I certainly don't mind if others feel differently.)

If you want to see my initial reactions to the Claire/Lord John subplot (posted here, and on Compuserve, only a few weeks after ECHO was first published in 2009), look here and here.  And those of you who had a hard time with the last part of the book may want to take a look at some of Diana's explanations, from March 2010, of why the last part of ECHO was constructed as it was.

I will probably start over with OUTLANDER next week, with the goal of getting through as much of it as I can before I leave for Scotland on June 29th.  Besides, I love the experience of going back to the beginning of the series, watching the characters "de-age" by thirty years, etc.  Seeing Jamie and Claire fall in love all over again always puts me in a good mood. <g>

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 6/8/2012

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

1) The photo above shows a glutton, also known as a wolverine.  (Why does it have two different names?  Look here for a somewhat tongue-in-cheek explanation.)  Here's a member of Young Ian's Mohawk tribe impersonating a glutton:
Walking Elk was short and heavily built—not so much unlike a glutton himself, which made his imitations that much more entertaining.

He turned his head, wrinkling up his nose and growling through his teeth, as the glutton caught the hunter’s scent. Then he changed in a flash, became the hunter, creeping carefully through the brush, pausing, squatting low--and springing upward with a sharp yelp, as his buttock encountered a thorny plant.

The men around the fire whooped as Walking Elk became the glutton, who looked at first astonished at the noise, and then thrilled to have seen its prey. It leaped from its lair, uttering growls and sharp yips of rage. The hunter fell back, horrified, and turned to run. Walking Elk’s stubby legs churned the pounded earth of the longhouse, running in place. Then he threw up his arms and sprawled forward with a despairing “Ay-YIIIIII!” as the glutton struck him in the back.

The men shouted encouragement, slapping their palms on their thighs, as the beleaguered hunter managed to roll onto his back, thrashing and cursing, grappling with the glutton that sought to tear out his throat.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 69, "A Stampede of Beavers". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The video above shows a brief excerpt about wolverines from the BBC's wonderful nature documentary series, "Planet Earth". For more information about wolverines, look here.

2) The picture above shows what rowan berries look like.
I looked down and saw a layer of fallen rowan berries, gleaming red and black among the grass.  Very appropriate, I thought, vaguely amused.  I had fallen down under a rowan--the Highland protection against witchcraft and enchantment.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 24, "A. Malcolm, Printer". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

This is what a rowan tree looks like.  And here's more about the folklore concerning rowan trees, especially in Scotland. I have never seen a rowan tree in person, but perhaps I will when I go to Scotland in July.

3) The painting above is called Death of Brig-General Simon Fraser Ygr of Balnain (1729-1777), by John Graham. I found this picture on the Clan Fraser Society of Canada website shortly after ECHO was published in 2009.  I like the way it's helpfully labeled to show who all the participants were. <g>  (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Can't you just imagine Jamie kneeling by the General's bedside, with Claire nearby and William hovering somewhere in the background?
Jamie bent, then knelt himself, to come closer to Fraser’s ear. The general’s eyes were closed, but he was conscious; I saw his face twitch at the sound of Jamie’s voice. His head turned and his eyes opened, the dullness in them brightening momentarily in recognition.

“Ciamar a tha thu, a charaid?” Jamie asked softly. How are you, cousin?

The general’s mouth twitched a little.

“Tha ana-cnàmhadh an Diabhail orm,” he replied hoarsely. “Feumaidh gun do dh'ìth mi rudegin nach robh dol leam.” I have the devil of an indigestion. I must have eaten something that disagreed with me.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 66, "Deathbed". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Some of you may remember that Simon Fraser also makes an appearance in Diana Gabaldon's novella, "The Custom of the Army".  And yes, it's the same man.

4) Here's the tarot card known as the Hanged Man, just as Bree describes it in her Dreambook:
Well, what else would I dream about?  I mean, this was not a subtle dream, no doubt about it. There it was, right in the middle of the spread of cards, and Deb was telling me about it.

“A man is suspended by one foot from a pole laid across two trees. His arms, folded behind his back, together with his head, form a triangle with the point downward; his legs form a cross. To an extent, the Hanged Man is still earthbound, for his foot is attached to the pole.”

I could see the man on the card, suspended permanently halfway between heaven and earth.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 73, "A Whiter Shade of Pale". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I don't know much about tarot, and I was fascinated to see how well the Hanged Man's description fits Roger's situation in THE FIERY CROSS.  Look at the list of actions associated with the Hanged Man here and see what you think.

5) I think Daniel Rawlings' medical chest (the one that Jamie gave to Claire in DRUMS) must have looked something like the picture shown above.
"There's more," he pointed out, eager to show me. "The front opens and there are wee drawers inside."

There were--containing, among other things, a miniature balance and set of brass weights, a tile for rolling pills, and a stained marble mortar, its pestle wrapped in cloth to prevent its being cracked in transit. Inside the front, above the drawers, were row upon row of small, corked bottles made of stone or glass.

"Oh, they're beautiful!" I said, handling the small scalpel with reverence. The polished wood of the handle fit my hand as though it had been made for me, the blade weighted to an exquisite balance. "Oh, Jamie, thank you!"

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 8, "Man of Worth". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
If you ever get a chance to visit Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, the apothecary's shop there is definitely worth seeing! When I visited there in 2008, I saw a medical chest very much like the one pictured above, sitting on a table in a little room adjoining the main apothecary's shop.  (Click on the photo below for a bigger view.)

I wish I could have taken a closer look at it, but the little room was cordoned off with a rope so visitors couldn't go inside.  I took this photo leaning in the doorway, zoomed in as close as I could get.  My parents, who accompanied me on that trip to Williamsburg, were very much bemused by my excitement at seeing a medical box "just like Claire's". <g>

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!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Will there be a Book 9?

Diana Gabaldon made a couple of Very Interesting comments on Twitter in the last 24 hours.

In reply to someone who asked if there will be a Book 9, Diana said,

"Oh, I'm pretty sure there will be. <g>"

And when I reacted to that, Diana said,

"Well, the book (MOBY, I mean) is starting to Take Shape, to the point that I _almost_ know where it ends. And there's More."

I'm not surprised, but I'm very glad to hear this, as I'm sure many of you are!

I thought those of you who are not on Twitter would want to know. <vbg>  It's not official yet, but it sounds like the prospect of a Book 9 is getting more certain all the time.

Monday, June 4, 2012

RIP Zorro

Many of you will remember the Friesian stallion, Zorro, who was shown in the video on my Friday Fun Facts post from May 4th. 

Today I learned from Barbara Schnell that Zorro died unexpectedly a few days ago.  Barbara says she'd known this horse almost all of his life, and she's very close to his rider, Jessica Suess.  Obviously this came as a big shock to everyone who knew and cared for Zorro.

Here is an article explaining what happened.  Apparently he had a gastric ulcer that ruptured suddenly.  Not something that could have been prevented.

My condolences to Barbara, and to Jessica!  Zorro was a beautiful horse, and I'm glad we got to see him on the video.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How do you pass the time while you wait?

So we've made it to June (and personally I think this year is just flying by!) but there's still a long time until WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD comes out.  (When will it be out?  Probably sometime in 2013, that's as much as we know right now.  Diana is still writing it!)

What are you doing to pass the time while you wait for MOHB?

I know that many fans depend on Diana's #DailyLines on Facebook and Twitter to get their "fix".  I don't read excerpts, but here are a few of my coping strategies:

- Re-reading (or, in my case, "re-listening").  I'm listening to ECHO again at the moment, and I find that the audiobooks really help to pass the time.

- Hanging out on Compuserve, Diana's Facebook page, and various fan-sites.

- Blogging. <g>  Coming up with ideas for the Friday Fun Facts each week, and researching them, has helped a great deal in the last four months to keep me occupied.  And it ensures that I never get bored!

What about the rest of you?  What do you do to feed your OUTLANDER-addiction during these long periods between books?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 6/1/2012

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

1) Here's Lord John in ECHO, recalling an unsettling dream about his visit to Trois Flèches, the home of the Baron Amandine:
Was it dream, memory, or something partaking of the nature of both? He had been standing in the main salon of Trois Flèches, looking at the very fine Stubbs hanging to the right of the baroque mantelpiece. The walls were crowded with pictures--hung above, below, crammed in without regard to subject or merit.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 45, "Three Arrows". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
What does he mean by a "very fine Stubbs"?  It's a reference to the work of George Stubbs, an 18th century artist reknowned for his very lifelike paintings of horses and other animals.

The painting above, "Mares and Foals in a River Landscape", dates from 1763-68, so I like to think it could have been the one Lord John is remembering.  Click on the picture to see a bigger view.  And here is a slideshow of some of Stubbs' paintings.  Aren't they beautiful?

The artist George Stubbs may or may not have been a relative of Olivia's husband, Malcolm Stubbs.  But it's fun to speculate. <g>

2) The next item on this week's list was inspired by a scene near the beginning of THE SCOTTISH PRISONER.
Betty lifted her chin.

“There’s a man what wants to talk to you. He sent me to say. And I saw you come down from the loft.”

That last sentence floated in the air between them, charged like a Leyden jar. Touch it, and there’d be a spark that would stand his hair on end. Christ. Did she have any notion what it was he’d been doing?

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 1, "April Fool". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The diagram above shows what a Leyden jar looks like. This invention -- the earliest form of a capacitor -- dates back to about 1745, and I have occasionally wondered how Jamie found out about it.  He obviously seems familiar with what it can do.

Here's a brief demonstration of sparks coming from a homemade Leyden jar:

If you want to try this at home, here's an explanation of how to build your own Leyden jar out of a plastic water bottle and aluminum foil.

3) You may recall the story that the Cherokee woman tells Claire in THE FIERY CROSS, just before a fire breaks out in the village:
“The animals and the birds decided to play a ball game,” Anna said, translating smoothly as Sungi talked. “At this time, bats walked on four feet, like the other animals. But when they came to play in the ball game, the other animals said no, they couldn’t play; they were too small, and would surely be crushed. The bats didn’t like this.” Sungi frowned, with a grimace indicating a displeased bat.

“So the bats went to the birds, and offered to play on their side, instead. The birds accepted this offer, and so they took leaves and sticks, and they made wings for the bats. The birds won the ball game, and the bats liked their wings so much that--”

Sungi stopped talking abruptly. Her head lifted, and she sniffed the air. All around us, the women stopped talking. Sungi rose swiftly and went to the door, hand braced on the doorframe as she looked out.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 82, "A Darkening Sky". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
It turns out that this is a well-known Cherokee legend.  Here is one version of the story.  I was amused by the reference to the bear "showing his strength by tossing logs and boulders into the air", just like the Scots tossing cabers at a Highland Games! <g>

4) Many of you will remember the gentleman with the very foul-smelling asafoetida bag whom Claire encountered on her journey from Inverness to Edinburgh in VOYAGER.  The photo above shows what asafoetida looks like.  According to Wikipedia:
Asafoetida's English and scientific name is derived from the Persian word for resin (asa) and Latin foetida, which refers to its strong sulfurous odour. Its pungent odour has resulted in its being called by many unpleasant names; thus in French it is known (among other names) as merde du diable (devil's faeces); in some dialects of English, too, it was known as devil's dung, and equivalent names can be found in most Germanic languages.
You can see more information about asafoetida bags here.  After reading a little about it, I now have a much better appreciation for the reactions of the other passengers in the coach who had to put up with that stench for hours, maybe days, at a time.
Mr. Graham, a small and vivacious gentleman of advanced years who was seated next to me, was wearing a bag of camphor and asafoetida about his neck, to the eyewatering discomfort of the rest of the coach.

"Capital for dispelling the evil humors of influenza," he explained to me, waving the bag gently under my nose like a censer. "I have worn this daily through the autumn and winter months, and haven't been sick a day in nearly thirty years!"

"Amazing!" I said politely, trying to hold my breath. I didn't doubt it; the fumes probably kept everyone at such a distance that germs couldn't reach him.

The effects on the little boy didn’t seem nearly so beneficial. After a number of loud and injudicious remarks about the smell in the coach, Master Georgie had been muffled in his mother’s bosom, from which he now peeped, looking rather green.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 24, "A. Malcolm, Printer". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

5) The photo above shows a group of longleaf pines, similar to the ones found near Jocasta Cameron's plantation at River Run.
It was pleasant country. Once in the pine forest, it was much cooler, the sun blocked out by the clustered needles overhead. Far overhead the trunks of the trees soared upward for twenty or thirty feet before branching out--no great surprise to hear that the largest part of the mill's output was masts and spars, made for the Royal Navy.

River Run did a great deal of business with the navy, it seemed, judging from Jocasta s conversation; masts, spars, laths, timbers, pitch, turpentine, and tar.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 10, "Jocasta". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I have some trees like these in my back yard, in Raleigh, NC.  Even a quick glance at these longleaf pines makes it obvious why shipbuilders of the 18th century would have considered them ideal for masts.  The ones in my neighborhood rise well above the rooftops, easily 30-40 feet tall.

Here's an article about the history of the longleaf pine forests in North Carolina and their use in 18th century naval stores.

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

Poll results, and a little news

May Poll

Here are the results of the May poll:

Would you go through the stones, if you could?
  • 39.9% - Of course, if Jamie Fraser was waiting for me!
  • 14.69% - Maybe for a short visit, but not to live there permanently.
  • 9.68% - Yes! I'd love to see the 18th century.
  • 8.85% - Yes, but I'd have to bring some essential items with me.
  • 8.35% - No. I like reading about it, but I have no desire to time-travel myself.
  • 4.84% - No, I couldn't leave my family and friends here.
  • 4.51% - No, I wouldn't survive in an earlier time.
  • 2.84% - I'm not sure.
  • 1.67% - No, it took a lot of hard work to live in the 18th century.
  • 1.34% - I don't believe time-travel is possible.
  • 1.17% - No, I'd miss the conveniences of modern life too much.
  • 0.17% - No, it sounds too dangerous.
  • 2.00% - Other

Here are the answers people gave for "Other":
  • If I could experience the 18th century and then bring Jamie home with me.
  • no - too dangerous for women
  • Depends on whether it's Terminator rules or Bttf [Back to the Future] rules.
  • Only if I could be adopted by the Fraser clan and have Claire as an advisor!
  • Yes, if my DH could come with me!
  • I've done it
  • the adventure is worth it!!
  • I would try it, if I could get someone to go with me.
  • In my fantasy world, yes! In real life, I wouldn't leave my wonderful family.
  • Absolutely! If I can bring my husband and son with me.
  • If it was easier than it is then yes, I'd love to be able to talk to ancestors
  • Some combination of a few of the above answers.
There were 599 responses to this month's poll.  I didn't vote in it myself, but I would have gone with the second choice: "Maybe for a short visit, but not to live there permanently."

Thanks very much to everyone who participated! 

June Poll, and my trip to Scotland!

In honor of my upcoming trip to Scotland, the June poll asks the question, "Have you ever been to Scotland?"

For those of you who don't know, I'm going on Judy Lowstuter's Celtic Journeys OUTLANDER Tour in the first week of July, along with my mom and my sister Alice, and a group of other OUTLANDER fans.  And I'm incredibly excited about it!  This will be my first trip to Scotland.  Judy has been wonderful so far, patiently answering all of our many questions.

Some of you have been asking whether I'm planning to blog about my experiences on the tour.  The answer to that is, of course! <g>  But I will probably wait until I get home to do that.  Rest assured, I'll have lots of photos and stories to share when I get home!

I hope you'll take a moment to vote in the June poll.  And just to let everyone know, this poll will close on the morning of June 29th, so that I can post the results before I leave for Scotland.