Thursday, December 31, 2015

The season for celebrations

In addition to the traditional celebratory December days of Xmas and the anticipation of the New Year, our family has seven December birthdays--covering four generations! Chaucer thoughts, which are always with me, bring memories of our receptions that followed the Chaucer Masses each October.  The first was in 2000, the big anniversary year. That was a "pull out all the stops" affair as it should have been. After that, we continued to have Masses said for Chaucer and a social afterward with refreshments, but they were no grand affairs as the first one had been.
     In 2001, those who attended the church service were invited, afterward, to cross the street to the pastor's house for mead and pasties. Mead is a honey-based "wine" popular in the Middle Ages; the pasties are mushroom-and-cheese-filled turnovers made from a medieval recipe. Those offerings never changed. The following year, the social moved to a couple of adjoining rooms in a parish building.

     Oddly enough, not until 2005 did someone think to take pictures! All we needed then for our buffet was a large dining table with food at one end and mead (and non-alcoholic cider) at the other. You can see the collection of pictures over the years if you click "take a tour" on the home page of my website:
     As time went on, and the event gained notice, it moved to the parish hall. Although, at first, it was more room than we needed, eventually the hall became just large enough to hold the crowd and display a greater quantity of refreshments. It took several tables to set out all the food and drink. It was truly splendid.

Help came from several sources. Eighth graders from the parish school, directed by their teacher, efficiently set up the food and glassware. And a friend from the writers group I attend poured the mead. Besides dispensing libations, he exercised his keen wit and lively imagination. If asked what exactly was mead, he had a store of imaginative and entertaining responses! A group of Chaucer devotees also provided an entertainment, but theirs was delivered in Middle English.
     After more than ten years, as age crept up on me, and my energy level declined, the social festivities came to an end. But the musicians for the Mass insisted on continuing to provide medieval music during the church service.

That part of celebrating Chaucer still continues today. Those who had never come when the reception followed enjoy a special Mass. They're not aware of all that used to be, but I remember.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Totally Teddies

Hooray! The day the Teddy Bears were finished was also the day the last computer problem was solved. You may remember that I worked on the Bears to pass the time while I had computer  problems. So, we have a happy ending.
     The Teddies have been invited to a Christmas Party this week at Uncommon Good. They each hope to find a forever friend who will take them home.


Now I've got to make a confession. There are 12 Teddy Bears, but only 11 of them will go to the party. Why? Because I'm keeping one as my own forever friend. I suppose it's kind of silly, but I just couldn't part with him.

It's a good thing I don't feel that way about all the dolls I make.   :)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ah, Chaucer's Leonids!

The Leonid meteor shower has produced some of the most spectacular meteor displays in history, but it is periodic in nature. Did we get an outstanding meteor storm a couple of weeks ago? Hardly. The general definition of a meteor storm is more than 1,000 meteors an hour. Only 10 to 15 were predicted for 2015. But Leonids have had their moments.
     Before 1000 AD, Chinese astronomers and observers in the Mediterranean area reported seeing a Leonid storm. It was said that stars fell like rain. When the famed astronomer Johannes Kepler died on November 15, 1630, a grand Leonid display on the day of his funeral was considered a tribute from God. Meteors remained a scientific puzzle, which startled many, until the renowned German scientist Humboldt recorded the 1799 event and informed the scientific community. After that, even though observers were somewhat familiar with Leonids because of Humboldt's publications, they were not prepared for the intensity of the spectacle of 1833.
     During the hours following sunset on November 12, astronomers noted an unusual number of meteors in the sky, but the early morning hours of the 13th left the greatest impression on people of eastern North America. In the 4 hours, which preceded dawn, the skies were lit up by meteors.
     Reactions to the display varied. Hysterics claimed Judgment Day was at hand (Rev 6:13 "the stars in the sky fell to earth"). For some, it simply proved exciting. Almost no one was left unaware of the happening. If they were not awakened by the shouts of excited neighbors, they were awakened by flashes of light in their normally dark bedrooms.

(Woodcut of the 1833 event)
     After that spectacular showing, no grand event followed for many decades. Leonids, more or less, fell out of interest.
     To demonstrate they could still put on a show, Leonid rates of more than 50 per hour were observed in Texas in 1961 on the mornings of November 16 and 17. And in 1965, Hawaii and Australia saw hourly rates of 120 meteors on November 16. It was the buildup to a peak event in 1966.
     A tremendous storm of tens of thousands of Leonids fell for a short interval timed by skywatchers in the central and western United States on November 17, 1966. This display probably rivaled the historic shower of 1833. Within just 2 hours observed rates increased from about 40 per hour to flurries of as much as 40 per second!
     Local observers recount, "We saw a rain of meteors turn into a hail of meteors too numerous to count." --[San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California]. "The meteors were so intense that we were guessing how many could be seen in a one-second sweep of the observer's head. A rate of about 150,000 per hour was seen for about 20 minutes."--[Kitt Peak in Southern Arizona].

(1966 photo)
It was a night to remember in California and Arizona.
     From 1970 to 1998, the Leonids laid low again. Then, in 1998, during the night of November 16-17, observers all over the world were greeted by numerous fireballs and long lasting persistent trains. And again, in 2001, a spectacular storm was viewed by millions of people all over the US. The display began on Sunday morning, November 18. Thousands of meteors per hour rained over North America and Hawaii. It had been a perfect moonless weekend night.

Twice in this blog I've touched upon the zodiac figure of Leo, the "source" of the Leonids. April 23, 2012 explains how Chaucer uses the 3 prominent stars in Leo to depict a lion in the guise of the Monk. And the entry of July 19, 2014 pursues details of how Chaucer parallels the churchman with that of the celestial lion and its heavenly surroundings.
     In the 2014 entry, I saved the most spectacular feature for last. I am confident that in Chaucer's lifetime (1340-1400) he experienced a grand Leonid display. First, he translates this visual phenomenon to an audible one.  To identify the time as November, the Monk rides "in a whistling wind" while "men might hear his bridle jingling." Unable to give the spectacle only one mention, the poet points to it a second time. This time he addresses the Pilgrim figure regarding what is both a visual and audible array: the "clinking of your bells, / That on your bridle hang on every side." This splendid portrait of Leo is enhanced by a great number of "bells."
     Such an extravagant portrayal and how entertaining! Chaucer's creativity never falters.