Year of the Water Tiger

Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China and in order to distinguish it from January First New Year, it is called lunar new year.  This date depends on the Moon, so the date of Lunar New Year actually changes each year, but it will always fall sometime between January 21st and February 20th.  A new moon happens when the earth lines up with the sun, making it appear pretty much invisible from your viewpoint and since the new moon is happening today on February 1, 2022, that makes today the start of Chinese New Year.  Each lunar year is related to a zodiac animal, beginning at Chinese New Year.  The 12 zodiac animals recur on a 12-year cycle.  These 12 animal signs in the order are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.  The origins of the Chinese New Year are steeped in legend.  One legend is that thousands of years ago a monster named Nian (“Year”) would attack villagers at the beginning of each new year.  The monster was afraid of loud noises, bright lights, and the color red, so those things were used to chase the beast away.

Chinese creation myths predate Buddhism and Taoism, and originated as oral traditions that were passed down over time.  The tiger was chosen to replace the lion on the Chinese zodiac when the Jade Emperor (a supreme immortal who developed the calendar) felt that the lion was too ferocious and cruel to guard the front of the Heavenly Palace.  When the wild beasts took control of the earth and started to attack humans, the supreme god sent the tiger down to protect the humans.  The tiger requested that every battle he wins, that he should be rewarded, which was accepted by the supreme god.  The tiger was trained in martial arts and it challenged the lion and the bear to become the Master Cat and the king of the forest.  When the other evil beasts heard this, they all hid in a forest and they were never seen again.  The humans thanked the tiger for defeating all of the beasts.

The Tai Sui concept is based on Jupiter’s 12-year orbital cycle which determines the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac.  The star that opposes Jupiter during each lunar year is personified as a heavenly general, cycle god, Grand Duke of Jupiter or Tai Sui.  There are 60 Tai Suis which are derived by combining the 12 signs with the five Chinese elements of fire, earth, metal, water and wood.  2022 is a year of the Water Tiger, starting today, and ending on January 21st, 2023.  The tiger will reign in order for an entire year, as this cycle was mapped out according to the rotation of Jupiter, which circles the sun once every 12 years.  Each year different zodiac signs will offend the Fan Tai Sui, so for this Chinese New Year, anyone born in the year of the Tiger, Snake, Monkey, or Pig will need to watch out.  If you are one of these signs, you may not do well at work, or you could have a bad relationship, or suffer from poor physical condition, because the Fan Tai Sui the scary bogeyman of Chinese astrology, got mad at your animal sign.  Since each year’s God of Tai Sui represents a specific direction, it is considered inauspicious to “disturb” anything in that direction, and for 2022, this direction is the northeast.  It would be best not to face the northeast this year, or sleep with your head in that direction.

The Tai Sui has always been misunderstood as most people consider him to be a punisher giving people problems such as mishaps or other disastrous consequences.  In fact, the Tai Sui is the divine deity that takes charge of the world’s general affairs for the particular year.  He is sent from heaven to look after mishaps and disastrous happenings and provide protection.  He is kind of like Santa Claus seeing who has been bad or good, so your happiness, health, luck and misfortune are all under the care of the Tai Sui.  This should serve as a reminder to avoid misdeeds, to take good care of your health and try to become involved in more benevolent activities, so you don’t piss him off, as he will note whether you have been good or bad.  The Tai Sui of 2022 is represented by General He E.  General He E presiding over the energies of 2022 suggests that this year the world will have good leaders who care for the people.  There will be money to be made and there is good hope for the recovery of economies ravaged by the past year’s pandemic.

The astrological prediction system of the 9 flying stars used in Feng Shui differs somewhat from Chinese astrology, although it also uses the 5 elements of Wu Xing, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood.  Flying stars can be timely or untimely.  These Flying Stars are associated with a color and a number those being Purple 9, White 8, Red 7, White 6, Yellow 5, Green 4, Green 3, Black 2, and White 1.  The nature of flying star depends on which period is to be referred and which star is being activated.  The Five Yellow is the energy of the yearly Flying star 5 (Wu Wang).  This star brings misfortune, illness, accidents, loss, and all kinds of troubles.  It can bring severe illness, financial loss, and multiple obstacles to success.  It also causes hostility and conflict of all kinds.  In 2022, this affliction is of even greater concern because it flies into the Center sector of the Lo Shu Square, making it the dominant star of the year.  Thus, it impacts everyone, every household, office, and retail space, in every part of the world!  Being an Earth star in an Earth sector strengthens it further and suggests that if one gets hit by its bad luck, the consequences can be serious.  All humans live between Heaven and the Earth, so we should fit into the universe by following the laws of Nature, but if bad luck is coming for us, we should get our wang dang doodle on before it catches up to us.

Turkey Nap

Nutritionists say that you should wait about three hours between your last meal and taking a siesta to allow digestion to occur so the contents of your stomach can move into your small intestine.  I feel like curling up on the couch after my Thanksgiving feast to catch a few winks, but this has nothing to do with the tryptophan in the bird, as this effect stems from consuming a lot of carbs and calories in a short time, as that takes a toll on your body.  Why did I eat all of that stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce?  The simple answer is that it all tasted so good and it was the best meal I are all year.  I hope that everyone enjoyed their holiday as much as I did.

Story Continued

I responded to Fandango’s Story Starter #20 the other day and two of my readers were disappointed that my story about being in a bad neighborhood wasn’t longer, so I will continue from where I left off on I Couldn’t Stay.

I did make it home in one piece and I messaged Maria on the dating site to tell her why I didn’t stick around to meet her.  I joined this site looking for a romantic relationship, but Maria was the only one to ever respond to my messages that I sent and I contacted a whole bunch of girls looking for love.  I am a writer and I consider myself to be intelligent, so why was I having such a hard time trying to find a date.  I started to wonder if this was a weight issue, as I am overweight and I have a big belly, but I don’t have any pictures of my belly and I just described my body type as being heavyset, which is sort of ambiguous.  As my messages were never being returned, I began to think that about 75% of the women on these dating sites probably have some sort of mental illness and the rest of them are completely crazy.

They enjoy looking at profiles, but I don’t think that any of them have intentions of dating and they only joined to boost their egos and validate their value, or this is just how they pass their time by window shopping.  I guess it is possible that the dating site has set up fake accounts to hold the interest of their members and a lot of these girls, don’t even exist. I might be competing with 100 other guys for every female that has a profile and they are probably getting flooded with messages all the time.  I have outstanding communication skills and I am at home when it comes to trying to attract women, so some of my messages should have generated responses.  Like most guys, I joined with the intention of getting laid, but at this point, I would be happy with a returned message.  It is not like these girls owe me a response just because I wrote to them and before I met Maria, I figured that online dating was a complete waste of my time.

With the global pandemic seeming to go on forever, I was more than ready to meet someone who was meaningful in my life.  If I am not able to find a romantic relationship, it would be nice to make a friend, someone that would make me happy.  Having a friend can even be more important than a lover, as the possibilities are endless with a good friend.  Unfortunately, close friendships don’t just happen, as this type of connection is only possible when both people are looking for the same things and they are being honest with each other.  I made a list of the traits that I was looking for in a partner and I stopped writing to random women.  When I saw Maria’s profile, I knew that she was the one for me and I was hoping to make this last.  She works and has her own life, but she seems willing to share it with me and I will take whatever I can get from her.  Our conversations seemed to have a nice balance between both of us doing our fair share of talking and listening, and that has made me even more excited about her.  I have divulged a few secrets about myself to her, asking her to keep them private and hoping that this will build up trust between us.

Maria is by far the kindest person that I have met on the internet and she is always telling me how happy she is that we are getting to know each other.  When she said that I could meet her under the bridge, I was elated and I still can’t stop thinking about her.  I hope that I didn’t blow it for good with her and that she will understand why I didn’t stick around and wait for her.  Wait, I just got a message from Maria, but don’t expect me to finish this story.

Written to appease two of my readers Gradmama2011 and glyn40wilton.

Finding Comfortable Bras

We all need a little extra support, but the better a bra fits you, the greater chance you have of being comfortable wearing it.  According to some study, 85% of women are wearing bras that don’t fit properly.  There’s no real metric for what a “properly fitted bra” actually is, so bra fit advice is kind of like being in The Matrix, as even though most women wear them, nobody can explain how they decided that it was the right size for them.  Since there is no standard practice in bra measuring and manufacturing and no one is really sure why, and cup size should be measured by volume, not visual projection.  Accurate volumetric measurement is difficult and very few women want strangers handling their bare breasts, so a “plus four” method was established.  The problem is that this method was designed in the 1950s when bras were made from silk and satin and did not stretch.  The 4 inches extra allowed breathing room, something which is completely redundant today, as all bras now have elastic and stretch in them.

It is not easy being a woman especially when it comes to finding the right bra.  Some manufactures determine bra cup size by the difference between full bust and underbust girths.  However, other brands use chest circumference instead of the underbust girth.  Underbust girth is measured horizontally from where the breast meets the rib cage, while chest circumference is measured from underneath the armpit across the upper chest and back.  Another challenge comes from how to convert the girth difference into letter-graded cup size.  Each company goes with different amounts of offsets, and typically this ranges between 0 to 6 inches so the girth difference is manipulated and depending on the shapes of breasts, any cup calculation may result in inaccurate cup size, because of inconsistent intervals between cup sizes.

Some manufactures are investigating magnetic resonance imaging to define the breast region in a three-dimensional space, but in order to acquire accurate breast volume from a body scan, it is necessary to have a reasonable method to determine a breast boundary. The boundary makes it possible to separate the breast from the neighboring body structures, such as shoulder, armpit, and upper abdomen. Due to the shape of breasts and the effect of gravity, the lower arc of the boundary is visible and easy to define in smaller breasts, and for larger breasts, the lower arc becomes visible if the breast is lifted up.  Aristotle used water displacement to determine volume and this type of method could also be used to get an accurate measurement of cup size.

A good-quality, well-adjusted bra in the right size can make all the difference, both in comfort and appearance.  Breasts come in a wide range of shapes and sizes.  No two people have breasts that look exactly the same.  The right bra is one that fits perfectly, but in the world of braziers, getting the correct fit is not always simple.  The wrong bra can ruin an outfit while the right bra isn’t noticeable.  It is really easy to wear the wrong bra size, but it can be difficult to realize when the size you selected is not the right fit for you.  Using the traditional way to size a bra is done with a combination of letters and numbers and it takes three steps, one for the band, one for the bust and then cup size is calculated from these measurements.  The number portion of the size (the 34 in 34C for example) represents your band size or the measurement around your rib cage just below your breasts.  The letter portion of your bra size is your cup size and this is where things can get a little tricky.

Measure your band while you are wearing a lightly lined (non-push-up) bra, but being topless for this will ensure you’re measuring your breasts at their most natural position.  Start by wrapping a soft measuring tape directly under your breasts.  Make sure that you stand up straight and that the tape measure is directly parallel with the with the ground.  You should be able to comfortably run two fingers under both sides of the bra at the same time.  If the bra pulls away from your body easily, it is too loose.  If you have trouble getting your fingers under the band and it feels uncomfortable, it is too tight.  The band is what mostly supports your breasts, not the straps.  Round the measurement to the nearest whole number and you’ve got your band size.  Depending on the manufacturer, you may need to add four if the measurement is even and add five if the number is odd.  So, if you measured 34 inches, your band size would be 38, and if you measured 27 inches, your band size would be 32.

In step two, you measure your bust.  Place the tape at the fullest part of your bust.  Make sure it’s parallel to your band again.  Subtract the band size from your bust size to find the right cup size.  Every inch will equal one cup size up, so an A cup means your breasts are lifted an inch of your chest, and a B cup means they are lifted 2 inches off your chest.  Any cup with a 34 band size is considered a “true cup” size.  This means that a 34AA is in fact a AA cup, just as how a 34B is a true B cup.  However, a 34B is also equivalent in cup volume to a 30D, 32C, and a 36A.  All three aforementioned sizes are a B cup despite what their cup letter indicates.  As the band size gets bigger, the cup also gets bigger, so a 36B bra has bigger cups than a 34B bra.  Sister sizing which are groups of bra-size equivalents that are related by cup volume also comes into play where you select one actual size larger than your current Band size and one letter name smaller than your current Cup.  Finding the right bra size can be a lot like Alice in Wonderland eating mushrooms to get bigger and smaller.

You’re In My Heart

The heart is at the center of your circulatory system, which is a network of blood vessels that delivers blood to every part of your body.  Blood carries oxygen and other important nutrients that all body organs need to stay healthy and to work properly.  Your heart is a muscle, and its job is to pump blood throughout your circulatory system.  Your heart relaxes to fill with blood and then squeezes (contracts) to pump the blood.  The atria (thin-walled chambers that receive blood from the veins) and ventricles (thick-walled chambers that forcefully pump blood out of the heart) work together, alternately contracting and relaxing to pump blood through your heart.  The pulmonary artery exits the heart, splitting into two main branches, bringing blood to the lungs.  In the lungs, blood will pick up oxygen and drop off carbon dioxide.  The oxygen-rich blood then returns to the heart through the pulmonary veins, so it can be pumped through your arteries to the rest of your body.  Having oxygen in your bloodstream helps replace cells that wear out, provides energy for our bodies, supports the way our immune system functions and more.

Your heart has four valves between the atrium and the ventricle on each side of your heart, one for each chamber of the heart and their purpose is to keep your blood flowing in the correct direction in and out of the chambers, designed to keep blood flowing forward only.  These valves include the mitral valve, tricuspid valve, pulmonary valve and aortic valve.  Each valve has flaps (leaflets or cusps) that open and close once during each heartbeat.  When each chamber contracts, a valve opens to allow blood to flow out.  When the chamber relaxes, the valve closes to prevent blood from leaking back into the chamber and to allow the chamber to fill with blood again.  Blood flows from the right atrium into the right ventricle through the open tricuspid valve, and from the left atrium into the left ventricle through the open mitral valve.  As the right ventricle begins to contract, the pulmonic valve is forced open.  Blood is pumped out of the right ventricle through the pulmonic valve into the pulmonary artery to the lungs.  As the left ventricle begins to contract, the aortic valve is forced open.  Blood is pumped out of the left ventricle through the aortic valve into the aorta.  The aorta branches into many arteries and provides blood to the body.  This pattern is repeated, causing blood to flow continuously to the heart, lungs, and body.

When the heart beats, it creates pressure that pushes blood through a network of tube-shaped blood vessels, which include arteries, veins and capillaries.  A blood pressure test gives you two readings along with your pulse rate.  Your blood pressure is the force of your blood moving through your blood vessels, and your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute.  The first blood pressure number is your Systolic blood pressure which indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when your heart is beating.  Diastolic blood pressure is the second number and this indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while your heart is resting in between beats.  What’s normal will vary from person to person, but there are guidelines and dangers for a blood pressure that is too high, as well as for one that is too low.  In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to the increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term buildup of plaque and an increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease.

High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms and that’s why it is so dangerous, but it can be managed.  Nearly half of the American population over age 20, has HBP, and many don’t even know it.  It is a good idea to have your blood pressure checked regularly, because it is a silent killer.  Not treating high blood pressure is dangerous, as High Blood Pressure increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.  High blood pressure could be damaging your arteries, your heart, and other organs unnoticed while you are going about your day.

Heart rate and blood pressure do not necessarily increase at the same rate; thus, a rising heart rate does not cause your blood pressure to increase at the same rate.  Heart rate, also called pulse, is the number of times your heart beats per minute.  Even though your heart is beating more times a minute, healthy blood vessels dilate (get larger) to allow more blood to flow through more easily.  When you exercise, your heart speeds up so more blood can reach your muscles.  It may be possible for your heart rate to double safely, while your blood pressure may respond by only increasing a modest amount.  For most adults, a resting heart rate of 50 to 100 beats per minute is considered normal. People who exercise regularly often have lower resting heart rates.

Poetry or Madness

The T.S. Eliot poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was written in 1910 and published in 1915 in Poetry magazine.  It is considered one of the quintessential works of modernism, which replaced the Romantic and the Georgian rhymes that had dominated Europe, and became one of the most exclusive American methods of writing.  This represents a literary movement at the turn of the 20th century that emphasized themes of alienation, isolation, and the diminishing power of the traditional sources of authority.  The first stanza is made up of 6 lines in French which translate to, “If I thought that my reply would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would remain without further movement; but as no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can answer you with no fear of infamy.”

It is an examination of the tortured psyche of the prototypical modern man—overeducated, eloquent, neurotic, and emotionally stilted.  Prufrock, the poem’s speaker, seems to be addressing a potential lover, with whom he would like to “force the moment to its crisis” by somehow consummating their relationship.  But Prufrock knows too much of life to “dare” an approach to the woman: In his mind he hears the comments others make about his inadequacies, and he chides himself for “presuming” emotional interaction could be possible at all.  This poem is more a collage of thoughts, wishes, fears, meditations, and images of anxiety, desire, and disappointment, than it is a coherent speech and some people have considered it to be the ravings of an insane person, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

A middle-aged man, named J. Alfred Prufrock, is attending social events, probably in the hopes of finding a woman he can court and then marry.  Prufrock talks of an ‘overwhelming question’, but he does not state what this is (he tells us, or his unseen companion, not to ask ‘What is it?’, so we’re left to ponder what this ‘question’ might be – perhaps ‘popping the question’, i.e. asking a woman to marry him).  Prufrock has come to represent one of the great inventions of the modern literary imagination, having become an archetype for the ‘complex’ of over-scrupulous timidity.  He is a man that is paralyzed by an overwhelming anxiety about the possibility of getting things wrong, thus his judgement has such nicety and fastidiousness that it never arrives at a decision, let alone being able to take any action.  Prufrock tries to put his feelings into words, but he is unable to finish his sentences and he is consistently struck by indecision and frustration with his own inaction along the way.

The opening line of this 140-line poem, “Let us go then, you and I” alerts the reader that the narrator is speaking to another person.  J. Alfred Prufrock is a respectable character but he has seen the seedier side of life.  He’s getting on in years probably over 40, and is acutely aware of what he’s become, as he is measuring his life in coffee spoons, losing his hair, which is turning thin.  He’s due for a refresh, a personal revolution, but he doesn’t know where to start.  He still wants to make his mark on this world, but he is hesitant to disturb the universe, because he is lacking confidence.  He comes off as being intelligent, he may have experience, but he doesn’t seem to trust in anyone or anything.  It is hard to blame him, as he sees the world is crumbling all around him.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

The Long-Awaited Conjunction

On December 21, 2020 there will be a conjunction between Jupiter & Saturn and basically this means that these two celestial objects will align closely as we see them from Earth.  The Jupiter and Saturn conjunction (The Great Conjunction) actually happens every 19 years or so, but this time it will be a little more special as Jupiter and Saturn won’t have not appeared to be this close for almost 800 years!  This is a real treat for stargazers and people will be calling this the Christmas star.  The last time this happened was in 1226 A.D. and even though they will look like they are on top of each other, Saturn and Jupiter will still be 1.5 billion miles away from each other in their orbits.  During this event, Jupiter and Saturn be just 0.1 degrees apart, or a mere one-fifth the width of the Moon.  If you miss it, there will be another Great Conjunction alignment in 2080, that is if you are still around to see it.

The last time this occurred Genghis Khan the Mongol emperor was creating all types of havoc and Louis VIII, the Lion who ruled France and Saint Francis of Assisi had just died.  As these planets almost seem to collide it will form one super-bright point of light on December 21, 2020.  You won’t need binoculars or a telescope to see this and throughout the month, the gas giants will be hard to miss.  Jupiter shines brighter than any star in the sky at magnitude -2.0, while Saturn is dimmer at magnitude 0.6 but this Ringed Planet is still quite bright.  When seen from the northern hemisphere, the planets will appear low in the western sky for around an hour after sunset.

Hearty Oven Dish

Written for The Great Blogger’s Bake-Off 2020 hosted by CARAMEL (LEARNER AT LOVE).
This is my favorite dish!
It is a Greek-style casserole called Pastitsio that is layered with pasta, spiced meat and parmesan-flavored custard.
It is a four-layer dish with the macaroni mixture making up the bottom layer and layer three.
Layer two is made of spiced meat and it is topped with a parmesan cheese sauce.

Pasta Cheese Ingredients
6 ounces Ditalini Pasta (1-1/2 cups) – elbow macaroni may be used as a substitute
1 beaten egg
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup milk

Spiced Meat Ingredients
1-pound ground lamb or ground beef
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Custard Sauce Ingredients
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups milk
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Pasta Cheese Directions
Cook macaroni in a large amount of boiling salted water about 10 minutes or just till tender; drain. Combine cooked macaroni, 1 beaten egg, 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, and 1/4 cup milk; set aside.

Spiced Meat Directions
In a skillet cook ground lamb or ground beef till meat is browned; drain off fat.

Stir in tomato sauce, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper; set aside.

Custard Sauce Directions
For sauce, in saucepan melt butter or margarine; stir in flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Add the 11/2 cups milk all at once; cook and stir till thickened and bubbly.
Remove from heat.
Stir about half of the hot mixture into 1 beaten egg; return to remaining hot mixture in saucepan.
Stir in the 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese.

Finishing Directions
Place half of the macaroni mixture in an 8x8x2-inch baking dish. – Bottom layer
Spoon the meat mixture on top. – Layer two
Add the remaining macaroni mixture. – Layer three
Spread the sauce over all. – Top layer
Bake, uncovered, in 350℉ oven for 40 to 45 minutes.
Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 servings.

Diaballein by Cage Dunn – Review

I like Cage’s writing, she is very intelligent and she is a master at keeping her readers in suspense, never giving anything right away, she will make you work to find out what is going on, and you will develop questions along the way.  I am not going to try to persuade any potential readers to read her work, as my purpose is to summarize a few of her beginning chapters, so maybe this should be called a Summary instead of a Review.  Cage does a wonderful job at adding color to her stories with her descriptive adjectives and letting you inside the thoughts of her characters which makes them very relatable.  The title of this novella is a bit scary being “Diaballein’, as the word “devil” originates from the Greek word “diabolos: which means slanderer, and that word comes from diaballein.  Another meaning of this word found in the dictionary is to cast apart; to throw apart, or to scatter.

Diaballein is made up of two Latin words “Dia” meaning across and “ballein” meaning to throw, thus the devil can be looked at as “One who throws.”  Looking at the picture on the cover of this book you get the idea that Diaballein is some type of hell beast.  Cage says that this is a work of fiction and she classifies it as a horror story, so it may not be for you, if you are a fraidy-cat.  Cage makes a Confession or issues a Disclaimer about the names of the places that she uses in this book and that they do not relate to the Arabana people who live in Australia and are descendants of Aboriginals, but Cage Dunn lives in Australia and her heart is there.  Cage writes Australian stories, which are often about rural areas that include the outback.

Before the book begins, there is a Preface, or maybe an Introduction where Cage gives us a short description of Kano Varre, a research physicist and Eyza Heran a bird enthusiast.  She also lets us know that the Diaballein just broke free after being confined for a real long time and it needs a vessel to open a gateway.  In this story Kano and Eyza must defeat the Diaballein before it breeds, otherwise awful things will happen.  The book is broken up into 23 chapters which comprises about 40,000 words, so it is a quick read and once you get into it, it is hard to put down.

Chapter 1
It kicks off with an ominous, eerie feeling as Kano is hallucinating, he is exhausted and in need of water.  It is not clear exactly where Kano is, but he comes across a rock drawing and it makes him think about Diaballein.  He thinks about death and he decides to inscribe his last will with a stick and leave his possessions to his sister Casi.  He is dehydrated and starving and not sure how long he has been lost.  He is desperately searching for water, even though he needs sleep and he sees shadows and then the Diaballein looks him in the eyes and says, “We survive.”

Chapter 2
Eyza is preparing to count birds which was going to be used for her thesis, where she would conject theories, make proposals about the data she collected most likely to make a statement that bird populations change, and those fluctuations may indicate shifts in pollution levels, climate change, habitat loss, migration timing, and more.  She is certainly not a novice at this, as she knows how to remain still and use camouflage so she won’t startle the birds and she enjoys the silence and solitude.  She put her canoe in the water which was at a very high level this year, even though there was a drought everywhere else.  Eyza would concentrate on the nesting sites and the eggs, while avoiding dragonflies, frogs, snakes, sand-snails, raptors, dingoes, and other carnivores, as she was here for the millions of birds and the peace that it brought to her.  Eyza is busy with her camera, clipboard and pencil as some birds landed near her canoe and other flocks of birds hovered near by.  She recalled childhood memories of her Nan who gave her the Story Stone to wear around her neck.  She hears an eagle say, “Warning, we bring”, and she thinks that she is hallucinating.  The eagle speaks again and she asks it what it wants from her.  Eyza is in disbelief and the eagle mentions that slavery, and torture will be a blessing when Diaballein comes, which makes her tremble feeling that the family madness has set in and she would die where their ashes were scattered.

Chapter 3
Switching back to Kano who is in bad shape and still searching for water.  He remembers the flood that swept him away to this place and caused him to lose his map.  He needed the map to locate the nyomium and tantalum deposits, metals that are essential for his research to create a flexible steel which he feels is just what the modern society of Australia needs, so that buildings can resist earthquakes, and survive tsunamis.  Kano hears voices which he thinks are in his head, but he continues his conversation with the Diaballein which shoves him and then he hears music that has three words recurring, Akhlys, cognomen, and Valki.  We learn that Kano was rescued from an orphanage and he wishes that someone would save him from the ravenous beast that wants his blood.

Chapter 4
Eyza begins to panic because she misplaced her meds, the same ones that her mother was taking before she committed suicide.  She goes back to her tent and looks everywhere, but to no avail.  She starts up the generator to charge the battery for her cellphone and then she began to charge her sat-phone.  She was done with the birds and she wanted out, so she would to load the sled, top it with the canoe, and walk out till she made it to the bike, which she had hidden.  She decides to check out a long, log-shape, a lump that rolled, which is blocking the inflow of the main tributary, that she saw using her binoculars.  She makes her way to the lump and finds out that it is a mangled man.  She braved the stench and the flies to get him into her canoe which was a difficult task.  She would delay her departure till tomorrow, as she needed to get him to the tent, clean him up, get food and water into him, then phone for Emergency Services.

Chapter 5
Eyza is cold and she makes soup, but she has a difficult time feeding it to this big lump of a man, as he kept knocking the spoon away.  She stripped to her underwear and socks and slid in next to the shivering body and zipped herself into the sleeping bag with him.  He wakes up wondering if he is alive and Eyza tells him that he needs to rest and then he asks her why he is naked and she tells him that she had to clean all of the mud off of him.  He was glad that he was still alive and she was happy that she was not alone.

Chapter 6
The Diaballein needs to get back to the rock, but he can’t cross the water.  The world had changed since he was last here.  We are given information on the Diaballein and their weapons of flame and their dislike of salt and humans.  He stole the life force from a woman and this particular Diaballein is the gatekeeper and many more are waiting.  Apparently, they were defeated by the humans and entombed in rock.  Kano wonders how he got back to the gorge, which makes me think that this book skipped some details of how he got here, but I assume that Cage will eventually fill in the time lapse of this story.  The smell of a woman is on his hand, but his memory is foggy and he thinks that he is hallucinating again.  Kano is obsessed with his mission to discover a flexible steel and this sheer drive would prevent the Diaballein from taking over his mind, although he is hearing voices that he does not understand.

Chapter 7
Eyza wakes up alone in the tent and finds that many things are missing.  She finds her phone, but the charge is very low, so someone must have been using it.  She decides to recharge the phone and if the man does not come back, she will leave without him.  Being off of her medication, made her wonder what was real.  She is tired and having trouble trying to focus, and she is out of food and water.  She starts to pack and finds the man’s wallet and sees that the name on the licence is Kano Varre and that he works for a company named Valki.  She recalls that her Nan mentioned a hero warrior with that name.  She sees lots of smoke and she knows that she has to locate the fire.  The phone has a charge and she is mostly packed when she thinks she hears the eagle talking again.  She left her tent up and heads into the gorge.  She listens to the birds panicking as they leave the fire.  She spots the man who she thinks stole her supplies.

Chapter 8
Kano gathers the strength to stand and he sees a tent and wonders if the woman that he was with was just a dream.  His heart pounds as he sees a woman approaching him and when she gets closer, he tells her to go away.  She tells him that he is rude and calls him a thief.  Kano asks her to kill him, because he feels like something got inside of him that is telling him to eat her.  She wants him to keep walking so the fire doesn’t get them and she assures him that it is not a demon, that madness has set in.

Chapter 9
The flames are close behind them and Kano says that he is not delusional and that he will become a vessel for a Diaballein.  He tells her that he tried to drown himself in salt last night in order to distract the demon.  She lets him know that she found his wallet, she wants to know why he is out here, all the while trying to keep him moving.  Kano is incoherent and she fears that he has gone mad.

I don’t want to ruin the remaining chapters for anyone who wants to read this book, so I am ending my summary here.  I can’t make a prediction of what will happen next with Kano being haunted by a Diaballein and Eyza being off of her meds.  Will they get out of the fire and become lovers or will the Diaballein open up a gate for the rest of the monsters to take over earth?  I will have to finish reading this story, but it will go much easier without having to take notes.

Green Beer, Corned Beef and Leprechauns

Happy Saint Patrick’s day, I hope everyone has something green to wear, so you don’t end up getting pinched by any leprechauns.  If you are not Irish, than you might not be aware that leprechauns are not able to see anyone who is wearing green and thus it keeps you from being pinched.  I have my corned beef in the crock pot with my potatoes, but it is on slow and I will not eat it till tomorrow.  Erin Go Bragh, or Erin go braless, whatever floats your boat.  I will leave you with the Green Beer song which is only made once a year.