19 December 2008

On getting new windows

So this morning I wake up to a layer of ice on everything. And the window guys are due at 8 am. This would have have been way less of a problem back in November when windows should have happened. Still, new windows are going to be wonderful. Imagine...real windows you can see out of and that open AND close. Oh wait, you probably don't have to imagine... you probably have had functional windows for years. This house, however, was built in 1918. And up until, oh,1940 or '50 had perfectly good double-hung sash wood-framed windows that went up and down. No screens or storms, but energy was cheaper then and you just opened your windows in summer and closed them in winter. Somewhere along the way a previous owner caulked most of the window shut, probably due to heating costs going up. And somewhere along the way the ones that did open developed warpage and leaks. In one window in the den there is a gap I can put a pencil through. Now I am worrying; will they be able to put in windows in the freezing icy rain?

A little after 9 am, three guys show up in a pick-up truck with the five big picture windows. And right off there is a conflict. These are single hung windows, but the paperwork says they should be double hung. Check in with the boss and they find the order was changed because the windows (62" wide) were too big to be doubles and had to be special made singles. In fact we had had the order changed twice (hence the not getting them installed until now). And so the project begins.

First I have to round up 4 very pissed cats who had their lives rearranged last night when we moved all furniture away from the windows. After encarcerating the cats on the 3rd floor in the library--with food, water and a litter box--we make coffee and put out gingersnaps for the workmen. Steve is running around like a kid at Christmas, watchng and asking all kinds of questions.

About 2 hours later the 3 big downstairs windows are in and more guys have shown up with the rest of the windows--straight from the manufacturer. The other thing that showed up was a brown (pitbull mix) puppy who thought he lived here. Men are going in and out of the house with windows and stuff. The dog who is wet, shivering, and trailing a very chewed up leash wants to get in the house, too. What ensues is a Keystone cop routine with Steve chasing the dog up down frozen steps.

On the leash now, Steve takes the dog around the block looking for the owner--no luck. Dog gets ensconced in the garage with a bowl of water, some cat food (better than nothing) and a pile of old towels. Dog wants company and so sets up barking like crazy. I call animal control and arrange for a pick-up. They will be around sometime today. . . maybe.

Workmen have the four bedrooms' windows in and are off to a late lunch. Eighteen windows to do and they have done 10 in 4 hours. I'm impressed. Oh, there is still caulking and wrapping the frames outside to do, but not bad. We turned the furnace off at the beginning of the job and despite the 33 degree weather with icy freezing rain outside the house, the temp inside has not dropped below 60. They pull a window out and replace it so fast it's like opening and closing a door.

Meanwhile I have made more coffee, cleaned up my email--which involves lots of phone calling to deal with a last minute change in meeting scheduling that no one told me about until today. Fortunately I had five whole hours left to fix the snafu before the university shut down entirely for break. Lucky me.

Dog is still barking. But down the street comes a kid looking for his lost dog. We happily reunite kid and dog, and immediately call animal control to cancel the pickup. Promptly 20 minutes later the animal control guy turns up at the door to take the dog away. No dog? Do we have any other problems? Stray anything? Must have been a slow day at the shelter.

Back to window guys. It's 3 pm and the siders have shown up. They begin wrapping all the window casements. Steve has now made up his own version of the "12 days of Christmas" that sums up the day:

12 guests soon coming,
11 rooms to clean up,
10 windows finished,
9 pots of coffee,
8 windows to go yet,
7 email crises,
6 plates of cookies
5 picture windows!
4 cats in the attic,
3 guys installing
2 siders siding
and a dog barking in the garage!

More coffee, more cookies. I am on my sixth cuppa today. The window job was supposed to take 2 days, it may only take a day and a half the workmen tell us. There is dust everywhere--not from the installation, rather from behind all the furniture that was moved. Ah well, a bit of vacuuming and we will be back to normal--better than before. Even the curtains have gone through the washer and look great. So some furniture moving and we will be ready for company at Christmas!

Well, we'll be ready once we finish the basement shower repairs that is. Oh and I still need to put a coat of paint on the powder room off the kitchen. No sweat. Really. We have two whole days next week to do that stuff!

15 December 2008

Chai Spiced Cookies

Just in time for holiday baking, Gillianne has sent me a recipe she found for "Chai Spiced Cookies"!

Chai-Spiced Cookies (makes about 30 cookies)

Fragrant with the classic flavors of chai tea, these buttery, crumbly cookies are perfect for dunking in a cup of tea or coffee.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Beat butter with granulated sugar in a medium bowl until well blended. Stir in flour, spices, salt and vanilla until just combined. Scoop and roll dough into small teaspoon-sized balls and place about an inch apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake until lightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on the sheet for 5 minutes. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar and let cool completely on a rack. Store in an airtight container. (Recipe Courtesy Whole Foods Market)

Thanks, Gillie!

14 November 2008

Ghosts and Cookies and Parents, Oh My!

My mother has gone round the bend. Totally.

Seems last night my mom called the cops because she heard "people in the house." Then she called my youngest brother, who called my sister, who wants me to come to Milwaukee right now and get my mother committed to a psych ward. Why any of this is a surprise to anyone I don't know. My mom is a drama queen. But today I thought I'd better call her and ask her what happened.

She tells me that ever since my dad went into the nursing home a couple weeks ago she's been hearing people walking around the house. And some times she sees them. Last night a whole crowd of them came up from the basement and went into my Dad's empty room and ate cookies in there and left crumbs on the bed. So she locked herself in her bedroom and stuck knives in the door frame to keep them from coming in. But then they looked at her through the windows so she called the police. Who (surprise!) found no evidence of people in, around, or near the house.

So I figure 1) she's just lonely and looking for company or 2) she's insecure and overreacting to house noises. So I tell her not to worry, it's just ghosts. She's always been fond of ghost stories. We have a whole family history of people who see ghosts. I suggest that she sprinkle salt on all the window sills and at the base of the doors to keep them out. She asks, "Will that work?" So I tell her it will if she "activates" it by standing in the middle of the house and saying the Lord's Prayer loudly 3 times after spreading the salt. She is relieved and says that she should have called me first and saved all the trouble . . . Because of course, I would know what to do . . . I'm the smart daughter after all.

I'm feeling a bit smug at this point and then she asks . . . Am I really certain this will keep ghosts out? So to cover my bases I say, "Well, only the bad ones. But you want visits from the good ones right? Like Aunt Evie, and Aunt Estelle, and Gramma? Salt won't keep them out. So if you hear any ghosts just remember they are just family ghosts." But, she then tells me, they make so much noise with their talking she can't sleep at night. So I tell her to go in the bathroom and turn on the water . . . just a tiny trickle, because everyone knows that ghosts can't cross running water, and that will keep them away from her bedroom so she won't hear them.

Now I am back to feeling smug, because I have given her a placebo. And some white noise. And with a little luck we will have no more phone calls to the police--at least until I can get out there and see how she is really doing. And, hell, if it is visitations from the spirit world, well, salt and prayers and running water fit in with the folklore of protection and certainly couldn't hurt. Mom's happy, I'm happy. . . and then she asks: "They see you through the screen, too, don't they?"

I'm thinking she's still talking about her ghosts, but, no, she's referring to the TV. Seems it is the weather people. She is certain they can see her. Because they smile at her. And when she smiles at them they smile back. "No, Mama," I tell her. "They smile all the time because they are on camera."

"No. I am sure they really see me," she says. "Watch this!"

I presume she is looking at a TV somewhere in her home in Wisconsin. I, however, am driving in my car in Ohio. "What am I supposed to be watching, Mom?" I ask.

"See that!" she proclaims in her "Ah Ha" voice--the one that she always used when we kids were caught raiding the cookies, or when she caught my dad with women's underwear in the backseat of his car. "I waved at the lady on the screen and she called over the man in the white shirt to look at me!" she announced proudly. "I'm sure they can see me. Do you think that's okay if they look at me?" she asked.

"Do you watch TV in your underwear?" I asked her. "No? Then don't worry about it, Mom."

So. My mother has lost it. Ghosts eat cookies in the other room keeping her up all night with their incessant chatter, and the TV weather people watch her through the TV screen.


I am so not looking forward to Thanksgiving.

10 October 2008

Why We Do It

The other day, after running into two disgruntled students, I was wondering if I am doing anything useful as a teacher. Today I remembered what I love about teaching.

This week in my World Literatures class we are reading Abeng by Michelle Cliff. This is a coming of age story of a creole girl in 1950s Jamaica. It has three (at least) story threads running through it: the childhood and sexual awakening of Clare Savage, the protagonist; the story of Clare's plantation owning ancestors on the eve of independance in the mid-1800s; and the fight for freedom by the "maroons," escaped slaves under the leadership of Nanny, an Ashanti woman who escaped slavery in the 1700s.

The thing that is interesting is that I have a primarily white classroom full of very suburban kids. But I also have one African-American male student and one Muslim female student. I sometimes worry that I shouldn't draw attention to differences--the very P.C. thing to do these days is to ignore the differences we have. Politely pretend they don't exist. But that also allows us to ignore the very real problems that arise out of not seeing people as they are, which allows us to later see them as "other." Today I called on the black man in my class and asked him to give us his take on the slavery and racial issues in the text. He hemmed and hawed a bit, then he said "Oh, I just read the books for what they are. It is just literature." So I didn't push him anymore, but one of the themes I have been pushing the class to look for in the texts are the similarities between ourselves and other cultures. So I called on the women in the class to look at the choices the character, Clare, is facing--whether to embrace her mother's black heritage or her father's white culture, live within the middle class life of the paternal family or embrace the rural poverty of her maternal grandmother's culture, accept the docile domestic roles offered to women or choose masculine roles and with that embrace her nascient lesbianism.

The character of Clare is torn between two worlds. She visits the maternal poor black culture in the summer, but can return to the safety net of the middle-class paternal culture at any time. Her black friend Zoe has nothing before her but poverty and the drugery of a life of "woman's" work. Clare will go to college and leave Jamaica, Zoe has no such chance, limited as she is by the color of her skin.

As we are talking about this, suddenly my black student wants to speak. He makes the comment that many of these same students in this class are in his African-American literature class, too. And there they also discuss the issues of race and social class and the disenfranchised vs. the priviledged. But the thing that strikes him is that all the white students can close the book and go home. Maybe they have felt some empathy, but in the end they are the recipients of white priviledge while he will always be judged by the color of his skin no matter what he does.

I see people around the room looking uncomfortably down at their books. I see some nodding in understanding. And I think that, no matter what else we say about this book, nothing will compare to this one young man's courage to say what we all know but rarely acknowledge--that in some way we are all complicit in racism by not only our deeds, but by our lack of doing.

After class he hangs around for a moment and I thank him for speaking, and he thanks me for making him want to talk. Also hanging around is the Muslim woman. She wants to talk about her up-coming paper, she says, and we discuss the options for that. But as we are walking out together she very quietly asks: do I know what she needs to do to become a teacher? Who should she talk to about her major? She thinks, she says, that she'd like to someday teach a class like this, on literature from the non-western world. She wants to do what we do in this class--find and appreciate the similarities between the many different peoples of the earth through the beautiful things--the literature, the art, the music. Because, she says, she can see now how we are all more alike than we ever are different.

And suddenly I am reminded of why I love teaching.

08 October 2008

Perceptions and Realities

You ever run into someone you know doesn't want to see you and you don't really want to see them, but there is no way to avoid it? I had two such (maybe one and a half) run-ins today. First was in a hall of the student center. A girl I had a year ago in a literature class. A kid with problems... shy, had a stutter, couldn't write her way out of a paper bag. Somewhere some high school teacher, or maybe the grad student who taught her composition class must have given her high marks for using "big" words. What she wrote sounded impressive on the surface, but it was a lot of what I call mental masturbation--the "scholarly" voice that tries to sound impressive but really says very little and even that very little would be more impressive if it had been said honestly and straight forward. The kind of voice that calls a housekeeper a "domestic sanitation engineer" or a mail carrier a "publication communique delivery specialist."

Of course my line to students is..."I know there is a horse in there somewhere because I see a whole pile of manure... don't make me get out a shovel to dig for the pony."

So in this class I get this student. Not at all socially "ept," in fact as inept as they come. And she thinks she can write. And I tell her to cut the bullshit out and do the paper over. I remember telling her I thought she had a good idea, I remember praising her effort. I suspect what she remembers is not that I met with her a half dozen times and worked with her to get that paper reasonable enough to earn her a B- in the class. What she remembers is the first F, and the criticism of her language. She thought she was doing so well with words on paper and saying there what she couldn't articulate in voice. And I stuck a big fat pin in that balloon.

And today I see her coming straight at me down the hall at the student center.

I smile, she doesn't. I stop, she wants to keep walking, but I am in her way. I say "Hi" and "how have you been?" She is inarticulate. I see her struggling to say something. I see her scowl and I suddenly know she wants to call me terrible names and tell me what I did to her self image. But she says "fine" from between clenched teeth, and moves around me, moves on. And suddenly I remembered for a moment an English teacher I had in freshman year in college in the seventies.

In a debate in the class (was it a real cockroach or just a metaphorical bug in Kafka's "Metamorphosis"?) he embarrassed me in front of everyone. I said it was a metaphor for something else. He said no. Told me I was wrong and didn't know anything. So I argued with him. He told the class not to listen to me. Or at least that is how I remember it. And suddenly I am wondering... Was he really the mean, obnoxious asshole my memory has painted him all these years. Today he would be in his 70s. Probably retired from teaching. I could probably look him up somewhere on the internet. I could ask him what he really thinks of Kafka. I could lay that ghost to rest--if I could remember his name.

I was so upset back then by what he said to me that I didn't go back to that class for two weeks. Nearly failed because of that little "attendance problem." I suspect even if I found him, told him that after all these years I forgive him for damaging my critical view of myself as a "scholar"--lo, those many years ago--he would not really care, would not really know who I was. I am sure he forgot all about me a semester after I was gone out of his class. If he did remember me at all I am sure I was "that kid with all the unexplained absences."

How funny and how fragile we humans are. What little it takes to hurt. What little it would take to avoid the hurt. Should I not have critiqued this girl's paper? No. That was my job as a teacher. But perhaps I could have been gentler in my delivery of the bad news. Should she not have taken such offense? Probably she couldn't help but take offense. She reacted just as she had to as the product of her own preset self perceptions, reacted just as I did those many, many years ago. And if she looks me up in ten or twenty or thirty-eight years and one semester later, I hope I remember her. I hope I say something nice.

The other, much smaller, encounter wasn't much of an encounter by comparison. It was mere minutes after the first one. It was another girl who had been in one of my classes two years ago. A girl who I failed because she stopped coming to class. I didn't say anything to this girl. I saw her coming, she saw me coming. I prepared to say "hi." She turned abruptly and went out the side door. Avoided me entirely? Or just needed to go that direction? I don't know. But I had to think about it. And here is the thing that made me think: for the life of me I could not remember her name. I just knew her as that kid with all the unexplained absences. Now I am wondering why.

Sometimes perception is everything.

20 September 2008

Saturday, Restaurants, and Hollandaise Sauce

Saturday morning. Thinking I needed a bit of exercise. So I talk Steve into taking a walk. There was this restaurant/coffee house around the corner (well, 5 blocks away, really) that we'd been meaning to try. Seemed like a good time to try it. Sadly, no, it was no longer there. It had been a coffee shop cum internet cafe cum bistro cum copy center. Now maybe they were just trying to be too much too too many, or maybe this is not the neighborhood for anything that eclectic. (The Krispy Kreme donut shop does fine two blocks in the other direction, but that is another animal entirely.) In any case they had gone out of business.

So we walked up to Market Street. There is a cute little "family restaurant" that we go to from time to time about an 8 block walk from here. They have great French toast (with a hint of cinnamon in the batter), always do the eggs and the hash browns just right, sounded like a plan for a hungry Saturday morning!

Unfortunately this morning I noticed they had Eggs Benedict on the menu. Now ordinarily I get the standard 2 eggs, hash browns, bacon, and toast and it's all good, standard fare. And they do fine at that. But the sound of EB-- Hollandaise over poached eggs and Canadian bacon or maybe even thin-sliced honey ham like I make it at home--got my tastebuds going. It was not what I got, however. LOL! Hollandaise must have been beyond their short order cook (notice that I do not call him/her a chef!) The muffins were fine, the eggs were nicely poached, the ham was "chip-chop" and the Hollandaise sauce was something I can only describe as "cheez-whiz-oid." Steve warned me I was expecting too much of this place. After scraping off the "cheese" (and I use that word loosely) I had muffins and eggs, with hash browns and bacon on the side it was my standard breakfast there. Live and learn.

So for your edification, and because perhaps the cook from the Akron Family Restaurant twill someday look this way, here is the recipe that I was expecting:

Classic Hollandaise Sauce from GourmetSleuth.com
[HOL-uhn-dayz] A rich egg based sauce flavored with a bit of lemon or vinegar, butter and a hint of cayenne pepper. The sauce is served over vegetables, fish, or Eggs Benedict.

The most important aspect of a successful sauce is to use a double boiler and make sure not to allow the water in the bottom of the double boiler to boil, just remain, hot and lightly simmering. You can add a tablespoon of cold water if needed to reduce the heat of the water if it starts to boil.

The sauce should be served immediately upon completion. Makes: 1 cup

2 tablespoons white-wine or tarragon vinegar or fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons boiling water
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon salt


Melt the butter and keep it warm.

Heat the vinegar or lemon juice until just warmed. Have small saucepan with boiling water and a measuring tablespoon ready.

Place the top of a double boiler over (not in) hot water. (This means the bottom of the top of the double boiler should not make contact with the water heating in the bottom half of the double boiler.)

Place the egg yolks in the top of a double boiler and whisk until they begin to thicken. Now add 1 tablespoon of the boiling water. Continue to beat the sauce until it begins to thicken. Repeat with the remaining water, one tablespoon at a time, beating the mixture after each addition.

Now add the warmed vinegar or lemon juice. Remove the double boiler from the heat. Beat the sauce briskly with a wire whisk. Continue to beat the mixture as you slowly pour in the melted butter. Add the salt and cayenne and beat the sauce until it is thick. Serve immediately.

And if you are in Akron Ohio, and want a nice inexpensive breakfast, do try the Akron Family Restaurant on Market Street--just don't order the Eggs Benedict! I recommend the French Toast.

23 August 2008

NEOMFA after Orientation gathering

A happy bunch of writers and friends at the NEOMFA back-to-school picnic. (From left to right and top to bottom: Anna French, Maggie Anderson, Kristina von Held and Diana Wayand. In the background more NEOMFA students, faculty, and friends.)

08 August 2008

Across the Bifrost Bridge

We are sitting, a hundred or so people, in the falling dark, watching a boat burn. The sky is that deep indigo just before night. Lights from camps on the far side of the lake are beginning to glow. There is the rattle of a distant drum now and again in the distance. Sounds of far away laughter. The flames are a hard brightness against dark waters.

We sit in silence. Some weep softly. A few tell stories, pass a bottle of Tullimore Dew.

In memorializing a good man's untimely death we are reminded of life.

We touch. Hold hands. Reach out to each other knowing that none of us knows the hour that the ravens will come for us.

You out there at home... touch someone. Reach out to someone you love and tell them you love them. Life is too short to waste even a moment of it alone.

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The last flames

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Sailing now on a different, distant shore...

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Farewell Ulrich

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Setting sail

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Daedez says words about losing a friend while Silver passes a bottle of Tully

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At the edge of the lake Devon puts final touches on the ship

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The long procession from Moritu camp to the lake

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The Viking Longship

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Devon working on Ulrich's longship

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Silverthorn arming up

Five field battles today. Drizzly and wet day and the boys are still planning to fight. And there is never any stopping Silver.
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07 August 2008

Silverthorn and Denewulf

Now these two are always being mistaken for each other, but I for one can't see why. (LOL)

Denewulf is the sword and shieldman, Silver fights polearm. Silver is shorter by a couple inches, and (I think) cuter (though I could be biased). Can you tell which is which?
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Sir Pellinore stands before his king

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Strom speaks for Pelly

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Pellinore ready for the acolade

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Midrealm Court on the Field

TRMs call a court on the field to commend the Unbelts, to put Gunnar Redboar on vigil for knighthood, and to knight Pellinore.
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TRMs Lutr & Tessa

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Lothar de Normandie

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Happy Unbelts won their battle

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"Lay on!"

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Midrealm Pavillion

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HRM Lutr gives the unbelts a pep talk before the battle

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Silverthorn heads out to the field

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Getting ready for the Champions Battles

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Midrealm Unbelted Champions catch some rest between the battles

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Anna and Laoise guard Midrealm Gate

As I was doing POD this morning these 2 lovely ladies came to guard the gate. Laoise spent most of the shift singing one song after another. Beautiful voice! And Anna sang lovely harmony to many of those songs, too.
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06 August 2008

Musicians at Midnight Madness

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Silver admires Maggie's . . . pottery

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More Midnight Madness

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Midnight Madness!

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AEthelmearc Royal camp

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Myfanwy sewing while Daedez braids Chai's hair at the gate

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Inyedun & Bagshi relaxing at the gate

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Moritu Gate

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The newest bird in the North

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The Scroll

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New Pelican swears fealty to Northshield

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Viscount Edward speaks for the Royal Peers

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Speaking for the Laurel

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Lancelot of Windhaven is called into Court

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Her Majesty Northshield visits with the populace while waiting for the King

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Daedez and bodyguards Lujin and Bagshi wait for Northsheid Court to begin

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Lance Gets the Bird

It's Wednesday afternoon about 4pm ish and we are sitting in Northshield camp waiting for the king to get back from the battlefield. The battle ran a bit late (we just heard the ending cannon a few minutes ago).

This is the afternoon that Lance will be inducted into the Order of the Pelican. I have the medallion that Suvdchin and Mirrim passed on to me and that I passed on to Corun. It comes on a chainmail collar so that the wearer is ever reminded of the burdens of such an honor.

Fighters seem to be rolling in now, so court should start shortly....

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Devon is inspired to tango by the newest Laurel

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... and Daedez is presented with the fruitcake!

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The ancestral fruitcake is brought forth and its lineage is read...

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Khalek steps down from his throne to put the medallion on her personally

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Daedez recieves a collar, and Master Pug comes forward with a medallion

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Una watches from among the Laurels

I would have taken a pic of the Pelicans who spoke for Daedez, but since I was one of them I was a bit busy.
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Duchess Sir Rowain speaks as a Royal peer and as Chivalry

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Baroness Mistress Sadira speaks for the Laurel

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