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Archive for March, 2010

Hallway at former Sparks home on West Avenue in Austin. Photo by Trey Hunter

If I ever get to design a house for myself, or just remodel a hallway, I’m totally doing this: Brilliant use of space in this very wide hall gave the owners their own mini-library.  It even has a sliding-ladder contraption, a thing I have coveted for years, as I am teensy.

Big bookcases can really fill up wall space and make a room look dark and crowded; ditto for all the photos and souvenirs that bring a smile to your face but are packed away because you don’t really have a place for them. And a hallway is nothing but wall space. Think, too, of the fun moments that could happen if this hallway linked all the bedrooms: Pajama-clad family members chatting as they pick out their books for the night. Kids choosing their bedtime storybooks. Houseguests pausing to study your unfortunate hairdo choices through the years.

This could really be the heart of a house. When we win the lottery (yes, the one we don’t play), we’re building this. Also the secret room. We completely agree on the need for a secret room.  Maybe one you enter through part of this bookcase!  How Scooby-Doo.

The enticing photo above was taken by Trey Hunter, and I use it here with his kind permission; I first saw it when I read this story, which describes the home at 1510 West Ave. in Austin — on the market for just $2.195 million. (Photo gallery here)  It was built in 1927 by former state treasurer Sam Sparks. A recent remodel brought the wiring up to date but kept a lot of the history; I’m not sure whether this feature is old or new. But I’m sure you need a pretty dang wide hallway to pull it off.  Else you’d be bumping into the ladder all the time. Ouch.

And because I’m grateful to him and I like supporting photographers, here’s a little more about Hunter: Based in Austin, Trey Hunter offers photo editing and tutorial DVDs (learn how best to photograph homes) in addition to his residential and commercial photography services. Learn more at www.treyhunterphoto.com.

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Viola cornuta "Coconut Swirl"

Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:

It fell upon a little western flower,

Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,

And maidens call it Love-in-idleness.

— A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This is the lovely Viola cornuta, a modern cousin of the deep purple violet Shakespeare knew and used in his play — Puck squeezes the juice from this flower on the young Athenians’ eyes to make them fall in love with the first person they see upon waking. “Shakespeare’s Flowers” identifies the plant as Viola tricolor, or Johnny jump-ups, a vibrant little violet-and-gold thing.  But doesn’t that description just fit?  Milk-white, with an infusion of lavender blue.

There are many shades in the “Sorbet” viola line — this one, I think, is “Coconut Swirl.” But I dislike that name (partly because I hate coconut) and think it should be called “Blackberry Cobbler,” after the single best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.  Much more fitting.  These are blooming now in every pot around my house — I can’t get enough of them.

Viola cornuta "Coconut Swirl"

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I’ve been a copy editor for more than 15 years, and in all that time, none of my coworkers nor anybody I’ve asked has been able to say where we get the dorky abbreviation CQ, which we use every day.

These are copy editors, mind you.  People who will cheerfully spend half an hour tracking down a historical reference, who are daily required to know acronyms from LULAC to snafu to AASHTO**.  My people.  And when you ask them where CQ comes from, they look vaguely into the sky and say, “I dunno. I never heard anybody say for sure.”

CQ, as folks who work at newspapers know, means “I checked it,” as in “I called that phonenumber and it really does go to Joe’s Pie Factory” or “This book title looks wrong but I got it off the actual book cover” or, sometimes, “My editor told me to CQ everything in this story and I took a shortcut.”

Well, around midday today, Gawker commenter organicgardener (a handle I can respect for many reasons) posted an item that has rocked my world. A story about some NYT editing notes that accidentally got published had readers wondering what the mysterious [cq] notation was.

And organicgardener, with the clarity born of honest toil, posted:

I Google this and find, to my chagrin, that it pops up immediately on Wikipedia (and Answers.com, which scrapes Wikipedia). Oh, the irony: Copy editors, or at least me, lead the charge against Wikipedia because it’s untrustworthy. At best, reporters and editors alike should use it only for its sources. So, OK, what’s their source for this?  Hmmm, they don’t cite one. Another online encyclopedia cites … Wikipedia. And throws in “casus quo,” to confuse things (“in this case” makes no sense). Merriam-Webster, which copy editors loooove, doesn’t mention a journalistic use of CQ (call to quarters, change of quarters, commercial quality) but gives the meaning of “cadit quaestio” as “The question drops; the argument collapses.”

Aiiieee!, I think. We have been undone, as a tribe, by our love for dictionaries and our loathing of Wikipedia!  More likely, actually, that when I was a young nubbin of a copy editor first asking this question, we did not have the Internets, and I just eventually quit asking. (See, copy editors do eventually let a question go. After, say, seven years.) Perhaps newly minted copy editors ponder this question for no more than 20 seconds before turning to the Google.

On another topic, the original Gawker story was newsworthy to me not because I think the note was actually nasty, or because it’s unusual to see editing notes pop into a story (that’s why I discourage editors from making personal notes, and why if a story comes to me with editorial comments or facts that have been questioned but left in notes mode, I’ll often strip the notes out before publishing. Bad things happen) — but because they fact-check every little thing down to calling the elementary school to confirm employment in 1975 for a secondary person in a wedding announcement. THAT is the kind of editing that can and should inspire true confidence — and the kind of editing that goes by the wayside as staffs are slashed — and yet, the NYT is reviled for its mistakes. Just sayin’.

* “Holy Chihuly” is just something I say so that I don’t say something else, much as I use “Rat parts!” and “Sunday britches.” Dale Chihuly‘s a glass artist whose possibly Slovakian surname is too cool to have only one use. Nobody else, far as I know, says “Rat parts” or takes Mr Chihuly’s name in vain. “Sunday britches,” though, I got from my Pappa (grandfather).

** The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials… known until 1973 as AASHO, when it was changed because its members included transportation officials outside of state highway departments, of course, and not because everyone had been snickering for years.  Their current logo emphasizes the T in a suspiciously conspicuous manner. (I first read about the group in The Straight Dope, a reference work that surpasses Merriam-Webster in all important categories, such as smart-assery.)

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At about 1:20 a.m., if you’re up late writing, you’re not alone. Google’s Teahouse Fox is doing brushwork by candlelight. She has apparently been outside, as there is a taper still lit in the garden. And fireflies hover over her birdbath.

These images I’ve been discovering recently are at the bottom of the Gmail Inbox when you open up “full Gmail” (and who wouldn’t, as the quickie, widget version of Gmail seems to be buggy).

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Having been a fan of the James Herriot books since I was a little girl, I recently did myself a huge favor: I ordered the biography of him that his son wrote, “The Real James Herriot,” as well as the photo book with his essays on “James Herriot’s Yorkshire.” (Herriot was the pen name adopted by veterinarian Alf Wight, who died in 1995.)

If you love his funny tales of curing animals in 1930s and ’40s Yorkshire, you will be delighted to know that there are a few more such anecdotes sprinkled in these books. Also, it’s wonderful to hear how much of the books is based in literal truth; I wholeheartedly agree with his son’s sentiment that knowing the stories are real makes them better.

A little digging on the Internet will show you ivy-covered “Skeldale House,” where Wight lived and worked, and give you the true names of his colleagues, the “Farnon” brothers, in real life named Donald and Brian Sinclair. The biography is even more satisfying; Wight’s son, who grew up to join his father’s veterinary practice, knew many of the people alluded to in the books very well, and he describes a number of the incidents that got written up.

Fans of the books will be tickled to learn that though the eccentric and charming “Siegfried” was a little affronted by his portrayal, the real “Tristan” was highly entertained by his fictional counterpart and adopted a habit of going into bookstores and moving the Herriot books into the bestseller racks, to help the enterprise along. “Siegfried” remained a staunch friend, though.

“Granville Bennett,” the skilled small-animal practitioner who entertained so lavishly, is real as well; when Wight’s own pet fell ill, he rushed the little dog around to “Granville’s” surgery just as Herriot did with other pets in the books, and when the second movie was made based on the books, “Granville” was among the friends who came to watch the filming — with the trunk of his MG converted into a well-stocked mini bar.

One of the more unbelievable characters is “Calum Buchanan,” portrayed as not only a veterinary assistant with a strong love for animals but as the keeper of weird pets including a badger he carried slung over his shoulder. This is no less than the stocking-top truth, it seems, and there’s a photo to prove it.

I won’t spoil any more anecdotes; I was so happy to learn there was more to be told that I want other fans to have the same experience. So definitely go buy these two books, if you yearn for more of James Herriot. The books are not all funny-story narrative, far from it, but there are nuggets amid the biography and the photo essay.

As for the original James Herriot books themselves — “All Creatures Great and Small,” “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “All Things Wise and Wonderful,” “The Lord God Made Them All” and “Every Living Thing,” plus smaller story collections — even when they were being written, primarily in the 1970s and ’80s, he was describing a time that had already vanished, and so I think the books are going to be truly timeless. His style is very clear and free of jargon — he uses the correct veterinary and medical terms for everything but explains so plainly that you understand the tricky bits completely from context.

You even get a nice feeling that you are learning a little about veterinary medicine while you’re being entertained, and that’s one of my favorite setups always, to be doing two things at once.

Many aspects of his work have been praised: their warm-heartedness, of course; their humor; their loving descriptions of the Yorkshire countryside; and, as I was glad to read in the biography, their service to the veterinary profession in portraying vets as caring, hardworking, highly competent and very human. I often wish journalism had a similar ambassador. He was honored explicitly for this by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

That last aspect gets close to, but doesn’t quite get at the main thing I personally drew from his works. When I was very young and reading them for the first time, what I absorbed was his incredible empathy, for the animals of course but overwhelmingly for the people. Clients rich and poor, rude and friendly, complaining and stoic, book-smart and street-smart, quiet and chatty. His work took him onto their farms and into their homes, directly affecting their livelihood and also their deepest emotions. Some hurled abuse and resentment, both direct and subtle, at the vet who hauled himself from bed at any hour of the night and patiently treated their animals with loving care. Each of their characters gets loving treatment, as well.

He finds much to admire and dozens of ways to forgive. He shares his fascination with quirks of behavior. Meanwhile, he is unfailingly self-effacing, and you get the sense that this is just the way he deals with the world. It’s a joyful way to go about things.

Also, he gave me the ability to see the human side of the vet or doctor or salesperson or waiter who is helping you — drawing an indelible picture of the difficulties they put up with in working with the public. This affected me immediately as a child. Youth is a self-centered time of life, but “James Herriot” taught me to have a care for the feelings of people who were trying to help me. I’m grateful.

Anyway, if you are looking for something fun to read, and you like animals, and you enjoy well-written books that leave you feeling positive and happy, I strongly suggest you check these books out and see if they suit you. Should it turn out that you do enjoy them, you’ve got several thick books ahead of you to enjoy. And I am envious that they are still in front of you.

(Amazon images used by permission; purchases made by clicking through these links support this blog.)

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