Happy New Year!

Yeah, I’m a little late getting this posted, but at least it’s still January!

Last year I wrote about the various goals that I had for 2014, both personal and for the site. I did okay on some, terrible on others, but I’m going to set goals for myself again in 2015 and hopefully keep a little better account of them. (You can read more about my personal goals for last year and what I have in store for 2015 over on my personal blog.)

On the Shakespeare Challenge, I only made it through one third of the plays, but I did manage to read all of the sonnets. A little trivia – if you read a sonnet a day starting on January 1 and in a non-leap year, you’ll finish them on June 3. I’m planning to continue this challenge and read another third this year and next, so I’ll have read all by the end of 2016. I originally started the challenge in honor of the Bard’s 450th birthday, but this way I’ll finish them by the 400th anniversary of his death.

On the rest of last year’s goals: I totally failed. I didn’t manage to post one single book review. So, this year I’m going to make another attempt at that. I’m going to aim for six reviews, although they may cover more than one book in each review since I have a few that would work nicely as pairs. I did manage to do a few behind-the-scenes things on my to-do list, but I didn’t get to any of the really big ones I was aiming for. So I’ll keep working on those as well.

One other thing to note for this year – by one way of counting (more on that in a minute) this is the 20th anniversary of this site. The reason I say “by one way of counting” is that the site has gone through several iterations, and this is the 20th anniversary of the first one. I think the first page about my Tudor History interests that I put on my personal website actually dates from late 1994, but I know that it was going strong by mid-1995 since that was when I started thinking about splitting it off into its own thing and when I started my current job full-time (and yes, I’m getting a 20 year plaque for that this year). It didn’t actually end up it’s own site until July 1997 (after the Elizabeth I pages were previously on GeoCities – remember that?? – in 1996, I think). So 2017 would be another 20 years milestone. This year is also the 15th anniversary of the site at TudorHistory.org domain, which I originally bought on July 9, 2000. I’ll probably do a full post on the history of the site later in the year and bore everyone with more details than anyone could possibly want.

Best wishes for 2015 everyone!

Around my hometown

I can’t believe I’ve managed to do half a month of the August blogging challenge so far!

Today’s post is photos of my hometown. I’m lucky enough to live in Austin, Texas, a great city for food, music, education, technology, and all-around fun! Yes, it can get beastly hot in the summers, but the winters are usually mild and the spring and fall are often quite lovely. We’re especially proud of our amazing wildflowers in the spring!

I wasn’t organized enough to pull together a bunch of around town photos, so I’ll post a couple of night time shots, one from the top of my building at work and one from just south of the river that runs through town. In the top photo, you’re looking south towards downtown Austin from the roof of Robert Lee Moore Hall which houses the Physics, Math, and Astronomy programs. Most of the buildings in the foreground are part of the University of Texas (my alma mater and my employer). The view is a little hazy because central Texas had had an influx of dust from the Sahara that week. (Yes, the big African desert – Austin is the same latitude as Cairo and the jet stream can carry dust right across the globe!) In the second photo, the thing off to the right is a full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope (launching in a few years) that was brought to Austin during the weeks of craziness in March known as South By Southwest.

Five favorite movies

Just like with five favorite books post for the August blogging challenge, narrowing down my favorite movies to just five is tough. The first three are no-brainers, but about a dozen or so things could go in the the last couple of slots. So here are my five — for today!

* Star Wars (the whole saga from 1977 to 2005 and future movies to come!)

* The Wizard of Oz (1939)

* The Philadelphia Story (1940)

* The Avengers (2012)

* Ghostbusters (1984)

A ghost story

I was having a hard time thinking of something to post when all of a sudden it occurred to me that one of my favorite ghost stories isn’t from a book or movie, it’s a song. Specifically the song She Moved Through the Fair. I didn’t even realize until after several listenings that the “she” of the song is dead, so when the singer dreams of her coming to him at the end, it’s really her ghost.

The first version of the song I encountered was by Loreena McKennitt on her album Elemental and it is still my favorite rendition. Here’s You Tube video with it, embedded below:

[edited to add: the video I originally linked to here was removed, but if you search for the song on YouTube, you’ll find several great versions.]

Opening lines from five favorite books

I’m sure that this is one that a lot of us in the August blog challenge will have trouble with, because this is a pretty book-crazy bunch and it will be hard to narrow down to five!

These are all the first lines of the first chapter, skipping any prologue or introductions.

So, here are the five I chose:

“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”
Cosmos by Carl Sagan

“Her path to the Tower wound back beyond her birth, to the chance meeting of man and a woman more than a quarter of a century before that windswept April night of her imprisonment.”
Legacy by Susan Kay

“Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes.”
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
Harry Potter and the Philospher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

(The last three are the first books in a series of books, of course, and are really representing whole series that I love.)

I really feel bad leaving off a Neil Gaiman book, but it would have been hard to choose one since I love all his books. And I’m sure there are other favorites that I’ve completely forgotten for one reason or another.

Earliest memory

Continuing with the August blogging challenge. I’m doing Sunday’s topic today since I’ll have a different regularly scheduled blog post that day. Today’s scheduled topic was supposed to be a regret, but I honestly don’t have any big regrets and my small regrets aren’t all that interesting (except maybe one I’ll mention below, which ties in to one of my earliest memories).

I was born in 1972 and my earliest memories date from 1976, when I was four. I have some vague recollections of celebrations of the Bicentennial but I can’t remember anything concrete of that. I do however remember seeing the 1976 “King Kong” re-make. The funny thing is that my one clear memory from it was that I was excited to go to the movies because I could get the Reese’s peanut butter cups candy that had THREE of the cups instead of the regular two. But I do remember liking the movie. (I’m at least a second generation monster movie fan – see previous blog post on guilty pleasures and cheesy Sci-Fi movies – although I have a suspicion that my mom got it from her father, so I’m probably the third generation.) Because of that movie, I wanted to visit New York to see the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, which Kong climbed in that version. I also wanted to visit New York at that age because that’s where Sesame Street is, but that’s another story. 🙂 And that’s where my regret mentioned above comes in – I didn’t managed to visit New York until 2006, after it was too late to see the Towers. At least I did get to visit the famous landmark that other on-screen versions of Kong have climbed, the Empire State Building.

My other memory that I think dates from 1976 as well was visiting my grandmother’s classroom for her retirement party. I mostly remember that because her students spoiled me rotten with attention (and I vaguely remember cake being involved) and it being decorated with a bunch of red, white, and blue things.

So, they aren’t the most exciting early memories, but they are happy ones.

Guilty Pleasures

More in the August blogging challenge…

I admit that I don’t have a lot of guilty pleasures – in that *I* don’t feel very guilty in taking pleasure in them. But others might try to make me feel guilty about them so I guess they still count. 🙂

For foods – McDonald’s french fries. Part of the reason I don’t feel too guilty about them is that I eat them in moderation. But I do love a yummy, hot, crunchy fry.

For music – 80s pop and hair band rock. Again, I don’t feel guilty about enjoying it, it’s the music of my youth (from 8 to 17 – my formative years).

For movies – any cheesy Sci-Fi. Probably part of the reason that I’m a huge MST3K fan!

I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones that sprung to mind!

A Favorite Quote

Next in the blog challenge – a favorite quote. I actually have lots of quotes that I like for various reasons (and to use in various situations), but this has always been a favorite of mine and many others who are fans of earth and space exploration:

Something I wish I did really well

Continuing on with the August blog challenge…

I wish I could sing really well. I was in choir in elementary school and I was decent enough at holding a note that the music teacher would put the new people next to me, but I didn’t continue with it in junior high and beyond, opting for band instead (I played clarinet for those who are curious). So now my singing is limited to the shower and car where only I can hear it. 🙂

A Treasured Memory

Continuing on the August blog challenge…

This one was hard for me because I’m lucky to have a lot of treasured memories (in part because I have a sponge for a brain, so I just flat out have A LOT of memories). But I decided to choose one… well, a set of memories more precisely… that is related to the topic of the blog – my first trip to the UK (England and Wales only on that trip, Scotland came 2 years later). Since it was my first trip I crammed in as much as I could and tried to visit as many of the places that I *had* to see in case I never got back (since I didn’t know at the time that I would visit the UK two more times over the next five years). I don’t think I could single out just one memory from that trip because it was all so special for me. Really the same could be said for *all* my various trips outside of Texas – and some in Texas – but that first one to the UK is particularly treasured.

Five things about me you might not know

For today’s post for Natalie’s August blog challenge, I’m following her suggestion and posting 5 things about me that most people don’t know. And this is aimed at people who know me through Tudor history stuff… people who know me through other areas often don’t know about my Tudor history side. 🙂

* My degree is in astronomy and I still work in the field doing education and public outreach. (I think a lot of people probably do know this since I do mention it from time to time, but I thought I would include it for new folks who stumble on the site during the blog challenge.)

* I’m a native Texan and still a current resident – south Texas to Houston to Austin (since 1980), to be precise. I included this because I’m still getting emails and tweets from people who assume I’m in the UK. (I wish! August in Texas is one of my least favorite things.)

* I collect Pez dispensers. And I would LOVE to see them make a collector’s set of Henry VIII and the Wives. Although the heads flipping up on two of them might be a little too close to historical accuracy…

* My all-time favorite genre of music is movie and television scores. It started with “Star Wars” in 1977 when I was 5 years old and I’ve never looked back.

* I’m a pretty big sports fan, with my favorites being baseball, tennis, college football, and pretty much anything in the Olympics. I’m one of those people who will watch the wall-to-wall Olympic coverage when it’s on, regardless of what sport is on or the nationality of the athletes!

August blog challenge kick-off post!

Natalie at On the Tudor Trail issued a challenge on her personal blog to write a post every day in August and I’ve decided to take up that challenge! I’m going to do a mix of her suggested schedule and my own posts (in part because I already do a regular Wednesday and mostly-regular Sunday post) and because I want to use this as an opportunity to write about a few other things that I’ve been meaning to post for a while. I’m hoping this challenge will give me the kick it the rear-end that I need!

If you want to join in the challenge (granted, the first day of the month is already over for a lot of you!) see Natalie’s challenge post here and join in the fun!

Sunday Short Takes

Sorry I didn’t get around to doing one of these last weekend (which was the long Memorial Day holiday here in the US).

* The June issue of BBC History magazine is out and features a cover article about Elizabeth I by Anna Whitelock titled “Saving the Virgin Queen”. I decided to subscribe to the digital edition on my iPad but I’m still a month behind on reading the issues!

* Tudor Gresham Ship wreck moves to National Diving CentreThe wreck of an Elizabethan merchant ship has been transported to a new home in Leicestershire after being raised from a Portsmouth lake.

And finally, the article (well, one version of it at least – there were many re-workings of it in various news outlets) that lit up Twitter last week:

* ‘Tudor era’ is misleading myth, says Oxford historian

One observation I had, especially after @NasimT pointed to an earlier article by the same historian, is that it is odd how some topics suddenly become “news”. In my profession (astronomy/astrophysics for those who don’t already know) I’ve seen this same phenomenon happen as well. A reporter stumbles across something that they think will cause a buzz (even years-old research), will write a story, and all of a sudden it is everywhere! My other observation was that I could see the point Prof. Davies is making, but I don’t know that it would be “misleading” to call it the Tudor Era. We call the era before them “The Wars of the Roses” even though the participants didn’t call it that and the name came along centuries later. As Suzannah Lipscomb (@sixteenthCgirl) pointed out on Twitter, the Plantagenets didn’t call their era by their name either, so why make a point about the Tudors? I also haven’t seen an alternative label offered. We already note the individual reigns when we’re speaking more specifically, and often books about the whole era include the dates 1485-1603 in their titles or subtitles. Oh well, it was an interesting article and got a lot of people talking, which I guess was the point! 🙂

And one final off-topic note, while I’m thinking about it – if you’re in an area that the Transit of Venus on June 5/6 is visible please make an effort to see it! I’ll be hosting one part of the public outreach viewing at UT. Any central Texas readers, please stop by! (More info here)

SOPA and PIPA blackouts

I decided not to blackout any of my blogs and sites today partly from laziness and partly in fear that I would totally screw something up, but I do want to register my support for those who are protesting by taking down their sites. I have contacted my congressional representatives and I hope any of you in the US will consider doing the same.

So, what is this all about? This is one of the most straightforward explanations:

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

And if you go to any of the major sites who are participating in the blackout and protest, you’ll find more links about the potential danger of bills like these.

Elizabeth’s Haunted Portrait

No, not a tale of spooky happenings around a piece of art, but rather a funny Halloween decoration I stumbled upon at the craft store the other day.

(Sorry for the cruddy cell phone pics.)

This is one of those things that has one image when you look at it from one angle and then another when viewed from the other side. I should have taken the photos with the glowing red eyes on too. They had a couple of others, all based on Renaissance portraits, and I *think* one of them was Sir Walter Raleigh, or perhaps Sir Francis Drake.

And no, I didn’t buy it since I didn’t see how much it was and I was already spending enough money on the magnifying lamp I went in for. (Fellow needleworkers will understand – I was stitching on a small project that had some parts that were on 28-ct fabric over one and my eyes basically said “No way lady!”, hence the new lamp.)

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Sunday short takes

* Not exactly Tudor related, but cool: SepiaTown – mapped historical photos from around the world.

* Shakespeare’s Kings and Westminster Abbey – RSC actors performing excerpts from the history plays in the coronation ‘theater’ of the Abbey. I wish I could attend some of these!

* Presentation on objects from Tudor and Stuart playhouses at the Museum of London on April 24