Saturday, October 26, 2013

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Recently, after reading Jenny Schoberl's blog post at Holdin' Holden about her kids' restaurant antics I started thinking about my own children in similar situations. Our daughter, Kimberly, loved going to restaurants. Mind you, something must have gone very wrong when her bladder was forming because it seemed to be the size of a grape seed. Eventually I became suspicious of the never ending trips to the bathroom when the four year old spent more time dawdling past tables smiling and flirting with male patrons than she did using the facilities.

At six years old,our son Ryan was an extremely sophisticated diner. While his sister ordered regular kid meals like cheese pizza or fries and a glass of pop, Ryan eschewed such pedestrian fare in favor of Szechuan shrimp and bottled mineral water. Imagine his disgust then, when we went for a quick bite at a local fast food restaurant with only burgers on the menu. He detailed his choice explicitly, what he wanted and what he didn't want.

We no sooner sat down to eat in the crowded restaurant than Ryan whipped the top bun off of his burger, pointed an accusing finger and yelled loud enough to be heard a mile away. "What is that?"
Conversation stopped and all eyes turned our way. What horrors lay beneath that innocent-looking bun? Mouse terds? Giant spider legs? Nope. A slice of tomato. Did I say? He loathed tomatoes.


Restaurants weren't the only public places for shaming one's parents. No, not by a long shot. Airports were great too. Our family was at Vancouver International Airport - can't remember if we were waiting to board or if we were meeting someone - I've tried to forget. Anyway, my husband and I and the kids were milling around to pass the time. How can I phrase this in a politically correct way? (We Canadians are all about political correctness - well most of us anyway) There was a midget. He seemed to be showcased. He was standing in the middle of a large area with plenty of space around him, the rest of the terminal occupants on the fringes. When I saw him I prayed Ryan would not. No such luck. Ryan zeroed in on him at once. As soon as I noticed Ryan notice him and make a move toward him I began slowly backing away. I suspected what was coming and I didn't want anyone to realize he belonged to me. I'd seen that look on his face before. Quizzical, on the verge of speech. Hands on hips, Ryan circled the small man a couple of times and then addressed him directly, once again in that voice that carries well beyond what was required for everyone in the vicinity to hear him.
"Do you know you're short?"

Now generally little people are used to the curiosity of children but this guy was not amused in the least. His travelling companion was however and roared with laughter, making things worse. My husband rushed over, swept up Ryan and apologized then came back to me and whispered. "Chicken." He'd seen me saunter for cover.

One should be safe from embarrassment in your own home shouldn't you? Home sweet home. Where you're protected and loved and sheltered. Hah. We were enjoying an after dinner cup of coffee with some friends we hadn't seen in a while, reminiscing and laughing, when Ryan came into the room. I looked at him. He was looking at them. With that look. Great. What was it this time? Ryan walked right up to our friends. Not shy, our boy. While they waited politely for him to speak, he inspected first one and then the other then opened his mouth and out came, "Are you guys ever fat!"

I inhaled my mouthful  of coffee and began to choke. My husband smiled - ever so slightly. Our friends, momentarily lost for words just stared at him. Finally the husband spoke up. "Yeah, we are, aren't we." And laughed. Disaster averted.

One of the coolest things about kids is that they say exactly what they think. One of the mortifying things about kids is that they say exactly what they think.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Writing and Scribes in Ancient Babylon

As far as is presently known, writing began in Sumer, in ancient Mesopotamia, around 3000BC. Evolving from pictography, cuneiform (wedge-shaped) made use of the fluted end of a reed to form characters with sharp jabs and tails that looked a lot like nails. The stylus was pressed into the soft clay of cushion shaped tablets and then left out to dry. Documents requiring permanency were baked in an oven.

The most important man in ancient Mesopotamia was the scribe.

Education was generally a privilege restricted to the sons of the wealthy, who could afford to maintain an unproductive child for a long period. Pictured at the top is the school for scribes known as the tablet house. Young boys began their training as early as 5 to 7 years of age. I can't imagine sitting on those hard seats all day every day. The little dishes you see on the floor were for mixing clay with water to make new tablets.

In a discovered tablet from Ur a young pupil complained of having only six days of freedom in a month. Their long days were spent copying out and memorizing lists of names, technical terms, and legal phrases plus grammar and mathematics. Corporal punishment was meted out liberally and, needless to say, rebellion among the students was frequent. A scribe's education lasted well into young adulthood. Some poor boys did not have a real head for it as evidenced in this excerpt from a 'school days' text.

"What have you done, what good came of your sitting here? You are already a ripe man and close to being aged! Like an old ass you are not teachable any more. Like withered grain you have passed the season. How long will you play around? But, it is still not too late! If you study night and day and work all the time modestly and without arrogance, if you listen to your colleagues and teachers, you still can become a scribe!"
(from City Invincible by C.H. Kraeling and R.M. Adams, Chicago)

Probably the most famous of all cuneiform texts is the Code of Hammurabi. Inscribed on diorite rock, the stele is in the shape of a huge index finger. The original is currently on display in The Louvre. This Babylonian law code dates back to about 1722BC and is the longest surviving cuneiform text from the Old Babylonian period. The so-called 'fingernail' at the top of the stele shows King Hammurabi standing before Shamash, god of law and justice.

Here is a close-up of the stele. Thanks to the hard rock on which the code was carved it has survived extremely well don't you think?

In the preface to his law code, King Hammurabi says,
"Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and evil-doers so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule all of the black-headed people like Shamash and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind."

Four of the laws found on the stele are:

"If any one break a hole into a house (break in to steal) he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried."
"If a 'sister of a god' open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death."
"If a man's wife be surprised (in flagrento dilecto) with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves."
"If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off."

Pretty serious stuff as is Hammurabi's final demand at the conclusion of the 282 laws that all future kings pay attention. An enormous litany of curses are rained upon any king who doesn't observe his laws exactly or puts his own image on the monument or defaces it in any way. Hammurabi's last words on the stele are,
"May Bel curse him with the potent curses of his mouth that cannot be altered, and may they come upon him forthwith."

Guess it's no wonder the monument has survived. Yikes.

Monday, October 14, 2013


I've found that keeping a blog is a terrific procrastination tool. While I should be working on my novel, I'm checking pageviews by country - Belarus? Really? - blog traffic sources - referring urls and sites - anyone know how to block a porn site? I'm even looking at browsers and operating systems. How ridiculous is that.

I never dreamed when I started this blog a couple of months ago that it would consume so much of my time. And I have precious little of it.

We have a home-based business so work is pretty much 24-7. Okay, this isn't me and it might not be quite this bad but it's getting there.

And my frustration level is pretty much like this woman's and the mess - yeah - my desk gets like this.

I need to be working on my novel. Did I say that? Between blog stuff and work stuff I don't have much time for writing.

No, I don't write on this. That's not what's slowing me down. Although I think you need finger muscles like a body builder to type on one of these old beauties.

I sometimes use pencils but not these although there are people who think using pencils is about as archaic as using quills. Shame on you. The smell of freshly sharpened pencils - heavenly.

And even though I'm writing about ancient Babylon I haven't resorted to clay tablets, even if the scribes in my story have to use them. Hm-m-m, would be kinda fun to try though. Maybe I'll see if I can't find some clay and.....


No, it's just that I'm WASTING TIME. I'm procrastinating. And blogging related obsessions aren't the only problem. I have other procrastination tools as well - in fact, my toolbox is full. Can't write, need to take the garbage cans out to the locked shed so the bears, racoons, dogs (insert pest) don't get into them. Can't write, need to take the laundry out of the dryer because I keep forgetting it, I've put it on 'steam refresh' three times and it's going to shrink to the size of babies' pjs. Can't write, getting company and have to see if there's any food in the fridge left to cook with and if not run out and get something amazing or at least edible. Can't write, have to bath the dog and it takes the stealth of an international spy to set out the bath things without him catching on the water is running for him.  And on and on it goes.

Blogging is a new and shiny tool which calls for some self-imposed restrictions. Sadly the bills need to be paid so work has to come first. My novel is my next biggest priority so if I'm on a roll my blog will have to take a back seat. I. Need. More. Hours. In. My. Day!!!

I just saw an ad for an Irish whiskey called 'Writers Tears'. Sounds like something I could use about now. Join me?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh My!

For those who have never seen or don't remember  the 1939 fantasy adventure, The Wizard of Oz, my post title is taken from a scene in the movie. Dorothy has joined forces with Tin Man and Scarecrow. When they enter a forest Dorothy is nervous and says she doesn't like it because it's dark and creepy. She asks the other two if they think they'll come across any wild animals. Tin Man tells her they might and Scarecrow wants to know if the animals will eat straw. Tin Man replies that some might but mostly they'll meet up with lions, tigers and bears. Dorothy cries, "Lions?", Scarecrow cries, "Tigers?" Tin Man nods. "And bears". To bolster their courage they make a chant of it and skip through the forest singing, "Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!" over and over.  However, they only meet up with the fellow in this picture, the Cowardly Lion.

In ancient Babylon, the processional road leading to the principal gate of the city was flanked by tall walls of intimidating guardian lions, mouths agape in warning roars. The road itself was called Aibur-shabu, 'the enemy shall never pass'. Archaeologists excavated these walls in the early 20th century. Reconstructed, they now reside in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany.

In ancient China the tiger was revered as the mightiest of the wild beasts. The tiger inspired Chinese folk tales in which the tiger kills evil men and protects good men. The 'tiger claw' amulet is said to ward off sudden fright and give the wearer the courage of the tiger.
This guy may look cute now but he grows up to be this guy.
 In the mid 1800's James C. Adams attempted to 'tame' a grizzly bear by repeatedly hitting it with a club. The bear was not amused and Adams suffered a fatal blow when the animal returned the favor. Grizzly bears are unpredictable and have a powerful bite, making them extremely dangerous. Early Native American Indians regarded grizzlies with awe and at times even as gods.
"If you go down to the woods today,
You're sure of a big surprise.."
It won't be a teddy bear's picnic but it might be lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!
Today's post is in response to the October Absolute Write Blog Chain prompt of the same name.
My fellow blog chain participants are:
Ralph Pines
dclary                    URL TBD