Jun 142017
 

Over 25 years ago now (or a quarter of a century…which seems even a bit stranger), I started teaching Children’s Literature to Elementary Education majors at Southwest Missouri State University. At the time, Children’s Literature was becoming “real” literature–that is literature worth studying, poetry worth memorizing, stories worth reading.

At the time I started teaching, my more serious colleagues would smile and say “well…that’s nice…but it really isn’t the same as TS Eliot or Shakespeare or Byron.” If I tried talking about children’s literature in light of Cixous or Foucault, they would grimace and say “well…that really does not apply, now does it” and would turn to more serious topics than the cultural implications of Winnie the Pooh. Even my colleagues enamored with Science Fiction and Fantasy would grimace and note that the Wizard of Earthsea really wasn’t on par with The Left Hand of Darkness (both written by the same author) because, well, the Wizard was created for children after all.

Part of the problem was that Children’s Literature was relegated to the back of the academic line because it was defined as a requirement for Education majors rather than as an appropriate area of study for Literature majors–indeed, most of my students were Elementary Education majors who were far more interested in working with children rather than becoming serious scholars bound for graduate programs and the upper echelons of academia. The literature majors who enrolled in the class came in with the expectation that it would be an easy A because, after all, they were just reading “kids’ books.” The education majors came in, on the whole, as non-readers–indeed, most of them hated reading and tended to refer to the consumption of words as “language acquisition” rather than something one did for pleasure or studied as a serious pursuit. After seven years of fighting diminished views of children’s literature from my English colleagues and a diminished view of reading from the education majors, I gave up and became a county planner, albeit one who was and is far better versed in Quidditch than the eccentricities of transportation planning.

Even 25 years later, Children’s Literature is still fighting for a place in the literary canon.

The fact is Children’s Literature is serious stuff. Whether you are interested in new historicism or cultural dynamics or deconstruction, studying the multi-layered texts of J.K. Rowling is equally important as pealing apart the post-structural layers of Kathy Ackerman’s take on Don Quixote.  The difference? One will be enjoyed far longer by far more folks than the other.

So…here is to children’s literature.  Chase pirates. Play quidditch. Survive an unfortunate event. Slip down a rabbit hole.

Pick up a novel and enjoy…

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Mar 042017
 

March is such a good, forceful, energetic verb (and the name of the month), so what better month to focus on volunteerism.

March 13th is Good Samaritan Day, although we tend to celebrate things by the week, by the month, and by the year, so we would like to believe that this particular celebration lasts all year.

It is one thing to be kind to those we know; it is something entirely different when we are kind to strangers who then become friends.

We believe that we benefit and our communities benefit when we all volunteer.

In an effort to make it a bit easier, we have listed some of the volunteer opportunities available in Christiansburg, Blacksburg, and Montgomery County.

  • RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program)–lots of volunteer activities for folks 55 and older!
  • Volunteer Match.Org–a clearing house full of all sorts of opportunities, from working with International Students to being a child advocate through CASA to helping to promote sustainability.
  • Volunteer NRV — a listing sponsored by the United Way of the New River Valley, from helping out with Meals on Wheels to being a bus monitor to working as a docent at one of the museums to being a dog walker for the Montgomery County Animal Shelter and the Humane Society of Montgomery County.

 

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Feb 042017
 

February Special

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but from Christie and Cornwall to Patterson and Woods, we have way too many mysteries and suspense. We could triple the shelf space and still not have enough…so our overload is your benefit. Stop in during the month of February and we’ll give you 20% off your mysteries. We have British mysteries with quirky detectives, urban mysteries with hardboiled detectives, spies from World War II to present, and cozy mysteries with knitters, bakers, and nosy neighbors. If you are collecting a writer and missing the older works, check with us first…we may well have it and this month you get a discount on every one you buy.

Gunsmoke, The Virginian, and adding a new section…

Like most of my generation, I grew up with Roy Rogers and Fess Parker, although I probably lived in one of the few households where Westerns were banned.  My mother detested Gunsmoke because she grew in in Kansas. My father detested The Virginian because he grew up in Montana.  They were more inclined to watch Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers than anything sponsored by Twenty-Mule Team Borax or that involved ranch names like the Ponderosa. I finally understood why when we moved to Virginia in the late 1960s, and most of my classmates thought that being from Montana meant that I liked to ride horses, which I get along fine with as long as we are both on the ground with a fence inbetween, and meant that my father owned guns (he didn’t…they were on the list of things he detested, along with Westerns). It came as a surprise that my neighbor in Giles County had a cowboy hat (I’ve never actually owned one) and believed that the west was populated by people who still used wagons to get from point A to point B ( a fact I learned when she asked if I missed traveling in a buckboard).  It took me may years to understand that Westerns had absolutely nothing to do with western culture, and everything to do with the American myth.

Westerns (as well as everything written by James Fenimore Cooper) are the American myth, and while the popularity (both in readership and viewership) of westerns may have decline over the past 40 years. the myth still holds sway and shapes may of our views on individualism and the role of guns and grit in our culture. The cowboy is our archetype, although he has been relocated to urban areas and outerspace.

When we first opened Whistle Stop Books, we had very few Westerns. We had a lot of books about the West and a fair number of novels written by writers from the West (Ivan Doig, Wallace Stegner, Michael Dorris)–but none of the novels fit within the western genre of Louis L’Amour and Owen Wister (The Virginian). In the past couple of months, that has changed, so we are adding a section for Westerns. I should note that the writers from, like Jim Harrison and Richard Hugo, are still located in the General Fiction section, not the section on Westerns.

So, if you are a fan of Westerns, check out the bottom shelf under the paperback mysteries (at least for the time being until we can figure out how to shoehorn in another shelving unit.  We have books by the following authors (plus some others not listed):

  • Max Brand
  • Guy Brewer
  • Ralph Compton
  • Ralph Cotton
  • Zane Gray
  • Ernest Haycox
  • Joan Johnston
  • Terry Johnston
  • William W. Johnstone
  • Jake Logan
  • F.M. Parker
  • Jake Slade
  • Robert Vaughn
  • J. Washburn

Stop by and check our our full selection (or at least as much as we can shove on the available shelf)….

And Finally This…

I would like to take a moment to thank all of the folks (Paul, Lisa, Angie) who have been donating books to the cause down here in the past week. We have a wonderfully eclectic selection because we have some wonderfully eclectic donors. I thank you and the depot (if it could speak) thanks you.  I would also like to thank the Collegiate Times (Megan Maury Church, writer, and Tayo Oladele, photographer) for their wonderful article, although the headline was somewhat geographically challenged (we are located in the Cambria section of Christiansburg rather than in Blacksburg).

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Feb 032017
 

If you haven’t noticed, American’s love kitsch. Pink Flamingos. Genuine souvenir plates from places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Black velvet paintings of Jesus and Elvis on top of a semi with flames shooting out of the tail pipes. We love roadside attractions like Wall Drug and South of the Border and all of the odd motels along Route 66, like the place with Teepees and the one with the restaurant in a giant cowboy hat.  We love novelty gadgets and songs and birthday cards with a moving mouse singing “Shake Your Bootie.”

So it should come as no surprise that we also like kitschy holidays, celebrations, and remembrances.  February is loaded with them. Pull Your Sofa off the Wall Month. Jell-O Week and Love a Mensch Week. Bubble Gum Day (February 3rd) and Read in the Bathtub Day (February 9th)

We have listed some of our favorites for February below:

February, 2017

1

Cordova Ice Worm Festival (February 1sth – 5th)

2

World Play Your Ukelele Day

3

Bubble Gum Day

4

Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (always the 1st Saturday)

Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week (February 5-11)

5

Popcorn Day

(Always times out with the Super Bowl

6

Canadian Maple Syrup Day

7

National Periodic Table Day

8

Opera Day

(Spend some time with Hansel & Gretel)

9

National Pizza Day

10

“All Tne News That’s Fit to Print” Day (NY Times birthday)

11

Get Out Your Guitar Day

12

Paul Bunyan Day (b. in 1834 in Bangor ME)

13

World Radio Day

14

Ferris Wheel Day

Make a paper model of a ferris wheel.

15

Random Acts of Kindness Day

Actually, this goes on for a full week

16

National Almond Day

17

World Human Spirit Day

18

Pluto Day

(Learn more about Pluto here.

19

Chocolate Mint Day (any excuse to eat ice cream in February)

20

Love Your Pet Day

This should be every day!

21

Plan a Kitsch Vacation Day

Okay, this isn’t a real day, but it should be.

22

World Thinking Day (GS)

23

Curling is Cool Day

Learn more about curling here.

24

Girl Scout Cookie Weekend

25

Girl Scout Cookie Weekend

26

For Pete’s Sake Day

Celebrate obscure and obsolete idioms

27

Inter-national Polar Bear Day

28

Mardi Gras

Okay… perhaps not quite so obscure.

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Jan 242017
 

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Newton!

If you have stopped in Whistle Stop Books or the Cambria Toy Station in the last few years, there is a good chance you stopped for a minute and  played with the Newton’s Cradle, a desk toy named after Sir Isaac Newton and based on one of the key principles of Newtonian physics. The “toy” illustrates the laws of inertia (Newton’s 1st Law of Motion), conservation / F=ma (force=mass * acceleration-Newton’s Second Law of Motion),  and Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” 

Want to know more about Newton’s Cradles?  (None of which are appropriate for the average elementary student–above their pay grade, but interesting reading if you want to know more before you talk to the said same six or eight year old)…

Try This @ Home

Pick a couple of projects from the Harvard Natural Sciences Lecture Demonstrations Collection. A great collection of science projects and experiments for home and science fairs…some very cool stuff.  Start with Newtonian Mechanics.

Build your own Newton’s Cradle from Scratch (Compliments of the folks at Cornell). If you want to do Newton’s Cradle experiments, but you don’t want to go to the trouble of making one, swing by the Cambria Toy Station and pick up a Newton’s Cradle of your own.

 

Geek Birthdays and Adventures

1/22
  • Alan J. Heeger (b. 1936). Physicist and Mathematician.
  • In 1992, Dr. Roberta Bondar became the first Neurologist (& Canadian Woman in Space.

1/23
  •  In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became Doctor Blackwell, when she was awarded her M.D. from Geneva Medical College. She was the first female doctor in the United States.
  • In 1997, Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the first female U.S. Secretary of State. Learn what is involved in being Secretary of State…play “Crisis of Nations” on iCivics (requires Flashplayer).  Note, be sure to go through the tutorial before you start. You may also want to explore the other games in iCivics. Suitable for both adults and kids and is a great way to learn how government works!
 1/24
  • Michio Kaku, American physicist and academic was born in 1947.

 1/25
  • Ilya Prigogine, a Russian-American chemist and physicist, was born in 1917 and won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1077 for his dissipative structures and how they fit into thermodynamic systems and beyond equilibrium. Back to Newton…Prigogine, in his book The End of Certainty argued that “Newtonian physics has now been extended three times, first with the use of the wave function in quantum mechanics, then with the introduction of spacetime in general relativity, and finally with the recognition of indeterminism in teh study of unstable systems. (Wiki)  You can thank Prigogine for chaos.
  • In 2004, the Opportunity Rover (MER-B) landed on the surface of Mars. Opportunity is still scuttling around the Red Desert on Mars.

 1/26
  •  Polykarp Kusch, German-American Physicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in
  • In 1949, the Palomar Observatory’s Hale Telescope, the largest aperture optical telescope (until 1976 when the BTA-6 was constructed) becomes operational.
 1/27

 1/28
  •  And, finally, in 1958, the Lego company patented their bricks, however the original wooden bricks were developed in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen. Take a quick tour of Lego’s new design headquarters and factory in Billund, Denmark. Better yet, visit.

Physics and Math @ the Depot

Check out some of physics and math toys, kits, and books at the Cambria Toy Station…

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Jan 222017
 

One of the joys of a used bookstore is discovering wonderful books you would never think to read or new genres you would never explore. While I have long been a fan of history (evidenced by the fact that we own a 149 year old train station), I have not generally picked up”history” books for pleasure reading. They are not the types of books that one grabs on a cold winter’s night, to be read while sipping hot chocolate or a hot buttered rum. This fall, however, I have discovered that a great many “history” books are as entertaining as a good Agatha Christie or as gripping as Robert Ludlum. Most are not about great people. Indeed, the most gripping are about the everyday sorts rather than Presidents or Kings or decorated Generals.  They tell a specific story rather than providing an overview of dates and times and places.

Some cases in point:

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  This one came not through the bookstore but from a friend’s recommendation. Set in the Dust Bowl of western Oklahoma, Southwestern Kansas, and Northwest Texas, The Worst Hard Time tells the story not of those who fled the Dust Bowl for opportunities in California, but those who stayed. Those who watched their family members choke on the black air of the dust storms and battle to hang on their farms and their dignity. It also tells the story of a place that should never have been plowed under and the follies and greed of men in thinking that they could control such a place.  Like many of the most readable histories, The Worst Hard Time was written not by an historian but by a journalist and is based on the memories of survivors.  Even if you are not a fan of history, this one is hard to put down. Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Non-Fiction. Good Reads Rating: 4.04

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Eric Larson. In 1893, Chicago hosted the Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World’s Fair), a fair designed by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmstead to celebrate American innovation and progress (as well as good taste); it also unknowingly hosted a serial killer who used the Fair to find his victims.  The meticulously researched book reads like a suspense novel.  International Horror Guild Award for Nonfiction (2003); National Book Award Finalist (2003); CWA Gold Dagger Award (2003), and the list goes on.

Author of the Week: Studs Terkel

Keeping with the historical theme, our author of the week is Studs Terkel (1912-2008). In 1985, Terkel, a oral historian and writer, won the Pulitzer Prize for The Good War, an oral history of World War II.  Over the course of a 50 year career, Terkel wrote 18 books, including Hard Times, a history of the Great Depression; Working, a study of what folks do for living and what they think about their jobs; and Will the Circle be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith. What set Terkel’s histories apart was his focus on the ordinary, on the every day. rather than the great voices and the famous faces. He learned about history by listening to the people who put one foot in front of the other and survived even the most difficult of times.

In Other News…

Mark your calendar now for the 611. The Roanoke Transportation Museum and the rail historical folks are sponsoring  Roanoke to Walton excursions on May 27, 28, and 29th–over Memorial Day Weekend. We are busy working on creating a community festival to coincide with this year’s excursion. Check back at this site or on the historiccambria.com site for updates as we get closer.

 

 

 

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Jan 082017
 

Before robots…

Before computers…

There were clockmakers…

The next time you are driving north through eastern Pennsylvania, add a trip to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and take a look at the Automaton by machinist and clockmaker Henri Maillardet, c. 1800. Featured on CBS Good Morning in 2012, Maillardet’s brass automaton has the largest machine memory ever constructed; can produce four images and three poems, two in French and one in English; and provided the part of the  inspiration for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick.

Automatons (automatas), machines designed to duplicate pre-determined (programmed) real life movement using a complex combination of cogs, cams, pistons, gears, belts, pulleys, and other assorted mechanical elements, are not new. References to moving mechanical devices can be found both in Ancient Greece and Ancient China, but the real heyday of automata coincided with the development of increasingly complex clockwork mechanisms during the Renaissance and the early Modern era (1450 to 1900).

Projects & Activities:

Start with a paper model. There are a number of interesting projects available online.

Most automata models are from European, British, and Japanese sources. As with a lot of companies in the modeling industry, ourselves included, a significant portion of the available paper models and instructions can now be purchased online and downloaded. Be sure to read the instructions before you print the model. Different models use different weights of paper, although typically they use a medium weight cover or card stock. Regular 20 or 24 lb. paper is generally too light for paper modeling.

Swing in and check out the Wooden Kits, available at Cambria Toy Station:

 

Automaton, Paper Engineering, and Mechanics Resources

  • My Brush with Hugo and the Automaton” Andrew Baron, 2008. Baron restored Maillardet’s Automaton for the Franklin Institute.
  • Paper Engineering from RobIves.com.  If you are interested in learning about Paper Engineering and Automata, robives.com is probably the best place to start. A one year subscription ($30.00 US Funds per Year) provides you access to all of their downloadable projects, as well as a wealth of information of paper mechanics. It is well worth the cost of a subscription.
  • Devices of Wonder. Getty Museum. A great collection of mechanical and optical devices, including how they work.  Take a look and interact with all of the devices and then explore the other materials included in the site.
  • Wonders of the Clockwork World. A short film (45 minutes) on the development of the Automata and world in which they were created.
  • Animations of every mechanical device you can think of from Noah Posner and Thang010146 (Youtube channel). A great collection of short videos that illustrate how mechanics work. From basic cogs and cams to turning a right hand thread–this is an excellent reference resource.
  • Mechanical-toys.com. Another excellent site that covers the types of mechanisms used in creating automatons, including an excellent overview of tools and construction techniques.

Cool Videos

Our favorite automaton:

and how it works:

To learn more about Wintergaten and their Marble Machine, check out their Youtube channel.

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Dec 302016
 

Diego Gutierrez, The Americas, c. 1562 (Click on the map to see the full-sized image at the British Library)

In 1562, Diego Gutierrez and Hieronymus Cock created a map of the Spanish Empire for King Phillip II. Gutierrez was a cartographer and cosmographer for the Casa de Contración (a government agency tasked with trying to control Spanish exploration and settlement); Cock was a master etcher and painter in Antwerp, which was then part of the Spanish Netherlands. Cock is also credited with shifting etching and printmaking from a strictly individual endeavor to an industrial approach that relied on a division of labor.

Sea monster in the Atlantic. Image from Library of Congress, 1562 Map of America.

The map, titled Americae Sive Quartae Orbis Partis Nova Et Exactissima Descriptio,” in notable in a number of ways: it was the first to name California and Appalachia (Apalchen); it depicted, rather accurately, a wide range of geographic features, including the Amazon watershed; and functions not only as a map but also as a work of art, most notably because of the embellishments, including monkeys, sea monsters, cannibals, giants, and Phillip II portrayed as Neptune.

The map was meant to describe and delineate the reach of the Spanish Empire, claiming much of the territory in both North and South America as part of the Spanish Empire…ignoring, of course, the claims of prior inhabitants. While the were useful in terms of navigation and understanding of geography, they were (and still remain) a propaganda tool designed to underscore the power of the Iberian peninsula (i.e. Spain, Portugal, and, by marriage, France). As the Library of Congress notes “it is apparent that one of the intentions of preparing the map was to define clearly Spain’s America for the other European powers who might have designs on the region.” Only two copies of this map are known to exist: one resides in the British Library and the other is in the map collection of U.S. Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

Did You Know?…

The Library of Congress has the largest map collection in the world. According to their website, their collection includes “5.5 million maps, 80,000 atlases, 600 reference works, 500+ globes, 3,000 raised relief models, and a large number of cartographic materials, including over 19,000 cds/dvds.” To see all of them, you have to go to Washington D.C., but a fairly good collection (albeit a drop in the bucket) exists online.

Projects & Activities:

1. Create a Memory Map

A memory map is used to capture and record memories relative to local geography. It is a hand-drawn map of a place you are fond of or for which you have strong memories. It might be your grandparent’s farm or your parent’s neighborhood or your school. Unlike regular maps that provide geographic information (roads, place names, geographic features like streams or mountains, etc.), memory maps also include information (stories and comments) and embellishments (illustrations) not typically found on your average map. We’ve provided an example of a memory map below:

Start by drawing a rough map in pencil and then start filling in the detail. Write notes on your map to indicate those areas that trigger strong memories. In the example above, I included the croquet pitch–my grandmother was a demon croquet player who rarely lost and, while generally a very nice person, took inordinate pleasure in sending other folks balls in the opposite direction of where they needed to go. There was a red and white bridge spanning the irrigation ditch that ran along the north side of the house (actually, I think it was, in reality, the west side…but I was somewhat directionally challenged as a child). My grandfather built the bridge since I tried to follow him everywhere, including across the plank they had used to cross the ditch for years.

2. Make a map using a GIS (Geographic Information System) program.

There are a number of online mapping programs, from Google to Grass. One of our favorites, however, is Scribble Maps. It is a free mapping program (basic service) that allows students and teachers play with geography.  The site includes some excellent examples. While there are some tutorials, this is really the type of site where you just play.

Map Resources:

Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda, and Art. Exhibition at the British Library, 2010.

Maps. The British Library. One of the best map collections and collections of map resources (articles, videos, et alia).

The 1562 Map of America by Diego Gutiérrez, Library of Congress. Excellent discussion of the Gutiérrez & Cock map.

Map Collections. Library of Congress. An excellent resource for all sorts of historical maps…railroad maps, national park maps, Civil War maps, WWII Military Situation Maps, the Sanborn Insurance maps,  and many others.

Map Videos:

Maps are especially useful in bringing history to life…whether it is looking at changes in Europe over time or looking at the routing of the Blue Ridge Parkway.


After you watch the above video, take a look at the Driving Through Time site developed by the University of North Carolina.

In both cases, the maps are communicating an idea rather than just providing travel information.

Geography @ the Cambria Toy Station

Check out some of the great geography products we have at the Cambria Toy Station:

      

      

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Dec 272016
 

Tis the season of self-help books.

If you have wandered down the aisles of your local bookseller (at least the purveyors of new books, sheets, tires, and assorted other household items),  you have probably noticed that they carry three types of books: the New York Times Bestseller List, coffee table books (always marked at 30%+ off), and self-help books…books designed to help you organize your life, your pantry, our your spouse; books that help you erase the Christmas bulge so that it has sufficiently disappeared by the beginning of beach season; and books to address the various psychoses brought about by three months of winter, endless reruns, and the build-up to March Madness.

Whistle Stop Books does have a section on “self-help,”  but we can’t guarantee that they will address any of the complaints listed above. We have books on how to create (and presumably then lose) lists; how to feng shui your home, office, spouse, dog, kids, and diet; and how to change your oil (although I forgot to check if there is specific advice for doing so in the dead of winter). The list goes on, but we decided to limit the range of “self-help” books to more those addressing more practical matters (how-to books) and leave the pop-psychology to the shelves at Walmart and Target.

So, check with us if you want to find a book on:

  • crocheting, knitting, needlework, and sewing;
  • redesigning the interior of your home;
  • building bookshelves (available after we figure out how to build more shelves in the bookstore…although we have some spare copies);
  • tiling your bathroom;
  • tuning up your car;
  • planning your garden;
  • figuring out what to do with the rose bushes the previous owner left behind;
  • learning how to paint like Da Vinci or Picasso or Norman Rockwell;
  • learning how to write the great American novel (based on the advice of some folks who have written the great American novel and some who sank into obscurity after publishing a book on how to write a book);
  • learning how to run, walk, skip, crawl, slither, and other examples of movements that result in a forward like motion;
  • learning how to make a million on the stock market, published in the fall of 2008 (we keep this one around for the element of irony);
  • and all sorts of other books that offer some interesting advice and instruction that at $4-$5 per book you can choose to ignore without feeling guilty.

Stop in today and check them out!

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Dec 072016
 

It was a dark cabinet in the far corner. An enoumous cabinet that would creak and groan with age and weight. As a wee elf, I was terrified of my great grandmother’s cabinet of curiosity. It was filled with the most terrifying of artifacts: an amber jar filled with pixie dust she gathered from the stone circle in the field below the inn where we lived; the aqua scale from a mermaid who lived in the thick, black waters below Kentraw; a brown bottle filled with the moans of a Highlander who fell at the Battle of Culloden. My older cousins would sneak in and loose the moans and the sound would fly through the house until my great-grandmother caught it and slipped it back into the bottle and place it at the rear of the top shelf.

Barbara McTavish was her name, my great-grandmother, and she loved collecting the unusual. Each time she would find something new, she would pick a different colored container and place it in what she called her “cabinet of curiosities.” When there were family gatherings, she would show off her latest finds and tell stories to explain her latest trades. The bottle of moans she acquired in trade for a cart of thistles she had traded for something else. She was always trading and collecting. The adults always seemed to love her stories and would discuss the details long after the story came to a close. I was a young elf at the time, not more than seven or eight, and the cabinet and her stories freightened me perhaps well beyond reason.

I was twenty when I was packaged up and sent to the United States as a part of the gifts for Hogmanay. I say “packaged up” because we elves have a knack for looking like inanimate objects and are often mistaken for Christmas orniments by the humans with whom we often live if we are seen. Normally, we are not seen, but I lacked the talent of hide and seek that the rest of my family had seemingly perfected.

When I arrived and was unwrapped, I discovered a home with no curiosity cabinet but filled with curiosities. Not like my great-grandmother’s curiosities. Lighter. Different. Pictures and postcards and books and things the woman called knick-knacks and threatened to throw out everytime she had to dust. I was a gift to a twelve-year old child, who liked me well enough that she set me up a shelf in her room, the same shelf with her set of encyclopedias. I spent my day reading the volumes of encylopedia and discovered that they really were not that much different than my grandmother’s cabhttp://i2.wp.com/www.cambriatoytalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/cabinet.jpginet. They were filled with stories and oddities and the unusual, or at least so it seemed to a young elf whose world experience had been limited at that point to a small village in Scotland.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not has been published since 1919, when the first comic appeared.

One of the things I learned was that cabinets of curiosity were not limited to elves, although the idea of cabinets has changed over the years. Facebook is a cabinet; Pinterest is a Cabinet. I don’t remember Betty McTavish, the owner of the inn in Kilmartin, having a cabinet of curiosity, but she did love a good ghost story. On the shelf below the encyclopedias, Meg, the daughter, had a whole collectioRipley's Believe It or Not has been published since 1919, when the first comic appeared.n of Ripley’s Believe It or Not books. Most of them seemed quite old, with yellow pages and broken bindings. Years later, when she was teaching, she collected a publication called The Weekly World News and assigned her students to write a story that would fit with the paper. They are cabinets. Some of the stories in those books, although not in the paper, were about tribes who collected shrunken heads and farmers who raised ten legged cows and men who would grow beards so long that they would trail behind them,–just the sorts of things my great-grandmother would have loved to add to her collection.

I have been assigned to take on this blog, an assignment that requires I create a new type of cabinet of curiosity. I have spent a couple of days thinking about cabinets of curiosity and about my great-grandmother’s cabinet and the adults who listened to her stories each time she reached for a new object. Meg says that all people and places and things have stories, and stories are filtered by individual experience. Of course, she also says that all great writers have a Scot in the woodpile or a green elf on a shelf or both.

Time to go explore Google Earth and find my next story.

Sam

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