When your geek-dom shines…

Every once in a while, I write something that just tickles my geek-bone. This time around, in my present novel project “Ice Phoenix”, a wyzyrd is fighting the hero and his ice dragon. Rare though it often is, I am really happy with how the fight went. Even the snarky dialogue during it has me most pleased.

Now I just have to figure out a good way to round out the chapter…

~ Image courtesy of urwallpapers.com

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Happy Yule!

Even though it doesn’t OFFICIALLY begin until sundown tonight, we’ve already kicked off the Yuletide beat in my house. Trees, lights, and decorations are up! Presents are wrapped and under the tree! Yep, time to sit back and celebrate the return of the Sun!

That being said, I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a very happy and safe holiday season! Whether you celebrate Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah, Milad un Nabi, Festivus, Saturnalia, Kwanza, or any of the other numerous special or holy days this time of year, may it be filled with joy for you and yours!

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Dongzhi Festival

Dongzhi Festival

I came across this whilst doing research for my current on-going novel, “Ice Phoenix” and give that the Solstice is only a few days a way, it seemed fitting to share.

The Dōngzhì Festival or Winter Solstice Festival (Chinese: Dōngzhì; literally: “the extreme of winter”) is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the Dongzhi solar term (winter solstice) on or around December 22 (according to East Asia time).

The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in. The philosophical significance of this is symbolized by the I Ching hexagram fù (“Returning”).

Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. One activity that occurs during these get-togethers (especially in the southern parts of China and in Chinese communities overseas) is the making and eating of tangyuan or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion. Tangyuan are made of glutinous rice flour and sometimes brightly coloured. Each family member receives at least one large tangyuan in addition to several small ones. The flour balls are occasionally pink or green. They are cooked in a sweet soup or savory broth with both the ball and the soup/broth served in one bowl. It is also often served with a mildly alcoholic unfiltered rice wine containing whole grains of glutinous rice (and often also Sweet Osmanthus flowers), called jiuniang.

In northern China, people typically eat dumplings on Dongzhi. It is said to have originated from Zhang Zhongjing in the Han Dynasty. On one cold winter day, he saw the poor suffering from chilblains on their ears. Feeling sympathetic, he ordered his apprentices to make dumplings with lamb and other ingredients, and distribute them among the poor to keep them warm, to keep their ears from getting chilblains. Since the dumplings were shaped like ears, Zhang named the dish “qùhán jiāoěr tāng” or dumpling soup that expels the cold. From that time on, it has been a tradition to eat dumplings on the day of Dongzhi.

Old traditions also require people with the same surname or from the same clan to gather at their ancestral temples to worship on this day. There is always a grand reunion dinner following the sacrificial ceremony.

The festive food is also a reminder that celebrators are now a year older and should behave better in the coming year. Even today, many Chinese around the world, especially the elderly, still insist that one is “a year older” right after the Dongzhi celebration instead of waiting for the lunar new year.

In Taiwan
To Taiwanese people, the festival in winter also plays a very important role. It is also a tradition for Taiwanese to eat tangyuan on this day. They also use the festive food as an offering dish to worship the ancestors.

In an interesting twist, in accordance with ancient Taiwanese history, many people take some of the tangyuan that have been used as offerings and stick them on the back of the door or on windows and tables and chairs. These “empowered” tangyuan supposedly serve as protective talismans to keep evil spirits from coming close to children.

In addition to following some of the customs practiced on mainland China, the people of Taiwan have their own unique custom of offering nine-layer cakes as a ceremonial sacrifice to worship their ancestors. These cakes are made using glutinous rice flour in the shape of a chicken, duck, tortoise, pig, cow, or sheep, and then steamed in different layers of a pot. These animals all signify auspiciousness in Chinese tradition.

Another interesting custom in Taiwan is that many people take invigorating tonic foods during this particular winter festival. To the Taiwanese, winter is a time when most physical activities should be limited and you should eat well to nourish your body. This practice follows the habits shown by many animals which follow the law of nature and hibernate throughout winter months to rejuvenate and to preserve life. In order to fight cold temperatures, it is necessary to eat more fatty and meaty foods during winter when your body can better absorb the rich and nutritional foods at this time due to a slower metabolic rate.

Since Dongzhi is the “Extreme of Winter”, Taiwanese regard it as the best time of the year to take tonic foods. Some of the most widely popular winter tonic foods enjoyed by Taiwanese to fight cold and strengthen the body’s resistance are mutton hot pot and ginger duck hot pot. Other foods like chicken, pork, and abalone are also common materials used in making tonic foods with nurturing herbs such as ginseng, deer horn, and the fungus cordyceps.

 

~ Information courtesy of Wikipedia.com
~ Image courtesy of gbtimes.com

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Bamboo

Once again, I marvel at the things I learn while doing research for my novels. This time around it was bamboo, a plant I have always loved.

For instance, I did not know that the shoots (new culms that come out of the ground) of bamboo contain a toxin taxiphyllin (a cyanogenic glycoside) that produces cyanide in the gut. However, proper processing renders them edible. They are used in numerous Asian dishes and broths, and are available in supermarkets in various sliced forms, in both fresh and canned versions. The golden bamboo lemur ingests many times the quantity of the taxiphyllin-containing bamboo that would kill a human.

Bamboo, like true wood, is a natural composite material with a high strength-to-weight ratio useful for structures.

Since the fibers of bamboo are very short (less than 3 mm (0.12 in)), they are not usually transformed into yarn by a natural process. The usual process by which textiles labeled as being made of bamboo are produced uses only rayon made from the fibers with heavy employment of chemicals.

Bamboo was in widespread use in early China as a medium for written documents. The earliest surviving examples of such documents, written in ink on string-bound bundles of bamboo strips (or “slips”), date from the fifth century BC during the Warring States period. However, references in earlier texts surviving on other media make it clear that some precursor of these Warring States period bamboo slips was in use as early as the late Shang period (from about 1250 BC).

Bamboo has often been used to construct weapons and is still incorporated in several Asian martial arts.

A bamboo staff, sometimes with one end sharpened, is used in the Tamil martial art of silambam, a word derived from a term meaning “hill bamboo”.

Staves used in the Indian martial art of gatka are commonly made from bamboo, a material favoured for its light weight.

A bamboo sword called a shinai is used in the Japanese martial art of kendo.

Bamboo is used for crafting the bows, called yumi, and arrows used in the Japanese martial art kyudo.

Bamboo is sometimes used to craft the limbs of the longbow and recurve bow used in traditional archery, and to make superior weapons for bowhunting and target archery.

The first gunpowder-based weapons, such as the fire lance, were made of bamboo.

Bamboo was used in East and South Asia as a means of torture.

Bamboo has long been used in the making of musical instruments.

Bamboo has traditionally been used to make a wide range of everyday utensils and cutting boards, particularly in Japan.

Bamboo has a long history of use in Asian furniture. Chinese bamboo furniture is a distinct style based on a millennia-long tradition, and bamboo is also used for floors due to its high hardness.

Several manufacturers offer bamboo bicycles, surfboards, snowboards, and skateboards.

Due to its flexibility, bamboo is also used to make fishing rods. The split cane rod is especially prized for fly fishing. Bamboo has been traditionally used in Malaysia as a firecracker called a meriam buluh or bamboo cannon. Four-foot-long sections of bamboo are cut, and a mixture of water and calcium carbide are introduced. The resulting acetylene gas is ignited with a stick, producing a loud bang. Bamboo can be used in water desalination. A bamboo filter is used to remove the salt from seawater.

Many ethnic groups in remote areas that have water access in Asia use bamboo that is 3–5 years old to make rafts. They use 8 to 12 poles, 6–7 m (20–23 ft) long, laid together side by side to a width of about 1 m (3.3 ft). Once the poles are lined up together, they cut a hole crosswise through the poles at each end and use a small bamboo pole pushed through that hole like a screw to hold all the long bamboo poles together. Floating houses use whole bamboo stalks tied together in a big bunch to support the house floating in the water. Bamboo is also used to make eating utensils such as chopsticks, trays, and tea scoops.

~ Information courtesy of Wikipedia.com
~ Image courtesy of Bamboozled | Natural Awakenings Central Ohio http://www.nacentralohio.com

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Courage and Bravery

Most people believe the words ‘courage’ and ‘bravery’ are interchangeable. That they mean the same thing. However, that is not the case at all.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of ‘bravery’ is as follows.
1 : the quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty : the quality or state of being brave

The definition of ‘courage’ is : mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

There is a world of difference between facing danger and withstanding it. Particularly when you are the one who must choose to be brave or courageous.

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The Heptagram

A heptagram, septagram, septegram or septogram is a seven-point star drawn with seven straight strokes.

In general (geometry), a heptagram is any self-intersecting heptagon (7-sided polygon).

Religious and occult symbolism
◾The heptagram was used in Christianity to symbolize the seven days of creation and became a traditional symbol for warding off evil.
◾The heptagram is a symbol of perfection (or God) in many Christian sects.
◾The heptagram is used in the symbol for Babalon in Thelema.
◾The heptagram is known among neopagans as the Elven Star or Fairy Star. It is treated as a sacred symbol in various modern pagan and witchcraft traditions. Blue Star Wicca also uses the symbol, where it is referred to as a septegram. The second heptagram is a symbol of magical power in some pagan spiritualities.
◾The {7/3} heptagram is used by some members of the otherkin subculture as an identifier.
◾In alchemy, a seven-sided star can refer to the seven planets which were known to ancient alchemists.
◾In Islam, the heptagram is used to represent the first seven verses in the Quran.

Flags
◾The seven-pointed star is incorporated into the flags of the various bands of the Cherokee Nation and the badges of Navajo Nation Police (as well as other police).
◾The Bennington flag, a historical American Flag, has thirteen seven-pointed stars along with the numerals “76” in the canton.
◾The Flag of Jordan contains a seven-pointed star.
◾The Flag of Australia employs five heptagrams and one pentagram to depict the Southern Cross constellation and the Commonwealth Star.
◾Some old versions of the coat of arms of Georgia (country) including the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic used the {7/2} heptagram as an element.

Other
◾A seven-pointed star is used as the badge in many sheriff’s departments and some smaller-community police departments.
◾The seven-pointed star is used as the logo for the international Danish shipping company A.P. Moller–Maersk Group, sometimes known simply as Maersk.
◾In George R. R. Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, a seven-pointed star serves as the symbol of the Faith of the Seven.
◾Progressive metal band Tool uses the heptagram in their art and visuals as a symbol of positive energy and openness.
◾In the manga series MeruPuri, a magical mirror/ portal is in the shape of a heptagram. The symbol is also seen during spellcasting.

In my present, in-the-works novel, “Ice Phoenix”, a heptagram is used to defeat a snallygaster.
In the real world, according to Penn-Dutch beliefs, seven-pointed stars reputedly keep the Snallygaster at bay. They can still be seen painted on local barns.

 

~ Information courtesy of wikipedia.com
~ Image courtesy of http://www.deviantart.com

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