I went, I saw, I cried!

I did go to the Sunnybank Gathering last weekend.

It was wonderful. And inspiring.

I’ll post a much longer entry, probably tomorrow, once I finish editing my pictures. What I will say right now is this:

I went to Sunnybank largely because it was someplace I’d wanted to go since I read Albert Payson Terhune’s books as a child. And while I was there, I found myself more relaxed than I’d been in a long time, happy, a bit sad (for a good reason) and above all, inspired.

The setting:

While the house is no longer there, having fallen into disrepair and then been torn down, there is enough left of ‘The Place’ to connect you to the books. You still drive down the narrow, winding driveway, where Wolf herded the harum-scarum puppies out of the path of early automobiles. There is now a parking lot where the house once stood, but if you can ignore that fact, exercise your imagination, you can look around and picture how it must have been to sit on the veranda of Sunnybank or walk its grounds.

The root cellar remains, you can see foundation stones from the barn peeking through the grass, and a replica of a puppy house has been installed where the original once stood. The pond has been filled in, but its foundations have been retained and now a stone frog leaps from a cluster of lovely grasses. The line of larch trees still marches down to the landing on the lake, and while I was there, no speedboats were cruising by — you could close your eyes, listen to the silence, and imagine yourself back at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Or rather, you could listen to the barking of collies and think yourself back to Terhune’s time. So many collies (and shelties), in so many colors — sable and mahogany, tricolor, white, different permutations of merle, black and white — and all of them friendly and welcoming, even to total strangers like me. As if they were saying, welcome back to the place that made our breed famous! Along with collies, I saw borzoi, a chihuahua, a couple of other toy breeds, a staffordshire terrier (I think) and a corgi, who sported a bow for a tail.

I went to Sunnybank, uncertain what to expect. I got out of the car, said hello to the lovely ladies from Ohio getting out of the next car, and promptly was made to feel welcome. They gave great advice to this newbie on what to do first, outlined the whole day for me — and any hesitation I felt just melted away.

I did feel a bit sad (alright, I teared up!), when we went to the gravesites of the Sunnybank dogs. Yes, their graves have been preserved, at least those that could be identified a hundred years later. The kennel dogs are buried in one spot, along with two of the Township’s K-9 officers. The champions — known through many of the stories — are buried by Champion Rock, including one of my personal favorites, blind Fair Ellen. Bruce and Jean are buried elsewhere, and then, there is the patriarch, the dog who started it all, Sunnybank Lad. I’ll admit, when I saw that stone, “Lad, Thoroughbred in Body and Soul”, I wanted to cry.

But more than anything, I was inspired by my visit. Why? Because, this park, this preservation, was not undertaken by government. It was driven by people who love these books, love the dogs in them, love collies — and therefore entered into years of organizing, fund-raising, lobbying and politicking, all to save this little slice of American history. Not the usual ‘grand’ history of war or politics, but a personal, beloved history for so many people who grew up with these stories as part of their childhood. Ordinary people who took on a task of saving something personally important to them, and who continue to fight to save it, against the encroachment of time and ongoing vandalism.

A lesson to be remembered by us all. When it’s important to you, you can, and should, stand up and fight for it.

Upgrading

I think I just turned myself into a monster — for technology.

I don’t have wifi in my apartment. I mean, my apartment is small, the cord to my internet connection is extra-long, and I tend to sit in my comfy chair in the living room next to the cable outlet anyway when I’m working on the laptop. Why would I need wifi?

So I can work on my book while sitting in bed. (Okay, I’ll be honest. So I can work on my book for a bit and then watch Netflix while sitting in bed.)

Over the weekend, I went shopping for the necessary hardware, and being me, I spent a day researching and asking the pros for advice, before using up another day checking out the best price. And that’s when the bug bit.

While making my purchase, I happened to look over at a display and realized that prices for external hard drives have really dropped. I picked up a 3T one — trust me, between movies, music, books, fanfics and story ideas, I’m going to fill it up quickly.

Walking to the checkout counter, I passed the printers. Now, my laser printer is still working well — but the scanner is older and let’s just say it doesn’t play well with Windows 7. No, I didn’t buy one right then and there; at the time, there was no way to carry it all home with me. But I’m currently doing the research thing — I want a color laser multifunction with a flatbed scanner and possible two-sided printing, and I’d prefer it for less than $400. Still looking.

And in the course of looking — well, let’s see, so far I’ve pegged a new Roku, a blu-ray player (legitimately need one as mine was fried courtesy of a lightening storm), and a new TV to replace the extremely-elderly one whose picture is clearly going — the detectives on Law and Order UK intermitently have green faces.

All of which will need to be interconnected with the turntable, speakers, DVD carousel player (for movie marathons), DVD recorder, and iPod dock.

Oh, and with my laptop as well. The laptop that, over the weekend, acquired upgraded RAM, a new 1T hard drive, a spare battery and is now awaiting installation of some new programs.

All I wanted was a wifi connection . . . and that’s what I’ve been up to for the last few days.

Leaves

The leaves are changing colors.

Not just on one tree, or on a group of trees in one location. They’re changing color everywhere.

I’ve been running a lot of errands this last couple of days, and everywhere I’ve gone, I’m seeing signs of autumn. In August.

The tall maples outside Villanova’s law school building are orange and red along their tops. In Devon, the crabapples have random patches of yellow-orange, and out in Valley Forge, one of the back paths had a small pile of red-brown leaves under a tree already.

Not to mention that, outside my own door, several of the oaks have small lines of yellow running along their crowns.

Not to mention, there’s two maples along the wildlife sanctuary that have actually dropped all the leaves from the top third of each tree.

This does not bode well for the winter.

A happy lifestyle change

I am not dieting. Rather, in the words of Nora Roberts, I am undergoing a lifestyle change.

As I declared at the start of the year, I want to get back in shape. That desire has several components to it: lose weight, regain flexibility and endurance, eat balanced meals, drink lots of water. The holy trinity of activity, hydration and good food. Easy to say. Not so easy to do, as I’ve discovered.

I could plead the heavy workload on my job, a lack of time to regularly cook, the faint metallic taste of my local water supply. But excuses don’t solve anything — they just perpetuate the problem. So I make no excuses, and have instead embarked upon a lifestyle change.

“Her love of the quick and the greasy had sent her on an odyssey of fad diets, unsatisfying supplements, and miracle workout tapes through her late teens and early twenties. Until she’d finally slapped herself silly, tossed out all her diet books, her diet articles, her I LOST TWENTY POUNDS IN TWO WEEKS — AND YOU CAN, TOO! ads, and put herself on the path to sensible eating and exercising.”Blood Brothers, by Nora Roberts

That’s me, in one short and concise paragraph, both past version and determined present tense.

Growing up, my food choices, as established by my family, were not always the greatest. My mom cooked meals for us almsot every day, but looking back, they were in part a product of our heritage.

Ethnically, I’m a hodgepodge, as we discovered when my family traced our ancestry back to practically the Stone Age. On my Dad’s side, I’m a combination of Slovak, a bit of German, Russian and Lithuanian (maybe). I’m largely Polish on my mother’s side — but she came from a very old family, which has ancestors who are Ukranian, and more Russian, Cossack, Transylvanian and just about every Baltic ethinic group you can name.

In essence, my family inherited a cuisine that’s heavy on the well, heaviness. Lots of butter and cream, bread and potatoes, doughs and sweets, not to mention supersized portions long before Mickey D’s thought of the term. Dinners regularly featured a large serving of meat (beef, pork, occasionally chicken or fish), usually pan-friend or topped with some kind of sauce. A mountain of mashed or fried potatoes on the side, and a dessert, usually sweet cookies or a slice of cake or a Tastycake pie, to finish it off. We enjoyed pierogies, beef stroganoff, and mac-and-cheese, casseroles and breaded cutlets and large, juicy burgers topped with a load of cheese.

Oh, we ate vegetables too — after all, we had a garden. Peas, green and wax beans, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. Depending on the year, we might be trying to grow brussel sprouts or beets (successfully), broccoli (not so successfully) or corn (which fed the deer). But the vegies were additions to the meal, not equal partners.

Not to mention that my family motto could be “No food left behind.” Second helpings (and thirds) were definitely encouraged. And for those occasions when my mom or gran didn’t have time to cook, there was always a trip to the Golden Arches for a Big Mac and fries and a nice chocolate shake.

Let me put it in perspective for you. Our traditional Easter breakfast consists of cold ham, bread and butter, eggs, hrutka (egg cheese), poppyseed and nut breads, and kielbasa. Oh, and a side of redbeets and horseradish. If that isn’t a heart-attack lying in wait, I don’t know what is.

Now, those menus were balanced by activity — long bike rides or walks to get anywhere, after-school band and sports practices, just plain playtime. Still, my taste buds and eating habits were formed early, and their training was to eat a lot of fatty foods.

Which brings me to the lifestyle change.

Over time, I gradually re=trained myself to cook healthier, and to eat a lot more vegies, more fowl and fish than red meat. But I’ve fallen back into old eating habits, and coupled with the lack of exercise (and an ankle injury a few years ago that sidelined me for a year), I’m no longer in fighting trim. At the start of the year, I tried ‘dieting’ – no-carbs, and then when that didn’t work, blood-sugar balancing. But there’s a problem with diets — it’s very easy to slip off the regimented eating schedules (a meeting that runs long, an unexpected business trip). And once you’ve slipped, you can easily make excuses to slip again. Because a diet is a temporary thing, something you go on, and go off when you finish losing the weight.

But a lifestyle change is just that – a permanent change. You are, in essence, re-educating your palate and re-training your brain about what foods you want to eat, and when. At the same time, you get your body used to steady doses of activity.

And that’s what I’ve been doing the last few weeks. I’ve stocked my kitchen with fish, fowl, lean cuts of meat. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a wide variety of farmers’ markets in the area, and I’ve gradually been working my way through them, learning which stalls offer the best and freshest and most unique vegies (Chinese long-beans anyone?). I’ve gathered together a plethora of recipes I’ve always wanted to try, dishes that are light on the sauces and place more of an emphasis on herb dressings.

I’ll still eat potatoes, rices, breads, but in sensible and occasional amounts. Oddly enough, desserts won’t be that big of an issue for me. I actually don’t like most cakes — the icing is a different story, but since you can’t get icing without cake, I’m safe. I do like cheesecake, but not enough to buy an entire cake and let it go to waste.

And soda’s also not an issue – I discovered years ago that I like the bubbles, not necessarily the taste. And so my fridge has a nice selection of sparkling mineral waters. I just have to commit to actually drinking the water, at least eight glasses a day.

That just leaves the activity portion of the program, which I’ll update on tomorrow.

Ouch

Getting back in shape will be the death of me yet.

Why is it when you start an exercise program, you always feel worse than if you sat on the sofa and watched Shark Week? Why?

In between prepping for my Company’s annual meeting (which went quite well), and all the projects at work and at home, I restarted my program to get in shape. It was one of my goals for the year, but I’ll confess — I massively fell down on this one. As in, regular visits to the gym were not in my schedule.

But I’ve turned over a new leaf — more on that later — and that new leaf includes the gym. After 5 days of walking, biking, stairmastering (is that a word?) and assorted yoga and stretching routine — I ache.

Okay, I more than ache. I’m seriously contemplating never getting off this heating pad. Ever.

More tomorrow on the whole hopefully well-thought-out healthy lifestyle change.

Right now, I’ve got to convince my body it wants to roll off the bed and seek aspirin.

A new reality TV show

Let’s all applaud the newest reality TV show . . . Surviving the College Dorm Room Race!

At least that’s my idea for a new show, after spending the weekend dodging around parents and their almost-adult children shopping for back to college supplies. I honestly thought one family in Target was about to start a full-out brawl in the towel aisle.

Furnishing a dorm room seems to have evolved into a major production since my college years. Families with a set budget waste a portion of that budget racing from Target to Bed Bath and Beyond to Best Buy to the malls, all so their sons and daughters can have the latest, greatest, color-coordinated and stylish dorm room ever. They work their way down a long list of absolutely essential, can’t survive without them furnishings and techie-toys in a wide price range. And if they’re lucky, they survive the experience with part of their sanity still intact.

Saturday, I stopped into three different Targets, two Bed Bath and Beyonds, an organization store at the mall and Best Buy. I was looking for things to use in reorganizing and redecorating my apartment — not a major overhaul, simply some updating of towels, rugs, candles, etc.

As soon as I hit the housewares section of the first Target, the fun began. Race-walking down the bedding aisle, led by their daughter, came a couple, each with a half-full shopping cart. The girl had her tablet out, and was comparing — well, at first I thought she was comparing prices, but when I passed her I glanced over and saw she was actually looking at a picture of a pile of pillows and a throw (I think). Coordinating, I presumed, with her future roommate. Before I got out of the aisle, she’d dumped two sets of sheets into her Dad’s cart, on top of a duvet, at least four pillows and a mattress topper. I shook my head, remembering the narrow beds at Penn State that barely, just barely, allowed for one pillow and a narrow quilt.

That family and I met up again at checkout — they were ahead of me in line. The total for the bedding, lamps, plates, towels, rugs, wallart, oven and assorted knick-knacks? Seven hundred plus dollars!

As they walked out, the daughter told them they had to go to Best Buy next — for her TV and a new Roku.

At least that family wasn’t arguing, and seemed rather well-organized, compared to others I saw throughout the weekend. The next Target had the family arguing in the towel aisle — the daughter wanted Fieldcrest towels, the parents were getting her the Target brand and she was red-faced and whining over how they were going to embarass her in front of her new roommate. Her father was getting a bit red-faced himself while obviously biting his tongue. Her mother wasn’t holding back, telling her daughter if she wanted the other towels she could pay for them herself in a very shrill voice with extremely-colorful language. Clearly, they had overdosed on the back-to-school shopping safari.

The story was repeated everywhere I went that weekend. Parents and children, with and without lists, all armed with Smartphones and tablets, color-coordinating with roommates’ decor while hopping from store to store to compare product offerings and prices.

And every family was buying multiple cartloads of things to furnish the dorm room.

Really? That much stuff? I would love to see the size of these dorm rooms. My room at Penn State was something like 8 by 12 feet (if that), into which was already squeezed two large stationary desks, two closet units, two wall-mounted side cabinets and two narrow twin beds. There was barely room to walk down the aisle between the two halves of the room, much less fit all the things students today ‘need’ to survive their college experience.

I didn’t buy that much to take with me when I went to Penn State, largely because I knew I wasn’t going to start out in a dorm room. There were so many freshmen my first year at college that some of us ended up housed in study lounges. Since I was going to have to move in a few weeks, I bought the minimum amount of things I would immediately need. Quilt, pillow, clothes and school supplies, a few personal books.

A month later, I was assigned a room across the quad in Pennypacker Hall, and I was able to move everything in just one trip. At that point, my new roommate and I looked at each others’ stuff. My blue primary-colored quilt coordinated with her yellow primary-color quilt and the multi-colored rug she already had. We had a color scheme.

I headed out to the stores and bought more throw pillows to mix and match with hers. She had a coffee maker and a hot plate; I picked up a toaster and mini-crock pot. I added a set of plates and a couple of glasses for me, some plants in pretty pots and most importantly, more posters of sunny beaches (come January at Penn State you need reminding that there are warm places in the world). On the weekend, my parents gave us a sound system to go with her mini-TV, and we were set. My total bill for that dorm room was probably half what that first family spent just in Target, and I managed it in just two stores (one for the posters and one for everything else).

What really struck me, though, was the different treatment some of these students gave their furnishings and their school supplies. At the last Target, while I was looking over micrwaves (mine having died), there was a guy comparing different models of coffee makers. He was rather obsessively looking up product reviews on his smartphone when his mother came over and asked him what type of pens she should get. His answer? Anykind, ’cause he didn’t think he’d be taking that many notes.

My hope is that he meant he would be taking notes on his tablet, not writing them down, but I’m rather afraid that he, like other students I saw this weekend, was more concerned with his surroundings than his classes.

Meanwhile, I really think someone needs to turn this whole experience into a reality TV show. Assign each set of parents a budget, give them an excessively-long list of required items and then send them off with their excited offspring. Add in a time limit for shopping, create some sold-out product roadblocks and sit back and score the hilarity.

Erotically Delicious

It’s erotic! And delicious! It’s Fifty Shades of — Chicken!?!

If you haven’t already bought it, I strongly recommend you get Fifty Shades of Chicken, by F.L. Fowler (even the author’s pseudonym is a parody). It came out just before Christmas last year, but somehow, I missed seeing it in the stores. And that’s a shame, because I have never laughed so much while reading a cookbook in my life.

Mr. (?) Fowler’s work is both a cookbook (with fifty recipes for chicken dishes) and an homage/parody of, obviously, Fifty Shades of Grey. In this tribute, we are treated to the story of Shifty Blades, a successful and restless chef, and Miss Chicken, a naive, organically-raised fowl who literally falls out of the refrigerator and lands at Shifty’s feet, tempting him with her firm, ripe flesh. After some confusion on the part of Miss Chicken, and Shifty’s avowal that Miss Chicken is too good for him, Shifty and his hen end up engaging in an elaborate dance of food porn.

Fowler perfectly mirrors the Grey books with a breathless, tongue-in-cheek tone to the narrative, slyly poking fun at our obsession with the sexual exploration themes of the Grey trilogy. Shifty ties, stuffs, massages and so on his Miss Chicken, all while conducting a running commentary on his actions. Miss Chicken, in turn, engages in internal monologues about Shifty’s intentions toward her and her reactions to his ‘handling.’ Just like the characters in the Grey series — only one’s a chicken and the other an inventive chef.

The book is structured so that each recipe is introduced by a short passage describing the, ahem, ‘interaction’ between chef and bird. Some of these passages are brief, others a full page long, but all are ridiculously funny. Picture a roasting chicken screaming her ‘safe word’ because she’s overheating.

It would have been so easy for this book to have slipped into over-the-top absurdity; instead, it’s carefully balanced — hilarious without being too ridiculous.

And it’s not just the story that’s good, the recipes appear to be quite tempting as well. (Literally tempting — Fowler carries the double entendres into the cooking intructions.) I’ve tried out two so far — a horseradish-marinaded roast and chicken chili. They were both quite tasty (there was no left-over chili, which considering I made a double batch to feed only four people is pretty astounding). Since I’m eating healthier, I can see I’ll be trying out most of these recipes over the coming months.

Throughout their ‘relationship,’ developed over the course of fifty recipes, Shifty and Miss Chicken must deal with some speed bumps in the form of a snooping, blackmailing cookbook publisher and Shifty’s unhealthy obsession with that hussy, Julia Childs. In the end, though, bird and cook are united in deliciousness and cookbook fame. And because of both the interesting recipes and the screamingly-funny story, this cookbook earned rare praise from me — it’s become only the eighth cookbook that I actually own. I can foresee a long, and hopefully satisfying, partnership with it.

Lost Tribe of the Sith: Paragon and Skyborn

Sith power games are so very intriguing.. And in Lost Tribe of the Sith, we get a lot of them.

The Lost Tribe, you’ll recall, is stranded on Kesh following the crash of their ship, Omen, onto the planet. The first two stories in the series set up the Sith’s arrival on Kesh. The rest of the series draws you into the expected, but nevertheless frightening, power struggles between different species, families and individuals in the Tribe, from shortly after their arrival on the planet until 3500 years before the Battle of Yavin.

Also Expected:

Spoiler Warnings.

Here Be Too Many Details!

Books 3 and 4, Paragon and Savior, were definitely worth reading.

Paragon

Paragon takes place 15 years after Omen’s landing, and is told from the point of view of Seelah. She is the very, very angry human Sith woman who was married to Devore Korsin. And Devore, of course, was killed by his half-brother, Captain Yaru, when the Captain discovered Devore had set up his betrayal to the Sith Lord Naga Sadow. The first, but not the last, betrayal and death match involving Kesh’s new residents.

Now, Seelah is married to Yaru and has borne him a daughter; despite his near-daily meetings with Adari Vaal, the Kesh woman who ‘saved’ the Sith after the crash, Seelah and Yaru have settled into a partnership of sorts to run this mini Sith empire. The Sith have been accepted as the ‘gods’ of the Kesh returned to their people, and Keshiri society has been restructured to worship and serve the whims of the Sith. In turn, the Sith have done everything they can to solidify their position as the dominant rulers of the planet, even to the point of taking over the riding of the uvaks, thereby grounding, literally, the former leaders of Keshiri society.

As foreshadowed at the end of the second story, the Sith have discovered that Kesh has no metal whatsoever, but only after squandering much of their surviving equipment in useless mining and exploration. To add to their problems, the planet emits some type of interference that knocks out communications and affects machinery. It seems that their only chance of escape from Kesh will be to attract the attention of some passing ship – a forlorn hope, at best.

Meanwhile, the Sith, we learn, are firmly split between the contingent of human Sith settling into permanent exile on Kesh – and the alien, Red Sith who are determined that they must return to the Empire. (While there is a distinction between Red and human Sith, it’s not a complete one. The two groups, it appears, have long been interbreeding, and that is how the Sith powers ‘entered’ into humanity.)

Seelah, a medic, has been placed in charge of the, well, let’s call it a breeding program. Kesh’s animosity toward the alien Sith is continuing — humans bear healthy children, while not a single alien baby has survived beyond a day. Seelah and her staff are pulling apart the geneology of the Sith, ostensibly to solve this problem, but in reality, to breed ‘purer’ humans, although only the staff appears to be in on that secret.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the alien Sith – it does. When Ravilan, their informal ‘leader’, goes on a tour of distant communities, the first one he visits – dies. Completely. Every resident, 18,000 of them, succumbs to some sort of disease. And then another village dies. And another.

In the end, it’s not a disease, it was a plot by Ravilan and his people to poison the communities, turn the Kesh against the Sith and force them to give up their ‘luxuries’ and find a way off the planet. (In my opinion he’s not a very bright Sith. You’ve exhausted the power supplies for your equipment, there’s no way to get a signal out and there’s no metal to rebuild Omen. Just how, exactly, did he think turning the Sith’s only refuge against them was going to get the Tribe off the planet?!?)

But Ravilan makes a mistake, and Seelah takes advantage of it – and manages to arrange for the deaths of all the alien Sith. As she tells Ravilan, what’s happening with the Tribe is merely a preview of what will happen to the Sith overall. The Red Sith are failing; the human Sith will replace them.

The story was a good way to learn about the inner workings of the Sith power structures overall, and also about Seelah, who had been neglected in the first two stories beyond her cameo appearances as lead medic and ‘mother’of a child. She was originally the slave, along with her family, of Sadow’s rival, Kressh; she suffered under him and he ultimately killed the rest of her family; and, good Sith that she is, she used Devore to escape from his service.

And at the very end of the book, we learn that there is more than one plot, one betrayal, at work here.

Some of the Keshiri know the truth about the Sith – they are not gods, not the Skyborn returned, and they are destroying the Keshiri. They’ve planted spies in the heart of the Sith to work toward their ultimate destruction.

And they are led by none other than Yaru’s friend, Adari Vaal.

Savior

Savior picks up from this ending, and completes the four-story cycle of the arrival of the Sith on Kesh. Taking place ten years after Paragon, the story opens with the remaining Sith now somewhat accepting of the fact that they will be on Kesh for a long time, if not forever. They have moved from the mountain and Omen’s crash site down into the main town. While they still believe the transmitter is working (Yaru having allowed that lie to stand) and that someday, someone will hear it and come to rescue them, the Sith are now dedicated to the task of reshaping Kesh into a proper Sith world.

One where the Sith rule, and the aliens – the Keshiri – are slaves, even if they don’t know it. Which is ironic, considering that, in the actual Sith Empire, the human Sith were the slaves, and the aliens – the Red Sith – the rulers.

What no one seems to have picked up on is that not all Keshiri are happy to worship and serve the Sith. Adari Vaal, the Daughter of the Skyborn, the very person responsible for the Sith being rescued from Omen’s crash site and complicit in the takeover of her society, is mounting a clandestine rebellion. Yaru still seems to be fond, and even a bit admiring of her – at one point, he says she has the will of a Sith. He’s spot on in that statement. And perhaps that has blinded him to her bitter hatred, sparked by the death of her son and Yaru’s failure to save him, driven by the realization that her entire society is being destroyed by the Sith.

We also meet the two children of Seelah – her son, Jariad, by her first husband Devore, and her daughter, Nida, by Yaru. Jariad, the leader of the Sabers, the Sith’s honor guard, is the successful son and logical choice to succeed Yaru Korsin, while Nida is merely the leader of the Skyborn Rangers, the uvak riders.

So much of this story deals with surface impressions, and how they hide the true nature, the underlying motives, beneath seemingly innocent (if one can use that word with Sith) words and actions.

On the surface:

Seelah supports Yaru and his endeavors to build a Sith society on Kesh – and to a certain extent, she does. Only she intends that her son Jariad will lead it, while Yaru dies as revenge for his killing of Devore.

Adari Vaal basks in her position as Daughter of the Skyborn, while preparing a death blow to the Sith’s ability to control the Keshiri — stealing the uvaks back and forcing a confrontation between Sith and Keshiri.

Jariad is a ‘golden boy’ of the Sith, the expected future leader, while Nida his sister is nothing more than a plodding, simple girl who likes to ride uvaks.

And Yaru is complacently designing the future lives of the Sith on Kesh, blind to the plots against him.

Without spoiling two much, I can tell you that Yaru does manage to outmaneuver Seelah, not without losing his life. Adari succeeds in her plot, but it does not have the outcome she expected and she is betrayed by her own son, a servant to Nida Korsin. And Nida herself proves to be the biggest surprise of all, her hidden skills and cooperation in her father’s counterplots making her more than a match for her brother. Ultimately, she assumes leadership of the Sith.

Overall, a satisfying end to the arrival stories of the Sith. The final two chapters, and in particular the ending page, of Savior capture the vicious nature of the Sith quite well. Although I’m wondering, just who is the ‘savior’ of the title? Yaru Korsin, who created a structure by which the Sith could channel their aggressive nature while establishing a society on Kesh? Adari Vaal, who, in the end, escapes with her followers and uvaks to a distant continent where she prepares for a war with the Sith? Or Nida Korsin, who, by outwitting her brother and mother, manages to preserve the society Yaru established and, perhaps, save both Sith and Keshiri from a bloody, violent conflict?

I’ll find out in the next stories.

Sentences of Doom

Two sentences I hope never to hear again.

Your stylist has left the salon” and “Your stylist no longer works evenings or weekends.”

I called today to get an appointment for my monthly color and cut. My company’s Annual Meeting is in ten days, and I’ll be attending for the first time as Corporate Counsel. I have a primary, and a backup, salon, and at each, a trusted stylist who always cuts my hair perfectly. With two people on call, I usually never have to worry about getting an appointment, even on short notice. One of them has always been available.

Not this time. After being on hold an unusually long time at the first salon, the receiptionist finally came back to my line and explained that, unfortunately, my stylist has left the salon. Say what? I just saw her four weeks ago and she didn’t say anything about leaving! The receptionist was very understanding, but the best she could offer me was an appointment with Person A or Person B, three weeks from tomorrow.

Well, that won’t work. I need my hair cut and colored now, before the meeting, not after it. Besides, I’ve seen Person A’s styles and I don’t think pseudo-punk rocker works for a corporate attorney (also, I tried a similar style in my college days and know for a fact it’s not a flattering cut for my face). And Person B, while probably very nice, has only been cutting hair for a year. So I thanked the receptionist and called salon number two.

Only to be told my stylist at that salon now just works weekdays and one weeknight. They were sure they could squeeze me into the revised schedules, if I was willing to come in mid-afternoon.

No. Not going to happen. First off, I can’t just take an afternoon off every month to get my hair done. Second, I work more than an hour from the salon, and taking an afternoon appointment means I’ll be leaving Manyunk during the peak of rush hour. Which, in Philadelphia traffic terms, translates into sitting on the Surekill (otherwise known as the Schulkyll) Expressway and then Route 422 for at least two hours, all to travel a measly 20 miles to my home.

After spending a few minutes hyperventilating and contemplating losing my sanity, I realized, reluctantly, that I will have to find a new salon, and I will have to do it tomorrow so I can get an appointment before the meeting.

Finding a stylist you can trust, one who won’t butcher your hair, isn’t as easy as it sounds. There’s a world of difference between a decent stylist and one who can make your hair look fantastic. The same person can do an awesome job on me, and a hack job on his or her next client. It all depends upon that stylist’s ability to understand your hair, recognize your personality, and work with those factors to create something magical. If the cut goes bad, you may have to wait weeks, if not months, to grow it out and try again. A bad color will not only look horrible, but it can dry out your hair, making it brittle and unable to hold the cut.

In other words, your stylist is, without a doubt, one of the most important people in your life. And I just lost mine.

Being my stylist means working with baby fine hair that absolutely hates to do anything other than lie flat on my head, and the most stubborn, color-resistant grey hairs my (now-previous) stylists had ever seen. Yes, I have, sadly, grey hairs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about it — my mother was almost entirely grey before her 21st birthday; I at least waited to go to law school before I spied the first silver hairs on my head. But it means that the stylist has to really amp up the color mix, and that the cut has to take into account my hair’s tendency to fall over at the slightest hint of humidity, rain, snow, wind or a bird passing overhead.

I’ve just spent three hours touring websites and reading reviews. As expected, for every salon, and stylist, there were raves, and flames. I’ve managed to narrow it down to three salons, and five stylists, in the Main Line area, but if anyone wants to make a suggestion, feel free to drop a comment.

I’d have liked to try a salon in Philadelphia — Vanity looked good — but I balk at spending an extra thirty-forty dollars to park my car just to spend two hours getting my hair done. I do still have some sanity left.

Lost Tribe of the Sith: Precipice and Skyborn

Well, that was more like the Star Wars I’m used to. I’m speaking, of course, of the tales of the Lost Tribe of the Sith.

John Jackson Miller wrote nine stories of the Lost Tribe of the Sith – eight short (30-40 page) e-books and a final, much-longer story. The first eight were briefly posted online, free of charge, while the longer Pandemonium was only just published in the Collected Stories anthology. They span roughly two thousand years (5,000-2,975 years before the Battle of Yavin) and are meant to introduce readers to the Lost Tribe we meet in the Fate of the Jedi series.

After reading all nine stories, I have to say I really enjoyed them, although I wished they had been longer; some scenes and relationships could have been expanded a bit to provide more depth to the characters. Despite that, I thought the stories definitely provided a believable backstory for the Lost Tribe met by Luke Skywalker in the Fate novels, and explained a few ‘quirks’ of their society that had puzzled me when I read the Fate stories.

Usual warning

Draigons of spoilers ahead

Read at your own peril

The first two stories – Precipice and Skyborn – relate how the Sith came to be on the planet Kesh. They take place at the same time, but view events from two, vastly different perspectives – that of Yaru Korsin, the captain of the Sith ship Omen, and Adari Vaal, a Keshiri widow.

Precipice

Right from the start, Precipice dumps you into the Sith power games.

Omen is a mining ship, crewed by a mix of human and alien species, almost all of them ‘Sith,’ along with a complement of the deadly Massassi troops. She is the property of the Sith Lord Naga Sadow, a true Red Sith. It’s interesting that Sadow, and his fellow Sith Lords, are of an alien species, while the human Sith like Yaru Korsin are merely servants/slaves of their overlords. Very interesting, given that Palpatine/Darth Sidious had a distinct bias against non-humans, to realize that the Sith actually started as a non-human species.

As the story opens, Omen is returning to Sadow with a full cargo of crystals. However, the ship makes an uncontrolled jump through hyperspace, hits a gravity well, and emerges above an unknown world which promptly begins pulling the ship to the surface.

As Yaru Korsin, Omen’s human captain, puts it, a Sith glories in the ’exaltation of the self,’ each Sith ready to strike at any time and advance their own personal interests. That doesn’t help very much, though, when your ship is disintegrating around you – during the crash, Yaru’s half-brother Devore is busy accusing the navigator of making a mistake in his piloting rather than finding some way to save the ship. The rest of the bridge crew, with the exception of a non-Sith Houk named Gloyd, aren’t much more help to Korsin.

That type of attitude is even less useful when you’ve crashed, with minimal supplies, on an unknown, hostile world. And Kesh is very definitely hostile, at least to intruders. The survivors of the crash, roughly 350 Sith and 80 Massassi, manage to stumble out of Omen’s burning, wrecked hulk, only to have some of them fall off the mountain on the way down from the crash site. Then the Massassi get sick – something in Kesh’s atmostphere just plain hates them. They’re dead in just a few days. The animals on the planet appear to be inedible and downright poisonous to the survivors. And true to form, Devore and the other Sith kill the navigator and are now ready to start killing each other.

So Yaru makes a desperate hike back up the mountain to activate the transmitter and wait for rescue, only to find that the transmitter is fried and useless. The same can be said of his brother, who’s waiting, drugged up, to challenge his command. Instead, Yaru kills him, then heads back down the mountain and lies to the remaining crew that he activated the transmitter.

Korsin struck me as a bit of an unusual Sith, more interested in doing a good job as captain than playing the power games of his fellow Sith. Oh, he’s not above protecting himself and advancing his position in the hierarchy – witness the fact that he kills his brother when he realizes the idiot lied about him to Sadow – but he’s focused more on holding the remaining Sith together and finding some way to get off the planet and back into Sadow’s good graces than in joining the genocidal blame games the others have started.

Devore’s widow, Seelah, though, is more traditional – having guessed that Korsin had something to do with Devore’s death, she fires up her anger and hatred, then smiles invitingly at Korsin, prepared to wait for her revenge.

Just like a Sith.

Skyborn

The second story, Skyborn, looks at the Sith’s arrival from the viewpoint of Adari Vaal, the widow of an uvak rider. Her husband allegedly died gloriously – only she knows that Nink, his uvak, became tired of being abused and dumped his rider off in the ocean. Adari has been left with a good (by Keshtiri standards) house, her nagging mother, two dim-witted children, and sincere gratitude that her people have done away with the ancient tradition of killing the family of a dead uvak-rider.

Her position as a widow should now assure her of relative comfort and peace – but we start the story with Adari on trial as a heretic. Her crime? Challenging the accepted dogma surrounding the creation of the Keshtiri continents.

The Neshtovar, or uvak-riders, who run Keshtiri society, are trying Adari her for heresy because she’s pointed out that volcanos elsewhere on the continent are creating new land. Since the same kind of stones can be found around her village, that land too must have been created by volcanos. However, their mythology holds that the Skyborn, the creators from above, made everything, including the continent of Keshtah, and nothing new can be created — ever.

Fundamentalism, it seems, is a universal concept.

During the trial, a distant mountain appears to erupt, despite the fact that Adari knows it to be granite and therefore incapable of an eruption. The Keshtiri interpret this as an omen of a different kind – that Adari is endangering them. They gather into a mob and start lighting torches to burn her house – and her.

Adari wisely escapes out the back door – and up into the sky, aboard a rather startled Nink. She decides to investigate the site of the flaming mountain – Omen’s crash site – and spots the crushed ship, which she at first thinks is a shell hatching, well, something unidentifiable. In reality, she’s watching Yaru and Devore fight, witnessing brother killing brother. Ultimately, she ends up stumbling into the Sith camp, where she is ‘captured’ and then slowly ‘persuaded’ to aid the Sith to escape from the mountain by going for help on Nink. And she does, even though she was initially treated hostiley by the Sith, and even though she can tell that at least some of them, including Seelah, dislike her. Intensely.

My favorite part of the story was when Korsin asks her ‘how many are her people’. She replies that they’re numberless. He assumes she means they’ve never been counted, and she corrects him – it’s not that no one’s tried to count them, but their language doesn’t have a number large enough to tally the population.

Korsin, who may have intended only to seek help from the natives, is momentariy stunned, and then switches gears, asking her for the legends of the Skyborn. Clearly, he’s intending to masquerade his people as the Kesh’s gods.

The story ends with a grateful Adari, whose life has been saved and social status elevated by the return to Kesh of the ‘Skyborn’, wondering about the future of her world. She knows the Sith are not the Skyborn, but since they are clearly more advanced than her people, she’s eager to learn from them. And she knows one more thing – although the Sith don’t believe her.

The metals the Sith need to repair Omen and leave Kesh don’t exist on her world.

The Sith – are stuck.

Overall
Put together, these two stories serve as a good introduction to the Sith of planet Kesh. I would have liked to have more backstory on Devore and Seelah – their hatred and animosity against Yaru didn’t feel fully fleshed out at this point. We’re asked to accept that they have reason to hate Yaru, although, particularly in Seelah’s case, there doesn’t seem to be a basis for it beyond the fact that her man, Devore, hates his brother. Seelah seems a very independent person, much smarter than Devore. I can’t see her just blindly hating whoever Devore hates unless it furthers her interests somehow.

Also, I really would have liked an explanation of why Adari’s husband was called the uvak rider ‘upon whom all hope had rested.’ Which hopes, and why?

But overall, the stories were very good, and nicely set up the next two in the series.