how can I keep from singing?

by dichroic in daily updates

I am a singer at heart – not a singer as in people want to hear me sing, but one as in that’s what I do when I can and it’s actually a bit hard for me sometimes not to sing, as when I’m working along and can’t see others in my office but know they are within earshot. (I don’t mean that I do sing in that circumstance; that would be rude and obnoxious. I just mean I have to impose some control on myself to make sure I don’t.) I play guitar a little, but I’m not pulled to it in the same way, and my only real interest is to accompany myself.

When I sing, it doesn’t mean I’m happy; my brain tends to supply songs to suit the moment. I’m very much a word person, so it’s the lyrics that matter – happy or wistful or dramatic or exultatory as the case may be. Or suited to a particular time or place. In particular, I have songs for this time of year; my usually ones are Bob Franke’s Thanksgiving Eve and Gordon Bok’s Turning Toward the Morning, with which I fell in love before I ever even heard the tune. (Though Bok’s voice would have made me fall in love with it anyway, if I hadn’t already.)

I think it’s time to add to my autumn repertoire: Robin Williams’ October Song (which I know from Cindy Kallet’s cover of it) and Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes?. I just can’t figure out why those two songs are so elusive. There are songs I can hear once and sing back, and ones I need to review over and over and I still forget parts. I can’t quite figure out what the difference it, though it probably has a lot to do with how predictable the song is – teling a coherent story or staying within a metaphor or just repeating itself. These two are hard, but somehow I feel I’d be better for knowing them.

One of my rants, one of my regrets about current culture, is the idea that you have to be of nearly professional standards before you can sing in public. Shows like The Voice are great for bringing music into living rooms and for letting people see how much technique there is in singing well, but I don’t think they should set the standard for life. Also they tend to reward only one style of singing (loud and dramatic, mostly). You’ll never hear a beautiful lullabye singer or a laid-back Bing Crosby crooner or someone who can chant a chantey loud enough and rhythmic enough to motivate people to do physical work. I like sing-alongs, I like people to sing while they’re working, and I even like when they sing off-key with their favorite song on the radio. It’s like sports: if you get joy from it, you should be encouraged to do it, even if you’re not really that great, because it’s a better world when people get to do the things that give them joy and challenge and consolation.

le bon temps, they roulez’d

by dichroic in daily updates

Last weekend was fabulous. My husband appears to have hung out entirely with a core group of friends in college and to have known hardly anyone else – but that core group were all back in New Orleans for Homecoming at Tulane this weekend, and they are a nice bunch of guys. I enjoyed meeting their wives too – I’d met a couple before but only once or twice many years ago. We just had so much freaking fun hanging out with them all, not to mention consuming beignets, seafood gumbo, shrimp etouffee, jambalaya, New Orleans BBQ shrimp, and hurricanes.

I think I can fairly claim to be midddle-aged now (47) and there’s an odd and particular pleasure to spending time with people of the same age: it’s not that we can’t stay up til 2 if we want to, but that we don’t want to so much because we have less tolerance for feeling like crap than we once did. No one minds if you want to sit where it’s quieter so you can talk, or if a spouse who likes to go to bed early sends her husband off alone (not me; someone who likes to go to bed at 7 or 8) or if you switch to water after a beer or two. I think they got kinder – these were always nice guys but there might have been more ribbing twenty years ago.

That made it easier to pace myself. I always find New Orleans a but overwhelming – all that food and drink don’t go well with IBS – but I did a good job pacing myself and taking rests when necessary to prevent crashing and burning.

The age thing really did affect how we all relate, I think, though of course it’s only one factor. This is an age where you begin to know you’re aging – most people were a lot grayer than we are, though otherwise looking pretty good – but you still feel good and can do just about anything you once could, and you know who you are if you’re ever going to. This was a bunch of people who are all fairly successful and who were, after all, all friends to begin with and who were always pleasant to be around; it will be interesting to compare to my high school reunion in a couple of months, which has a wider range of people though a similar narrow band of age.

We talked about kids (theirs), and books – I recommended some, which always makes me happy, and others that I think I’ll like were rec’d to me, which makes me even happier. I was talked into buying a hat that got me compliments from random strangers. (“Nice hat!”, not pick-up lines.)

The football was pathetic, but the tailgate party was the most luxurious one I’ve ever seen, with big tents,free food and swag, and clean bathrooms.

It was four days of good time, and I’m very glad we went. And tonight we get to have dinner with a rowing friend who’s in town – I last saw her when she visited me in the Netherland and the time before that was in Australia, so this is going to be another good time.


by dichroic in daily updates

Nope, I still don’t really understand the concept of packing light. I’m packing for a long weekend in New Orleans. Warm climate, short trip, should be easy to pack carry-on-only, right? Except that said trip will involve lots of walking – fine, I’ll wear my sturdy shoes on the plane. And a possible outing to a restaurant with a dress code, meaning I need another pair of shoes – fine, I have ballet flats that pack small, and maybe I can get away with a skirt and a t-shirt I can wear again, instead of a dress. And a football game, and there’s the rub. In my experience, anything that involves just sitting around can get pretty damn cold even when the temperature is in the 50s or 60s. I do have a heavy sweater that’s pretty close to Tulane green – actually, writing this all out I’ve nearly convinced myself maybe we can get by with a backpack each and a small suitcase. Hmm. (This is a god thing about blogging. The examined life can be useful.)

This is all assuming we don’t get waylaid on our flight by snow in the Midwest, of course.

The other good news is that I only have about 23 workdays left between now and the end of the year. Because of this long weekend, this is a four-day week and so is next week, then there’s a three-day week because of Thanksgiving, and so on.

not quite a review: The Goblin Emperor

by dichroic in books

Note: It’s not a review because it’s my idiosyncratic response to a book in a very specific situation. It’s got some of the things you’d expect in a review in it (even on the erg it’s impossible to miss how well Addison handles her protag’s first encounter with the idea of same sex relationships) but most of you probably don’t rate books on how well they work for listening during rowing.

You know about the New Book Threshold? That’s the one where you’ve been reading books of a given kind that aren’t too demanding – comfort rereads, or books within a series, or fluffy books that won’t leave you any different when you’re done except that you’ve been entertained a little while longer – and then it’s a bit hard to start something new, especially when it’s long, dense, or demanding of attention or emotion. Sometimes it’s even harder when the new book is somethign you expect to love; I’m not quite sure why.

It turns out that the New Book Threshold is even steeper for erg books, since what you mostly want there is distraction and motivation, and any required thinking needs to be snuck in there.

So it was a bit hard to step out of the comfortable rut I’d been in of the Phryne Fisher series (which are good-ish, but I’m halfway through the 20 or so books and not seeing any growth in Phryne as a character) and plunge into Katherine Addison’s Goblin Emperor. It’s been well worth it; the most important thing about erg books is that they need to be immersive enough to add some motivation for stepping into that torture device. This one definitely works for that, tothe point where I’ve been (almost) sorry on my off days that I don’t get to listen.

It is a bit introspective for an erg book; a lot of the action is in Maia’s head, so it definitely wouldn’t work if I didn’t have good enough headphones to be able to catch every word. Even so, I’ve also read the Kindle version (up to the point I’ve gotten to in audio) to savor the details. A downside for listening is all the names – I understand why they’re so long and complicated, because she’s done a lot of work on the language design and the names all have meanings, but it does make it a little harder to follow the audio version. There are also a lot of small linguistic points to catch, that matter to the plot – “he used ‘we’ in the plural sense, rather than formally.” On the other hand, the plot is not too convoluted for erg listening; I’m not sure if this is intended as YA but unlike Addison’s work published as Sarah Monette, it would work well for a YA reader. THe central theme is Maia’s growing into himself and into his role as emperor; in that respect it reminds me of a few of Sherwood Smith’s works like Crown Duel in which the young protagonist has to learn to understand nuance and what politics are for instead of rebelling blindly.

Not that Maia ever rebels much. He’s got the moral sense and earnestness of Fanny Price, if not quite her diffidence (thankfully) despite a childhood of neglect and abuse. He’s a throwback to the nineteenth-century books I love, in that he is always trying to be better, and he has a strong sense of what that means and of what he owes to himself, to the nation he rules, and to the mother who gave him what love he had. He’s no saint; it’s not that he doesn’t have cruel or vindictive urges, but that he surpresses their expression. Sort of like most of us do (I hope).

Addison also does an impressive job handling prejudice, ont he bases of race, sex and sexual preference. They have it. It’s built into the society and into some people’s attitudes. Other people are fighting various forms of it, and many just haven’t really thought much about it, or having only thought about what affects them personally. The worldbuilding is intricate and comprehensive, but there’s enough of us in Addison’s elves and goblins to make them instantly recognizable as human.

I’d like to read another story in the world, but possibly not one centered around Maia; he’s come into his own enough by the end (I admit it, I peeked ahead) that it feels like his major story arc is over. But there’s plenty of room for a novel around Idra or Ceredin or others.

autumn ramblings

by dichroic in daily updates

Autumn in Oregon has hit with a vengeance – the skies are dark gray and it’s been raining more often than not. Most often Oregon rain is light enough not to mind, but it’s been heavier for the last week or so. Unfortunately, this resulted in our finding another couple of leaks in the lake house last weekend. Luckily our architect (who lives out that way) was willing to get a roofer out there for us. (He – the architect – used to be a general contractor, so he will do some stuff like this, which has been very helpful for us. He’s a good architect, too – if anyone in the Eugene area needs a recommendation, his name is Michael Soraci.)

So we’ll be headed out to the house this weekend to verify the roof repairs and empty the containers we set out in the attic under the leaks. This is unfortunate, since I’d expected to be at home this Halloween and had laid in candy accordingly. I guess our coworkers will benefit.

My colleagues should all be ready to eat candy anyway, now their blood sugar has been duly recorded – we had our annual company-provided (voluntary!) annual health checkups today. I “lost” two inches around my waist by simply pulling up my heavy shirt and having her re-measure, which makes me wonder about the accuracy of the whole thing. I hope her blood pressure results are accurate, though – mine was 119 / 76, which makes me very happy since I was on high blood pressure meds for a while after my Dutch doctor prescribed them, until my US doctor said she thought I didn’t need them any more. I have no idea why it went down. I haven’t lost weight – in fact, I gained some over the past year, after starting back to work (if there’s one thing I dislike about this job, it’s that there’s too much sitting). It could be from moving back to a place where I understand how everything works, but my BP was already going up back when we lived in Arizona. It could be from living in a place I really like, but I liked the Netherlands too. I’ve tried to cut back on salt a little, but it’s not like I’ve ever kicked my pretzel habit. Odd.

I don’t think this autumn has been as good for leaf colors as last year – I remember that as being surprisingly bright. This year, we had a long lingering summer and as soon as it cooled down it immediately turned wet, so we don’t seem to be getting colors quite as vivid – I’m seeing maples that are the color of oxidized bronze instead of bright red. It’s still beautiful though – whenever the rain lets up enough for colors to be seen!

At least our weather is temperate; I had a trip to Toledo, Ohio last week that found me scraping ice of the car window one morning. In a few weeks we have a trip to New Orleans, and I’m sure I’ll find it difficult to believe while I’m packing that the weather really will be much warmer. (I’ll take some warm stuff anyway, though – in wet climates like that it can feel COLD when the actual temperature isn’t all that low.)

I thought this entry was going to be unconnected rambling, but instead it’s turned out to be connected after all (though still rambling). Maybe it’s my outfit. I hadn’t planned on wearing a costume to work, just an orangey-melonish-colored henley shirt, but ince I started accessorizing, I realized I had a costume after all. I’ve got a red leather leaf holding back my hair, a brown-and-gold leaf pin halfway down my shirt, and earrings with brown stone “planet” beads that look like shiny seeds or the acrons that are ubiquitous outside my office building. I am Autumn.

rougher than expected

by dichroic in daily updates, rowing

Well, this weekend ended up a bit more exciting than expected. We went down to the lake house and, having felt a bit sleep deprived since returning from Hawaii the previous weekend, slept in until 8 or so. Just as we were finally getting up, we noticed a metallic sound. We’d been wondering a bit about the roof there; during heavy rain, there’s been a plonking noise, like rain falling onto a tin roof, but it just seemed to be into the fireplace. This time, it seemed to be to the left of the bed – right where there was a bulging biut of paint that we’d poked at a while back, but that just seemed to be a loose flake. Then Ted noticed a drip onto the bed, right next to me. This is where I should mention that the ceiling in that room is about 18-20 feet high. So first we got to go out in the rain and figure out how to get the Really Big Ladder into our bedroom (answer: through the front door, up the stairs, out onto the back deck, then back into the bedroom’s door on the same deck). Then we got it set up, he sawed a hole through the ceiling drywall and pulled out some insulation, and was able to see a bit of daylight. Then we got the ladder back out of the bedroom and onto the deck so he could get up onto the roof – by then it had stopped raining and he found the crack. (He gets nominated to do all the high-up stuff by virtue of being nearly a foot taller. That roof is particularly scary, because that extra-tall bedroom and matching living room are on the second floor, so the roof is really 3 stories up.) It turns out that the roof vents there are plastic. That one had been screwed down too tightly, and a crack propagated until it was no longer covered by a roof shingle. He checked further and found a similar crack in another vent. He managed to fix them well (caulking and duct tape)enough to hold for a long time, but we’ll eventually need to replace the vents.

And then after all that we got to go out rowing, where I managed 13.3 km of the 15 I was supposed to do on the erg. It started out smooth but was getting rougher and since that was the longest distance I’ve done in a bost in years, my hands needed a break. Sunday morning, I was glad I’d planned to go out in the kayak, because even in that it was rougher than I’d really like – I did another 6km or so, then did a short interval piece on the erg to make up a bit more distance. Ow. We decided to stay a bit later than usual and it eventually calmed down, so Ted got to go out rowing – he doesn’t seem to like kayaking as much as I do. Also, I’m convinced that 1km in a kayak takes more energy than the same distance rowing since it’s less efficient, but he thinks it doesn’t count as exercise because your heart rate doesn’t get up as high. Whatever.

I do realize a leaky roof in your second home may be the ultimate first-world problem.

Then there are problems that are universal. Sadly, today I found out that one of our old rowing friends from our Texas days has just died of cancer. At least he was an older man – I think he was retired when we knew him there and we left there in late ’95. He was a crusty old guy, VP of our rowing club; that was where I learned that an organization can work really well if you have a second-in-command who doesn’t mind riling people up to get work done together with a chief who’s good at smoothing feathers.

We ran into him a few times after that when he was refereeing at various regattas; he’d never have been unfair in any way but it was always a good feeling to meet up with a friendly ref. I think our politics were diametrically opposed, since he was active in the local Republican party, but what we talked about was rowing and that was what mattered. Smooth water and clean catches, Tom.

in the air again

by dichroic in knitting, travel

I’ve been quiet because we were on vacation; I really need to write up a blog entry on our trip to Hawaii, but the short version is that it was wonderful. I’m not really a tropics person normally, but I loved Hawaii. I find laying out on a beach inordinately boring, but there was lots to do: playing in the waves, drinking Mai Tais, trying out a stand-up paddleboard, kayaking in the surf, visiting Pearl Harbor and Volcanoes National Park, snorkeling. One of the pleasant surprises was to find that Hawaiian culture isn’t only alive, it’s everywhere. I hadn’t realized how many of the people in Hawaii are at least partly Hawaiian (I suspect the Hawaiians’ willingness to integrate immigrants into their culture and their families helped ensure that their genes survived even though they had the same massive and tragic death rate that you’d expect once the Westerners brought their smallpox and other germs in). The majority of people we saw or talked to had Hawaiian features; many had Hawaiian names and used Hawaiian words. (Of course, some of that is that everyone in the tourist industry says Aloha and Mahalo.) We were told that lots of people speak the language fluently, though I’m not sure if many speak it as a native language rather than a second one. On the other hand, there’s enough Asian influence that Oahu had a bunch of little reminders of Taiwan for us, including the smell of tuberoses.

It was good to be traveling again! It’s felt like we got back to Oregon, after our years of traveling all over the world, and have just been sitting here not going anywhere. This was our first trip that wasn’t to visit family, aside from a couple of work trips. I do have a bit more travel to look foward to, at least: a surprise work trip to Toledo in a couple of weeks and then one to New Orleans in November to get together with Ted’s college friends. The former should be OK (except that flight times from OR to OH are always awkward – I can either wake up at 4AM or arrive after 11PM, so I chose the late arrival); the latter trip will be fun.

Also, on the Hawaii trip I got through the whole lace part of the shawl I’m making my SIL for Christmas. I also got a sock started, for times I needed something that required less attention, but I’ve only done a few inches of that. It makes me a bit twitchy to have two many knitting projects going, but I think the shawl will take only a few more days. The sweater I was working on was too big to travel with, since I was packing light, but has a body and half of once sleeve done, so I’m hoping to get that done while we’re in fall weather rather than winter. I’ve got a quick vest-ish thing I also want to do in fall, but it’s bulky yarn and should be quick; if I’m done in time I’m considering a pair of slippers for my nephew. Or maybe a bigger pair for Ted.

some thoughts about time off

by dichroic in daily updates

I just read that the Jewish year 5775 is the year of the Shemittah, the Sabbatical year when all loans are forgiven and people were supposed to desist from all field work. Think about that – that means that in a time when most people worked in agriculture, everyone had a year off. Or maybe it doesn’t; all tasks relating to animal care still had to be done, so if farmers specialized into raising crops or animal husbandry maybe only some people got the year off. Still, I suppose that meant there were more people to help with the animal care, and the animals themselves didn’t have to do plowing and such. I suspect it wasn’t as much fun as it sounded, anyway, since you’d be stuck eating only fruit, volunteer plants and grain stored from previous years.

Still, if you ignore the practicalities and just think about the base idea, it’s a beautiful one. Not only does everyone get at least one day off per week (in The Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill makes the point that we invented the weekend!) but everyone gets a significant amount of time off every seven years. There’s something particularly humane about that. I don’t think it’s entirely practical to let everyone take off at the same time (though Germany and France do seem to survive July and August every year), but we could stagger the sabbaticals.

Intel’s been giving its workers 6 weeks off every seven years for as long as I can remember, and of course colleges do it for tenured professors. I took mine in the first half of 2013; I took the time off of my normal routine work and did something different. I wrote a book. Richard Feynman used to go explore different fields of science during his sabbatical years. What could you do if you had significant time off from your primary job? I know most people can’t afford to do it; my question is, why the hell not? THere have already been writeups about the benefits of guaranteed income, claiming that giving everyone a basic low salary is cheaper than dealing with the consequences of people not having enough to live on. What if instead we used that money to just give people a break?

an unexpected poem happened by

by dichroic in poetry

This comes from a bunch of things. Elizabeth Goudge sent me to Rupert Brooke (and wow – I’d never seen that sonnet before. What a wallop it has!) which of course made me think of the end of his life, which got me curious enough to look up his American contemporary (born just 3 years later) Christopher Morley. I’m sure the war must have affected Morley somehow, but you can’t see it in a brief biography, and it just seemed so odd to be so apparently untouched by an event that ravaged half the world. Add to that Ken Burns’ documentary on the Roosevelts, which seemed to have a lot of uncanny modern echoes (great show – it’s the first time I can remember when everyone at work is talking about a TV documentary) and this percolated through.

The Unlearned Lessons of 1914-1818

what was it like when the storm unfurled
for those whose raft lolled in calmer waters?
Across the ocean, rip currents swirled
swamping and drowning the sons and daughters
of cousins and uncles left behind
by those who fled to a newer world.

What was it like in ’17,
when the currents threatened the other side,
when the winds of war blew cutting and keen
calling a new tithe to sail a tide
flowing back to wash the wounded land
with wrack-strewn waters, incarnadine?

And what are we like as we doze, lulled to sleep
by the news of atrocities far away
denying the tides that rise and seep
and undermine the lands we say
(we echoing fools!) will keep us safe
….meanwhile, the waters are growing deep.


by dichroic in daily updates

The litter box bit me! Then I made it worse myself.

At some point on Saturday I got a splinter from walking out on the wooden balcony barefoot. (In the lake house, we have real wood floors. They’re slippery enough that it’s fun to slide on them in socks – unfortunately there are enough rough edges that this sometimes results in splinters so I try to remember to wear slippers there. THe back deck, though, is made of cement “lumber” so no splinters. In our main Hilsboro house, the indoors is laminate so splinters are never an issue – but the small back deck is stained wood.) Anyway, I eventually got the splinter out of my foot, but apparently it imprinted in my brain. On Saturday night while I was cleaning the litterbox, I found that there was a split in the plastic, right where I always lean while scooping. That is, I “found” the split when a small fold of skin on my palm got caught in it. Afterward there was a small painful red bump on my palm.

Then somewhere in a semi-dreaming state that night, I thought I had a splinter in my palm. I was picking at it with my fingernails trying to pull out the imaginary splinter – I’m just not sure if I was really doing that or dreaming I was going it. Sabotaging yourself in your sleep is not a good idea!

That spot on my palm hurts. However, it’s going to be a good week, regardless – I get to work a short week, then it’s off on our first real vacation since coming back to the US at the end of 2012 (aside from a long weekend in Seattle).