[livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball and I left for NYC on Friday, returning late last night. He was the instigator, saying he really wanted to see Pippin, and after watching the Tony awards video (which you can see on that link right there ^^ ), I had to agree it was worth seeing on Broadway. So, in for a penny in for a pound, we also made plans for Kinky Boots, another Tony winner this year.

We had our next-door teenaged neighbour watch Rover for us, which worked out quite well, compared with boarding for the weekend- R. likes her routines, and our neighbour certainly likes Rover! (And now I notice that Rover has to sniff their door when she comes back from her walks... I think this may have something to do with bacon on the weekend...)

We got to Pearson and discovered our noon-time United flight had been postponed three hours. Well, indefinitely. Well, we might be able to rebook onto the next flight in three hours maybe. Instead of following the gate agent's instructions, I found us another United agent who instead put us and one lucky other guy onto an Air Canada flight at 3pm, and standby for an earlier flight. So the three of us trooped out of the ground-level prop-plane area to our waiting gate, and crossed our fingers, because 3pm was going to make it tight for us to get into the city and to our hotel and to Pippin. dan did his thing and got us from an unlikely standby to a much more likely standby flight- and lo, all three of us got lucky. And found ourselves on the ground at Laguardia just after 2pm. And we made it to our hotel in Hell's Kitchen, Midtown, in fine time.

At the end of this trip, I'm quite appreciative for the chance to run off and do things like this. We both really love Manhattan. We were idly talking about how great it would be to live there; perhaps when we both retire; perhaps for a short period on one of dan's sabbaticals. If this works, it will certainly involve a lot of planning- and being flexible, perhaps more so than with the flight rearrangements...

This was a full, but not overly full, trip.

We stayed in Hells Kitchen, the first time either of us had spent much time on the West Side. It was quite convenient to Broadway, our hotel was comfortable, and there were many good restaurants, including an eponymous Mexican restaurant "Hell's Kitchen" which had amazing fish.

Pippin was eye-poppingly neat. The acrobatics were the most awe-inspiring I've ever seen (see ^^ video). The first act is easily in my short list of favourite first acts of any musical. (Whatever that list is; I haven't given it serious thought except that the first act of "Sunday in the Park with George" is currently at the top. But I digress.) The story feels like it sort of unwinds in the second act. I hadn't seen the show before and wasn't prepared for a bit of storytelling where a certain amount of plot seems to be un-done in order to tell a completely different story in the second act- the story felt stapled together, and the main character AND the main actor started to grate on me a bit. I see from the wikipedia page that it could have been smoother in the second act. But the Leading Player/"Ringleader" character was wonderful throughout, including the very end where she offers Pippin a suitably glorious finale for his life aspirations. All in all, seeing this was my favourite part of the trip.

We had left Saturday mostly unscheduled, with an idea to get half-price tickets for an evening show, and a plan to see my Aunt who lives in Manhattan in the mid-afternoon. d. and I negotiated this one pretty well, also; I was going to see my Aunt while d. went downtown to buy us tickets. She accepted my sending his regrets about not seeing her, even though in advance she had said she would be very offended if he decided not to see her. Anyway, she and I got to visit, she got to show off her local Whole Foods and get me a mid-afternoon snack, and d. got to stay the hell away and do some clothes shopping downtown while ostensibly "on a line" getting us tickets at the TKTS booth.

But I get ahead of myself: In the morning we went to the Guggenheim. The main exhibit was by James Turrell, a Quaker artist and architect who works with light and shadow. In addition to designing a Quaker meeting house in Austin Texas, he's done other arts installations that have felt Quakerly to me, inviting contemplation and inner stillness. His big new work turned the seventy-five foot tall spiral atrium into ... Well, sort of the inside of a mood lamp, with gorgeous curves and subtle slow colour changes. Some 50 people laid back in the atrium looking upward at the colours. It felt meditative to me, even with the occasional conversation nearby. Though: it didn't feel like Quaker Meeting, not by a long shot. But it was at least as meditative as I could hope for in a crowd of New York tourists. I'm not sure what Frank Lloyd Wright would have thought about what they did to his atrium, but I'm grateful for the chance to see the exhibit.

There were also some great abstract art from the Guggenheim's collections, from between World War One and Two- including some great dadaist work, and some great Miró and Klee. These would have been a fine stand-alone reason to visit the museum.

And then we hit the Armory for "WS", a retelling of Snow White by Paul McCarthy. This, like the Turrell, was large-scale, covering the stadium-sized Armory (we once went to an art-sales show there, which took many hours to get through). Unlike the Turrell, it was loud, edgy, and quite profane, and I'm quite surprised they weren't sued by Walt Disney's estate. Every staff person we asked what they thought of it, said they couldn't wait for it to finish- which it was to do the day we saw it. In retrospect, I would have been fine if it had closed just before we were there.

After we met up after my Aunt, d. and I walked down to the High Line, the multi-mile linear park which used to be an elevated train-line. I wanted to like it, as a floating-park-in-midair. But there were too many people, too many rope barriers telling us what was off limits, and too few comfortable benches. All it needed was a roof and it would feel like the train- in the end I think it didn't escape far enough from that which it once was. I hope that it can gradually shift into something more than that, over the decades. Maybe a few exits into adjoining buildings? That would be spiff.

Dan's ticket find for the evening was "Phantom of the Opera", which neither of us had seen, though 20 years ago I listened to the CD quite a lot. Now in its 25th year, it was exactly like the CD, not a note different from what I remembered. And the music, instead of being a fond reminisce, sort of felt late-80s cheezy. Upsides? The costuming was great- particularly, I loved the spectacle of the masquerade ball. I guess it's good to finally see this; just as later this month I'm finally seeing Cats (in Toronto). I hope I like Cats more.

On Sunday, we walked to the Hudson River Park, just a few blocks from the hotel. Now this, this is how to redevelop an urban park. It was less manicured, more varied, and most importantly, not cramped. There was also free kayak instruction and consequently lots of people *in kayaks on the Hudson*. Which felt a bit weird to me, since I always considered the water there to be too dodgy to do anything with. For that matter, the ducks we saw next to the water looked a bit scruffy.

We did quite a lot of walking: after the Hudson park, across midtown to Central Park, lunch near Lincoln Center, and back down Broadway and down to 42nd street to see Kinky Boots. Which was great fun, and deserved their Tony wins. I might buy the album; it felt like a Cindy Lauper CD but in drag. (Which is possibly the same thing).

And then we retrieved our luggage and headed for Newark airport for our evening flight home. And we returned to Rover in our house, which was the best return ever.

Is this thing on?

Monday, 5 August 2013 07:51 pm
Hello people!

It's been too long since I've posted. Lately I've been writing in an off-line journal, but I decided I would like a longer-form record of our most recent trip to NYC, for friends, and this form works better than the pile of facebook check-ins plus comments plus photos.

It's been long enough that when I said to myself, "Yes. I'll make a livejournal post," my fingers then started typing "face.." Augh! No! Bad fingers!

Last nigh we saw "Proof" at kwlt - they did a really good job with a difficult play. Local Math fans (or foes) - go! http://www.kwlt.org/Proof.197.0.html

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- took dog out, picked up newspaper.
- back upstairs, opened newspaper bag and said, "Did they reuse a headline?"
- realized I took *yesterday's* newspaper for unit 710 (the only other unit that gets the Globe and Mail)
- decided I'm not really awake yet, therefore I shouldn't beat myself up about the confusion. After all, there were two bags; the other one said 710, so I took ours, right?
- back downstairs, swapped newspapers with the Saturday newspaper, which is much thicker. There is only one of these, saying 710, also in bag, but I assume they took ours.
- traded pleasantries with cleaning-person for the second time of the morning, who is amused.
- in the elevator, composing LJ post in my head, titled: "This is my life now."
- back upstairs, opened newspaper, which turns out to be 710's Saturday newspaper, and our Saturday newspaper, in a bag. together.
- returned 710's newspaper downstairs. Avoided cleaning person.
Hey- I've been sitting on some really cool news for the last ten days.

Law firm Kramer Levin has just filed a pair of amicus briefs on behalf of religious organizations.

The US Supreme Court will be hearing challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 on March 26th (Prop 8) and March 28th (DOMA). The DOMA case being appealed is United States v. Windsor, in which a lesbian couple who married in Toronto, lived in New York (which recognized their marriage), and then had to pay $363,000+ in federal estate taxes when one spouse died in 2009. If they had been a heterosexual couple, they would have paid no estate taxes.

At the gathering of Friends for LGBTQ Concerns this month, in Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, our group was asked if we might be added as friends of the court. We had received a letter from the law office just weeks earlier. A small group studied the draft filing (so amazingly well-written!) and recommended that we do add our name to the brief. Our Business Meeting then discerned this was part of our witness, and so we sent back our "yes" along with a few minor corrections- and additional URLs. ...And they cited our webpages! Our collection of Marriage Minutes are cited in a Supreme Court filing! The webpages which were put together by [livejournal.com profile] fyddlestyx and myself!
(Though I want to make clear that other Quaker bodies wrote these Minutes on the subject of same-sex marriage. We just collected and shared them.)

BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE

BISHOPS OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN THE STATE OF
CALIFORNIA; MANHATTAN CONFERENCE OF
THE METROPOLITAN NEW YORK SYNOD OF THE
EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA;
THE RABBINICAL ASSEMBLY; THE
RECONSTRUCTIONIST RABBINICAL
ASSOCIATION; RECONSTRUCTIONIST
RABBINICAL COLLEGE; RABBI AKIVA HERZFELD
OF SHAAREY TPHILOH; THE UNION FOR
REFORM JUDAISM; UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST
ASSOCIATION; UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST; THE
UNITED SYNAGOGUE OF CONSERVATIVE
JUDAISM; AFFIRMATION; COVENANT NETWORK
OF PRESBYTERIANS; FRIENDS FOR LESBIAN,
GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER, AND QUEER
CONCERNS
; METHODIST FEDERATION FOR
SOCIAL ACTION; MORE LIGHT PRESBYTERIANS;
PRESBYTERIAN WELCOME; RECONCILING
MINISTRIES NETWORK; RECONCILINGWORKS:
LUTHERANS FOR FULL PARTICIPATION; AND
RELIGIOUS INSTITUTE, INC. IN SUPPORT OF
AFFIRMANCE IN FAVOR OF RESPONDENTS

Any information about the brief was to remain private until after it was filed; it's been tough to sit on this without telling anyone. The anti-DOMA brief is so very well written! How great is this...

"It appears that what those other amici want is not protection for their own free speech and free exercise rights, but rather immunity from disapproval they may face by those who affirm the rights and relationships of lesbian and gay people."

"[The preceding] belies the claim of certain amici favoring reversal that American religions speak uniformly or overwhelmingly in opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples. To the contrary, American religious thought and practice embrace a rich diversity. No one view speaks for “religion” – even if, contrary to the Establishment Clause, it were appropriate to give weight to religious views in evaluating and applying the Constitution’s secular promise of equal protection."

"Were the federal government to start recognizing the lawful civil marriages of same-sex couples– as it does interfaith marriages, interracial marriages, and re-marriages after divorce – religions that disapprove of such unions would remain free to define religious marriage however they wish. They could withhold spiritual blessing of such marriages and
indeed bar those entering into them from being congregants at all, just as they are now free to do so on grounds of faith, race, prior marital status, or any other characteristic deemed religiously significant. Amici urging reversal fail to explain how their religious practice would be burdened by the fact that
other people are afforded equal marriage rights by the state. For example, the brief of amici Liberty, Life
and Law Foundation and North Carolina Values Coalition scarcely even touches on the actual legal
consequences of recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples. Instead, it focuses on fears of having to
“endorse or facilitate” marriages of same-sex couples [...]"

And it keeps going.

---

It was a minor miracle of timing that the law office asked us to sign on just a few weeks before our gathering; and the deadline for our decision was three days after the gathering ended. A few weeks in either direction and we would have not been able to sign on as a friend of the court, since our group only meets twice a year.

And a final note: This law firm, Kramer Levin, has been a strong supporter of LGBT rights and cases for almost 20 years. [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball pointed out to me that one of the three founders, Arthur Kramer, was a character in his brother Larry's autobiographical play, The Normal Heart. The two brothers had an enormous falling out in the mid 80s when Arthur Kramer would not lend his name to Larry's anti-AIDS activist group, Gay Men's Health Crisis, only offering personal support of his gay brother. Larry saw this as a cop-out; in the play, they remain estranged until Larry's death (though it seems that in real life they had some limited rapprochement).

And so this is a small part in a long story. And it keeps going.
I went to the optometrist for the first regular checkup in many years. They did the pupil dilation thing, which was sort of annoying and now I remember how much I didn't like it the last time. I probably should have used the cheap sunglasses they gave me, but I didn't. On an overcast day, on the walk back to the office, the white lines on the road were blinding me. Yeesh. My pupils looked, and still look, like an animé character's.

Night fell shortly after I got back to the office, which was convenient. And from then until now, everything is brighter than I expect, and point-source lights have pretty auras around them.

I walked [livejournal.com profile] roverthedog through the big park, which has been decked out in Christmas lights.

Wow. Pretty. Very pretty.

The strings of lights in the trees each looked like thick cables, bright but not quite painfully bright. Again with the pretty auras. If I could have turned off the streetlights, it would have been perfect.

I'm not sure I would recommend this as a way to get into the Christmas spirit, but hey, as long as I've got weird vision, might as well take advantage of the few unexpected benefits.

Porto, 2 of 2

Sunday, 14 October 2012 05:10 pm
Yesterday we took an all-day excursion up the Duoro River, 100km into the wine-producing areas. While the temperatures in Porto during the day in October were around 20°C, and nearly always humid, we were told that during the summer in the Duoro it often reached 35°C+, and there were cacti growing on some hillsides. But there were also lots of grape terraces, and we were told the conditions are perfect for the hardiest of hardy grapes.

So the grapes are grown there, they are picked in September and processed (one cellar claimed they preferred the traditional foot-stomping method because it doesn't crush the seeds along with the fruit; the other said they only use stomping for sentimental reasons. Who am I to say? Except if I were more investigative, it might have been the perfect opportunity to find out for myself, since they had JUST finished picking at the beginning of this month). After crushing, they are only fermented a day to a few days, and then they are housed for a year or two before they are trucked down to Porto to the appropriate producers where the wine spends many years aging in oak barrels or 40,000-liter (!) vats. They call the cellars "caves" which is sort of accurate, though they appeared to be actually damp, dark, stone warehouses. Built into the side of hills. Oh, and I did see a bat in the one. (So  OK, caves.)

Anyway, the caves were earlier in the week. Back to the tourist boat from yesterday. 

We started in thick fog, with six or so other participants in the tourist company we were using, and a 75-member party of Portuguese taking the same boat, some who knew each other, many of them boisterous. Dan suspects it was a wedding party, but I didn't see any hallmarks of wedding, only large-group tour. Anyhow, they sang along with some of the traditional songs piped over the speakers, and were very jolly. I would have enjoyed having a bit of the language, but the few times I said something in English to someone, they tended to give a friendly smile and reply in Portuguese. 

We chatted with a British couple, but mostly each did the social introvert thing and sat quietly looking at the world.  From the top deck, watching the coastline speed along at close to 20kph was fun. There were a few very pretty towns and vineyards we passed. For me another high point was passing through two locks, one raising the boat over 35 meters, which turns out to be the highest lock in Europe. 

From the arrival at Regula town at around 5pm, we spent 45 minutes in a regional wine museum, which was interesting enough for the local growing history; and had a port sample, and then walked with our tour agent to the train station for the two-hour trip back to Porto. There wasn't really a plan for dinner. The train station had a cafeteria, where dan got a ham sandwich (contents: a bun; a few slices of ham). The tour agent (OK, technically "guide" since she did tell us to follow her; just not really why or where to) bought us tickets and made sure we knew what to do when we got off the train.

The train had the grungiest smelliest seats of any train I've been on. Here's a thought- if your paper head-rests are YELLOW you should probably change them! Oy.

But we made it home, and today had a morning to wander around a bit and then head to the airport. The good: dan discovered a food-market near the old stock-market building, and we then discovered a restaurant above the market that was really tasty, and the scenery was nice too. A pleasant finish to the trip. And then we caught a cab to the airport.

The bad: our flight is delayed three hours, which means we arrive at 9:30pm, aka 2:30am body-time. But  there are worse  airports to be stuck in, for certain- I've found  a quiet corner to write this and and I'll use 30 minutes  of free boingo wifi to post this and catch up on mail. 

Samples of port tried: 14. Ones that I liked: about 2/3. Ones that I *really* liked: 3 or 4, including a 20-year-old tawny from Taylor, and a 10-year-old white port that we're bringing home with us. Ways I don't like port: as port-and-tonic, and part of sangria.

We are both feeling rather travel-worn, and looking forward to our own bed and seeing Rover in the morning. But I'm glad I came on this trip, even if one visit to Portugal turns out to be the right number. And hey, my brain may end up merging the Porto transit system and rabbit-warren buildings into my standard "lost in the New York City transit-system" dreams... 

See you on the flip-side!

(no subject)

Sunday, 14 October 2012 11:50 am

So, Porto is a funny city. It's more ramshackle by far than I expected; sort of faded glory, architecturally. Presumably this is partly due to the UNESCO heritage requirements: if a building's roof falls in, it must be rebuilt to historic style, and all the construction work I've seen here looks fairly labour-intensive (all brick and cobblestone).There are a huge number of seemingly abandoned apartment buildings in the 3-6 story range, sort of chock-a-block amidst everything visible from the many high vantage points.

I'm not as fond of the omnipresent ceramic tiles as many people apparently are- and the old-church styles are less architecturally interesting to me than elsewhere in Europe (though I've not yet been to Spain to compare). The tourist sites are somewhat meh- with exceptions. The stock exchange building was amazing- photos and more details to follow, hopefully. The port caves were spiff. As was the port itself.

It's hilly. The tourist areas are amazingly steep; it's unremarkable near our hotel to enter a building, go up two flights of stairs or escalators, and exit on a ground floor. If there were more whole-block buildings one could imagine the same for five or more floors. I have photos of some regions that are charmingly densely packed- looking from one intersection, there is a tunnel through the hill in front of you, with rock face topped with either four floors of housing or an ancient town wall / barricade, topped with the main city cathedral (beyond a setback). Out of sight next to the cathedral there's a two-level bridge across the Duoro river, some 50 meters between the top level and the bottom. Just off to the side by the tunnel is an alley which was not easy to find- but it led us to Kyodu, an amazingly good sushi restaurant we ate at.

Streets connect plazas, at all sorts of angles, often with at least five coming out of an intersection; and often what you think is a blind alley turns out to be the one road that gets you where you want in a straight(ish) line. And other times they are blind alleys. And a few of the named streets I've found are stair-cases.

The first few days of being a tourist involved getting quite lost. In this modern world, I was able to fix that with an app on my phone of walking tours. $5 well spent. Also, I bought two days on a hop-on hop-off tour bus, which helped get me a lay of the land. And got me out to see "Castle Queso": Cheese Castle, to the west of the city centre, built like half a round of cheese (to protect merchants from brigands in the 18th century).

Off to lunch and then the airport. To be continued..

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The Azores

Tuesday, 9 October 2012 12:39 pm

So, as I mentioned, going to Portugal was just as cheap including a stopover in the Azores, so we did that last Thursday through Sunday before dan's conference in Porto this week.

Recommended vacation? Yes! It's the most tropical place I've visited, though it's only in the subtropics. It's amazingly green and alive. Nearly every rock face on the island is covered with moss, and most of them are then covered with grass or something flowering. The island we were on, São Miguel, has about 140,000 residents (half the population of the 9 islands) and it's been lived on continually since the 1400s. Stone construction is common; just about all the wood we saw was in some stage of mossiness and I can't imagine wood structures last long.

From the airplane, you can see these green tall fences that look like shrubbery, and that's what they are- to keep larger animals in or out, including people. There are a lot of farms on São Miguel- besides tourism, the economy runs on fishing, dairy, and livestock exports to the mainland. Driving around the island for three days, we were stopped a few times by cattle being driven down the road, just enough times that it was still charming; especially when one driver tried to pass around them in the other lane and was promptly stopped by a few strategic cattle (I suddenly imagine a Critical Cattle demonstration, mooing "whose streets? our streets!")

Renting a car was the right idea. There were tour-busses, but dan was happy to drive us all over, and the roads are usually well-signed (except they really need a few more "steep road" signs, maybe including one or two "don't even try it"). The island is 65km by 15km, and we were able to tour most of the bigger towns and attractions in three days. It would have been even nicer if we'd had Thursday to tour as well, but Hurricane Nadine would have made things difficult for us even if we had landed, so three days of visit is all we got.

There is a new superhighway from Ponta Delgada in the south-west to Nordeste in the north-east. It means a traveler could make a day-trip out of visiting all of the towns along the north coast, returning on the highway instead of having to turn back just halfway. We took the winding and twisty roads along the coast, which had so many gorgeous views (more dramatic than Cape Breton- don't take away my citizenship for saying that, Canada!) After making it to Nordeste, and an ill-conceived attempt to view a lighthouse down a steep road, we headed back to Ponta Delgada for the night.

There are beautiful (and free) attractions all over the island, that are kept in remarkably good condition given the amount of work it must take to trim back all the aggressive greenery. My favourite visit was to a roadside waterfall and park called "Ribiera dos Caldeirões" near Achada in the north, with lots of beautiful flowers, old water-mills and many levels of stone aqueduct.

There was also Furnas, a town centered around hot springs and bubbling pipes coming out of the earth. DId I mention the Azores are situated on volcanic mountains? They are at the union of three continental plates, which are moving outward very slowly. It's amazing that the only net effect on the surface today is a few hot springs; apparently in the 1800s somebody discovered a brand new island, which he claimed for England; only to have the next explorer report that it had disappeared underwater again. Fun. Anyhow, Furnas had outdoor hot springs which were awesome, and there were claims of three indoor springs to go and bathe in, only two of them were closed and the third one was empty and creepy, so we didn't bathe in it.

And there was a neat little hike at Calderia Velha, around the middle of the island where a waterfall and hot-springs-warmed water coincided in a pool. Again didn't swim, but it was a nice hike.

We spent a morning driving to the west corner of the island, up Pico da Cruz, only the weather was foggy enough that we could see nothing but white mist. We descended into Sete Cidades, a town centered on three lakes (gorgeous views from above- or so we're told) and then had a lot of twisty roads back along the coast.

The city of Ponta Delgada would have perhaps been more interesting if we had been there on a different set of days: Friday was a regional holiday, and many shops are closed on weekends, so we mostly only visited restaurants. There were a few museums that weren't open. We went to a pineapple greenhouse, which was a "must see", but touring dozens of nearly identical greenhouses wasn't so exciting. There was pineapple liqueur, though. Oh! And Sunday afternoon, I came across a 4x4 truck rally, which was really great for people-watching.

There were also requisite visits to cafes, where we had some tasty sweets though I fear I didn't do nearly enough lounging in traditional Portuguese style. But I tried. I think will try for more lounging in Porto, where we are from Monday through Sunday.

I hope to post photos once I've done some processing, which may happen after I am home again.

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round and round

Monday, 17 September 2012 12:03 am
Bike log: my odometer just rolled over another 1,000 km. [1]

[livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball came home from Slovenia on Friday just in time for the condo to open the roof-top common area, so we had an impromptu party with a few neighbours. [2]

Saturday included a "Doors Open" visit to a local Mennonite church for a talk on the history of pacifists in the traditional peace churches in Ontario during the War of 1812.

I considered and skipped a number of other interesting Doors Open venues, leading to one major theme for the weekend: being choosy with my time, versus too many exciting possibilities for one weekend.

We went to a house-warming across the hallway, at which we heard some nearly unbelievable stories from another neighbour, which I expect I'll write about sooner or later.

I skipped a Local Foods tasting-event in the afternoon, and a "Raspberry Jam" demo event for Linux computers the size of credit-cards. I also skipped an arts gallery opening related to Nicola Tesla sculpture, and the DJ Darude at a local club. Instead, d. and I went out for sushi dinner. :)

Today: Quaker Meeting, and afterward I skipped a street-fair in favour of a nap and housework. Dinner with friends, which we cut short because d. is still quite jetlagged. I, on the other hand, am a few time-zones off; I should be sleepy now but I'm not.

[1] I've only gone 600km so far this year, but this included 3 weeks commuting from Elora by car, plus a 3 week chunk last month when my back was too sore to ride. This is likely to be a low year for cycling- possibly the first since I started paying attention that I will go fewer than 1,000km.

[2] The roof amenities are really not bad: an indoor party space, gym, sauna, and patio, which until this weekend was locked. The patio is better than I expected- it looks more like the glossy renderings in the advertising than it has any reason to. There are a couple of gas grills, and tables and seating for about 30 people outside. Also, nifty planters with many of the house-plants we have (I hope the Juniper shrubs are winter-tolerant) and city views of lots of greenery. Yes, we ought to have a house-warming, which will probably happen in October!...
It's true- the condo is technically a rental from the builders until around December; and the house sale became final as of today.

We've been ready for the house to sell for 4 months- and since it got repainted in beiges last month, it hasn't even felt to me like the home we had lived in for eleven years. It's a good time to move on.

The sale was supposed to become final next Wednesdy, except last Thursday our realtor emailed to say the buyers have requested closing a week early.

...Um, OK maybe, because this was 4:30pm, and [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball was to leave in 90 minutes for Slovenia.

Our lawyer indicated the change was likely possible, so we prepped a few things in lieu of d. being present at the paperwork-signing before we popped off to the airport. On Friday I spent a few hours finding documents the lawyer needed such as the survey, deed from our purchase and so on; and signing the revised papers with our agent. (And I will note that I'm quite pleased that our city has a single-phonecall service to handle starting/closing accounts with all of the municipally owned water and gas utilities, tax rolls, and rental hot-water heater. That call plus one to the power company was sum total of required calls to change the closing date).

In the evening I went to clean out the shed and attic, which the buyers had realized still had junk in them. Junk that mostly belonged to the prior owners. Ugh.

Part of this story is that a few weeks ago I had decided I was going to treat this weekend as a personal retreat- centered around a massage on Saturday. So I had a fair bit of grumpiness about upending the retreat in favour of mortgage paperwork and cleaning out junk I didn't realize we had to deal with. Friday after work, I went to the house and began hauling junk- meditatively. Believe it or not, it worked- I wasn't grumpy at the buyers, or us for not cleaning it previously, or the previous owners; the retreat now just had a physical labour component.

Would you believe that worked? I scarcely did. It kept me going till 9pm, at least, which is when I finished the worst of it, leaving the rest to handle on trash night.

And lest you think [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball was merely lounging around in Slovenian castles, by 4pm he had electronically signed and emailed back the legal documents fulfilling his part of the paperwork, which meant I just had to go into the lawyer's office Monday morning with some paperwork, and everything would be finished, save accepting a scary big sum into our bank account, which is now shifted over to a 1.8% savings account.

I'm still a bit impressed that it all came together.

And now my keychain is one key lighter, and we no longer own a lawn-mower.

rain

Tuesday, 4 September 2012 07:56 pm
There was quite a downpour this morning. I was hanging out with my parents at their hotel just as they were on their way back home; I stuck around a bit longer so I wouldn't be caught in the worst of it getting back to the car. It turned out to be a very warm rain, but also a lot of water.

Things I then saw on my way to work:

- ducks swimming on the shoulder of the road
- a toddler joyfully stomping in puddles in a front yard
- a pair of middle-aged women driving a scooter in the bike-lane with raincoats billowing. The one in the front looked like she was soaked to the bone and had an ear-to-ear grin.

Controlled chaos

Wednesday, 29 August 2012 10:01 pm
My world seems to ebb and flow with varying amounts of chaos. Sometimes, it's a bit much.

I wish I'd taken a photo; my study was a disaster area. Last night I was due to be on a conference-call on queer Quaker outreach. So I started prepping 10 minutes before the call was to start- lots of time to re-read the agenda, call up my notes, find my headphones... We'd used the same conference calling number a bunch of times, but somehow I mis-remembered it was a toll-free number. Nope, it's a regular US number. Oh right, I had bought a calling card to deal with that, last fall when I was last on these conference calls. ...Oops, this was going to be a problem.

1) My cellphone's long distance to the US is something like $0.45/min, so that was a non-starter. 2) I tried both of my cheap calling cards, and they had expired or ran out of money, probably in May. 3) I tried skype; but my account had JUST been marked 'inactive' due to no calls in 180 days. It took me a few minutes to figure that out, but they sent me an email last week telling me to log in before yesterday. Oops. Now it was time for the conference call to start. 4) Could I find the parts for my VoIP system, which is only 1 cent a minute? Yes, I can! I plugged in my VoIP box, stringing wires in a mess, dragged out the speaker phone from the closet (which was nicely put away under a pile of other stuff, a pile which became strewn all over the floor), found a phone cord (another mess in the closet), got everything hooked up, and dialed in, only a couple minutes late. ...The call was useful and good, but I was sort of distracted by the bomb that had gone off in my study! So I'm not sure what I learned from this experience. I really like the look of my desk without a phone on it, and I'm glad we got rid of the land-line. I did reactivate my skype account, which would have worked without any wires. And I'm glad I have a backup backup backup plan.

--

We have met all of the conditions for the house sale! The inspection found a leak in the main-floor bathroom, so we knocked $500 off the price rather than needing to deal with plumber / re-inspection / etc. possibilities. They are doing a title search and the house is to close September 19th! (Or earlier, if they decide they want to). I'm still sort of numb that it's finally wrapping up. Yay! But now our line of credit (on the house) goes away, and we immediately had to figure out where we were going to stash the large pile of money until the condo registers in December. (The answer? Canadian Tire Bank. Yes really. 1.8% interest savings account, and the interest is not paid in Canadian Tire Money.)

--

My parents are coming in 4 days. We discussed this option last weekend, decided it wasn't practical for them to rush to get here on the September long weekend, that we'd find another time we're all free... and then yesterday they decided hey, why not do it while they know we're all free, especially if they offset their visit a day to give us a bit of breathing room after our stressful weeks. So they're arriving Sunday and leaving Tuesday! I'm excited to show them the new place, and I'm glad this is working out, since I think we all had a premonition they wouldn't otherwise make it here until 2013.

--

We are starting to have neighbours on our floor. Last night dan brought by a couple, half of whom is living down the hall. They felt a bit like they were out of a soap-opera, and not in a bad way really, just a bit much. Don't get me wrong; I am very happy at the mix of people we've met in the building- young, old, gay couples, straight couples, singles, dog-owners... I agree with dan. This was the right choice.

Just so long as we don't end up as extras in someone else's soap opera.
Last night Dan was going to make Iles Flottantes, which sounded tasty and decadent, but the eggs wouldn't separate, which meant he was either going to waste a bunch of eggs, or change plans. So he made pound cake, which is indeed quite tasty.

I woke up this morning hearing Monty Python-esque voices saying "Iles Flottantes", or in English, "Floating Eels..." Sadly, that's all of the skit that came to my waking mind. But someone else should run with it, shouldn't they?

--

This weekend has been a bit of a crapshoot. I have had a terrible backache, which has gotten better and worse in turns, but today I didn't need Tylenol with codeine, just regular Tylenol and Advil, which is an improvement.

This weekend I've gotten lots of walking in, just around downtown. I saw a twitter post yesterday that amused and amazed me: there are still apparently a bunch of people in town who are terrified of Downtown as being scary and crime-ridden. Perhaps 15 years ago it was? But I'm certain it's much less worrying than, say, Ball Square or other Boston-area neighbo(u)rhoods. A friend made a comment to the effect that such people form a distinct set of folks she is displeased to run into, in the OTHER (ritzier) end of town. And there is some truth to that for me too.

...I'd say eat the rich, but I'm not really into capitalism cannibalism.

--

We have an offer on our house! The inspection is tomorrow morning, after which we'll hear if they have any problems. The realtors had a showing today "just in case" and there was a lot of interest, if Party the First falls through. Getting this close-to-finished is such a load off my mind. And for Dan, too. There's a difference between knowing in theory that it will sell, and actually having it finally happen.

--

I've been trying to not think about work at home, but failed yesterday, when I decided I would just email the author of some code I'm using. His reply was both immediate and very useful, and at the same time I realized I: 1) had a bug in my alteration to his code and 2) knew the fix could be tested in about ten minutes. ...So I did that. And it worked!

So then I had to tell him I fixed the deficiency he had told me he'd never gotten around to fixing (but wanted to fix). And since he had a github account to share his code, and *I* have a github account I've never used, it made the most sense to figure out how to share it with him publicly, with all the public open-source accountability.

I expect you can see where this went (and so could I, even while I was doing it).

It took me about an hour to figure out the next part, since I've never actually used git before. But the end product looks pretty awesome to me, because something like 3 lines of code (and 1 line of documentation) means I don't have to spend at least a day writing a workaround for the (nonexistent) deficiency in the underlying system API.

Or, said another way, I made it so I can programmatically rename hosts in the campus DNS system, instead of having to delete the old host and re-creating all of its information in a new record.

--

So yah. Life is pretty good, and will be even better next week when the provisional house sale becomes final!

How's by you?
I just learned the Yiddish word beschert- "meant to be for some purpose."

It's used for happy occasions like finding the love of one's life, or chance encounters that change your life; and also for twists of fate.

It seems a useful concept in the way the article spelled it out. I was describing it to somebody recently but I got the definition incomplete in way that seems instructive to me. I said it was "meant to be," which the author somehow gave different nuance than "preordained or destined" but I couldn't remember how he made that argument.

The closing paragraph from the article by Rabbi Staub (in Friends Journal) made it clear for me again: "Meant to be for some purpose"— "the meaning isn't in the event itself, but in what we do when the event occurs. There are always opportunities— invitations— to react one way or another.

The meaning that I attribute to any circumstance, when I am able to do so at all, is not in the event itself, but how I respond when it ricochets out of my control."


I like that.

The shorter form "Meant to be" sounds like the heights of hubris; close to claiming to understand a Divine plan for the universe. It also sounds like predestination, which I find fatalistic and not useful.

In contrast, if I say it was "meant to be for some purpose" I am first not claiming to know what that purpose is; though I may spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. I am opening myself to additional clarification, changing it from something the Divine has done, into something the Divine might be asking me to do in response.

Online dictionaries say "beschert is beschert" is the analog to que sera sera— especially the connotations of finding one's soulmate. One's beschert is the one God intended for you to fall in love with.

Thing is, you also have some say in the matter; you can NOT fall in love and not spend your life with them, or maybe it takes some time for things to fall into place.

...Yiddish being Yiddish, there's a fair bit of contradiction built into the word, and perhaps most people just use it to mean "predestined" without the personal implications of responsibility. And maybe that argument is beschert!

Hi!

Friday, 27 July 2012 10:46 pm
*tap* *tap* Izzis thing on? *blows cobwebs*

I've missed writing here, but I haven't felt like I had time, and then when I had time, I didn't have energy. And when I had energy, I was more concerned with the living of the life, than the recording.

But I feel like the me-of-years-from-now would prefer I come back to writing, at least occasionally. ...And if there are any other readers left out there, I'm very happy to have you here too.

I don't know if this happens to anybody else, but I still write journal posts in my head; I just never record them. Which feels silly. Especially since sometimes I come up with really awesome titles.
Acting Up Stage Toronto had a recent run of "Caroline, or Change," written by Tony Kushner. The Globe and Mail gave it 4 stars and a number of blurbs said it's the best theater of the last year. Last year New York Magazine called it one of the "greatest musicals of all time", the only so chosen of the 21st century to appear on every panelists' short list.

So, hm. I wish I thought it was that good.

The story follows a young boy (modeled on Kushner) who lives in Lousiana in 1963. His Jewish family employs an African-American maid, Caroline. The title refers to all sorts of change: the coins in the boy's pocket (which cause drama as his step-mother decides Caroline should keep them rather than give them back to the boy), the political seismic shifts washing across the United States (including the Southern Freedom marches, the assassination of JFK, and the Vietnam War), the changes in social status of Caroline's high-school friend Rose, and against all of these, how Caroline feels the same as ever.

It is a powerful show; and there are notes of genius- the music is beautiful; the players are spot-on (except for one thing I'll note below); the magic of playing the Washing Machine, Radio, and Dryer as soul-singers is wonderful; and the Moon, played by a woman in a diva-like hat, occasionally gave me shivers.

In the end, the biggest problem I had was that it feels exactly like there's only one three-dimensional character, the boy Noah (who grows up to be the playwright). I think with a bit of tweaking to the book, this could be the amazing show for me that other people seemed to find it.

I think the ONLY fault in the production was sort of funny: a song about the moon talks about how her light shone, and the song rhymes shone with alone; but the Canadian pronunciation of "shone" is the same as the name "Shawn", and sure enough that's how it was sung. Um, yeah.

But anyway, it reminds me how difficult it is to change, especially when not changing has lots of comfortable attractions.
Last night, Laurie Anderson gave a concert at the Perimeter Institute. Much to my surprise, I was able to go [1] and so I offer this brief review.

I guess the atrium of the Perimeter Institute has improved a bit since the first concert I saw there, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, which featured very uncomfortable lawn chairs. This, this concert had real hard-back chairs. Not that I got to sit on one- I had a standing-room ticket, upstairs. Mezzanine. The whole 2nd floor was open, and there were only 40 standing-room tickets, so we each got a fair bit of space to ourselves.

Pluses: Unobstructed view: at the beginning I was standing less than 10 feet from Laurie Anderson. Straight up.
Minuses: We weren't allowed to lean on the glass railing, which I kept forgetting. And the top of a performer's head turns out to not be as exciting as seeing the front of her face. Also, I saw her glance upward once and realized it might actually be disconcerting to have audience perched just over-top of oneself.

So I moved back to 20 feet away, where I stayed for the rest of the show. It wasn't bad, even standing, and there was lots of room for me to sit on the floor, which I did for a while.

The acoustics were fine; possibly slightly less amplified, but that wasn't a problem. Fortunately, I also didn't find there were any annoying echoes in the big space.

The concert was 90 minutes. She started with her signature pitch-bended electric violin (which in the late 70's was a "tape bow violin"- with recorded magnetic tape as the bow, and a magnetic tape head as the bridge; though I don't expect that's still how it works). She alternated between instrumental-only pieces, some which I liked quite a lot, and spoken-word over instrumental and keyboard loops. Some of her spoken-word was pitch-bended into her trademark growling bass voice, which she has called audio drag or "the Voice of Authority." That voice matched her appearance- she was dressed up way butch, with spiky hair, a thin tie and dark suit, though the Voice didn't really say things of much authority- and she had a perfectly commanding presence with her own voice.

Lighting was quite dark: there were mood lights of various primary colours, and candles on the stage. She told stories. Very modern stories, simply told, many of them compelling, though I didn't feel like they hung together as a whole (more on that at the end). This is apparently the start of a new tour, "Another Day in America," which started last week in Calgary, and we were lucky enough to be the second city on the tour. I imagine it will evolve as it goes.

She spoke about the National Defense Authorization Act which Obama just signed on New Years Eve, which allows indefinite detention without trial of American citizens in military prisons. She noted that this piece of law centers on a redefinition of "battleground" to include all of the United States. And what does it mean to choose to bring the battleground to one's home? "We've been waiting a couple hundred years for the enemy to show up, and since they never did, we decided maybe it’s us."

She spoke about how annoyed Darwin had been with peacocks- "what could possibly be fittest about a giant bright blue tail?" and jumps to how the Catholic church has been afraid of science- and what if the Church was most afraid that we'd find many worlds, with other popes? Which pope would be the real pope? Perhaps one with the brightest, bluest tail?

She told about visiting one of the many tent-cities in the US which started during the housing crisis, which collectively have housed thousands of Americans over the last years. I have to say I thought she'd veered to the fictional, but google and wikipedia tell me the camp she visited is exactly as described.

Her beloved rat-terrier Lolabelle died this spring, on Palm Sunday; she told how the Tibetian Book of the Dead says when a living being dies, it will spend 49 days in a place called the Bardo, before it is reincarnated. And Lolabelle died 49 days before Anderson's birthday. She goes on to say that when Lolabelle went blind a few years ago, Anderson began teaching her to play the piano, and to paint; and then she shared a dozen of Lolabelle's paintings, and a video of her playing the keyboard (wagging, and barking in joy as she did so).

The last time I saw her, in Ithaca in 2006, she had just spent time as NASA's first (and last) Artist in Residence. She also had stories about Lolabelle, one which has stuck with me, about a walk in the woods when a hawk dive-bombs them and the dog realizes there's 180 degrees of the world she had never imagined could be dangerous- which turns into a parallel story about the US post-9/11. Really sharp stuff.

So, on the whole. I wish this concert had tied together more. I could feel the authority with which she was speaking, and maybe it's up to the listener to pull things together, but the way it was structured, I didn't find myself able to do so during the concert. Perhaps some of that pulling together can happen when I'm in Quaker Meeting this weekend.

I'm quite glad the PI was able to get her here- they have been trying for years. Perhaps she will be back! I would not mind that, no.

[1] So, how I got a ticket. If you are allergic to twitter, you won't want to read this. Just sayin'.

I found out about the concert from someone tweeting about it on Monday. I tweeted an "Aw, how come I just found out about this sold-out show?" After a bit of whinging to friends, I forgot about it. I had a faint hope to show up at the venue and see if there were unclaimed tickets.

But on Wednesday evening, I checked twitter and noticed somebody I didn't know had specifically sent me a message asking if I needed a ticket. I replied, but it had been 6 hours after he had asked, and he had also gotten re-tweeted by the Perimeter when he previously if anybody needed a ticket. ... and yet, somehow, nobody had; all of his friends who would have jumped at the chance lived in Toronto or New York or elsewhere. So Thursday morning, he came to my office and sold me his ticket at-cost! How cool is that?

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