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.
So, yeah. We had a week of vacation. The second half:

Suddenly coming up on a pack of bicyclists on a twisty Vermont road? Slightly scary. Seeing their reaction to a car: scatter in all directions, to both sides, and the middle, including making hand-gestures for us to slow down? Eeek! We were a bit rattled, for a while, and I'm glad for dan's reaction-time while driving. When we later ran into them at a nearby town, I was sorely tempted to get out of the car and have a stern conversation with them. (Dan's comment was something like: "what is this, Critical Farmland?")

Sutton, Quebec is charming. I took a jaunt across the border because I wanted to give the wedding couple a bottle of Sortilege maple whisky, which one cannot easily buy outside Quebec. Hey, we were 30 minutes from the border, and it was a nice day for a drive. And Sutton wowed me. Particularly compared with the tiny towns in northern Vermont, Sutton seemed to be a hopping place. Just between where I parked and the SAQ, I found three cafes and a chocolate shop and museum. Also a pair of realty offices, which put the price-per-square-foot at much closer to, say, Stratford, Ontario than Northern Vermont. I found my Sortilege, and the chocolate croissant I got was very tasty, too. (I got a second bottle, for home, and I expected to pay duty on it, but the US customs guard was confused enough as to how it was that an American was living in Ontario, that he only paid attention that I was giving one of them away as a gift, and he waved me through. Whatevs!

We got much better weather than we probably deserved. It was supposed to rain all three days we were in Vermont, but it only really rained one evening. So we got to leaf-peep as well as hike a portion of the Long Trail (we climbed 1,000 feet; the peak we aimed for was apparently a further 300 feet altitude, but we were pretty pooped after that hour of climbing). Rover was quite helpful at finding our trail, actually- it wasn't well marked, but we used an effective heuristic of "if two of the three of us thought it went one way, we'd go that way".

As commented in my last entry, it turns out we weren't the first people we know to stay at this B&B- in the same bizarre room, no less. They were great hosts; I would go back to the B&B, but I think not back to that room.

Onward to Massachusetts! We realized that our route took us through Hanover NH, and managed to get in touch with our friend Judy, so we got to have lunch with her on Friday, as well as stopping at King Arthur Flour, a baker's paradise in retail form. It was Dartmouth's Homecoming weekend, which Judy didn't know when she suggested we have lunch in town. We used up probably a month's worth of parking karma to find a spot just next to the restaurant we were aiming for. And after a really good time catching up with Judy, we were back on the road.

We got to Essex, MA without any Boston drivers actually doing damage to our vehicle or persons; and in the process of getting dinner at a local seafood shack [1], discovered that the next day was Essex Clam Festival. Darn! We'll miss it due to the wedding we came all this way for! Aha- the Clam Fest was at lunch time, and the wedding wasn't until 3:30.

So, Saturday morning, we and a few other people went back to Essex, and sampled a dozen types of clam chowder for $5. Local beers were $4. We had to try a few chowders more than once. In order to properly determine our favourites. Damn, that was good chowdah. We also got our photos taken with Shucky the Clam, the mascot for The First National Bank of Ipswitch (Slogan: "We Dig Our Customers"). Our bank (TD) was also giving away freebies; Rover now has a TD-branded neckerchief, which is adorable.

So, success all around.

OH YEAH. The wedding! Very well organized; the weather once again cooperated, so they got to be married next to a very photogenic pond. The officiant was the groom's mother; she told stories she hadn't cleared with the wedding couple, and they recited vows they wrote themselves, which were very sweet.

Dinner was fun; one of the themes was plush viruses, because the bride has traveled the world working on water-treatment engineering. We came home with Giardia, which felt apropos.

We also got to meet several really nifty people, friends and family of the bride and groom. Sunday we had a big brunch with everybody and hit the road at 11.

At 12:30, we stopped for a stretch-break and dan realized he had migraine symptoms. So I started driving; and I drove until sundown, when he woke up feeling much better. And at that point I realized I had migraine symptoms, in part from staring directly into the sun. So dan drove the rest of the way. All in all, we were lucky that we got our migraines serially, instead of in parallel; we would have stopped and rested if we needed to, but it's good we didn't have to.

Aside from the migraines, the biggest down-side to the last part of the trip was that Rover picked up some ticks in Vermont, and I just discovered them on her this evening. Now taken care of, but... ick!
...and now she is running and barking in her sleep on the floor of my study.

It is good to be home again.
Two weekends from now is the opening of the Stephen Hawking Centre at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (at right; click for more flickr stream). It will soon house three times as many smart people attempting to turn coffee into theorems which might in 30 years escape into a different form as (currently) indistinguishable from magic. That same weekend may see Stephen Hawking at the public opening, though if I were he, I would find something better to do that weekend.

I, however, am not he, and I am taking a tour. You could also if you're free Sunday the 18th; let me know if you sign up for something around the 3pm slot and we can meet up.

They are also hosting two free public talks on the evening of Saturday the 17th (which I'm waffling on; but there are still apparently tickets still available for both as well.)

---

I have a fairly unplanned Labour Day Weekend, which means it is going to go by in a flash. I'm going to do some cooking, play some games with friendly peeps, go to a potluck, and possibly go for a long bike-ride on Monday if it isn't storming.

Dan is away until next Thursday; he is currently in Luxembourg, which my father tells me officially speaks Luxembourgish (and Wikipedia backs him up).

---

This evening I talked to my folks. They recently had a distant cousin visit from out west. She brings news of the History of the Allens. Apparently, my relatives who settled in Watertown, NY in the mid-1800s came there via Medford, MA, where they lived since the late 1700s, when they emigrated from England (not Scotland, as my father had believed). In the early 1800s the Medford Allens founded a Unitarian church, which subsequently schismed into a competing Unitarian church just across the street. And there is an Allen Homestead in Medford, which this distant cousin had visited. And that's all the detail I got this evening. I hope to extract more from my folks, as it sounds like there's potential for some juicy stories, or at least some amusing coincidences given that I was, y'know, living in Medford for a year. (A year which ended exactly 10 years ago last Monday! Hey, we've lived here for 10 years now. I can barely believe that!)
Pretend I did finish this on Sunday, OK?...

--

It's good to be home.

I just returned from my first visit to Canadian Yearly Meeting, with approximately 150 Quakers from all over our country plus a handful visiting from the US. My week in Windsor Nova Scotia was awesome. I expected to eventually get bored with Business Meetings every day; I expected people to be less engaged in meeting newcomers (versus reconnecting with friends they hadn't seen in a year); I expected the food to be mediocre. Surprise!

I didn't skip a single Business Meeting, nor did I want to. Quaker process is so cool to see in action, even if the action is sometimes slow. I sung (in a chanting workshop) every day (except Wednesday, when I played hookey to go find lobster). The cafeteria was surprisingly good, with plenty of variety and lots of fresh veggies. The worst thing I can say about the place is that they completely failed at mobility accessibility- nearly everything required at least one stair, or flights of stairs; and there were quite a few people using canes. My new friend Claire, who gets around in a wheelchair, was philosophical, in addition to being patient with being wheeled up single steps all over the place. She said given that the school is 220 years old, they were excusable in her book. I can't say I agree. Anyhow, that's not the main purpose of this post.

Which is telling a few stories about just one of the characters I met.

--
"So, Tom, how are you getting home?" We were in the cafeteria, both eating fried fish, which was quite good. [1]

"Well, circuitously." Tom spoke slowly. He's 90 or 91, a skinny stick of a man with a bushy beard, round glasses, and a baseball cap. He lives by himself somewhere north of Lake Superior in a solar-powered house. "I'm going from here to Maine, for the 40th reunion of some students of mine at Friends World College on Long Island. We built canoes from scratch and paddled them around New York City into the Hudson and tried to see how far we could get over water."

"How far did you get?"

"The Bering Strait," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. I cracked up. He said his boat was well-built, and he brought lots of maps. He went up the St. Lawrence, across the Great Lakes, and at Lake Winnipeg he took a detour, spending a few years in Manitoba doing research on water testing and safety.

When he finally got to the Bearing Strait, he spent a while trying to figure out how to cross it, having mapped how he could get to Western Europe through Russia. But this was the middle of the Cold War, and it didn't seem safe, so he stopped at the Bering Strait.

But they got a lot of water-testing research done over the journey. [2]

--

Tom grew up in Princeton, through the Depression. It turns out he lived in the same block as Albert Einstein and Paul Robeson. Einstein was friendly; he always waved from the street as he went by with his huge hair. Robeson came back to give a concert at Princeton University, but the hall master refused to let him sing. So he gave the concert in a church instead, which Tom was fortunate enough to go to. He says he's had a very lucky life.

And here's a photo of Tom, from five years ago.

--

I have more stories that aren't about Tom, but they will wait, as I want to get myself to work!

[1] haddock from Truro, caught 2 hours away.

[2] Google tells me he gave an invited talk to CYM in some previous year.

The weekend that was

Sunday, 3 July 2011 11:24 pm
Hello world! Happy Canada Day!

Happy 4th of July, those who get tomorrow off (and those who wish they got tomorrow off. Whether or not they live in the US...)

I have three music reviews in the queue, which I expected I'd have time to do this weekend.

Instead of writing them, I:

* went away to the cottage of [livejournal.com profile] the_infamous_j, for an afternoon of lazing and not-sailing (which would have been fun, but watching the water from indoors was also fun, and less effort)

* spent about 5 hours playing with Google Sketchup, enough to turn our notional condo layout into a zippy 3D representation thereto.



I will not, however, spend the next six months making ever more detailed models of the condo and our current (and new) furniture. As much fun as that might be. Just watch me not do that. Uh hum.

* watched a fascinating documentary with [livejournal.com profile] catbear, [livejournal.com profile] dawn_guy, and Boy about Henry Darger, who "became famous for his posthumously discovered 15,145-page, single-spaced fantasy manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story." (thanks wikipedia). It was utterly bizarre, and I'm glad we saw it.

* Friday I spent a night away with [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball for Canada Day; at the local inn where we have gone for outrageously tasty food, plus very comfortable accommodations including [livejournal.com profile] roverthedog. Their Canada Day picnic dinner featured grilled trout, beer can vinegar chicken, suasage and lobster gumbo, heirloom tomato salad, pickled veggies, bbq onion rings, morel mac & cheese, and for desert: strawberry shortcake, hemp seed pie, maple crème caramel, s'mores, and something they called "caramelized sea buckthorn tart," though for some reason I have doubts that it contained real buckthorn berries. Because who has actually tasted buckthorn and could vouch for them? Hmmm? (Sorry; side-tracked).

There were fireworks, we had a super 4-km hike with [livejournal.com profile] roverthedog, and in the morning we had a wonderful breakfast: d. had duck confit fritata, and I had french toast, both with the "continental breakfast" which had yogurt and honey smoothie, heaping plates of berries, lox and cream cheese, pastries made with their in-house churned butter, and a really good coffee.

Oh, and the night before, we met this wonderful couple, about our age, who asserted that the honey-butter was actually made of crack, it was that good. (The only down-side to this vacation was that during dinner, back at the room Rover decided she needed to pee, despite having gone right before we left; and the right place to do that was on the feather-bed. Which they apparently discovered when they came to turn down our bed; they left us an apologetic phone-message that they wished they had another feather-bed, but they didn't and hoped we would understand. Eep. And we apologized to them, figured out that over breakfast we could leave Rover in the entry foyer (which had two doors and a comfortable mat to rest on, but not our bed)).

And that was our three-day long weekend, more or less.

State of the da_lj

Wednesday, 1 June 2011 10:58 pm
At the moment I'm:

feeling well-exercised. It turns out to be 13km round-trip from work, up to the local BBQ place, and home again. Dinner was a totally awesome shrimp poboy.

I"m slightly worried about [livejournal.com profile] roverthedog - she got an abscess next to her ear, and the vet gave us a fairly substantial set of drugs to deal with everything, including an ear infection. She's been wearing her Cone of Shame for a few days, though we trimmed it down so it's slightly less awkward. The cut is doing much better now than it was on the weekend, though, so I'm only feeling slightly anxious about how she's doing. She's a trooper, and she seems in good spirits (she even enjoys being pilled. What a cooperative dog!)

Really looking forward to the weekend- [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball and I are off to Ithaca on Friday! Wegmans! And Viva Taqueria! And Quakers! Oh my!

A big regret is that we can't take Rover- we had been planning to, but it makes the most sense to kennel her at the vet's. It would be a tougher decision if 1) they didn't love her as much as they do, and 2) she didn't love staying there as much as SHE does.

I'm starting to feel nervous about the Quaker workshop I'm co-leading next weekend in Toronto. I will spend a bit of prep-time between now and then, and I am sure everything will go fine, and now having done this before, I can answer the question of "why the hell did I think this was a good idea?" - because during, and afterward, it is totally rewarding. It's just the before that's a bit anxiety-inducing. :)

I'm grateful for all of the people who spoke up at the Regional Council meetings these last two days, concerning light rail. If you read this, you know who you are- you rock. And I'm also grateful for the people who've been live-tweeting the council presentations. I am cautiously optimistic, though I think the next few weeks are going to feel more nerve-wracking to me than the federal elections were...

I'm frustrated that I got half-way through a book and it got auto-returned on me. I checked it out online, via the local library; it was good for 14 days and there was a hold on it. (Though really I don't know how many holds there are- so who knows when I can check it out again.) While I did take notes on the parts I had read, I'm not sure how easily I'll be able to reconnect with it whenever I can wrest it back again. ...Ironically given my inability to finish, it is Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, about focusing one's attention on the things that matter to you. More words to come, I hope.

And speaking of Rapt, I was reading it over the unRapt long Weekend, which included celebrating Queen Vicky's birthday, my birthday, very few raptures, [livejournal.com profile] amarylliss visiting us from Toronto, and a few people over to watch Left Behind and Left Below.

And on that note, I think I'm Left for Bed. Night!
I have been in a writing lull over the last month. I've spent a bunch of free time immersed in that game; I've been thinking about work at other free times, solving problems in my head; I've been thinking about Quaker Meeting and making plans for Quaker-related travel; and while dan was away, I had a cold for a week that made me fairly low-brain.

Then, the cold got better two Sundays ago, and I went to Quaker Meeting and felt absolutely wonderful, and spent the afternoon bouncing around, writing journal posts in my head, only to see them disappear when I sat down at the end of the evening, just as the cold symptoms came back again for the night. So, oh well.

But the last two weeks have been pretty good. I went to a Vote Mob [1], voted early in the national election, went to a birthday party, a pub dinner with programmer friends, and we had friends over for tea and cookies. I think I finally kicked the cold, despite some very rainy and windy weather. And I finished what I needed to do at work, for the start of the new term on Monday, despite a fairly impressive set of potential problems with infrastructure upgrades which have largely been ameliorated. And that is all I will say about work.

Last Wednesday was the start of Open Ears music festival, which is more low-oomph than prior years. It's held every other year, and it's how dan and I have seen Pamela Z, Negativland and Patricia O'Callighan, and DJ Spooky, among other highlights. I hope they can get their act together for 2013; Open Ears has been one of the great things about living around here.

This time the only out-of-town performers I was really excited about was the Princeton Laptop Orchestra; and their concert didn't really do it for me.

So far, the best pieces were by Penderecki String Quartet (with DJ P Love). The Quartet are always excellent, even if I don't like what they play. This time they played Different Trains by Steve Reich, and it totally blew the recording away. The mix was different; you heard less of the recorded voices, and a much more lively violin-against-steam-whistle that just sounded awesome. They also played a piece composed during the CBC Strike (of 2005?) by Nicole Lizee, called "this will not be televised", which at one point, sampled the most famous riff from the middle of Duran Duran/"Rio", and cracked dan and me up.

Last night I saw Tanya Tagaq Trio, who are made up of a percussionist, a violinist, and Tanya Taqaq, an Inuit throat singer. This is not easily described. I'm glad I went. She has toured with Bjork, and I can see the mutual attractions. Many of the sounds she made were ones I didn't know the human body could safely produce. They closed with a set of traditional Inuit throat-singing, between Tanya and a female cousin, which was amazingly intimate and sort of kind of like this, though dialed up in intensity quite a bit.

There are two remaining concerts I'm interested in: Blue Dot tonight, and Da Capo tomorrow afternoon. However, we have our friend Lee-Ellen visiting from Ithaca, and I'd rather see her than the concerts!

[1] Vote mob: if you're outside Canuckistan you've probably not heard the term. And fellow Canadians are probably sick and tired of hearing it. In short: a month ago and at a school not very far from here, students decided to Stick it to The Man via YouTube, to counter the claim that "young people don't vote," and there have now been a few dozen youtube-video-driven events along the lines of Flash Mobs, though none I've seen have had amazing music or amazing dancing or amazing anything. Just lots of energy. Being part of the local campus one was... um, sort of silly. But I got to run through mud puddles, which turned out to be fun.
Friday evening, I popped down to Toronto for a cabaret/theatre/concert production of Spin by Evalyn Perry. I wasn't sure what to expect; I knew it involved spoken word, singing, and music played upon a bicycle. I was nudged into going by my friend John, who came all the way from Minneapolis for this show. I know Evalyn from Quaker circles; last summer, she was one of the evening plenary presenters at the 1,000-person FGC Gathering. She does a political/musical show that's bitingly clever and often requires more than one listen to pick up all the threads...

In retrospect, I wish this production was extended for another week, so I could nudged more people into going- this afternoon was the last performance (a matinee added at the last minute because it was selling out).

The themes were, broadly, the story of Annie Londonderry, the first woman to bicycle around the world at the very end of the 19th century; the joined history of bicycling and feminism; Evalyn's personal story of being a cyclist and artist; and notes on the City of Toronto's mixed appreciation for bicycles.

I *had* thought that the music-played-upon-a-physical-bicycle would be less effective than it was. Her co-performer, Brad Hart, used drum sticks, his hands, and parts of the bicycle, which was wired for amplification, and attached to a looping device. I spent maybe 5 minutes distractedly studying how it worked- they even tuned different spokes to different pitches- but then I could just let go and listen to the music he was making with Evalyn (and Anna Friz, who did on-stage mixing and singing).

Evalyn produced a CD of the songs in the concert; this morning I drove to Guelph, and I appreciated the irony of driving while listening to a CD all about bicycling.

The Globe and Mail gave it 3 out of 4 stars. And she has a cover article in the weekly Xtra paper, which is a good recap of the show, actually.

So- Thanks Evalyn! And thanks, John, for nudging me to come!
Icky story: Near the beginning of February, some automated system broke into my gmail account and sent spam to a small set of people in my address-book. Which it could do, because my stoopid password was only seven characters and contained a dictionary word. Not good! Fortunately, one of the recipients was my other email account, so I saw it almost immediately, and I was able to log in and immediately change my password. Unfortunately, two recipients were mailing-lists, which was fairly embarrassing. The email was your standard spam, links to some russian pill site.

Story over? I had a new password (MUCH stronger- a full sentence, with punctuation...) and more info about how gmail protects account-owners. NOT QUITE STORY OVER. This Saturday, I got more spam "From" my gmail account. As did some select members of my address book, including the same two mailing lists. A quick check of gmail proved to me that it wasn't actually coming from me; they were merely spoofing it, using an open relay (via a German ISP, sending to hotmail, which accepted the sender).

So, by this point, I set my own email to "moderated" on one mailing list, as did the manager of the other list, and I sent around apologies, and damned if the jokers didn't try to resend more spam to the mailing lists.

And (after submitting the spammer info to spamcop.net), now I wait; either they will keep trying, or try with different parts of my mailing list, or I'll decide to bite the bullet and tell everyone to block mail from 'dada.da at gmail', or I'll just sit here and be embarrassed about getting my account cracked because I wanted a convenient password instead of a nice long password. (Yes, sometimes my purpose in life is to be an object-lesson for others. That's mostly OK, even though I was pretty grumpy about this on the weekend.)

---

Tasty story: My Saturday breakfast was leftover pancakes that [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball made a friend for lunch the day before. Lunch was amazing brioche french-toast made by [livejournal.com profile] thefateyouare. Dinner was chili with ground turkey, made by my sweetie. Sunday breakfast was a bagel made by d. the day before (he's getting quite good at bagels! I will pay close attention with the next batch, because I want to learn these! (Requires being comfortable with using lye! DANGER! But MMMM that crust.)) Sunday afternoon snack was a cannoli from a batch made by [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball and [livejournal.com profile] the_infamous_j. Aaaand dinner was pad thai, also made by d., with a leftover cannoli for desert. All of this made me less grumpy! (thanks guys!)

---

Good things come by courier: My macbook pro has gotten progressively creakier over the last few years. There is a problem with its graphics; this particular graphics card is apparently prone to a data-corruption that somehow corrupts the graphics memory, so I get weird visual artifacts on the screen: horizontal bands of background showing through windows; occasional triangles of warped screen... Weird stuff. I've gotten accustomed to it, though lately it's been getting worse- I can barely open iPhoto without it crashing. At one point I tried resetting everything and reloading my configs, but that didn't help; apparently a complete reinitialization may fix it, but I decided last summer when Apple redid their Macbook Pro that I'd wait until this year to replace it, since the hardware is now 5 years old. And lo, they released their update last week, instead of the anticipated April or May. So, for the first time, I ordered a computer on its first day of sale, and I have a fancy new machine winging its way to me. 5 , no 10 models newer than my early-2006 laptop, according to wikipedia. Same weight, slightly wider screen, 130% pixel-density, a gazillion times faster, and hopefully equipped to last another five years.

---

And some things go by Air Canada: Last weekend (Family Day weekend, here in Canada) was amazing. I was in North Carolina, for the mid-winter Gathering of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns. I don't feel equipped to describe it, other than being happy that I got to hang out with so many awesome people. It was one intensely packed four-day weekend.

I'm a lucky guy, ya know?
I just got a package in the mail, from Cat and Girl. I am now the owner of the original sketch/ink artwork for Birds of America and this makes me really happy.

Meet the Robinsons is a really charming science-fiction movie, sort of a cross between "Up," "Back to the Future," and "The Addams Family." I now have the DVD, and it stands up to a 2nd viewing, which I wasn't sure of since I first saw it on a tiny airplane seat-back screen with crappy headphones. But yeah. Recommended.

I'm busy, and that feels good, and not like burnout.

Yesterday I co-led a visioning session in the Quaker Meeting, and we accomplished a lot in 90 minutes. The theme was the needs of each of us and all of us together; what should we focus our attentions on in the Meeting. The conversation included a number of areas we've needed to talk about more, if we're going to be a strong community. I see this as a very good step. It was draining but also energizing. Ya know?

Today at work, I had three items on my plate I really wanted to get done, and I did. And then I went to the gym, which was a much better use of that 45 minutes than staying at work.

And then dan and I went home for dinner, and dan dropped me off on his way to chorus rehearsal, and I did an evening of Quaker work with 6 people I like a lot. 90 minutes later, I was very much ready to come home again, but not feeling burned out or stressed. Even though I have 9 new things on my to-do list.
Today was a pretty great day, weather notwithstanding.  (Seriously: cold snap in Florida. We got here on the 24th; It dropped 20 degrees F on Christmas day. It's going up 20 degrees tomorrow, just in time for us to leave.)

We spent three nights in Tom's very comfy guest-house in Tampa, hung out with him and had some really great food [1] and drink [2] and basically had a laid-back Christmas.

Yesterday, he drove us down to Sarasota, to our beach-front hotel, where we're spending two nights.  Two gorgeous sunsets in a row. Wonderful white sand beach. Mid-40s temperature. 

No kidding, it's going to be upper 70s Thursday and Friday. OK, I'm done complaining about the weather. (Except that: dan notes that the nightly lows aren't really different from home right now. Sigh. OK, now I'm really done).

Today we had breakfast at a Cafe recommended by Tom, packed with locals as well as tourists; I watched the  waitress flirting with a regular as I tried to finish my home-fries. Then we caught a bus downtown to Sarasota; and decided to press onward to the  Barnum and Bailey Museum, which was well recommended.  

Sarasota used to be the wintering grounds for the Barnums, on a 28-acre homestead. Huge museum. There's a building just for the 1:30 scale model circus (covering some 2,000 square feet); also a building for life-size ephemera including Barnum's custom Pullman railcar (very pretty), and a truck/cannon for a Human Cannonball act; which might be the coolest thing we saw. There was the Barnum museum, which includes some great Renaissance works, and also a sculpture-garden with a replica bronze David (which just looked out of place).  There were gardens with some great Banyan trees; There was also Barnum's house, which was so overwhelmingly big we didn't even go into it.

Back to the hotel for naps and relaxing; dinner was in Sarasota at a surprisingly cheap and tasty tex-mex restaurant. Then we wandered and got desert at a busy bar/cafe, where dan had a tart and I got a chocolate/nut meringue that made me happy.

Just now we took a taxi from downtown Sarasota back to Lido Key. The driver sounded like your basic laid-back Floridian; he was chilling with Voyage of the Dawn Treader when we showed up, and told us the story of how he inherited his ex's copy of the Narnia series and Bun-Bun the Rabbit. 

Tomorrow, we have until mid-afternoon before we have to catch our flight from Sarasota airport. I'm curious how tiny this airport will be... and I'm looking forward to the rest of my vacation, at home, through the next week...

This, my friends, does not suck.

[1] Food: SideBerns restaurant; 7-course tasting menu. Yum. Details to follow, I hope, when I get around to looking at my photo of the menu.  Favorite course: the deconstructed Creme Brûlée, based around a cold creamy layer that definitely wasn't ice-cream, and definitely wasn't Creme Brûlée.  Also: dan cooked us a whole chicken and cranberry sauce and Tom grilled asparagus. Also: tapas at a local Spanish restaurant, which was just a little too much heavy stuff, but we persevered!

[2] Drink: this was a good holiday to not be driving.  Cocktails and wine-pairings at SideBerns, followed by a chaser of Pine Liquour, tasting amazingly like a Christmas tree in a glass... We had egg-nog and wine at his place for Christmas day dinner; then a big pitcher of sangria at the tapas place. We've kept the drinking more low-key in Sarasota. :)
[livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball, on reporting that Tampa is under windchill warning because it will feel like 35ºF, says he thinks this is cute.

I say, what is *really* cute, is all the workers I imagine out there rushing to put Snuggies™ on the fruit trees.

On reflection, wouldn't that make an amazing Christo-like art piece? A field of trees, each with a leopard- or zebra-patterned Snuggie™ flapping in the breeze?

Googling the subject tells me of course the Japanese already thought of it, at least with straw wraps and windblocks.

One of the photos on that page, the entirely wrapped trees, look suspiciously like some of the Chihuly sculptures that dan, Tom, and I saw this afternoon in St. Pete.

On an airplane

Saturday, 25 December 2010 06:50 pm
December 24, 2pm: Somewhere over northern Florida-

dan and I on our way for three days in Tampa with our friend Tom, then two in Sarasota. As usual, the University is closed between Christmas and New Years, so we're taking the time for vacation. Somewhere warm(ish): Tampa temperatures are mid-teens Celsius (60ish F) for the next few days, but it's due to go down to freezing overnight on Saturday through Wednesday. Ah well; It will be warmish.

I just watched an episode from Treme, season one, which I've been hoping to check out for a while. It's gritty and depressing, and makes me want to visit New Orleans. Some other vacation.

It's been a while since I've had energy for writing. I might say I've been too busy living life, to record it; or I might say I've felt too boring to write. It sort of feels like both.

I'm curious if this week will find me less busy and/or less boring-feeling.
Or, Columbus Day, or both, if you prefer!

Today we took on the challenge of the Butter Tart Trail, through Arthur, Mt. Forest, and Damascus, Ontario. We didn't have a designated driver, but did practice safe sampling, not too many tarts at each location.

We met up with [livejournal.com profile] amarylliss in Guelph, which is under a metric buttload of construction (detour D-twelve?!), enough backtracking to get downtown that we were fairly grumpy at their not communicating if there even were an alternate route to the centre of town. And then saw a detour sign which they didn't even bother labeling with the detour number. "D minus." Yeah, that's Guelph in a nutshell right now...

The plan was to hit the two stops on the Butter Tart Trail we knew were open on Thanksgiving Monday, and see what else we found on a long weekend drive. Success!

Fergus had practically nothing open, being Thanksgiving Monday. But Tara got some bouldering in on a cliff at the waterfront. And Rover got her first swim of the day.

In Arthur, River's Edge Goat Dairy was open to our surprise, and we had our first butter tarts with goat's milk in them. And they sold us some amazingly good chevre. The goats posed for photos, though they didn't want to be in the same shot as [livejournal.com profile] roverthedog.

Kenilworth Country Kitchen, in Kenilworth, had half a dozen types of tart. We had lunch in their restaurant, cheap tasty eats (their breakfast special had slabs of home-made bread and thick slices of turkey sausage. Mmmm.) And as we ate a Butter Tart Sundae, our waitress told us about moving to the middle of nowhere from Toronto a few decades ago for her daughter's sake, and being a criminologist for the RCMP as her main job. She called Kenilworth "Never-Never Land", which having lived in a tiny town, I can identify with. Dan got peach pie instead of trying a different flavour of butter tart, which was also quite tasty.

We stopped in Mt. Forest for their waterfront park, which gave us all a chance to walk off a bit of lunch. Rover had a chance to swim and wag at Ducky Friends, and Tara took the chance to climb a tree.

In Conn, we picked up a pack of Walnut Butter Tarts at a country market. And in Damascus, we stopped at the Damascus Emporium, which had such a jumble of junk masquerading as a rummage sale that we didn't feel like actually going inside, despite writeup in the Trail guide as having "Old Fashioned Charm."

We did not have a conversion experience either on the roads to, or from, Damascus, even as we unwrapped the Walnut Butter Tarts. Mostly we looked at the leaves and did the road-trip thing. Perhaps we would have had an epiphany had we been walking.

But we all agreed the trip was a success, and I'm so glad to have friends to go with on this sort of thing. Because that would have been a lot of butter tarts to eat all by myself.
I went to a potluck on Sunday that was hosted by a variety of grassroots organizations: a Local Foods vendor, barter group, and the local car-share. I happen to be members of none of these, but [livejournal.com profile] nobodyhere was.

I had more fun than I expected to. I ran into friends I don't see much ([livejournal.com profile] pnijjar ) as well as a coworker and his spouse, who I enjoyed talking with; and also someone who used to come to Quaker Meeting and was wondering about whether she should come with her 2.5-year-old (yes!)

Also, [livejournal.com profile] nobodyhere and I brought our dogs; and many outdoor events are better with dogs.

The potluck pot was surprisingly lucky. Among 50 or so participants, I brought the only fruit salad; there were lots singleton main courses, finger foods, and deserts, and all but one dish I tasted was yummy (the non-tasty one was some sort of cheese pie that tasted old). Someone made skor bars. I should try that some time.

Later on Sunday, I finished my Canadian passport application, which included figuring out when I had met my two references. The last five years have been good for me socially.

Tonight, I watched [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball give a 30-minute talk to high-school students; he did an excellent job connecting with them and giving them a positive model for an academic path.

My bike odometer rolled over another 1,000km on my commute home from work. Just before some sort of stinging insect made impact with my nose. Which is still swollen, but by now it doesn't hurt as long as I don't poke at it.

Happy Weekend, fooks

Friday, 4 June 2010 10:16 pm
Tomorrow is the local Pride Festival, which for me mostly means sitting in a park with friends and watching the world go past. It's a low-key Pride, which suits. Also, I'm going for my 5th Pilates exercise class (which seems fairly clear is doing good things for my back and shoulder and likely my overall body-tone).

Sunday is the local Quaker Meeting's summer picnic and outdoor Meeting for Worship, which I expect will be fun. I missed the one last year, despite being responsible for reserving the picnic area in Guelph. This year, in advance, [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball and I went for a walk/hike with [livejournal.com profile] roverthedog and we all gave Riverside Park thumbs-up and/or wags.

This week has gone by quickly. It was "Commuter Challenge Week" which meant Monday there was a free breakfast for cyclists (wearing helmets) in the Uptown Plaza, which surprised me for not being lacklustre (after the poor advertising they didn't do). There were TV cameras but I didn't bother finding out if I was on TV. Tuesday I blew my green cred out of the water by driving to the airport to pick up a friend. Overall, I racked up 42km in 4 days on bike, which felt good.

Ideas for today:
- I heard (from someone who does not assert this is definitely true) that young chickens might be more capable of flight than adult chickens, before they gain their full body weight. I want to see a fable about a chicken who remembers the joy of flying, who's handy with tools (yeah) and builds a chicken trebuchet. (thank you for this idea, [livejournal.com profile] mrwhistlebear and [livejournal.com profile] nobodyhere). In my head it looks like a mix of this and that.
- Are we tool-using metaphor-flingers? (thank you [livejournal.com profile] dawn_guy, for a very non-sequitur meeting this morning...)

Oh, and after lunch with [livejournal.com profile] chezmax and [livejournal.com profile] nobodyhere we walked around the site where Mel's Diner was (until last month when the plaza it was in burned down). The tile is still there, and it was decidedly odd to see how small the footprint of the place actually was. Walking around there, and talking about the place with a few people: I don't think I'm overly sentimentalizing a not-very-exciting diner; I just have little exposure to "places" turning into "not-places" and my reactions to that happening are interesting to me. ...if it had been a family home, I would find this reaction intensely inappropriate, but since it's a commercial establishment, that somehow makes it OK.

Also, in the tile floor near the back corner, I found a charred penny from 1974, the year I was born. Lucky? Unlucky? Just a penny? Yet to be decided. :)
City of Glass was the first Paul Auster I was introduced to, in college. I loved it; he packed so much into such a short novel.

Last month (or was it March! Yikes!) I borrowed this from [livejournal.com profile] amarylliss: City of Glass, the Graphic Novel.

I was intrigued and even slightly horrified at how could someone do such a thing? But [livejournal.com profile] amarylliss gave it a thumbs-up, and sent it home with me, and I have to say, it is successful.

The Guardian does an excellent job reviewing it. I am lazy and it is late, so I will let you read that.

I liked it; I liked the visual motifs (the childhood drawings do indeed pack more of a punch with each repetition) and Quinn's story was adapted to visuals quite well.

But when I finished, it felt... lacking something.

The novel is told by a nameless narrator, telling the story of Daniel Quinn, a writer, who is mistaken for a private eye named Paul Auster, whose identity he takes. He proceeds to meet the real novelist Paul Auster in the novel, discussing Auster's work on reinterpreting Cervantes' Don Juan to find out who the real narrator of the story was. This layering could feel trite, and fortunately neither version of the novel feel this way for me; but there was a quality to the text-only version, where the only way to untangle the layers was through mentally visualizing them, that is different when you see Daniel Quinn sitting across from Paul Auster (who looks just like his dust-jacket).

The project was conceived by Art Spiegelman, who also wrote the introduction. I'm curious whether the "Neon Lit" project stalled out at two books; the #2 in the series didn't really appeal to me.
Bless me LJ, for I have been quiet. It has been two weeks since my last post.

Hey, I'm 36! My birthday was low-key; bookended by food: takeout BBQ one night and yummy home-cooked shrimp scampi. And ice-cream on my birthday. 36 so far feels like 35 with more things falling apart.

I've lost track of how many times I've had bike flats in the last month. It's at least five.
Tomorrow morning might be exciting; I'm biking to work by way of the bike shop, to replace the rear tube (again) and tire (overdue). The tube/tire on the bike might hold long enough for me to get there.

On Saturday morning, I went to reinflate my bike tire to the recommended pressure... and didn't notice a hole worn in the tire sidewall. "Hey, that side's bulging. Hey, maybe I should let the air out before it - " BAM! My ears were ringing for a while. I had to laugh out loud at the absurdity. I immediately pictured birds flying in circles around my head.

In the last week, I've had high hopes for a long bike-ride after work, or on the weekend, but with the different flats, it just didn't seem like a good idea. Hindsight, at least two of the flats were caused by wearing through the tire sidewalls. One was glass, one was a bad patch (over a seam) and I don't remember what the rest were. At least I can still say Rapid Flat-Fixes Я Us.

The odometer did roll over another 200 km, Friday evening just after I replaced the n-1th flat on my way home from work; exactly 30 days after the last 200km.

Other stuff falling apart? Goodness. My laptop has been crashing (though I now have Time Machine running backups, so at least that's automated), my phone/camera has been acting finicky, my iPod has been refusing to update again, our front stoop has lost a chunk of stone and now looks a bit gap-toothed, and I think the front doorknob is possibly loose. Whee! Oh, and we're probably going to replace the car reasonably soon, as upkeep costs begin to approach trade-in value. I feel super-lucky, though, that none of these are dire situations, as long as everything doesn't fail simultaneously. (*glares menacingly at laptop, phone, iPod*)

Anyhow, this weekend included a batch of errands, a wonderful walk with [livejournal.com profile] roverthedog and [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball in a leash-free dog-park along a river, and a fairly recuperative Pilates session that made me feel all stretchy.

Work recently has included a foray into writing some C code, which is quite challenging for me. So many ways to screw up! But I've hopes that I (and colleagues I can rope into helping) will end up with a minor contribution to OpenSSH. Srs!

Since I last posted, I also went to Philadelphia for a Quaker thang, which was useful at unsticking some "how should I do this" sort of questions I'd been stuck on (and perhaps will post on eventually) and also for some good news about the Quaker Quest program- there will soon be funding to hire some number of additional staff. And then I spent a wonderful afternoon with friends in the Philly area, and we romped in the park with their dog and their 5-year-old, AND had a visit from NJ friends who came into town for the afternoon; and then they fed me soup and brownies and sent me on my flight back home with a big smile on my face.

Ithaca

Sunday, 2 May 2010 01:10 am
What with current weather (mid 80s) and the wonderful lilac smell in the air, Ithaca is reminding me of Key West. All it needs is fewer Volvos and more chickens. Any chickens, come to think of it.

I saw the brand new Quaker meeting house-to-be. It's an abandoned restaurant in the middle of a downtown residential neighborhood. It looks great from the outside. It will need many hundreds of thousand dollars of work inside. The Meeting had a work party as soon as they got possession. 50 adults and 20 kids. The general contractor says they did approximately five thousand dollars of cleanout work. In a day.

Ithaca's traffic is just as much a mess as ever. Wegmans is just as awesome a food store as ever.

There was a May Day concert on the Commons, with pretty good music, but which looked almost unmoored enough to become a protest march led by the socialists, judging by the signs against the racist immigration stupidity in Arizona and a few other worthy causes around the country. (which as always, have zero connection to things that a local protest could expect to affect). Am I cynical? Maybe a bit. I lived here eight years.

The conversation in the coffee shop at the old used bookstore today was about how in the old days, we didn't call them glass shops, they were head shops. And did the town need quite so many, after all? I did not weigh in.

Spent a lot of time catching up with my hosts. We went to Viva Taqueria for lunch (super basic burrito with black beans and mole sauce), which gave us the strength to start an evening Settlers of Catan game, and nearly finish before we were hungry for dinner. Plus I was teaching them the game at the same time.

This won't mean anything to anyone but [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball , but I walked right by Unemployed Community Activist Fay Gaugacis at Wegmans.

Tomorrow: Quaker meeting, followed by goodbyes as I head home with Rover, while one of my hosts heads north... To my parents' house. Yeah. Weird. :) But very much good weird.

... On the drive down I listened to the TAL episode about Michael Poyzner, who made fairly exaggerated reporting errors writing a book which became the basis for his California governor's election platform. About the grim urban schools. Which were possibly much less exciting in real life than his story. With an eye to that, I consider and conclude that everything I wrote here was at least as exciting before the retelling.
OK, I wrote an entire post in my head, biking home, but some time between coming in the door and sitting down at the laptop, it's gone poof.

Rough brush-strokes:

Guy walking with his wife, passing me stopped at a light: "It's a bit fresh for shorts this morning, eh?" What a turn of phrase. He was about 65, maybe 70. Smile in his voice. I said yup, so I was discovering, but it certainly got the blood going. It turns out it's 3C. Not so bad when I was moving... it only snowed a bit while I was actually on the bike, and a bit more snow when I was indoors. But it didn't stick.

I'm in shorts because I wanted ease of motion, because I went to try out a Pilates studio uptown. It was an hour of guided exercises, tough but not too tough; a fun instructor, and a small class. I'm tempted to sign up for the weekly classes, since they seem flexible (haha) and I know it will help my back and shoulder (and stomach and legs and...)

I will also try our gym's pilates class, though the massage therapist I see (at the gym) suggested I should try a "real" pilates studio, not her own workplace, which makes a fairly strong statement.

This afternoon I'm taking a load of dead electronics to the University (locals; free electronics dropoff for recycling today, at East Campus Hall) and maybe making chicken soup. Hm, I think with matzo balls. (wow I'm hungry).

Last night, my cousin Arlene arrived, and I made us roast chicken with pesto. We stayed up talking a bit late (late considering she's here for a conference near Pearson airport, and she was out the door this morning at 7:40.) She's staying one more night, which means she will just miss seeing [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball, who is coming back from Chicago Sunday mid-day. I hope tonight she'll be back from her conference early enough that I can take her to a ceilli tonight.

My brain seems full of pokey things. Things I should poke at and things that want to poke me back. Like, the web demo I'm doing next week for profs, which is full of wildcards in terms of what feedback they will have. Like the fact that my home mac still has networking problems but I'm not convinced I should replace it with a (brand new, very fast, lighter-weight, pretty) model [1]. Like, dancing on the edge of not over-committing for everything. And concern for friends who are in rough spots. And yet through it, feeling more or less centered; feeling connected like I should be, and sort of being present with the low-level anxiety, knowing that it will work out, s'ok, really.

Something else that will work out well: time for some lunch!

[1] This year's new 13" macbook pro is a bit faster than my work iMac, which is much faster than my home laptop, which has felt fully sufficient for my needs, aside from occasional worries about whether it is slowly dying.

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