Sunday, August 20, 2017

Springy G's Great Eclipse Trip (Part the Second)

I’m feeling somewhat grateful that last winter I began to build up some aerobic capacity by skiing and snowshoeing, and continued with short hikes during the warm months.  It came in handy on Saturday afternoon when I walked from the Chicago hostel to the docks where the river cruise boats dock.  I got temporarily lost by taking the wrong staircase to get down to the boats and had to double back, climbing a whole bunch of razzafracking stairs up and down and up and down again.  It’s much warmer here than in Winnipeg, and there’s a distinct old-city smell of oil and creosote.

Did successfully make it onto the boat.  Seated on the lower level, where it was shady and considerably cooler, I took pictures of a lot of the buildings and enjoyed the wind blowing off the water.  My visit coincided with the Chicago Air and Water Show, and we saw a few synchronized jet fly-bys.

After the boat ride I wended my way back to the hostel, pausing to pick up an embroidered Chicago flag patch to add to my knapsack.  Had a light supper, charged up my electronics, and called it a night.

---

And now it’s 8:05 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Chicago.  I am now one step closer to my objective:  I’m on board the Amtrak #391 “Saluki” train, destination Carbondale, Illinois.

One of my great worries over the past few weeks was that I would oversleep and miss this train.  I had armed myself with an insanely loud digital alarm clock, and checked it twice last night to make sure the alarm was indeed in the “on” position.  As it happened, I had little to worry about:  Two of the women in my dorm were up before me, 15 minutes before the alarm was scheduled to go off, and I crawled out of bed a few minutes later to get in gear and get over to Union Station.

It just turned 8:15.  With a soft bump, train #391 is on its way.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Springy G's Great Eclipse Trip (Part the First)

It’s a mere two hours since my clock radio cajoled me into consciousness at arse o’clock on a Saturday morning.  I’m now sitting at Gate 3 in the U.S. departures lounge at Richardson International, waiting for a boarding call for a flight to Minneapolis.  I’ve made the traditional stop-off at the Tim Hortons kiosk on the U.S. side of security and scarfed down a coffee and muffin, to supplement the half-glass of milk I guzzled while phoning for a cab.

Once I land at Minneapolis, the plan is to have a leisurely second breakfast -- yes, I do have some hobbit genes -- and then fly on to Chicago.  I could have taken a direct flight, but my check-in time at the HI hostel is 3:00 p.m.  Barring a Random Equipment Malfunction, a completely different alarm clock should rouse me at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, allowing me sufficient time to slouch towards Union Station to board a southbound train.

I am going to Carbondale, Illinois for a glorious 2½ minutes on Monday afternoon at about 1:20 p.m.   I. Am. On. My. Way. To. The. Eclipse.

This has been in planning for about 2 years, and seriously underway since this past April, when I made all the necessary reservations:  Plane, train, and a place to crash the night before the eclipse.  I was fortunate enough to snag a piece of floor space at Southern Illinois University, where upwards of 50,000 people are expected on Monday.  (Personally, I think they’ll be getting off light if less than 100,000 show up.)

Hands are shaking a bit due to excitement (and possibly the coffee kicking in).  Boarding call is imminent (5:38 a.m. now).  To be continued…

---

Now I’m in Minneapolis and it’s 8:30 a.m.  I’m not regretting the decision to bring along a fleece jacket, because as I sit here at the departure gate for the hop to Chicago I can feel the air conditioning.

One thing about travelling is that the smells and tastes are ever so slightly different from home.  Although humans tend to be visual, some of us get more impact from the other senses.  As a gardener and cook I’m almost as sensitive to smell as I am to 3D space.  MSP has a scent to it that is very unlike YWG, and when I get to O’Hare I’m sure it will likewise have its own smell.

I’m definitely not alone in making an eclipse trip.  The young man sitting next to me at the Winnipeg departure lounge was also going to Carbondale, and as I was hobbiting on a sausage-and-egg biscuit here in Minneapolis I saw someone walk by with a shirt that said “Come to the Dark Side,” in the Star Wars main title font.  I had already mentally added the traditional response, “We have cookies,” but then I saw the date.

August 21, 2017.

I have a shirt of my own in the knapsack, a homemade design with the same date and an abstract fabric-paint interpretation of what I saw at the total solar eclipse of February 26, 1979.

It says a lot about me and my lifelong love of astronomy that I still have the same piece of #14 welder’s glass that I used to view the partial phases of the 1979 eclipse.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Think Like a God Day 2017: The Laissez-Faire Deity

Welcome to the 2017 edition of Think Like a God Day, celebrated annually on July 13!  As in past years, this is when I present a problem and ask You how to solve it from the perspective of Deity-for-a-Day.

This year's question is a theological classic intertwined with a philosophical classic; in other words, as long as there is sentient life in the universe, someone will be arguing about it.
Assuming for a moment that free will actually exists, should mortals be permitted to have it or should they be forced to conform with My inscrutable Divine Plan™?
 Arguing in favour of letting those pesky mortals do whatever they want:
  • They're mortals.  Any plan they could mess up needs to go back to the drawing board.
  • Surprises.  I like surprises.  Cuts down on the monotony of living forever.
  • Never fancied Myself as a puppet-master.  I don't even like puppets.  Or clowns.  Next time I create a universe I'm going to make one without clowns.  Or paparazzi.  Or -- Squirrel!
Arguing in favour of keeping reality (and mortals) on a short leash:
  • The lot of us are locked into a predetermined course.  They can't help but do what I in My divine omniscience have foreseen.
  • Even a tiny deviation from the Plan could translate into massive problems later.  Can't have that.  I've got enough on My plate dealing with that damn Chaos Butterfly.
  • I like it when they do what I want.  That's a good enough reason for Me.
Which version of divine reality would You prefer, and why?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Happy Canada Day! Step away from the dumpster and keep Your hands in the air.

Long weekends always see Me coming.  Those extra days rarely get used for relaxing; more often I see them as a challenge and use them to make headway on some project around the house.

Today, the 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding, is no exception.  Instead of driving to the beach, or attending one of the many parties around town (and maybe getting a maple leaf painted on My cheek), or standing around at Portage and Main in a red shirt and pretending to be a flag, I decided to make this weekend really memorable.

 I rented a dumpster.

 It’s a rather good-sized bin, too, with a 9-yard capacity and almost as tall as I am.

 And after a Thursday evening (from right after work until too-dark-to-see-dumpster-o’clock), at least 7 hours of a vacation Friday, and 7 more hours today, the bin is half-full.  I’ve been systematically dismantling the old plaster walls on the perimeter of My study, and as of 7:30 this evening all the heavy stuff is done.

 I have one more demolition session slated for Sunday afternoon, wherein I strip off the last layer of wood cladding and remove the old wood chip insulation, stuff it into bags, and toss it into the bin -- and then I can take it easy.

At least till it’s time to put in the new insulation, which definitely has to be done by --

 -- oh, the Thanksgiving long weekend in October or so.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ticked off

It’s Sunday, May 7, 2017.  I’m currently in a coffee shop on Portage Avenue, waiting for a toasted cinnamon bun to go with my coffee.  I’ve just come from the Living Prairie Museum on Ness Avenue, a small nature preserve within Winnipeg city limits.

I have also just terminated with extreme prejudice a small brown bug that just crawled out of my hair.  It looks suspiciously like a tick, specifically the kind and I intend to wrap its fingernail-mangled, dismembered corpse in a napkin and take it with me for medical forensics in case I discover any mysterious bites on my person suggestive of Borrelia burgdorferi infection.  Hopefully it’s the only…

...Oh, bloody ‘ell, there’s another one of the little blighters.  *mangle*

And a third.  *crunch*

Okay, it’s official:  I am not a happy camper -- or hiker, as the case may be.  That said, I knew this job was dangerous when I took it.  I’m fully aware that May is tick season, and although I’ve never actually sustained a tick bite I harbour a profound dislike for that particular insect genus.  I’m on a far less malevolent footing with mosquitoes and wasps, in fact.

I went out for a walk on the tall grass prairie anyway.

There is a poignant phrase from The Soulforge by Margaret Weis:  “If we stop living because we fear death, then we have already died.”  This is something that I strive to live by, believing as I do that we get one life per customer and that the quality of that life is directly proportional to the amount of responsibility we assume for its disposition.

If I decline to go for a Sunday stroll in the open air because I fear ticks, then something in me is gasping for breath -- not dead yet, but not fully alive either.  I can choose my battles to some extent, calculating risks and minimizing overt stupidities, but hiding indoors on a sunny spring afternoon is not an option.




And now it’s Sunday, June 11, 2017.  I’m sitting in a different coffee shop, this time one on Academy Road.  I’m on my way home from a stroll at Fort Whyte Centre and seem to have escaped unscathed.  All I did was take reasonable precautions, wandering down the center of the Lakeside Trail and back to the entrance via a floating boardwalk, staying out of heavily overgrown areas.

If I had acquiesced to the fear I wouldn’t have heard the birdsong, a dozen unfamiliar tunes.  I wouldn’t have been able to stop and smell the wild roses, which are everywhere.  I wouldn’t have seen the bright yellow lady’s slippers lurking by the side of the path, lying in wait for unsuspecting bugs.  The main insects I did see were some ground-cruising blue beauties (damselflies, I think), one larger dragonfly in a holding pattern at 1,000 mm, and some gregarious butterflies.  There was a family of Canada geese in one of the lakes, an occasional duck quack from somewhere in the marsh, and bison in the field beside the access road.

I had a good time.  Better yet, the post-excursion check-over did not reveal any ticks or in fact any other bugs hiking across my person.

It’s entirely possible that on some future stroll in the woods, some minuscule wildlife will hitch a ride home with me.  If and when that happens, I’ll just deal with it and keep going.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

One step at a time. Just one step at a time.

One of my major struggles has been the quest to renovate my home.  It’s considerably less of a struggle now, as most of the big-ticket items are done deals:  I have a new 200-amp electrical board, two renovated bathrooms, an upgraded kitchen, new plumbing all the way from the water meter, and a new garage.  Last year I demolished the old front steps and built new ones.  So far this year, I’ve had several problem trees removed, had the parging fixed on three of the exterior walls, and constructed a large planter in the back yard.

Where I fall down on the job is when I have to finish up something that is functional and not really causing me any problems.  For instance, there’s some woodwork in the main hallway that isn’t quite done.  It’s aesthetically lacking, but it isn’t something that I’m crashing into or stubbing my toe on.

One problem spot is the hallway on the second floor.  New light fixtures, new paint, old floor that’s partially replaced.  This is something that one can stub one’s toe on, and it looks less-than-optimal.  I’m moving forward on this, bit by bit -- the next sheet of plywood is purchased and partly cut, with the next piece now upstairs awaiting a few measurements to fine-tune it to the space it needs to occupy.

I’m now closing in on another uncompleted project, applying oak trim inside the kitchen window frame to give it a more finished appearance.  I had been stalling on this for a number of reasons:  Didn’t want to spend money on the trim, wasn’t sure if I would do a good job cutting the trim and would have to purchase replacement pieces, didn’t like leaning over the kitchen sink to cut the cardboard templates necessary to get accurate measurements.

Guess what?  Not long after writing the first draft of this post, I went out to buy the materials.  Then I  made some long strips out of a couple of file folders.  Then I grabbed a step stool and leaned over the sink, lined up the strips with the inside of the window frame, and made a few creases at the inside window corners.  Then I transferred the template markings to the wood I had bought.  Then I took the wood downstairs and sawed, planed and sanded until each piece had the right shape and size.  Then I glued each piece into place, and stood back and admired the work I had done.  In other words, the kitchen window is now almost finished; it just needs a touch of wood filler and then a coat or two of wood stain to complete the job.

I constantly have to remind myself that projects are comprised of thousands -- yes, thousands -- of tiny steps.  I also have to keep reminding myself that it’s not fun to keep looking at the same undone work day after day.  It’s not healthy for self-esteem to be reminded of one’s failings, especially if the fail can be attributed to inaction rather than “Hold my beer and watch this!” derring-do.  Sometimes you just have to give it a go, even if that means cutting a board, swearing under your breath when you realize you cut it two inches too short, and jumping in the car to go buy another one.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cleanup on Aisle 9!

I am finally seriously getting back into writing, after a 6-year hiatus in which I was blogging but not really working on other projects.

As part of this process, I've decided to go through TSG and do a bit of tidying up.  This blog is staying put, at least in the short term, but a lot of old posts are going to be "disappeared" permanently.  If nothing else, it'll be a nice stroll down memory lane as I decide what to keep and what to toss.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Einherjar Fitness is open for business.

My somewhat sudden rediscovery of fitness, triggered by an urge to go cross-country skiing one Sunday morning back in January, is still going.

This is weird.  This is extremely weird.  In fact, it seems to be getting worse -- or better, rather, as it's been a positive boon for my overall health.  I'm losing weight, my right foot hurts less, and I no longer randomly topple sideways when attempting to tap dance in the living room.

For whatever reason, I seem to have become addicted to a wide variety of individual sports and body-mobilizing activities and am thinking of trying even more, with the intention of creating a well-rounded routine:
  • On Sundays I go out somewhere that has lots of trees and trails and wander around for a while (utilizing skis or snowshoes if the weather permits).
  • For the next few Tuesdays I'll be taking a swimming course, in the hope of making my swim strokes a bit better, and have reserved Tuesdays as Swim Night till Icelandic classes resume next fall -- whereupon Swim Night will just have to be some other night of the week.
  • Thursday night is Gym Night, but it could just as easily become Bouldering Night, Canoeing Night, Skating Night, Historical European Martial Arts Night, or something even more bizarre.
The symbol I've chosen for this madness-in-progress is the Einherjar, or Lone Fighter -- Y'know, those inordinately brave dead chaps who get a first-class ticket to Asgard via Valkyrie Airlines.  I'm sure team sports are a lot of fun, but there's something special about going it alone and knowing that it all depends on you.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Unpacking spring

*THUMP*

(Springy G stumbles down the stairs, yawning and rubbing Her eyes.  She opens the front door just in time to see a large truck rumbling northward up the street.)

Ah, good.  It's here, right on schedule.

(tries to drag an extremely large box through the doorway into the sun porch)  Nnnope.  (fetches utility knife from kitchen junk drawer and cuts tape on top of box, then reaches inside)

Okay, let's see what we've got here.  One package weird weather, check.  One package assorted seeds and bulbs, check.  (smells milk chocolate and inhales deeply) Bag of Easter Bunny Chow.  Rampant Geopolitical Silliness expansion pack?  Oh, that's for Tiamat.  She asked Me to order it for Her to save on the shipping.  Okay game, I guess, but way too many wild cards.

(pulls out a pair of tap shoes)

-- Oh, dear.

(reaches all the way to bottom of box and pulls out a flute, a bass clarinet, a pruning saw, a pair of hiking shoes, a swim cap, and a dental appointment card)

Oh, dear.  Someone is going to be busy this spring.

(starts gathering up stuff)  Best of the season to one and all! If you need Me, I'll be in the living room working on My shuffles and ball changes -- because a  tap-dancing goddess can't possibly make the world any weirder than it already is.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Elvispeggios

How do you know when your music harmony classes are finally starting to "stick"?

When you're working on a band piece called A Tribute to Elvis and you've taken a pencil and marked up the 12/8 triplet arpeggios in "Can't Help Falling in Love" with things like "G," "Bm (iii)" and "Em (vi)."

How do you know when your parallel love-hate relationships with arpeggios and metronomes are paying off?

When you can play those suckers.  Mwahahaha!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Springy G Versus the Pool Noodle of Doom

Over the years many people have said many things about Me, but never let it be said that I back away from a new experience.  I am, in fact, the poster kitteh for that unfortunate cat who was killed by curiosity.

I have a whole bunch of mottoes, but one of the front-runners is this one from composer Virgil Thomson:
Try a thing you haven’t done three times.  Once, to get over the fear of doing it.  Twice, to learn how to do it.  And a third time, to figure out whether you like it or not.
So this evening I tried to figure out how Aquacise works.

It sounds simple enough:  Go to pool.  Change into bathing suit.  Jump in pool and flail about for a while, trying to keep time to the music.

Nope.

The problem, as I see it, is that I am an overly buoyant goddess.  It's hard to keep time when Your feet won't stay on the bottom of the pool.

Now, about that pool noodle...

When warmups were over and we started into the deep-water part of the class, we each were given a flexible cylindrical fiendish thingie to use in the exercises.  If this had been a judo tournament or a rodeo, I would have been eliminated in the first round because that razzafracking flotation device kept dumping Me.  When it wasn't sneaking out from underneath and bobbing to the surface while I fell sideways in the opposite direction, it had Me doing involuntary ballet moves en pointe or trying very hard not to stick a foot in My ear.

Maybe I'll just skip tries #2 and #3 and go straight to rock climbing or biathlon instead.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Where have you been all My life?

Weary of being weary, and sore about being footsore, on the last two Sundays I've made efforts to get outside and actually try to enjoy winter in Winnipeg.

It came on as an urge one week ago, in the early morning hours of January 15, so rather than let the urge go to waste I jumped in the car and headed out to the Windsor Park Nordic Centre to have a second go at cross-country skiing -- this time with skis and boots that actually matched and actually stayed on My feet long enough to get somewhere.  Weather was the way I like it, not too cold and not too windy, and other than a total inability to get back up a small hill without removing the skis, I kind-of-sort-of got the hang of it.  My knees struggled with trying to keep the skis reasonably parallel and reasonably close together, but when I was on the flats in nice parallel grooves I could actually do something that resembled skiing.

I also noticed that on Monday, rather than aching all over, My sore right foot felt notably better than it has in several months.  I think it had something to do with giving the Achilles tendon and the bottom of the foot a really good stretching.

Well, today I explored a new vista of outdoor winter fitness.  This time I drove down to Fort Whyte Centre, a huge place dedicated to nature conservancy, hiking and such, and rented a pair of snowshoes.  The weather couldn't have been stranger:  +2°C, melting, misty and occasionally outright foggy, with very light drizzle.  The middle of January in Winnipeg, and it's raining.  That can't be right.

Anyway.

Suitably equipped with warnings about ice on the trails, and a suggestion to avoid the paths and stay on the snow, I put on a pair of snowshoes and headed out to do some exploring.

I. Love. It.

There is something amazing about being able to walk on top of snow, rather than sinking into it up to one's knees.  The snowshoes made a satisfying crunch as they bit into the slightly sticky white stuff, the kind of snow that makes for perfect snowmen, snow forts and snowballs.  Occasionally I had to cross or briefly follow one of the heavily-travelled paths, and did a very small amount of impromptu skating on an icy patch, but otherwise I found the snowshoes much easier to manage than the skis I used last weekend.  Winter-friendly birds, including chickadees, were out and about.  I even saw a deer, quietly watching from a cluster of trees.

I think it's safe to say that I'm going to be looking for My very own pair of snowshoes sometime very soon, as this is an experience I want to repeat.  I don't know where I'm going next weekend, but I do suspect these Sunday outings are here to stay.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Steakout

There's been a phrase from Michael Pollan that has been running through My mind for a few months now:

"Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants."

I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with edible plants.  I've been a vegetarian in the past, once for a 10-year run, but in the end I was done in by a craving for barbecue chicken.  I've blogged about My reticence for making salads, and written a how-to on how to sneak up on vegetables.

Well, I'm back on the veggie wagon again, although with an intention to reach out and snag the occasional bit of animal flesh on the way down the road.  Yes, I can haz cheezburger.

I'm just tired of mediocre meat products, much in the same way as I recently tired of mediocre wine.  Few things are as frustrating as spending good money on an alleged piece of steak, only to cook it and find that you actually purchased a piece of shoe leather.  I do make a pretty good beef stew, but that's not exactly the kind of thing one can do at 10:00 on a weekday night if one expects to get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Chickpea curry, however, I can have on the table in 30 minutes flat -- including rice, chutney, and other accoutrements.

Springy G:  Now with 30% less carnivore.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

I think I'm developing a tic(k).

This evening, in the spirit of "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more," I spent some more quality time staring in abject terror at the clarinet part for Holst's First Suite in E♭ Major.  It was back in October 2016 when I first blogged about the daunting task of learning the Suite, and about struggling with the utterly preposterous five-bar run of high-velocity 16th notes in part 1, the Chaconne.

I'm happy to report that I now have semiquaverphobia mostly under control, thanks to diligent use of a [redacted extremely rude Old Norse profanity] metronome.  Little blighter is sitting right on the coffee table in the living room, so I can no longer use the excuse that it`s lost under something on My desk.

Even better, I'm starting to actually like working with that little so-and-so.  It just might have something to do with the fact that I can now play that five-bar run -- in fact, I've almost got it memorized now.

Life is good.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

The fine art of curating jelly beans

In the aftermath of the after-Christmas candy sales, our household acquired a large container of gourmet jelly beans.  It's one of those assortments that comes with a visual reference so that you can supposedly tell the brown cappuccino beans from the brown cinnamon beans from the brown kiwi fruit beans from the brown cola beans.

Not a chance.

The yellow ones aren't much better.  Reach in for a lemon and end up with pineapple, or perhaps even popcorn or Tropical Punch.  If the lights are low, one might even mistake pale orange for yellow and end up with passion fruit instead.  The only guarantee is that the dark blue ones are always blueberry, but only because there are no other dark blue flavours in the assortment.

Overall, though, the beans taste acceptably pleasant -- except for them.

The speckled bluish-white mint ones were nasty enough, but I couldn't even figure out what flavor the yellowish-green beans with brown speckles were supposed to be.  Suffice to say that I made a lot of interesting faces while trying to figure it out.  The closest match I came up with was some industrial solvent that I used while working in a print shop back in the late 1980s.

I had no recourse but to pour out all the beans and evict the ones that were particularly vile.  While I was at it, I got rid of all the licorice ones, too.  Not a fan.  I kept trying them, hoping that one of them was actually grape.  Never did find any grape in there, although I'm still hoping that one of the many shades of red is wild cherry.

Next time, I build My own assortment -- and unlike this one, there will be cherry and grape in there.  


Monday, January 2, 2017

It's a crazy idea, but it just might work.

Spent about an hour and a half working through new community band repertoire, with an eye towards the Pinawa Band Festival this spring.

Because we're a bit light on clarinets at the moment, I made a preemptive strike and started learning the first clarinet parts instead of the usual seconds.  If When I've learned them, I'll be ready for those nights when no one else can make it -- and as a bonus, the harmony parts will make that much more sense.

(Oh, and I get to play the Friendly Giant closing theme, too, in the form of "Early One Morning" from a medley of Percy Grainger folk songs.  Epic win.)

Goddess for hire

In the long, cold slog between Yule and the Vernal Equinox I've been experimenting with divine side gigs to while away the time.

Effective immediately, and for as long as meteorologically necessary, I am the Goddess of Picking Things Up Off The Ground So That No One Slips On Them.

You're welcome.