Saturday, December 02, 2006

Enough snow

To my mind, this is the way to start December right. (Caveat: I did not have to drive anywhere while this was coming down yesterday.)

Ice cream social

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What is the world coming to?

We've been at festivals every weekend for a month, and in talking with musicians who come from outside the country, we've learned of a disturbing new trend in airline security. When you fly to the US from certain countries, you can't take your musical instrument on board anymore; you must check it.

We haven't been able to bring the guitar in the cabin for several years now. We do have a sturdy case for it, and have been lucky so far. (Though we did hear from one guitarist whose seemingly impregnable case was no match for a forklift, which drove its blades straight through the back of the instrument.) But with something like a violin, it just mustn't go in the hold, not ever. Even if it isn't crushed, the temperature could be very harmful to older instruments. Here's the roundup of news and horror stories on the subject (read the feedback on these articles for some interesting stories):

Airline destroys $13,800 viola
Cabin baggage ban hits musicians
Discussion on
Airline terror baggage ban hits a bum note
Airport rules costing musicians

Although the articles above talk mostly about flights between the UK and USA, a group of Canadian musicians wound up checking their empty cases and carrying the fiddles on board in their hands. I think the reason was a strict application of instrument case dimensions by the Canadian airline. Musicians from Ireland and the UK wound up borrowing instruments once they got here.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, it's grown much harder to bring musicians here from overseas to perform and teach workshops. It's more expensive and more difficult for them to get visas now, and this latest security move is discouraging them from coming here at all. Let's hope this madness ends soon. Peace to all.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

King me!

"King me!" I cried.
"I've come all the way to the end of the board
Surmounted your feeble obstacles
Ignored your false messengers
Proven my worth
Moved toward my goal by roundabout dances
Tacking my way across the field.
Now I'm arrived
I'm ready and deserving
Hold back no more--
King me!"

Monday, August 28, 2006

With bells on

What does anyone have against bells? Why, in every possible application, are real bells being replaced by electronic sounds?

We hang onto an early touch-tone phone because when it rings, it actually rings, with the lovely warm sound of a brass bell. It does not bleat, it does not warble, and I've never had the urge to dash it against the wall.

Our doorbell is schizophrenic. A hideous little buzzer sounds in the basement, but upstairs, in the dining room, is a grand old clock with four tubular bells, which doubles as the doorbell. It's resonant, grand, and makes me eager to see who or what has turned up on the doorstep--even Jehovah's Witnesses.

The kitchen timer is a beeper now, and so are the microwave and the alarm clock. Oddly, the toaster oven is a tinkly old-fashioned "ding". The carillon at the train station is a recording of a carillon. Hmph!

Oddest to me is the warning signal at the train crossing near our station. It's truly important to give people a clear, audible warning not to cross the tracks when a train is approaching. It's not a mechanical bell, though.
It's a recording of a train warning bell. There are two ways you can tell. First, it sometimes cuts off in mid "ding" when the crossing gates go up. And second, on wet, squelchy days like today, it starts out on a low tone and then rises in pitch, like a tape being sped up, or a phonograph record being started from a standstill. It makes a warped, bilious sound. Do honest clanging train bells really fail so much that they needed to be replaced with fake ones?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hateful Norton AntiVirus

I am starting to wonder if Norton AntiVirus is some sort of a shakedown scheme.

You're scared to death of what viruses will do to your computer, so when you're reminded that your subscription to virus updates needs renewing, you do it, forking over a few dozen dollars each year. Per computer, if you happen to have multiples in your household.

It whacks up your email, scanning everything that goes out and everything that comes in. You can tell it not to scan them anymore, but it does anyway. It seems quicker to just click away the annoying popup boxes than to do anything more about it.

Then one day, you notice that it hasn't performed a full system scan for half a year or more. This leads you to Symantec's website, where you eventually learn you'll have to uninstall and reinstall AntiVirus (or its younger sibling, Internet Security). Since nothing comes on disks anymore, you make sure you have the installer (thank goodness for the compulsive saving of every installer that came across your computer's threshhold), and with trembling hand, do the uninstall. (Which you have to do from Internet Explorer, because the handy uninstall link on the web page won't work in other browsers.)

That goes grand, and you reboot, peek in the corners to see if it's really gone (it is) and commence the reinstall. After a few moments, here comes a warning:

"Norton Internet Security 2005 installation has failed. Do you want to try to install again?"

Your options are Retry and Cancel. You click Retry. The popup disappears, the install continues, the progress meter shows progress... for a few seconds, and then the same error pops up again. Well, it worked last time, so you click Retry again. You're not too concerned when it happens again, because the progress meter keeps advancing (another little green bar, then another). After a while, you start keeping count of the times you click Retry. When it passes 100, you select Cancel and go looking online for the text of that error message to see if anyone else has had this problem.

They have.

In spades.

You learn about other techniques, some of which involve editing the registry (like brain surgery) or reinstalling Windows (dear God, do I even know where the disks are that came with my laptop? did I make backup disks? why me?)

You take a break and rant about it on your blog, then make a cup of tea and take another stab at it.

I hear there are some other anti virus programs out there...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Oh, how I love tea!

Especially Barry's Gold Blend in the red box.

When I get up in the morning and go to the kitchen (no, I do not stumble to the kitchen; we have too many stairs for that to be practical. Besides, it's clichéd. And anyway, I'm a true morning person, so no need of that. Nevertheless, I really do enjoy the morning cuppa.), I open the cupboard that has both the coffee and tea paraphernalia, and while the electric kettle brings the water to a boil (was there ever a more civilized invention?) I try to decide whether to make tea or coffee. (I have been known to make both and carry two commuter mugs.) The tea smells so sweet; I'm always happy when it wins out. I've heard things about antioxidants, too, but I never think about that.

That first mouthful of hot tea (with milk, please) is like a jolt to the soul. I feel something rising within me (maybe it's core body temperature?), and get the instant impression of being more awake and alive.

I have a lot of memories associated with tea, too. I learned to drink it in Scotland, where it stood in for central heating in the family I was visiting. They taught me to pour the milk in the mug first, and I find I don't need a spoon if I do that. I still knit the same tea cosy that Edith had on her stainless steel teapot.

Of course, I had to get a steel teapot, too. I left one in France when I came home. A few years ago in Ireland, I picked one up in a hardware store in Ennis, delaying our departure from town to M's great annoyance. Or maybe M. was annoyed about the set of little tea spoons (smaller than the kind that come in the flatware set) at the hardware store in Donegal Town...

There were the cups of tea at Nick's flat on Saturdays when we got together to play music, in his horrible bachelor-dirty mugs.

There was the stop in a Bewley's cafe in Dublin, that first time we flew to Ireland. We hadn't slept enough (you never do) and we also hadn't planned where we'd stay the first night. That's when we learned that jetlag and on-the-spot vacation planning are not a happy combination. We wandered around Dublin in a fog, and eventually stopped in at Bewley's for a new lease on life. We did eventually find a B&B in Sandymount where we checked in and slept like logs, waking up only just in time for a late pub dinner. Where we met a charming couple who invited us over the next night, and I decided that Irish hospitality was not a myth.

And of course, there's an Irish tune, The Cup of Tea.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Random musings

Which kind of animal do you resemble most?
a) carp
b) snipe
c) grouse

You hear about war-torn countries; if the trouble is less serious, is it a conflict-wrinkled country?

Monday, July 03, 2006


If someone does you a favor, it's good to return the favor someday. Trouble is, you can't always repay the same person who helped you. I decided at some point that I could even things out by doing something good for someone else, inspired by or in honor of what that original person did for me. (This was well before the movie Pay It Forward, which I saw in an airplane once and thought was a dreadful, maudlin waste of time.)

When I lived in France, many people were very kind to me in ways both large and small. Inviting me for a meal, a visit, or an outing, they let me see into their lives and gave me a feeling of worth that was precious when I was far from home.

We recently hosted a young woman from France in our home for a couple weeks. We got along well and did a few excursions together: Greek Fest, Polish Fest (don't we have an American Fest, she may well be wondering?), an Irish music session, a baseball game, a visit to a relative in an assisted living facility (I guess that goes in the "slice of life" category). In a way, this was an even exchange, since we stayed with her family on our last visit to France. They were super hosts, and their kindness and openness would dispel anyone's stereotype of the French as unfriendly.

Well, we saw her off at the airport yesterday morning and figured that was the last we'd hear from her till after she got home. But that evening, as we were driving into the city for dinner, she called us from Washington Dulles airport. Her flight had been delayed arriving there, and so she'd missed the plane to France. Her new flight out would be the following evening at 6 p.m.! She planned to sleep in the airport, since she couldn't afford the hotel (darned airlines should've put her up, we think). We took the number of the payphone. We called her parents in France and gave them that number so they could call her. Then I started phoning around to my friends in the D.C. area. Soon I had J. on the line, and although he sounded tired (as might any father of two bright, energetic and strong-willed young children), he immediately agreed to put her up for the night and see to it that she got to the airport the next day. He is a real mensch! I thanked J. and then called her back at the airport, told her about J.'s offer, explained how to take the taxi (a new adventure), and spelled the unfamiliar street names, which are a lesson in American geography. I suspect she got there all right, since I haven't had any panicky phone calls to indicate otherwise.

So I'm not sure how incurrng a favor to repay a favor fits into the whole accounting, but then it's not the accounting that counts, eh? Great thanks to J. and L., who are also gracious and generous hosts.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Yesterday P. told me about an odd, troubling experience he had. First, a couple things you should know about P. He carries his tiny digital camera with him all the time, and takes pictures of interesting things at a moment's notice. (He's my photo guru.) He also is a dedicated history buff, and always has at least one new history book he's reading. He's been looking forward to visiting the Tutankhamen exhibit in Chicago this summer; it promises to be just as interesting as the one that came here in 1977. And he's a steady, stable guy, not the least bit freaky.

Well, P. was downloading some photos off his camera to make room on the memory card. And in amongst the Chicago street scenes were sixteen carefully numbered negative images of... King Tut artefacts. No, he hasn't visited the exhibit yet (and even if he had, they surely wouldn't let you take photos like these in the exhibit; they'd make you buy them in the gift shop). And why negatives?
They weren't true negatives, either; when he converted them to positives, they came out as faint pastels. Nobody borrowed his camera or his memory card. He lives alone and the dog doesn't know how to use the camera (or maybe she does, but disdains to use it). He didn't accidentally get someone else's card from the photo printing machine at the drugstore. There's just no good explanation, no "Aha!" waiting out there.

He deleted the mystery photos.

P's experience reminded me of my own inexplicables:

In college, I was studying one sunny day in a big park, spread out on the grass with my books. I happened to look up and I saw, on a street that bordered the park, a riderless bicycle going up the hill.

When I finished high school, we had both a graduation ceremony and a baccalaureate ceremony, which was held in the university chapel (a very grand space despite the name - more like a cathedral with tall narrow windows. As we sat there, I glimpsed out the window a white horse going by. This is clearly not impossible, but you just don't ever see horses in town, except maybe during a parade. I took it as a good omen.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Glad for simple

Saturday morning.

Barry's Tea with milk from the little stainless steel teapot that we picked up in Ireland and the truly ugly tea cosy I knitted for it (finished with only two safety pins!).

Quiet house, sun through drawn blinds, cherry- and mulberry-crazed birds outside.

A fountain pen with green ink.

Today we are not spending time at assisted living facilities, discussing power of attorney or chemotherapy. We might get a new cell phone. We can manage that. We might go to a wine tasting. I'm sure we could manage that.