Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pizza and beer FTW.

Slightly less than two hours after I write this, it'll be 2010 in My time zone.

In the meantime, I'm curled up at My desk with a tall glass of Kirin, a nice Japanese beer that features a very good-looking Oriental unicorn on the label.

Downstairs are the remnants of a ham and pineapple pizza (for Myself and Red and the Invisible Pink Unicorn, mHhhnbs!) and a pepperoni pizza for 'Chala. Both are homemade. Here's the recipe:
  1. For two 9" x 13" (cookie-sheet-size) pizzas, you'll need between 1½ and 2 cups of fairly hot but not boiling water. (1½ cups will make a thin crust; adjust upwards according to your preference.)
  2. In a large bowl, dissolve a tablespoon of sugar into the hot water and then slosh it around the bowl. This warms the bowl and cools the water down somewhat. Body temperature or slightly below is perfect.
  3. Sprinkle one package of regular dry yeast onto the sugar water, then set the bowl down in a warm place for about ten minutes.
  4. While you're waiting, throw together some garlic butter: One or two cloves to about a quarter-cup of softened unsalted butter. Mix thoroughly and park off to one side for now.
  5. After ten minutes, the yeast should be foaming in the bowl. Pour in a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil (your choice) and a pinch of salt. Mix vigorously with a fork.
  6. Toss in, all at once, a cup or two of whole wheat flour and at least one cup of white flour. By 'toss in, all at once' I mean 'Dump it into the bowl without bothering to mix it yet'. Then, when the flour's measured in, take your hand and vigorously stir the flour into the water as fast as you possibly can. Don't stop till the original flour is all mixed in and you have the beginnings of bread dough.
  7. Now you can add some more flour. Add ½ a cup at a time, kneading and pressing and flipping the dough over in the bowl until the dough is no longer sticking to your hands. Continue to dust with flour and knead it in until you can still feel moisture but not much stickiness in the dough.
  8. Form the dough into a ball and take it out of the bowl for a moment. Lightly oil the inside of the bowl; put the dough back in (flipping it once to grease it); cover with a lid or a tea towel; and park it in a warm place.
  9. Now, prepare the fillings. Chop up an onion, some mushrooms, and some peppers (any colour) and sautée them in a bit of butter or oil. Drain thoroughly. Grate the cheese, if you didn't buy it pre-grated. (Mozzarella and Edam makes a very nice combination.) Slice or chop the meat. Anything you want on the pizza, get it ready now.
  10. About ten minutes before the fillings are ready, punch down the dough in the bowl; divide it in half, one piece for each pizza; and let it rest.
  11. Finish getting the fillings ready, then shove them off to one side and clean the counter to make room for dough-rolling. Oil the cookie sheets.
  12. Now's also a good time to preheat the oven: I recommend 350℉ and 25-30 minutes for a thicker crust, 375-400℉ and 15-20 minutes for a thin crust. If you're not sure, set the oven at 375℉; you'll be keeping an eye on the pizza as it bakes, anyway.
  13. Dust the counter lightly with whole wheat flour and plunk down one ball of dough. Shape it into a rectangle, then roll it out until it's slightly larger than the cookie sheet. Flip over and dust with flour as required. Place on the cookie sheet and crimp the edges slightly, using overhanging pieces of dough to fill in any sparse areas around the edges. Use a fork to poke lots of holes all over the crust so that rogue air bubbles don't displace the fillings as the pizza bakes.
  14. Cover the entire sheet of dough with garlic butter, or with a mixture of pesto and garlic butter. Not too much, though, or it'll be overpowering and greasy.
  15. Add the toppings. My preferred order (bottom to top) is the meat, then a bit of cheese, then the cooked and drained onion/mushroom/pepper mixture, then any other toppings you want to throw on, then another layer of cheese.
  16. Bake in moderate to moderate-high oven for 15-30 minutes, depending on the initial heat and the dough thickness. After the first ten minutes, check the pizza and turn the heat down if the edge of the crust is browning too fast. While you wait, roll the dough for the second pizza and get it ready to go in the oven.
  17. The pizza is ready when all the cheese is melted and slightly browned, and when a peek under the pizza reveals a firm, lightly toasted crust. Let it sit out of the oven for at least five minutes before cutting and serving.
Red took some lovely pictures of the finished product, which can be viewed here.

(raises Her beer) Happy New Year to all!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The end justifies the mead

Well, I *finally* got around to making that batch of champagne mead.

First, you need one humongous pot:

This one's about 16 litres, a decently heavy gauge of stainless steel, and has a nice, heavy bottom.

Then, you need water:

Já, that'll do. I prefer spring water to reverse-osmosis filtered water. Don't use regular tap water, because it doesn't generally taste good and yeast doesn't do well in it because of chlorine and other chemicals. Feel free to use well water, or glacial water if you happen to have a glacier encroaching on your back yard. I usually buy extra water for hydrating the yeast, and in case I need to top-up the carboy.

Wash and sterilize the pot, using standard brewing methods, then pour in the H2O and start heating it up. While you're waiting for the water to boil, you can get the rest of the tools ready:

Here we have an S-trap (best kind for meadmaking, IMNSHO) and bung; a thermometer; and a hydrometer. All have been washed and sanitized, and set out on a clean paper towel. I also covered them with another piece of toweling to keep them clean until needed.

I also prepared a 3-gallon glass carboy, washing and sanitizing it, and then covering the mouth of the bottle with a sandwich bag to keep it clean, too:

Plus a spoon or two (metal or plastic; not wood), and a siphon hose. I somehow managed to bust the outer tube of My siphon-starter device when cleaning up from the last brewing session, so today I had to resort to manual siphon starting. Thanks to My fish tank, I have lots of experience with this and was not unduly worried.

Okay, right about now the water on the stove has started to boil. To the nearly 10 litres of water, add All the Honey There Is. I usually use 3 kg (just over 6½ pounds), but last time I was at My honey supplier I picked up a 7 kg pail and used half of it today... Closer to 8 pounds of honey.

(pauses to lick some of the sticky stuff off the back of Her hand, then toddles over to the sink to wash up before continuing)

Stir the honey into the hot water until it's well-dissolved. Continue to heat it until it's not quite boiling. You can also add two tablespoons of "acid mix", a blend of edible acidifying agents which can be obtained from your local brewing emporium. This is not 100% necessary, but I've always used it; it lends a bit of character to the finished product.

Now the hard part:
  • Make sure the sink is empty; put in the plug; and partially fill it with cold water.
  • Turn off the burner.
  • Put the lid on the pot, and airlift it from the stove to the sink. Be careful. If you have any doubts about your ability to carry approximately 35 pounds of cooking pot and extremely hot and sticky liquid over to the sink, get someone to help you.
Once the pot is safely ensconced in the sink, keep the lid on while you fill the sink. This is to keep tap water from contaminating the honey-water mixture. Swing the tap safely away from the pot, and toss in the brewing thermometer. Put the lid back on, ever-so-slightly ajar to let steam escape.

And now, you wait. You can't do anything more until the mixture has cooled to nearly room temperature, or else you'll kill the yeast. It usually takes well over an hour to cool down, so set a timer and go off to do something else. Don't worry about it cooling too much. Read a book; do some laundry; head out to the store.

When the mixture is 30℃ (86℉) or lower, it's safe to get the yeast ready. I've always used Lalvin EC-1118 Champagne yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) for My mead because it's extremely alcohol-tolerant and causes the mead to turn effervescent a couple weeks after bottling. Unless you want a sweet and not overly potent mead, stick with a yeast that can handle at least 12% alcohol.

So, what do you do with said yeast? Well, put some more spring water into a clean bowl, and warm it to lukewarm. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the tepid water, and wait another 15 minutes until it's hydrated and foamy; then funnel it into the carboy.

Assuming that the honey-water mixture is now reasonably cool, you can now siphon it into the carboy. If you're going to work directly out of the sink, drain the water away first and put the carboy on the floor right below it. Use a siphon starter if desired.

If you don't have a siphon starter (or broke yours), coil up the siphon hose and hold the whole thing under the surface of the liquid... Especially both the ends. Let the air bubble out, and liquid flow in. (I occasionally lift one end to let air rise and liquid flow to the bottom.) When the hose is full and the large air bubbles are gone, hold one end down at the bottom of the pot and put your thumb over the other end while you lift it out and stick it into the top of the carboy. Remove your thumb, and liquid should start to splash into the bottle. Splashing is good, because it aerates the mixture.

Fill to the bottom of the neck of the carboy, no higher and not much lower. If the carboy isn't quite full enough, feel free to add a bit more spring water. (For today's batch, I didn't need to add water because of the volume provided by the extra pound or so of honey.)

This is a good time to toss in the hydrometer, to get the initial reading for your soon-to-be-alcohol. Put it into the top of the carboy and give it a spin to shake the bubbles off; then record the "potential alcohol" number at the waterline. This batch is showing 11% potential alcohol, assuming that the "end" reading drops all the way to 0%. (Subtract "after" from "before" to get the percentage of alcohol in the finished brew.) I don't usually leave the hydrometer in the mixture, and won't bother reading it again until bottling day.

Just about done now... Insert the S-trap into the bung; insert the bung in the top of the carboy; and pour a small amount of sterilizing solution into the top of the trap. This will allow the mead to bubble out excess gases over the next few months or so, but keep out dust and other undesirable substances.

Carefully move the carboy to any out-of-the-way place where it can sit undisturbed for several months. Mine is currently sitting under a desk, resting on a dish towel, surrounded by a loosely-fitting cardboard box with a hole for the S-trap to stick through. The cats look at it funny, but they leave it alone.

In anywhere from 8 to 36 hours, the yeast will start to ferment the honey water, and you'll hear a satisfying "BLOOP!" as gases percolate out through the S-trap.

And when the blooping finally stops, in anywhere from 3 to 5 months... You'll have mead.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Year's resolutions? Make it stop!

It seems like only yesterday that I was staring the dreaded Year 2K in the face, expecting something akin to Magic from the turn of the year.

A decade later, as the year odometer prepares to roll over yet again, My thoughts have turned to plans, expectations, and those nasty things called Resolutions.

I mean, seriously: What is it with these year-end To-Do lists, anyway? Do we honestly think that codifying something as an Official Resolution will make it more likely to happen? I contend that if we wanted it to happen, we'd already be working on it.

Accordingly, My resolutions for 2010 are as follows:
  1. I resolve to measure various parts of my house and go out to purchase sundry tools and building materials, as required.

  2. I will take Red out for coffee whenever the mood hits us.

  3. I will write stuff.

  4. I will pet a cat.

  5. I will brew some mead, clean My fishtank, and generally carry on with Business as Usual.

  6. I will do what needs to be done, reasonably close to when it needs to be done, unless circumstances dictate otherwise.
That oughta cover it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Order of the Sacred Cappuccino

Well, I've successfully made it to late night on December 24. That means a number of things:
  1. Jól is over, so we have an ample supply of pastry and leftovers.
  2. Festivus is over, too. (makes mental note to set up unadorned aluminum pole next year, and practise arm wrestling)
  3. Christmas Eve is pretty much over, so we're back from dinner at the Parental Units' home (with even more leftovers), and all my presents are wrapped and tucked away in the closet.
  4. There's a duck defrosting in cold water, and a bottle of sparkling wine chilling in the fridge.
  5. Went on the fabled Cappuccino Run this afternoon:
For over a decade now, I have celebrated the end of holiday shopping by plunking myself down in a coffee shop at the height of the Christmas Eve purchasing frenzy. At one time, I used to do this right in the middle of the mall at about 2:30 p.m. on December 24 so that I could marvel at the hordes of maniacal shoppers trying to decide between the Electric Nose Hair Trimmer (batteries not included) and the Kumquat-and-Durian body scrub.

Nowadays, rather than incurring the wrath of the Parking Gods*, I find a slightly more out-of-the way refuge. This year the Cappuccino Run involved not cappuccino but regular coffee and a donut. All in all, a suitable anticlimax to several weeks of Extreme Busy.

(Raises glass of single-malt Scotch) Best of the season to all!

* The Parking Gods: Asphaltia (Goddess of directing traffic in parking lots), Squat (Goddess of holding spots till you get there) and Gravél (God of unpaved shoulders, muddy fields, and other unlikely places to park).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Onward to Jól, warp factor eight!

About this time next Saturday evening, My annual winter solstice party will be over for another year. The leftovers will be stowed away; the last of the teabags and coffee grounds will be in the compost bin; people in need of a ride will have been driven home; and Red and Chala and I will be able to relax.

Until then, all bets are off.

Tomorrow I intend to finish plastering the main wall in the downstairs hallway. After that's done, I'm going to bake at least one batch of cookies. Somewhere in the middle, Red and I have a karate holiday party to attend.

Monday is My clarinet lesson. The plaster will still be curing, but after I get home I should be able to put up the rest of the ceiling tiles and fix a few gaps around the edges of the hallway floor. (Oh yes, and bake some butter tarts, too.)

Tuesday I have a dental appointment, but I should be able to pick up some wall-texturing stuff on My way home. (Oh, and whip up some shortbread before bedtime, too.)

Sometime after work on Wednesday, I can finally texture the repaired wall, and do up some brownies or almond cookies if there's time.

Thursday is writers' group, but when I get home I'll throw together a spinach and feta quiche for the Christmas potluck lunch at work.... And snap the chalk lines for the new floor tiles.

By Friday, the house should be looking pretty good, and smelling even better from all the baking and cooking. The roast beef will be roasting, the chicken wings simmering, and one last batch of pastry will be awaiting its turn in the oven.

But in the meantime, can I borrow a cup of dilithium crystals?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Six ceiling tiles and two batches of brownies...

...equals Progress. Yes, My mad dash to Jól has begun in earnest.

Tonight, Red and I went shopping to get a few ingredients and also stopped by a hardware store to grab a fresh batch of finishing nails for My nail gun.

And then I set to work.

At 11 pm CST, we had two batches of Saucepan Brownies cooling, and six more ceiling tiles installed in the hallway. (There's a distinct possibility that I may install the rest of the tiles before the end of the weekend; but I have to buy 'em first.)

Tomorrow night it's the local end-of-NaNoWriMo party, so I get a bit of a break. Come Sunday afternoon, though, it'll be time for The Dreaded Crawlspace.

(assembles Her tools for this onerous task, including a P100 half-mask respirator, a cordless circular saw, and a snow shovel just in case)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Whadya mean, there's only 18 days to Jól?

*eep* Just when I thought I couldn't possibly get any busier... The reality of December has finally hit Me.

This is what I hope to do between now and the onset of the holiday season:
  • Build a weatherproof add-on for the passageway between the house and the Cat Gazebo.

  • Patch, texture and paint the main hallway wall.

  • Tile the hallway floor.

  • Finish putting up the ceiling tiles in the hallway, too.

  • Bake brownies for the local NaNoWriMo wrapup party on Saturday night. (Okay, that should be done before midnight Friday or so.)

  • Put some insulation and concrete board on the south wall of the crawlspace.

  • Cook a spinach and feta quiche for the potluck at work.

  • Shop.

  • Stop for coffee.
    Every chance I get.

  • Shop some more.

  • While I'm in that razzafracking crawlspace, I might as well also add a pony wall to block most of it off from the basement. Oh yes, and put a new, higher, and substantially wider trap door on the outside -- One that I can climb through without resorting to limbo dancing or obscure yoga asanas.

  • Finalize the menu for the Jól party on the 19th of December. Shop. Cook. Bake. Clean.

  • Brew up those two batches of mead that I've been intending to make for about two months now.

  • Somehow find time in the midst of all of this to write, play clarinet, eat, sleep, go to work, and generally do all the things I do when I'm *not* busy.
O Epinephrinia, goddess of the adrenaline rush, I beseech...

...Oh, 'eck; I got Her voicemail. She's out of the office till January.

Smart lady.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Back to the tootling board.

Subsequent to last week's experimentation, I have returned to My #3 Vandoren reeds. My clarinet teacher was able to discern some things that I had not noticed when I switched to a stiffer reed, including increased upper lip tension that was wreaking havoc with the sound.

So the #3½'s are on the shelf for another time.

But subsequent to this Amazing Escape from clarinet Purgatory, I did get to feel My own technique with greater acuity, and have retained the ability to flow more easily between the chalumeau and clarinet registers.

I'd say that's worth the price of a box of reeds.

Friday, October 23, 2009

All your garlic are belong to Us.

Or, "Is this an allium sativum I see before Me?"

I seem to have acquired a new, and hopefully short-lived, hobby: Since I got home this evening, I have masticated and consumed several cloves of raw garlic.

On purpose.

You see, about an hour before I left work this afternoon, I developed an acute case of the sneezles. It was all I could do not to bowl over various co-workers as I rushed to wash My hands.

Things got even wilder as I waited for the bus home. I sneezed so hard and so often that I started wondering if the bus driver would actually let Me on board. Things calmed down for a while, only to start up again just after Red and I got to the grocery store.

About that time, Red reminded Me of a piece of sage advice we had obtained from My brother on his most recent visit: When you start to feel a cold coming on, chew and swallow a few cloves of garlic.

So here I am with My mouth and stomach sizzling away, and it almost certainly wasn't the lone jalapeño pepper that we put in the Friday night nachos. That garlic was a lot hotter.

But it's still better than another case of the Mesopotamian Death Flu.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Making things easier by making them harder...

...Specifically, clarinet reeds.

Acting on a Reality-Based Hunch subsequent to last night's clarinet practice, I went out and bought Myself a box of #3½ Vandoren reeds. I was previously playing on Vandoren #3's, but they just didn't feel right any more.

This is a unilateral move on My part, having not had the opportunity to consult with My instructor beforehand. It does seem to be the right move, as the stiffer reeds are forcing Me to keep a more solid airflow. The bottom B in the clarinet¹ register sounds remarkably better, and I can actually get over the break² smoothly.

This promises to be fun, and musically profitable as well.

1. The clarinet register is the higher-pitched register of the clarinet, a twelfth above the lower notes. (Low E becomes B an octave and a half above; F becomes C, and so on.)

2. The 'break' is the transition point between the chalumeau (lower) register and the clarinet register. After gradually removing one finger after another, and using less and less of the clarinet barrel, suddenly one puts down
all the fingers and uses the entire barrel to get the second-octave B natural. In My experience, this was previously extraordinarily hard to do without (a) changing the breath flow; (b) tightening up the throat; (c) flailing around and missing the "B" key; or (d) just plain panicking. ("Oh nooo! It's the breeeeeeak!" *squee* *thud* *tinkletinkletinkle*)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You don't have to do it all. Really.

I just had an epiphany akin to hitting Myself with My own Clue-By-Four™ -- Specifically, the musical version of that particular device.

Sometimes when I ponder the subject of practicing a musical instrument, it's just too much: The day's too short, and the to-do list has too many to-do's on it.

So tonight I tried something different: Rather than running through the list entitled "Absolutely Everything I'm Supposed to Know for My Clarinet Exam", just so I can check off everything on the list, I decided to just play, and listen, and tinker.

I deliberately picked a reed that's just a smidgen too hard, and used it as a springboard for working on My staccato. It actually got to the point where I could deliberately cause My horn to squawk, by hitting the reed too hard on purpose. I also had a mini-epiphany regarding the timing of the staccato tonguing. (Think "anticipatory grace note" and you'll be in the ballpark.)

Better yet, at the end of a mere half-hour, I had gone through a couple of scales with a slur-two, tongue-two articulation pattern, worked some more on the Langenus Page 22 staccato exercise, and played all the way through one of the exam studies.

The moral of this episode: There's always time to fix something, and that means one less thing to fix later.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Clean *your* tank with Pleco!

I have a new housemate, and she's cute.

Tidy, too. My aquarium has 20% less algae than it did last night. Oh, and she's a fish. A plecostomus, to be precise.

I wonder if she does windows...

(Photo by Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man); licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Original at

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Slogging through the wilds of October...

There is something about chilly weather that brings out My grumbly side. Specifically, I don't do "windy and damp" very well.

It's been a bit too cold for My tastes lately, and also too dark. The sun is currently setting around 7:30, which means less time to finish outdoor projects like the new crawlspace skirting and the roof of the Cat Gazebo. I suppose I *could* go into the garage and rig up a trouble light to illuminate the side of the house; but there's no way in Niflheim that I'm going up on a razzafracking roof in the dark.

Unless I absolutely have to, of course. I've done stranger things: Painted the fascia trim on a friend's house while holding a flashlight in My teeth; climbed the northwest face of Mont Saint-Hilaire without proper safety gear, and made the mistake of looking back over My shoulder at the highway 1300 feet below; dressed up like a five-headed dragon...

...Mm. I think I will wait till the weekend to finish that roof. Can't be too careful, y'know.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Best of three falls?

*OOF* *THUD* *clatterclatterclatter*

There, I've done it. The two largest unwanted items in Astrejurhof -- The five-foot-long worktable from My study, and the weight bench in the basement -- Have now duly been dragged to the curb in preparation for the grand Give Your Stuff Away weekend.

I still have a handful of smaller items to put out, including an extremely lightweight 6' stepladder. I just didn't feel like rifling through My own garage at 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night.

Especially not after dealing with the weight bench.

The table was relatively straightforward. I cleared it off, washed the top, and set it up on one end; then I wiggled it out through the doorway and eased it down the stairs, whereupon Red helped Me carry it the rest of the way.

The bench, on the other hand, was right nasty. All those gazillions of articulating parts and knobs and hooks made it somewhat akin to carrying a garbage bag full of water.

Speaking of water, the leg press attachment somehow managed to pick up an empty 18-litre water jug on the way up the basement stairs. One of the plate-holding rods wedged itself into the handle, and when I arrived at the first floor it was still there.

On the way out the front door, one of the bench's feet hooked under the door jamb for the screen door, and ripped it right off the porch floor. (writes "new sill plate" on Her shopping list for Saturday)

Amidst all the bangs and crashes and swearing, the support bar for the bench pad kept falling off and getting lost. The last time this happened was on the final stretch from the house to the curb. I had to go back into the house, get our emergency lantern, and search the garden. The bar finally surfaced halfway between a bittersweet nightshade bush and the Nanking cherry tree.

So I'm done for tonight. If I haven't gone completely insane by the time morning rolls around, I'll go get that ladder out of the garage and start ridding Myself of the smaller stuff.

And hope that the bench is already gone, so I don't have to look at it again.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Still a bit wobbly on that 'neat and tidy' concept.

This weekend marks the inaugural session of Winnipeg's "give away stuff you don't need" event. (Think "garage sale without a cash box" and you'll get the general idea.)

I have a number of projects on the go, but precious little free space in which to do the actual work. For instance, about ten feet away from Me is a long, thin commercial-grade table which at one time served as My computer desk. Currently it's piled high with boxes of old diskettes and sundry tools and materials, and taking up Entirely Too Much Room. In fact, it's standing on a section of floor that I would like to work on; and that only because I moved it off a different section of floor that I recently completed. Just the other night, in fact, I had to nudge the table a couple of inches to the north to make room for a shelf that I was assembling.

And yet, giving away the table is not going to be painless. In a previous version of Astrejurhof, the table held a place of honour as the computer station in My workroom. I fixed computers there, played multi-player StarCraft there, even used it as My base (are belong to Us) when teaching Windows NT and A+ Service Technician over the Internet.

Nonetheless... Out it goes.

Along with anything else I happen to stub My toe upon in the next 36 hours.

(carefully puts away nearly-full bottle of Glenfiddich so that She doesn't accidentally stub Her toe on it)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I should buy 'Happy belated spring' cards by the truckload.

(comes jogging across the Australian outback with a one-litre carton of Canadian Cabernet-Merlot tucked under Her arm)

*pant* *wheeze* *ACHOO*

Sorry I'm late, folks... I took a couple of wrong turns out there somewhere in this razzafracking dust storm. Best of the Vernal Equinox to everyone south of the equator.

(hands over the wine, scarfs down a Tim-Tam and a couple of canapés, then grabs a broom to help clean up all the dust)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Whatever you do, don't blame the equipment.

As I sit here trying to get some consistent sounds out of My clarinet, I am reminded that music-making is My responsibility, *not* the responsibility of the instrument. It does help to have a good-quality piece of musical gear; but ultimately, I'm the one who has to place My fingers and blow into the horn in just the right way.

This all came to mind this evening as I was working on a Mozart piece still fairly new to Me, while struggling with a fresh #3 Vandoren reed. Obviously (I thought to Myself), there are people out there who use much harder reeds, right out of the box. At some point in their practice, they build up the muscle memory and embouchure strength, and the notes just flow out.

I'm not quite there yet.

But I'm closer than I've ever been. Just the other night, I started to feel what 'breath support' actually means when playing a piece. I really have to concentrate on keeping the airflow going in some passages, but when I do the pitch rings true and, ironically, I don't run out of breath as soon.

I'm still trying to negotiate the release of My tongue, however. It's been taken hostage by the infamous Langenus Page 22. (picks a few splinters out of Her tongue and starts working on that infamous, galloping staccato exercise)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Once a geek, always a geek.

It's been a mostly-typical Saturday night at Astrejurhof, except for something that I rarely do nowadays: I cleaned up and optimized a friend's laptop computer.

Although I've been playing with computers since that FORTRAN program I coded in 1968, and although My first computer was one of these*...

...I still hearken to the words of B.J., My first professional IT instructor: "Everyone has holes in their knowledge."

And I keep thinking that I'm going to spring a leak, and all those obscure bits of computer trivia will leak out. (This, despite the fact that I know My age in hexadecimal, can tell My ASCII from My elbow, and still clearly remember what the command -G=C800:5 does.)

In 2005, in My last months as an IT professional, the doubts did get the better of Me. It became a chore to go to work in the morning, partially because I was working in a mould-contaminated building, but also because a massive and thoroughly demented bureaucracy had insinuated itself between Me and work that I love to do. The combination left Me both depressed and physically ill, and in the end I gave notice and got out of there. Six months later, with My health mostly back online, I started My new career as a Typist of Terrifyingly Complicated Medical Terminology.

I would not go back to being a professional geek, mainly because I enjoy medical transcription so much. The lesson I would take home from this is to distinguish between the work you do and the environment in which you do it. Be prepared to walk away from bad gigs so that you can continue to do that work in a better place. Life is much too short for anything less.

* Digi-Comp I computer, distributed by Edmund Scientific. It could only count to 111 in binary, and was programmed with little plastic tubes. I discovered today that a new version of this cute little computer has been produced. (writes 'Digi-Comp kit' at the very top of Her 2009 Jól list)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Arrr. Pass the cognac, matey!

Avast, ye scurvy dogs! It be Talk Like a Pirate Day, and I raise a glass of grog to ye.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oh no, not another fad diet!

Yup. But this time, it's My very own fad diet.

At coffee break this afternoon, as I sat drinking a small decaf and nibbling on a piece of cheddar, it occurred to Me that diets would be a whole lot more effective if they tasted better.

So, this is what I'm going to try:
  • Cut back on fat, but not too much.
  • Cut back on sugar, as much as you can stand to cut.
  • Likewise for salt. Ixnay on the odium-say oride-chlay.
  • Ease off on the starch, particularly the heavily processed ones.
  • Lots of whole grains.
  • All The Vegetables There Are.
  • Count calories if it helps.
  • For snacks, go for small amounts of really, really strong-tasting things. Garlic hummus. Five-year-old white cheddar. A square of 99% cocoa dark chocolate. The strongest triple espresso they've got in the coffee bar.
That's it: The Springy G Intense Flavour diet. Low (but not *that* low) carb, fat, and calories. With chocolate as an essential ingredient.

And if it actually works... Bonus.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Awright, summer vacation is officially over.

Today marks the start of another year of clarinet lessons, and the run-up to My Grade VI Royal Conservatory clarinet exam.

On this fine September day, I thought I would take a moment to outline a few goals for the next nine months or so.
  • Improve finger rhythm.
  • Get breathing deeper, faster, and more consistent.
  • Continue to make improvements on tempo and rhythm.
  • Work on sight-reading dynamics and articulations.
Ah, articulations! I think I'm finally starting to get the idea. I'm still experimenting a bit with tongue positions and syllables, trying to get a smaller and more elegant movement that allows Me to play faster, cleaner notes.

But the #1 goal for the 2009-2010 melodious tootling season is... Wait for it...

...Practice, practice, and yet more practice.

At least 500% more than I did last summer.

(starts clearing Her music stand to make room for all those new pieces and studies)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mindful munching

All right, that's it. Really. I am fed up to *here* (raises goddessly hand) with aches and pains and sleepless nights, sneezes and wheezes and coughs and other unpleasant noises.

As much as I revere Raistlin Majere as a friend and role model, I am reasonably certain at this point that the archmage Fistandantilus is not using My body as a vacation timeshare.

So what does that leave?


*waaah* *sob* *sniffle*

In the name of all that is Springy, if it should come to pass that an allergy to chocolate is one of the culprits, I may be forced to auction off the Goddess of Chocolate magisterium on EBay. But in the meantime, I have some serious experimentation to do with My diet.

The Suspects:
  • Gluten. Fairly unlikely, as I went gluten-free for some months and didn't feel a whole lot different.
  • Chocolate. Actually, this is rather unlikely... One would think that I would have long ago keeled over from all those Mini-Eggs I eat in the spring. And then there's time I made a Jól wish for World Peace and Five Pounds of Turtles. Guess which one I got.
  • Sugar. Unlikely that there's an allergy or intolerance, but I could stand to cut back a bit. Okay, a lot.
  • Milk products. Possible, and definitely worth testing.
  • Eggs. Never actually tested for this.
  • Caffeine (Nooo! Not caffeine!)
  • All of the above.
Or, perhaps, just Too Much of All of the Above.

Rather than going all drastic and doing something I'll regret not doing later, I've decided to work closely with the Gods of Small Changes and, in effect, sneak up on Myself. So, this is where I start:
  • Decaf coffee as the default version.
  • No more butter with My muffins, unless the muffin really needs it.
  • No more 16-ounce frosty mugs full of pop.
  • And going to bed at least seven hours before I have to get up again.
That's it. That's all.

Eminently doable.

And re-doable, which is what really counts.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wish List, Mk. II

As I mentioned in this post, over here, I have remarkable success getting what I want.

So I've decided to ask for a few more things...
  1. I want to lose some weight, and hereby declare My target to be 170 pounds with a variance of ±5 pounds.

  2. There are a couple of colognes I would really like to see back in circulation: Somewhere, by Avon; and Eau de Love. And not with those nasty, stinky synthetic odorants that have defiled most of the colognes made in the last fifteen years, either. Original formulas, or don't even bother.

  3. The album Tasty, by the Good Rats. Bought a copy of it in NYC in 1974, and would like to have it again.

  4. And if the Karma Faerie could please drop in on the various individuals who "disappeared" My electric twelve-string guitar, Chinese straight sword, and "SeeFood" coffee cup, I would be ever so grateful.

    Even more so to get these things, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, back in My possession.
Yes, I do love My Stuff. I am an unapologetic stuffophile, and I hope to keep it that way.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Icelandic butter chicken, anyone?

Red, 'Chala and I drove up to Gimli, Manitoba last weekend for Islendingadagurinn, the annual Icelandic festival. The Parking Gods found us a lovely spot just off Centre Street. After a quick lunch at the Gimli Hotel (Pickerel burgers FTW!) we started exploring.

There is something uniquely disturbing about an Icelandic festival that has more than one booth selling henna mehndi tattoos. And the butter chicken mobile unit was definitely over the top. Although it's possible that the Æsir did migrate from India (by way of Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Troy, and perhaps the Etruscan territories, I would guess), I distinctly do *not* recall any Viking raids on Mumbai or Delhi. Or vice versa, for that matter.

The great irony in all this is that I adore East Indian cuisine. Never met a curry I didn't like; made ghee innumerable times; enjoy samosas with lots of sweet tamarind sauce; and someday hope to perfect My dhalpuri roti recipe.

But in the end we skipped the butter chicken and had ice cream instead. Then we watched an exhibition of Viking fighting techniques, rescued a slab of vinatarta from the bakery, and headed back to Winnipeg.

And stopped off at Tim Horton's for coffee before finally driving home.

Darn, this post is making Me hungry. (eats handwritten notes for essay and heads downstairs for a snack)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Inertia, momentum, power tools, and beer

Contrary to what the title of this episode implies, the above is not a recipe for disaster.

There was a near-disaster at the dinner table when I fumbled My mug of barley soda. That's where the inertia comes in: The mug tipped slowly enough that I was able to catch it despite My fatigue.

The fatigue was caused by momentum that carried Me through a particularly busy day. After work, Red and I went out for coffee. Then we went to a home improvement store. After that, we stopped over at a friend's house, where I acquired a handful of seeds from an interesting clump of blue grass.

And then, upon our return home at about 8 p.m., things really got busy. First, I went outside, unlocked the almost-finished Cat Gazebo 2.0, and planted a Japanese spirea and the handful of grass seeds.

Then I went back in the house and used some 2x6's to make a temporary platform for the freezer at the back of the kitchen. Sliding it out of the way, I opened up a section of the kitchen wall and drilled some pilot holes to the outside of the house.

Then I went outside again, and sawed through the outside wall to create a cat-sized passageway from the kitchen.

Finally, I reattached a staircase left over from Cat Gazebo 1.0, put the freezer back where it belonged, and sat down to have supper.

Which is roughly when the beer tried to escape.

But Cat Gazebo 2.0 is now operational. Even as I type, the Dark Legion are exploring their new 24-hour playhouse. I can now go on to other things for a while, such as planning the demolition of My garage, gutting the old downstairs bathroom, and levelling a floor or two.

Not tonight, though.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's La Fin du Monde as I know it...

...and I feel fine.

It's Saturday night -- uh, early Sunday morning -- in Winnipeg. I'm sitting here with a mug of my favourite beer, a little Québecois number called La Fin du Monde. It dwells at the "WTF???" end of the beer strength scale, coming in at a hefty 9% alcohol content. (It also tends to make me sneeze, possibly because my nose has gone completely numb, but that's another story.)

Oh, and I also have a *snif* empty bowl that previously contained some BBQ potato chips by Old Dutch, a legendary local purveyor of crispy snacks. Lest you think that I've gone all commercial on you and am engaging in some bizarre form of divine product placement, kindly allow me to explain further.

I've noticed, over the past couple of years, that I *do* tend to eventually get what I ask for in life. Here is my wish list as of several years ago:
  • A Dragonlance movie.
  • A movie about the Silver Surfer.
  • The Tick, animated version, on DVD.
  • A complete new set of Dragonlance graphic novels, to supplant the old DC graphic novel series that died halfway through the story.
  • Potato chips that taste like Humpty Dumpty barbecue chips.
  • A book about Raistlin Majere that fills in the gaps in Dragons of Spring Dawning.
  • Max Headroom TV series on DVD.
I now have six out of seven. The DL cartoon did leave much to be desired, but I still rather enjoyed watching it. The Silver Surfer showed up in the second Fantastic Four movie, and there was much rejoicing at Astrejurhof. Got the Tick cartoons, and a re-release of DangerMouse as well.

Then Devil's Due Publishing put out a whole new comic series based on Dragonlance Chronicles, and to my delight also issued them as a four volume soft-cover compilation. Even better, they've also done some work on Dragonlance Legends.

As of tonight, I have the potato chips.

I'm also mere weeks away from the release of Dragons of the Hourglass Mage, the third and final book in the Dragonlance Lost Chronicles series, and the de facto third book in the Raistlin Chronicles. I'm already foreseeing an all-nighter when I finally get my hands on the book, as was the case when I picked up The Soulforge in February 1998.

(Now, if someone would kindly drop a complete DVD collection of the Max Headroom TV series in my lap, I will be rather pleased to receive it.)

What I'm trying to figure out right now is how these wishes are converted into tangible form. It does appear that the things I want the most fervently do eventually come to pass; and, as you can see from the list above, I tend to desire some fairly unusual things.

Could it be that pop culture is now actually capable of serving fringe tastes such as mine?

... Or is the Weird Wish Faerie listening to my pleas?

Either way, it's a win-win situation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Carpentry diem!

Or, "Hand me the crowbar... I've gotta finish this before dark."

Ah, the mad caprices of Winnipeg weather! I have contractors coming by in the morning to install a beam and some teleposts, so tonight was the night I had to open up the side wall of the crawlspace.

It rained, of course.

Rained with extreme prejudice. I'm talking copious amounts of dihydrogen monoxide here, enough to leave four-inch-deep puddles in My back yard.

I managed to get the outer layer of siding off the wall before the rain started in earnest, then stood on the back porch for about five minutes and watched the deluge. Red finally convinced Me to come inside.

Because we had a thunderstorm in progress, I had to do something that didn't involve computers. I spent an hour or so with a box of carving tools, detailing a little clay cat sculpture that I started a couple of months ago.

Around eight p.m., the rain finally abated and I went outside to try again. I wore winter boots this time, which allowed Me to traipse through the mud with wanton abandon. This time I did manage to open up the wall all the way. After removing a layer of tongue-and-groove lumber, a few other pieces of wood, and a bit more concrete parging... And adding a healthy amount of mud to Myself... I staggered back into the house at 9:40 p.m. with today's mission accomplished.

I now have an opening wide enough and long enough to admit a couple of concrete pads, a beam, two teleposts, and one or two labourers.

Also large enough, alas, to permit a midnight mass escape of My Dark Legion of cats. If they're all still in the house when I get up for work tomorrow morning, I'll be... Disappointed, somehow.

Monday, July 13, 2009

On omnipotence and other superpowers

It's July 13, 2009, which means that it's Think Like a God Day. As mentioned earlier, this year's theme is:

Omnimax: Something's gotta give!

The concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing and benevolent god is an absurdity. How could a good god have knowledge of an injustice and the power to do something about it, and yet sit/stand/float idly by and do bugger-all?

It's a simple problem to fix: All one needs to do is take away one "omni" characteristic, and the hypothetical divine being becomes slightly more believable.

But which characteristic are *You* prepared to forego, Mr. or Ms. God-For-A-Day?

I'm not particularly obsessed with power, so I could quite easily do without the omnipotence part. Give Me the ability to change My own oil without forgetting to put the oilpan plug back in, and we're good.

I do treasure knowledge. The question is, do I really want to know everything about everything?

Think about it: Do *you* want to know what happens next, in excruciating detail? Would you need a stiff drink to forget what you saw just seconds ago? And what about the joy of learning something new? Me, I think I'll also pass on Total Knowledge of Everything.

Omnibenevolence is a great idea in theory, and it's the omni quality that I like the best. If I absolutely had to pick one of the three, this would be the one.

(Then again, there are the people whom I don't want to like...)

In the final analysis, I don't want any of the three "omni" powers. I'm perfectly happy with My limited magisteria of the Vernal Equinox, punctuation, Random Equipment Malfunctions, and chocolate.

Especially the chocolate.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Weekends are supposed to be relaxing??"

Could've fooled Me...

I am finally sitting down at My desk, after a profoundly exhausting day running around and doing stuff. In fact, today (Sunday) was almost a carbon copy of Saturday.

Both started with the packing of sundry junk into My little compact car: A huge bucket of assorted wood pieces; dozens of bricks; tiles that had been removed from the back wall of the house; several bags of weeds; an old trunk with rusty locks. Once the car was full, Red and I drove down to the Brady Road landfill south of Winnipeg and paid $10 for the privilege of making pickup truck drivers giggle. (To make sure of that, I wore a plaid flannel workshirt with a cap in a completely different plaid.)

Then we stopped for coffee. No dump run is complete without a layover for coffee.

After there, it gets fuzzy.

Near as I can figure, on Saturday I visited My aunt, took My mum shopping (bought a hedge trimmer), bought some completely different bricks, came home, and wreaked three hours of un-havoc in the front garden. Grass was weedwhacked, bricks were installed. Then Red and I went out for burgers. Upon our return home I made Myself a Havana (pineapple, lemon, white rum); staggered upstairs; and wrote till three in the morning.

Imagine My surprise when the rest of the morning showed up.

I did manage to get up before noon, and as mentioned above, we loaded up for a second dump run. Crawled up the dump hill in a convoy of F150s and Silverados and other vehicles much bigger than ours. Flung stuff out of the car, went for coffee. Then we went to the parental units' home to show them how to use their new hedge trimmer. It cut a few strands of hedge, then stopped working. After about ten minutes of fussing, I was convinced by Red to pack it up and take it back to the store.

So off we went again...

About an hour and a half later* we returned with a trimmer from a completely different store, and the fun began. Pieces of shrubbery flew in all directions. We finally got back home just after six o'clock, only to be confronted by a horde of disgruntled housebound cats.

The cats went outside. I went upstairs to have a bit of a lie-down.

An hour later, *I* went outside with a crowbar, a hammer, and a pair of tin snips, and smashed up the concrete parging on the south side of the crawlspace. The removed material got dumped on the freshly-cleared patio, right where the bricks and wall tiles used to be. So it looks like we're heading back to the dump next Saturday morning.

Make it stop!

* Somewhere in the middle of the hedge trimmer exchange, we stopped for ice cream. You know you're tired when you completely forget about the ice cream...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Whatever you do, don't say 'Asparagus'!

Aaaaa! (dives under desk)

I just spent an hour and a half dealing with three grocery bags full of the aforementioned vegetable... About ten pounds of the stuff.

A group of us at work purchased a very large box of... you know... from a local farmer. After I got My share, I also volunteered to take away all the little bits and pieces at the bottom of the box. I'd much rather see the *sp*r*g*s in My compost bin than the dumpster out back.

So I sorted out all the nice thin pieces, a large pile for Me and the Astrejurhof crowd, and a slightly smaller pile for My parental units, and put them in the fridge for later consumption.

And then I put a big pot on the stove, and blanched and bagged most of what remained. I filled five, count 'em, five medium-size freezer bags; then I cut the remainder into bite-size pieces and relegated them to the compost heap.

So if a squirrel knocks on your door asking for a dish of melted butter, you know Whom to blame.

Have you mailed your Think Like A God Day cards yet?

Well, you'd better get cracking. Think Like a God Day is July 13, and this year's theme is...

"Omnimax: Something's Gotta Give!"

Your mission: Given the Dilemma of Epicurus, decide which "omni" you would choose to forego. Would you rather be all-powerful and all-knowing, but amoral? Omnibenevolent, but not particularly omniscient?

(For the record, I'm quite happy being generally benevolent with scattered hissy fits, and with limited magisteria and variable amounts of knowledge on topics near to My heart. I don't want to be "omni" anything.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Emergency music store runs and carrot pancakes

Red and I enjoyed a rather out-of-the-ordinary Tuesday night at Astrejurhof. Well, *at* Astrejurhof is not entirely accurate. An after-work lie-down turned into an impromptu two-hour nap, and upon coming to My senses at a quarter to seven this past evening, I realized that we only had an hour to get to the music store before closing time.

So off we went in My little Cavalier, driving at a breakneck... Uh, 48 km/hr. We got there in good time, and while Red explored the front of the store I headed to the band room in search of some serious clarinet music. After ordering Divertimento No. 1 by Mozart, and playing with virtually every keyboard in the keyboard room, off we went on another Urgent Mission.

A coffee break, of course.

And then... On to the supermarket to pick up some steaks for our Canada Day barbecue.

Somewhere along the way to the grocery store, I decided it was high time to cook up the carrot pancakes that I've been threatening to make for about a month now. Oddly enough, it was the prospect of imminent and severe meat consumption that inspired Me. I've been trying to eat My veggies lately, because I really do feel better when I do. I spent about ten years (1981-1991) as an ovo-lacto vegetarian, until I finally met My match in a barbecued chicken. I used to make vegetable pancakes fairly regularly, so tonight was a trip down Memory Lane. (turns to guardian dragon) The recipe, please, Glori...
  • One potato, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 8-10 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 5 eggs
  • One shallot or small onion, finely chopped
  • Enough flour to make batter hold together without being too dry... Two or three handfuls, or about one cup
  • Celery salt, garlic salt, black pepper to taste
  • Sunflower oil, for frying
Mix together everything but the oil in a fairly large bowl. Alternate vegetables and eggs, mixing as you go, until it looks like enough; then season the mixture and add the flour to thicken the batter. (It should be slightly wet, with a small amount of vegetable juice at the bottom of the bowl, but not runny and not stiff.)

Heat up the frying pan of your choice on medium-high heat, without the oil. When it's hot enough, back off the heat a bit and pour in some oil. Swirl it around in the pan, then put in three heaping tablespoons of batter to make the first three pancakes. Flatten and spread with the back of the spoon, then tilt the pan to get it around the pancakes. If the pan is hot enough, the bottom of the pancakes will harden almost immediately and you'll be able to easily slide them around in the pan.

Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until brown on the bottom, then flip over and cook for a few more minutes. Put the finished pancakes on a cookie sheet that's been lined with parchment paper, and keep warm in a low oven (250F or less).

If the pan looks dirty due to browned oil, wipe it clean before adding more oil and more batter. Reduce heat slightly if the oil starts to brown. Repeat until all the batter is cooked, then serve with sour cream. Makes 12-15 pancakes.
Thanks, Glori.

In other news... The weather has finally settled into "sunny, and not too hot to work outside." When I wake up later this morning (early this afternoon, more likely), I'm going to take advantage of the pleasant temperature and try to finish framing the roof of the Cat Gazebo.

In between schlepping topsoil back and forth across My back yard, and packaging up mass quantities of broken bricks for a run to the dump.

You see, sometime this year, I *really* want to have an actual patio behind the house. There is a small concrete pad back there, but between the Pile o' Many Bricks, and the gate leaning up against the wall, and the wheelbarrow, it's a bit hard to access the...

...Barbecue! *happy dance*

(raises mug of beer) Happy Canada Day, everyone!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The joys of feeding antipasto to the cat


(checks timecard) June 21, 2009; 00:52 hours. Seven minutes overtime... Aah, not worth the paperwork for seven minutes.

Welcome to summer, folks. Sorry I'm late... I had a particularly onerous onslaught of random equipment malfunctions to deal with. My spring equinox gig ended just after midnight Saturday night; but equipment snafus are 24/7/365.

It all started when I attempted to uninstall some of the programs on My Fedora desktop system. Lo and behold, by the time I noticed that Firefox and Open Office and the *ahem* software add/remove tool had also been uninstalled, there wasn't a heck of a lot I could do about it.

Except boot the system from a rescue CD and get My data the heck off the computer before something really nasty happened.

Unfortunately, My moribund system had been installed with a LVM partition, a rather odd beast that did not auto-mount either under Knoppix or Ubuntu. So I did what any self-respecting geek goddess would do: I installed an FTP server on My Windows XP box and used Fedora 9 in recovery mode to start My network card and conjure up a shell. This enabled Me to finally see the LVM partition. Then, using the command line version of FTP, I proceeded to move four years' worth of novels over to the aforementioned Windows system.

So that's how I spent most of Saturday night, and why I missed the end of My vernal equinox shift and clocked out a few minutes late.

Somewhere in the middle of all this madness and cyber-angst, I did manage to blend up a glorious Havana Frappé (White rum, pineapple juice, lemon juice, and a maraschino cherry) and allowed Ludwig to finish off a bowl of antipasto. And then I went back upstairs and transferred files until I couldn't see straight. For the record, I blame the FTP client, not the Havana Frappé.

Come Sunday evening, I decided to expedite matters somewhat and did some more research on the ins and outs of the LVM file system. A quick scan of a few Linux help forums found this wonderful page that explained exactly how to mount a Fedora LVM volume while booted up from My Ubuntu live CD.

Of course, in order to get access to My own home directory, I had to mount the file system as read-write instead of read-only, and gave Myself permission(s) to wreak havoc with the command sudo chmod 777 ...

... Did a quick Samba shuffle over to the Windows system ...

... And dumped another 30 gigabytes of files across the network.

(CD tray slides out; Astreja K. switches Her KVM switch to other computer) Ah, it's done!


I now have a shiny new Fedora Core 9 installation, instead of the rather neurotic FC6/FC10 system that recently expired.

Best of all... My sound card works again!

Life is good.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My computer has been taken hostage by mimes!

As I sit here, frittering away the wee hours of Saturday night / Sunday morning, I ponder the dire fate that has befallen one of My computers.

For reasons yet unknown to Me, I am bereft of audio output. The trouble started when I upgraded this system to Fedora Core 10, long-jumping all the way from Fedora Core 6. The hardware *was* working just fine before I made the decision to upgrade.

Ironically, it took Me a while to notice that the sound was MIA -- I was too busy editing stories and working with My new graphics tablet and ranting on various Internet fora. And then I continued to be too busy to fix it.

*sigh* But I'm going to make the time to fix it. You never know when you might want to listen to a friend's MP3 composition, or watch a Richard Dawkins lecture, or even just hear something go *Click* or *Bloop* -- Yes, you heard that correctly. I am currently clickless and bloopless.

(grabs valkyrie helmet and battle axe, and sallies forth in search of Linux RPM's and sound configuration HOWTO's)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

One Hundred Minutes of Solitude

This evening, I actually made some progress on the crawlspace under the house. I went in there with no illusions, and lots of equipment, including goggles, rubber gloves, safety shoes, and a P100-rated half-mask respirator.

In a bit more than an hour and a half, I mucked out four garbage bags' worth of sundry unpleasant substances ranging from wood-chip insulation to nuggets of *bleah* fossilized cat poop.

I also took a hacksaw to some old ABS drainpipes and vent pipes, and capped them off. This clears the way for finally dismantling the unused shower in the mud porch bathroom, and removing the old closet flange. Once the floor has been properly supported from below, the newly-cleared area will become the kitchen pantry, and a new toilet and sink will be installed in a much, much smaller bathroom.

Probably by a contractor. There is a certain charm to doing all of one's own renovations, but I'd rather have a professional plumber do the roughing-in.

Because I really want to have that bathroom operational for this year's Jól party.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I can see My desk from here!

This is... amazing. I actually have more than two square feet of clear space in front of Me, right this very instant!

Slowly but surely, I'm catching up on various projects and not starting any new ones. For Me, this is a bit of a change-of-pace: The usual script runs something like this...
  • Decide to move fixtures in mud porch bathroom because pipes keep freezing in uninsulated crawlspace below.
  • Notice that floor is clearly not level, and defer plumbing until this is rectified.
  • Go into crawlspace, muck out a bunch of garbage, go off to do other things.
  • Fridge expires of old age. Erect temporary, level pallet in back of mud porch to hold new fridge and freezer, because floor still hasn't been levelled.
  • Haul some more crap out of crawlspace. Go off to do more pleasant things.
  • Winter sets in. Temperature and humidity changes cause back door to stick occasionally. Make mental note to replace door.
  • While under the porch in sub-zero weather, hastily installing some extra insulation, make observation that the mud porch floor could benefit from a new beam and teleposts to support that cranky back door.
  • Spring arrives. Latch on back door deadbolt finally expires and is replaced.
  • Call contractors for telepost estimates.
  • Invest in good-quality respirator, in anticipation of a thorough clean-out of the junk in the crawlspace.
  • Rediscover bag of plumbing parts originally intended for bathroom re-plumbing. Seriously think about hiring a plumber to do the work... After the floor has been reinforced and properly levelled.
  • Finally go into crawlspace to finish that clean-out, and try not to feel guilty about the almost-finished roof on the Cat Gazebo.
That's My story, and I'm sticking to it...

...60% off triple-glazed windows? Where, where? (runs off in search of ladder and measuring tape)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Artichokes and doorbells

Ah, the wonders of the Internet! Here I am, with a busted doorbell at the Parental Units' home, and a bag of raw artichokes in the fridge. Knowledge, precious and useful knowledge, is but a query away.

(yawns and squints at page) Mm. Voltage from the stem to the artichoke heart should read 18 volts AC...

...Or am I supposed to steam the transformer and scrape off the secondary winding, then dip the solenoids in garlic butter?

(types "Obfuscation" into search engine and ends up on a page entitled "Medical Writing")


All right, that's it. No more Ms. Nice Guy.

(seizes Her Clue-By-Four™ and chases Insomnia Gremlins down hallway with Extreme Prejudice)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Springy Cleaning '09

*koff koff* What... a... night. (drops fifth of five garbage bags at curbside and trundles back into house) Yup, it's spring, all right.

Today I managed to stay off the Internet long enough to get a start on some serious housecleaning. I'm still dealing with the onerous problem of Too Much Stuff, but I think that wave has finally crested. A few items have been duly Disappeared, either to the trash or to the Giveaway Pile, and I can see a few more square inches of My basement workbench.

And the entire topside of the wooden stool that sits next to My desk. It has been liberated from a pile of Stuff, which ended up on the stool when I tried to clear the table in the next room.

Which was holding more Stuff than usual because I'm trying to rearrange the furniture in there. (glances through doorway and sighs heavily) Two diskette boxes... No, make that three of 'em; craft supplies, carving tools, electronics tools... A basin full of nail and screw boxes; a jar of pens; a pile of CD's; the mortal remains of My previous karategi top; and two ceramic mice playing with a gramophone.

Maybe next week I'll deal with the recurve bow, the microphone stand, and that new toilet for the upstairs bathroom.

And no, I do not want to become the Goddess of Misplaced Stuff. I've got enough on My plate as it is.

If I ever find that plate, that is...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Breaking through the barriers

One of My more vexing struggles concerns the subject of speed. I seem to regularly hit the wall when trying to do something fast. It can be a reverse punch or an arpeggio; either way, I get to a point where it just doesn't seem to get any faster.

But now, things are finally starting to change. The problem is both physiological and psychological.

I got the first clue a few months ago, in karate class: Speed requires relaxation. It isn't easy to get an arm or leg moving, then relax it, then tighten it up again at the point of kime; but subsequent developments indicate that yes, it is actually possible. The moment I stopped fighting my own punches, as it were, they did move distinctly faster than before.

My clarinet teacher has been helping Me deal with the psychological aspects of the speed problem. At its heart, this is a matter of trust. After playing a wide variety of material over a period of nearly four years, My hands do, in fact, know where all the notes are. My conscious mind, on the other hand, isn't quite sure about that; and it keeps interrupting.

So that's what I'm working on at the moment: Dealing with the mental block caused by inappropriate attention and unwanted dialogue. One thing that seems to be helping is practicing in strict rhythm, with a metronome. While the rhythmic practice builds up more precisely-triggered muscle memory in My hands, the ticking metronome gives My conscious mind something to keep it occupied and out of the way.

And, after I've got the rhythm working a bit more reliably, it'll be time to concentrate again on relaxation. All in all, an interesting problem.

Friday, April 10, 2009

All your Easter are belong to us.

The above phrase is My signature line on many of the Internet fora that I frequent. On this day, "Good" Friday 2009, I feel it's appropriate to enumerate some of the reasons for rejecting the strange and gory message of "salvation" that certain religions have attached to My season...

Heaven, Hell and My Bodhisattva Vow

Rejecting John 3:16

You're Kidding Me... Right?

The Combination Lock of Religion

All the Rage

Grow Up, Already!

The Crucifixion Proves the Unjust Nature of the Christian God

Agnostic Goddess Seeks Talking Snake for Fun and Companionship

Flame War

Tolerance and Toxicity

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been...

There's more, a lot more... I've been travelling the length and breadth of the Internet for years, and have posted over 4,000 comments on organized religion, personal spirituality, morality, human rights, and how they interact.

Why do I do this? Because I want humanity to survive.

And I shall not permit religion -- Any religion! -- to stand in the way of this goal.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Cult of the Velvet Schnauzer

Script Frenzy is on, and I am now fifteen pages into a rather weird little radio play.

Synopsis: One very stormy Tuesday night, a mysterious man arrives at a collectibles shop with a rather special black velvet painting. Chaos ensues.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In the pink!

On this most holy of days, I extend warm Springy Goddess greetings and a piping hot ham and pineapple pizza to My esteemed colleague, the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

May Your holy hooves never be shod!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring, interrupted

Well, that was... interesting.

As in 'May you live in interesting times.'

The vernal equinox is up and running, but oh! the weather. Winnipeg has been Dumped Upon by a Colorado Low, and consequently We are up to Our asses in ice and snow all over again.

In itself, that's not a big deal. However, there's a bit of a problem with a certain large river that runs through My demesne. It's flood time, and that isn't good.

Being twelve years older than I was during Manitoba's fabled Flood of the Century, My shoulders ache mightily at the very thought of sandbagging. Those suckers are heavy. And unwieldy, too. But I do have fond memories of My shift on the front lines.

Please, if someone needs you to help in the front lines of a sandbagging operation this season, spare them at least one evening of your time. Time is of the essence.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Equinox!

It gives Me great pleasure to welcome Spring 2009. The vernal equinox is still about six hours away, local time, but by the time I tumble out of bed Friday morning it will be a fait accompli.

And not a moment too soon, either. To do a slight twist on the Beatles song "Here Comes the Sun," it's been a long, cold, but not entirely lonely winter. There is something about the cold season that brings people together.

But all that grumbling and shivering has become tiresome. Now's the time on Springy Goddess when we dance!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Springy Fever

Ah, it's good to be back on the blog.

Today (2009-03-06) marks the first day since February 22 that I've been seriously up and about, doing things, rather than lying in bed for countless hours on end. As of this writing, I've been up for eight hours and actually managed three stores and a coffee shop... No, I didn't drive; Red did the honours. Not quite ready to chance it.

There is something profoundly frustrating about being abed for extended periods of time. A lot of it is simply the wobbly feeling that comes from muscle disuse. Some of it is boredom, the kind of boredom that even a huge stack of books can't remedy. But mainly it's simply a case of "When will this blasted thing end? When will things get back to normal around here?"

Or as normal as things tend to get at Astrejurhof, anyway...

I have learned a few things in the course of this cold/flu/whatever the $%@#! it is:
  • Going to the doctor doesn't help, and the wait in the waiting and examination rooms will probably do more harm than good.
  • Cough suppressants don't suppress coughs all that well.
  • Water is your friend, but uncovered mugs thereof tend to attract thirsty cats to bedside.
  • It's possible to read Terry Pratchett novels while running a fever, but everything in the environment takes on a distinct hue of octarine for several days thereafter.
  • Canned fruit in light syrup is also your friend. Especially early in the morning.
  • Uncooked milk products, however, can be right nasty and set you up for a relapse.
  • Invest in extra pillows, extra sheets, warm socks that aren't too tight, and a large number of long-sleeved shirts that can be worn to bed. Change these frequently.
  • There is something incredibly soothing about a tablespoon of medicine that tastes like mentholated turpentine...
(takes temperature) Já, still running a bit of a fever.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Learning to write, all over again

Over the last four years, I have written four novels. Many years before that, I completed one novel in two radically different iterations (space opera vs. spy story), half-wrote a sequel, and then stopped writing for a while. I also have a few chapters of a somewhat autobiographical fantasy novel that's essentially the prequel to My second NaNoWriMo novel, The Passion of Marty-Sue.

I've also written scripts. The space opera was based on a filmmaking project in college, well over thirty years ago, which in turn was based on a handwritten first draft of the novel. Then came Script Frenzy, with the first few scenes of Donuts! The Musical and a completed script, The History of My Disbelief.

Then there are literally hundreds of songs and poems I've scratched out on pieces of looseleaf and on the backs of utility bill envelopes.

More recently, I've cobbled together a few rather twisted essays for, rants which might one day end up as chapters in an anthology.

When you count it all up, that's probably about a million words written over a period of nearly 35 years.

Every time I write something new, something changes. I've gone from angsty, purple prose that took itself entirely too seriously... To slightly grittier but compositionally immature prose that sneered at its own tragic heroes... To a cornucopia of absurdities with Internet inside jokes, skateboarding penguins, crazed inventors, and Cats from Space.

And now it's happening all over again.

The impetus seems to be a snippet of an interview that I overheard on the radio a couple of nights ago: According to the interviewee, our brains react to fictional representations based on the sensory data in the narrative. The more precise the details -- Taste, touch, smell, sound, colour, shape -- The more deeply we experience the story as we reenact it in our minds.

So that's where I'm going next with My writing: Taking time to smell {feel, look at, describe, get poked by} the roses. Think of it as mindfulness-as-literary-device.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Go fish!

This evening, I caught up on a bit of fishkeeping. I have a 20-gallon freshwater aquarium downstairs, with some very hardy little fish: A Chinese Algae Eater named Algernon; an albino Corydora; and four Black-Skirt Tetras. Although I've had the tank since Yule 2002, I still consider Myself a beginner.

One thing that I've noticed is the dearth of replacement parts for some of the tank accessories. I lost My second lighting hood a few months ago, and haven't yet replaced it because it seems rather silly to replace an entire $50 canopy when all I really need is a new lighting unit. The fish could also use a new heater, a 200 watt unit rather than the 100W unit that came with the tank.

That said, I'm doing rather well with the gear that I do have. I've got water changes and tank cleaning down to an art... It takes Me approximately an hour to strip out the accessories, clean the gravel, clean the glass, clean the bubble hose and heater and power filter, put everything back together, and complete the water change. All I use is a bottle brush, a fresh pot-scrubbing pad, a siphon hose, and a five-gallon pail to catch the old water and gunk.

I used to spend a lot of time filtering and testing water before adding it to the tank, but have simplified that as well. My fish are compatible with local tap water that's been dechlorinated, so I don't spend any time running water tests and adding fancy pH-altering chemicals. All it takes is a few drops of a combination water conditioner and stress coat, added to every pitcher of water I pour back into the tank.

The fish have also done much better since I decided to be less zealous in siphon-vacuuming the schmutz out of the gravel. It may be because they don't have to constantly race back and forth to keep out of the way of the Cleaning Lady... They just saunter casually down to the other end of the tank. It might also be that I'm inadvertently leaving some Beneficial Biological Stuff in the tank.

And it's so worth it when the tank settles and the water clears. I sometimes just sit in a nearby chair and watch the community go about its business in an inscrutable, seemingly random fashion.

I wonder if the inventor of the Lava Lamp was a fishkeeper...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Getting serious about My writing

I don't know if two days' work counts as momentum, but considering that it's January 26 and not sometime in November...

Yesterday I drafted a query letter for my 2007 NaNoWriMo novel The Misuse of Things, and also started to change the manuscript into standard format. I decided to start with TMoT because it's the most polished of My three completed works.

Today I actually sent out an e-mail query to an individual from a local theatre, asking for advice... What needs to be done to transform The History of My Disbelief from a stack of paper to an actual production? What kind of training do I need to undertake to support that goal?

And then I transcribed another section of The Passion of Marty-Sue, which has lain fallow for some months now. (At least Tiamat's out of the karaoke bar now, and on Her way back to Crisis Central.)

If I do one thing a day for the rest of the year, that'll be well over 300 steps towards My goals.

On the other hand, if I do two things a day...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Winter tires for the mind!

I'm starting to accumulate a rather useful collection of tools and behaviours, things that are making life more engaging and a lot less cluttered.

Today's experiences take place on the boundary between mind and body, right where awareness touches sensations. (tosses peacock-blue koosh ball from one hand to the other, paying special attention to where the myriad plastic points make contact with the skin) I've already determined that multi-tasking is a self-defeating behaviour, and have started to move away from that kind of thing with alacrity.

But just seconds ago, I just figured out why multi-tasking doesn't work.

(holds koosh ball between palms and rolls it back and forth as She searches for the right words)

You see... In this world, we exist both in ourselves and in relationships to other entities. That's 'relationships', plural.

But we can only truly engage one other entity at a time. When our minds flit instantaneously among 10,000 different ideas and physical objects, it's difficult to consciously engage any of them. They exist as ephemera in our field of vision, and in our unconscious minds. A vast amount of cerebral CPU time gets wasted just on task-switching, and we're aware of just a tiny fraction of the possible sensory input provided by any one of the external objects.

On the other hand, if we get some traction on the road of thought, and slow down enough to gawk at one specific item...

...It's fascinating stuff. We get to see the bright blue of the koosh ball. Or hear the steady ticking of the clock on the wall. Or feel that a piece of clothing is soft; that a metal ornament is hard and cold; that a piece of paper does have thickness and texture.

Have a nice trip, and drive carefully.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mind that hip!

Good *ouch* evening, all...

(limps up to computer and sits down very, very carefully) Okay, I've figured out the first part of mindfulness vis-à-vis the physical body.

The revelation happened this evening, at karate class, somewhere in the middle of Heian Godan. I went to execute the crescent-kick-to-the-hand that occurs midway through the kata, and realized that I could do a much better kick just by keeping My attention on My outstretched hand.

And it worked rather well.

Until about half an hour later, as Red and I left the changing room and headed out to the car. By paying attention to the minuscule details of a suddenly very sore hip, I was able to mentally retrace My steps back through class and see which technique had affected those particular muscles. That, in itself, is fascinating.

But it gets better, inasomuch as awareness of sore body parts can be considered 'better'. As I made My way upstairs after supper, I realized that I have a remarkable option:

I can feel pain without embellishing it with any particular emotion. In other words, I can feel sad or angry or worried, but I don't have to attach those emotions to the event and I certainly don't have to keep attaching those emotions over and over again.

And just wait till what I tell you what I discovered during the *chomp* Mindful Potato Chip Eating Exercise...

Monday, January 19, 2009

The third leg on the tripod

Introducing... At least the basic concept of another phase in the Lakshmi Project.

For Phase I, the goal was to tidy up My physical environment. It's taken a while to stick, but new habits are replacing old and My desk is gradually becoming less cluttered and more useful. Further to this post, I've now ripped the CD of opera arias and put the original up on a shelf; gone through that huge stack of bills and receipts, and dealt with all of them; and stapled the SuperGrover patch up on My bulletin board, where it can be a decoration until I actually find something to sew it on.

Phase II is both old and new. I'm starting to get a handle on mindfulness meditation... In practice, rather than in theory. I haven't yet scared up the magazine which I talked about here, but I've found something even more valuable: The book The Mindful Way Through Depression (Williams, Teasdale, Segal and Kabat-Zinn). I'm still in the early chapters, but at this point I can say that this book has immense potential for improving overall quality of life. No, it isn't just about depression; it can be applied to any situation where emotions and old behavioural patterns conspire to make life less than ideal. In My case, it seems to be digging out the roots of My tendency to procrastinate, and connecting Me more intimately with Right Now.

Which is critically important, because Right Now is where I keep all my stuff.

But anyway.

The next phase of this project is both necessary and terrifying. I want to do some serious, focused, mindful, and above all, effective body work. Improve aerobic capacity. Improve quality of sleep. Posture, body weight, speed, kinesthetic awareness, flexibility, stamina, health, the whole nine yards.

But how?

Aah, I'll figure it out. Stay tuned for Lakshmi III. At best, it'll work. At worst...

(has vision of a novice fitness instructor meeting Ginsberg's "Howl" in a dark alley)


Friday, January 16, 2009

I can see My desk from here!

I'm finally starting to warm up to the idea of a clean and orderly environment, and taking appropriate action to make it happen. After procrastinating on sundry projects including manuscript editing, bookkeeping, and a handful of essays, I started attacking...

...The Desk.

Yes, that desk. The one that... After the most recent cleaning... Still has some rather unusual residents.

  • Malfunctioning digital camera (to be repaired or sent for service)
  • Pocket watch
  • CD of opera arias (further to a suggestion from My clarinet teacher)
  • Squishy brown rubber bison
  • SuperGrover embrodered patch (to be sewn on knapsack)
  • Sundry small pieces of paper with handwritten notes (make mental note to transcribe or trash these)
  • Metronome (I actually do use this, so it gets to stay)
  • Remarkably, only one pen and one pencil
  • Anti-static grounding strap, attached to static mat under My monitor and keyboard
  • Lakshmi's shrine, currently consisting of Lakshmi Herself plus a lapis lazuli egg, $6.02 CDN in shiny coins, two elephants, a stone with the Ingwaz rune, and a small brass owl named Zeno (q.v. My 2008 NaNoWriMo project, Ice Cream for Lakshmi)
  • A stack of bills and receipts to be sorted or shredded (all fairly current, thank the Accounting Gods)
  • A large crystal bowl containing about ten pounds of crystal whatnot, plus a staple remover; a USB memory key; a cigarette lighter; a box of matches; a paint swatch, a snake carved out of African bubinga; a bright blue koosh; a job lead scribbled on a Post-It™ Note; a digital voice recorder; and a glow-in-the-dark Happy Face ball.
And, I reiterate, this is after I cleaned the desk.


(rolls up sleeves, puts fresh bag in trashcan, gets back to work)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Springy Mindfulness 101

Today, while on My day gig as a Typer of Terrifyingly Long Medical Words, I chanced upon the November-December 2008 issue of Psychology Today. Therein I found a particularly good article called The Art of Now, subtitled "Six Steps to Living in the Present".

I haven't had time to go through the article in great detail yet, but even a cursory glance over afternoon coffee has paid off handsomely.

For one thing, a lot of wordy concepts are starting to crystallize into things that actually make sense. It's a relief to know that I actually have been practicing 'mindfulness', in the sense of 'Pay attention to what's going on Right Now, dammit!' I assure you that yes, doing this actually does work in the real world. There is no magic about it. It is simply a matter of taking the time to pay attention, close attention, intent and committed attention to... Well, anything at all.

The mystery of breathing exercises to calm the mind is also explained. Why use the breath, and not something else? Because breathing happens in realtime, and it's something we carry with us everywhere we go. No magic there, either.

I was delighted to see an old friend, the 'Flow' concept of Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, also referenced in the article. I'm generally happiest when working on an intense project; that's the place where intention and action dovetail into a seamless and satisfying whole.

There's more in there, all very practical and useful stuff. I'm hoping to score a dead-tree copy of the magazine at the mall tomorrow; it'll make an excellent supplement and glossary for the horde of meditation and psychology books that already haunt My bookcases.

And I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the Lakshmi Project, Phase II: Cleaning up the mind as well as the desk. (puts away a few stray pens and pencils and pets cat in mindful, engaged manner)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


At peace
With a universe of eternal change
The gods believe in their own mortality
While the mortals wage war
For eternity unchanging

Monday, January 5, 2009

What Matters?

For the first post of 2009, I've decided to catch up on a bit of homework. I have been assigned the task of answering the question of what's important in My life, and in this post I'm going to try to answer it.

Or at least dance around waving My arms, trying to lure the answer out into the open.

First of all, I like being busy... But it's a very specific kind of busy. If I'm working merrily away at something, the last thing I want is for someone to come along, interrupt the work at hand, and divert my attention onto a completely different task. I find it stressful in the extreme.

And yet, I have no problems sitting here typing out this blog post while holding a skein of yarn and two knitting needles. (pauses to knit a few stitches) I find that attention tends to follow sight, or at very least, follow whatever sense is dominant at any particular moment. As to why My particular attention likes to jump from one thing to another so frequently, I don't know.

I like to be there for friends, to help them work on projects, and I like it when they reciprocate. At the same time, I've been known to spend hours at this desk, alone with My own stuff.

I really, really like to start projects. But I have a tendency to let them trail away behind Me like a string of half-painted beads. (Getting better with this one, but it's a constant struggle to stay on top of things and not jump off into something new.)

I like to learn new things (and again, I've started to learn quite a few things but taken only a few to the next level).

I like to twist memes and paradigms and clichés until they break, then glue them together into something weird. I love the absurd. I enjoy making people laugh.

I love rock 'n' roll (insert Joan Jett impersonation here). Once I jumped down from a stepladder and raced down a flight of stairs to hear a live performance of "The Story In Your Eyes" by the Moody Blues. It was so worth it.

Then again, once I raced down a flight of stairs in search of a dictionary, and ended up at the bottom of the stairwell with a badly sprained ankle. On the bright side, I can now say definitively that the word 'stomach' does not have an 'e' on the end.

Never met a cat I didn't like. Or penguin. Or dragon. Or solar eclipse. (Or lunar eclipse, for that matter.)

But I have had some rather nasty chocolate, and a few bad experiences at the mall.

And smoked oysters are Right Out.

I like to collect the "You Are Here" emblems of society -- The certifications, the diplomas, the by-lines and photo credits in the company newsletters. Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat on the fourth try.

Yes, I like to keep trying when I know I can win. It's hard to stop trying when I've put a lot of effort into a failing cause, but sometimes the only way to stop failing is to stop going round the same damn circle.

Because life isn't a circle.

It's a spiral. Going up, or down, or sideways into another dimension.

And as long as the road ahead is strange yet eerily familiar, I know I'm alive.