Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Happy Yule! Pass the soy sauce, please.

(raises mug of home-brewed mead) Gleðileg Jól!  2016 has been a very strange year -- strange even from My admittedly odd perspective -- so I thought I'd celebrate appropriately.

I made a pot of hot and sour soup, using this excellent recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  About the only Old Norse ingredient in there is the pork shoulder, although one could probably make a good case for the garlic.

The community band Christmas concert season also ended this evening with one last show, and one nervous Springy G as first chair clarinet.  (wipes brow)  No, wait; that's the sriracha sauce in the soup making Me sweat.  I was only slightly terrified playing first.  Amazing what actually rehearsing the material can do for one's nerves.  Once the holidays are done, though, I'm hoping the rest of the section will be back and I can resume being the Lovely Assistant for the firsts.  Second clarinet is, after all, where all the cool harmonies live.

The very best of the season to all!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Public Enemy #1

(glances at lineup of glowering mortals)  I think I might have made a few enemies tonight.

It all started innocently enough:  Darchala and I had agreed to get a mixer for the kitchen, as our mutual Yule gift to each other, and while on My morning coffee break I surfed over to the website of a local vendor known to sell such contrivances.

Lo and behold, there was the mixer we wanted, on sale for the weekend at a really good price.  There were about a dozen left in inventory.

When I got home from work, instead of making a cup of tea and kicking back for an hour so as to avoid rush hour traffic near the store, I got an overpowering urge:

Go to the store.  Now!

So I jumped in the car and I drove over there.  Got an excellent spot right near the doors.  (Thank you, Parking Gods!)

Wrestled with a shopping cart that was tangled up with another.  Liberated them both.  Headed over to the kitchen section.

There was exactly one mixer left, and amazingly it was in the colour I wanted.

And this is where the really weird part starts.

I got in line and the cashier rang up the purchase, using card "A."  The system hiccuped and had to be rebooted, but it finally took My money.

Decided to take a break and headed across the street to have coffee in the mall.  Amazingly, a parking spot right near the doors opened up just as I got there.  (Thank you again, Parking Gods!)  Coffee was very nice but comparatively uneventful, except for the fact that I was still giggling nervously at the serendipity of getting possibly the last on-sale mixer in the whole city, and the card reader glitch at the till.

Suitably fortified, I went to pick up a few groceries down the street.  Sure enough, when it came time to pay for them, I crashed a second card reader using card "B."

That's right:  In the space of a little over an hour I managed to cause Random Equipment Malfunctions in two different debit/credit machines, running two different operating systems, using two different cards.

On a busy Friday night during the Christmas shopping season.

(checks wallet)  I think I'll pay cash for coffee tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The darkness of memory

I was thinking about a couple of incidents from the recent past, specifically a 2013 trip to the International Music Camp and rehearsals with a band I no longer belong to.  What I found odd, and blog-worthy, was that the lighting in both mental scenes seemed wrong.  It was dark, as if painted over with shadow.

This isn't to say that these experiences were unremittingly bad; they were not, and in fact I remember some truly awe-inspiring moments such as the Intermediate Band's performance on the last night of band camp.  What I do remember, though, is emotional tension -- unease, weariness, perhaps even a touch of fear.  Visualizing them again, I feel a subtle heaviness in the chest.

I was conflicted, happy and unhappy at the same time.  I wanted to play the music, but at the same time I was exhausted, aching all over, and just wanted to go home and curl up in bed with a whole pile of purring cats.

Another odd thing about these "dark" memories is that they're like islands.  They seem to be cut off from what I see as the real world, almost nightmarish in their separation.  There's a sense of being trapped in the scenes, unable to just walk away.

But then there are the memories that are polar opposites, the memories of light and lightness.  I remember at the Pinawa Band Festival in 2011 actually starting to cry in the closing bars of a Lord of the Rings medley.  The realization that I was actually performing with a real, live band was a dream come true, in the highest sense of the phrase.  I remember Kurt Elling singing "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival, and I was completely blown away.  The auditorium was dark but the memory shines.  Joe Satriani at the Centennial Concert Hall in July 1990, playing the opening chords of "Flying in a Blue Dream" -- again, musical light piercing the darkness of the room.

What I find fascinating about this is this darkness/light effect seems to be exclusively in musical settings.  It's almost as if the rest of My memories don't count because they don't come with a soundtrack.  This may be because I have a "phonographic" memory, with the ability to instantly recall a piece of music at will once it makes it to long-term storage.  (And yes, I am definitely the person you want on your Name That Tune team.)

Going forward, to swipe a line that may or may not have been the last words of Goethe, "Mehr licht!"

Friday, October 21, 2016

End of an era

It's been a bad year for cats, and by extension for this particular Crazy Cat Lady.  In July 2016 I lost two kinetic furballs, the inimitable Frey Kittehson and the erudite and chatty RJ-45, less than a week apart.

This past Tuesday night I said goodbye to the last member of Freyja's Dark Legion, Caramon "TumTum" Handsomecat.  Caramon, the first of Freyja's five kittens, was born on My couch on June 22, 2002 and grew up to be a striper of legendary size, weighing in only a few months ago at 17 pounds -- after shedding a few pounds somewhere along the way.  Despite being twice the size of a normal tabby, nearly a metre long from tip to tail, he was a shy sweetheart with a tiny, polite. mew and a penchant for flattening catmint bushes by lying on them and rolling around.

This is the first time since 1994 that I've had no cats at all in the house.  I keep expecting someone to come rushing up when I open a door, or to jump on the dining room table and sample whatever I'm eating, or walk all over My face at three in the morning.  In time the cat-oriented behaviours and reflexes will fade, but the memories aren't going anywhere any time soon.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Holst it right there!

Or, "Chaconne à son goût."

Like a very politely ticking clock-bomb, the metronome on My desk is keeping 3/4 time at a comfortable 110 bpm to the quarter note.

Unfortunately, I'm using it as a reference for eighth-note beats.

While working on a string of 16th notes five razzafracking bars long.  In other words, in 3/4 time I have to figure out how to squeeze 60 notes into a single breath.

I cheated.  I sneaked a quick breath between notes 30 and 31.

We're currently working on First Suite in E♭ Major by Gustav Holst, arguably one of the most famous pieces in concert band repertoire -- a mixture of breathtaking beauty, egregious silliness and outright insanity.  I'm currently working on the first two sections of the Chaconne, which, as near as I can figure, means "You woodwind guys go on ahead and the rest of us will catch up with you later."

I really think the "Brillante" indication  for section B should be crossed out and replaced with  "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate," but if Dante and Virgil could get through hell, so can I.  Back to work.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

It's on. It's -so- on.

The thing about autumn is that it's Full of Stuff. As usual, I have so much Stuff on My plate that I may have to pop out to the store for larger dishes. Now playing, or coming soon, to a goddess near you:
  • Community band season is in full swing now, as is another year of clarinet lessons.  As a result, at varying times I am now playing regular clarinet, alto clarinet, alto sax, and now flute (which, for the record, is the first woodwind instrument I ever tried to play).  As if that weren't enough, I'm attending a local workshop in a couple of weeks.
  •  At long last, I managed to carve out a time slot for Icelandic lessons.  As one of the items on My bucket list is to go to Iceland sometime in the next 10 years, this is not a moment too soon.
  • Working out the logistics for a trip down to the States in August 2017 to see the total eclipse of the sun on August 21.
  • Winnipeg Symphony's starting up as well, so I expect to spend some quality time at the Concert Hall in the near future.
  • I've also been knocking off one project after another after another.  Took 2 loads of concrete to the dump.  Finished sewing a quilt.  Painted things.  Built things.  Cleaned things.  Wrecked things.
  • Oh, and it's time to think about assembling the ingredients for Yule fruitcake.
In the midst of all this I realized that I had only nominally celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19 (arr...), was vaguely aware that a Vernal Equinox had occurred on September 22 (waves to everyone south of the equator) and completely forgot about National Punctuation Day on September 24.

I think I'm going to need a bigger calendar, too.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Bees that smell like Earl Grey tea?

When I was coming home from work yesterday, I stopped to admire a patch of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)  Darchala and I had planted beside the front sidewalk.

At a time when bee populations are in peril from dangers such as colony collapse disorder, I was absolutely thrilled to see fuzzy little black and yellow nectar-transporting dirigibles having a grand old time with the flowers.

If they start uttering things like "I say, old chap!" and asking for cream scones and cucumber sandwiches, just oblige them and send Me an invoice for the dainties.

Cable disconnected, network signal lost

Less than a week after losing the delightfully manic Frey Kittehson, our household has suffered a second loss with the death of RJ-45, the youngest of Mama Freyja's five kittens and charter member of the Dark Legion.  RJ, known for her sweet, talky nature, her uncanny grasp of the English language and her book reviews, had been ill for some time.  She went into a sharp decline on the weekend, and passed away this morning.

Missed dearly by all of us here at Astrejurhof.

Friday, July 22, 2016

And then there were two.

My Dark Legion of cats got a little bit smaller today with the passing of Frey "Fuzzy Butt" Kittehson at the age of 15+ years.  This sweet, crazy little guy had been showing his age for the last few months, but this evening while playing in the back yard he suddenly became unable to walk or even stand on all fours.

An emergency vet trip revealed that he had somehow sustained an extremely bad humeral fracture, with a poor prognosis for recovery due to the severity of the break and his age.

Miss you, Kittens.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Think Like A God Day 2016: Divine Intervention 101

Welcome to the 2016 edition of Think Like a God Day! Once a year, on July 13, I ponder what it's like to be a deity and ask you (or in this case, You) to do likewise.

This year's topic is "The pros and cons of being a Cosmic Cop."  In other words, how do You react when it is brought to Your attention that mortals are behaving badly? Do You:

  • Grab Sword of Righteousness, Cloak of Divine Awesomeness and Boots of Butt-Kicking and hustle down to the Prime Material Plane to give 'em what-for;
  • Go incognito and quietly tinker with the troublemakers' reality, making their comeuppance look like a totally, completely un-divine misadventure (bonus points if it makes the "News of the Weird" section of the paper);
  • Delegate to a minion and get on with other things, like e-mailing Prometheus to ask him if he'd like a couple of tickets to the Eagles game;
  • Drop hints to the miscreants' fellow mortals and wait for human justice to assert itself;
  • Sigh heavily and make a mental note to deal with it later;
  • Nod sagely and check off another item on the Divine Plan;
  • Shrug, smile and say "100 quadrillion years from now, who'll know the difference?"

For the record, My preferred option is #2 (Stealth Goddess with wicked sense of humor), but unfortunately My magisteria somewhat limit the ways in which I can intervene. I have no intention of weaponizing the Vernal Equinox, punctuation is too low-caliber to hurt anything more than someone's pride, and any Sword of Righteousness made of chocolate would *burp* get eaten long before I reached the battlefield.

That said, if a high-profile evildoer were to be captured by the authorities because of a Random Equipment Malfunction -- say, a getaway car suffering a catastrophic failure of the universal joint right outside Police Headquarters -- I'll just smile and wave, and disavow knowledge of My own [in]actions.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Life is too short to drink cheap plonk.

That's it.  I am done.  I am so done.

I am not buying any more blended "bottled in Canada" wine.  From hereon in, I'm sticking with the good stuff, made from grapes actually grown here.

This evening I was indulging one of My more delightful hobbies -- cooking -- and currently have a Moroccan lamb stew finishing in a cast iron Dutch oven on the stove.  It needed that something extra, a bit of orange juice and a few scrapings of orange rind, and I had also been making noises about going to the Liquor Commission to pick up a bottle of red wine.

Somewhere between getting the car out of the garage and arriving at the LC I made the above resolution to support better products from Canadian wineries.  What sealed the deal was memories of college 40 years ago, when the usual wine served at parties came in gallon jugs and was served in clear plastic cups.  To this day I refer to the contents of those gallon jugs as "Chateau de Ping-Pong."

No, I think I can do better.  I know I can do better.  (pours a glass of baco noir, takes a sip, and sets it aside to breathe till the stew is ready)  Skál!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Time flies. So does cat fur.

14 years ago today a lovely tabby Siamese named Freyja gave birth to her kittens on my living room couch.

Happy birthday to Caramon the Tum-Tum Cat and RJ-45, the two surviving members of Freyja's Dark Legion.

In memory of Raistlin, Walter, and Grayscale.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Springy G versus the Salad Spinner of Certain Doom

Inspired by My recent post on arpeggios, and continuing the theme of challenging some of the more bizarre and irrational behaviours that plague My current existence --

-- Let's talk about salads.

I love eating salads.  Greek salad, Caesar salad, chef salad, spring mix with baby beets and goat cheese and candied pecans with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.  Yum.

Here, however, is a short list of things I would rather do than make a salad:
  • Climb 20-foot ladder and clear leaves out of eavestroughs
  • Do My taxes
  • Run a truckload of plaster and lath to the city dump
  • Drive out to band practice in a raging thunderstorm
  • Clean the Dark Legion's litter boxes...
...That's the gist of it.

This isn't to say that I don't make salads; I do, when I eventually get around to it.  Although I still haven't quite figured out how to make a decent Caesar dressing, I can assemble the rest of it with no major issues.  My Greek village salad (everything but lettuce) is just fine, as is the lettuce-enhanced version.

I do, however, have a nasty habit of conveniently forgetting that I have perishable salad ingredients in the fridge, and have lost a few proto-salads due to ingredient rot.  As a result, I try to avoid buying greens and such until I'm good and ready to make an honest-to-goodness salad out of them.

Right then and there.

The very instant I get the groceries into the house.

No sojourns in the fridge allowed, at least not till the salad is actually assembled.

(glances out window at somewhat menacing skies; clicks over to the local weather webpage) Just as I thought -- Chance of a raging thunderstorm tonight.  I'll be back after band practice.

Maybe even with a salad.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mr. Kittehson goes a-viking

Late this afternoon I was sitting at My desk in bare feet, a pair of fresh socks at the ready, as I was doing paperwork and making phone calls.  A certain fuzzy-butted cat by the name of Frey Kittehson was My lovely assistant, dusting the keyboard with his tail and strolling in front of the tax guide I was trying to read.  In due course, said fuzzy-butted cat was airlifted from the desk (under protest) and relegated to the floor, whereupon he stomped off in a huff.

Work finished, I went to put on the socks and get ready for this evening's band rehearsal.

"Funny, I could've sworn I brought a pair of them..."

I searched on the desk, under the desk, under the chair.  I retraced My steps back to the bedroom where I had picked up the socks, thinking that perhaps I had left one in the sock basket or dropped it on the floor.  Nada.  I shrugged, donned a different pair, and headed downstairs and out with My clarinets.

Several hours later, upon My return to Astrejurhof, I found the missing sock.

In the middle of the living room carpet.

Covered in burrs.

I'm not quite sure why Frey decided to steal one of My socks, and even more puzzled about how it wound up 50 feet away, on a different floor of the house, covered in plant matter that to My knowledge does not grow inside the house.

He's good.  He's real good.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


For some reason, I am terrified of arpeggios.  I suspect this started back in the 1960s when I was taking piano lessons.  They were the Weird Chord Things, totally unlike the solid and broken triad chords, and seemed so much harder that My brain just froze and never did thaw out.

It's telling that I can whip off a C# minor harmonic scale, 2 octaves, on piano and clarinet, from memory.  Show Me a C major arpeggio and plunk the sheet music right in front of Me, and My brain just goes "Uh... no.  Not doing that."

This is something up with which I will not put.  Stay tuned for Springy G Versus the Arpeggios from Hell.

Monday, March 28, 2016

It kinda grows on you.

It's taken over a week to sit down and craft My traditional "Welcome to spring!" message.  It's not that I like procrastinating; it's that --

-- Oh, I admit it!  I've been stalling for time because I couldn't think of anything charmingly divine to say about this somewhat lacklustre season.  Everything had nicely thawed out, the crows were high up in the elm trees building their nests, and I was chatting with the DeeDee Birds and the robins and that obnoxious little red squirrel who sits on the Hydro line and screams bloody murder at the cats.

This being Winnipeg, of course it had to snow.  That can really take the spring out of Springy G's step, especially when I'm tiptoeing across a sheet of ice in the twilight gloom with a knapsack full of clarinet gear and two bags of groceries.

What else could I do?  I made the rounds of the usual places that I cause trouble on the Internet, and  tootled melodiously on My clarinets, and played round after round of Mah Jong and FreeCell and Spider solitaire, pausing occasionally to sigh heavily, look out the window, and go "Meh."

I think the tide is finally turning.  The snow we got last week is almost melted, and I've heard a few cautious caws and chirps from My avian neighbours.  It isn't time to roll up the sleeves and start mucking about in the garden -- still too much muck for My tastes -- but I can see the light at the tunnel.

And it isn't on a snowplow, either.