A Classical Soundtrack for Your Halloween

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It’s Halloween! Need some music to get you through to the evening, or to play while the little darlin’s raid your candy stash? Here are some options!

Mussorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain.

Hector Berlioz’s Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath, from his Symphonie Fantastique

Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor

“Mars, the Bringer of War” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.”

Danse Macabre, by Camille Camille Saint-Saëns

And, of course, the grandaddy of them all, spooky power wise: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Here’s a playlist of all of them, for your listening pleasure.

Do you have any additional favorites? I would love to hear them!

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Mind the Gaps

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No, not that kind of gap.

English is a pretty cool language, all told.

We have words like “swashbuckle,” “flibbertigibbet,” “quark,” “onomatopoeia.”

We have adjective upon subtly nuanced adjective: wet, damp, moist, dank, humid, sodden, foggy, dripping, misty, muggy, steamy, soggy. Beautiful, gorgeous, lovely, pretty, handsome, darling, charming, comely, cute.

We’ve stolen–err…borrowed words from all the best languages around the planet: ghoul (Arabic), tycoon (Japanese), bagel (Yiddish), coleslaw (Dutch), to name a few.

And yet…we have weird holes in our language.

The other day I was reflecting on a day spent in the company of my nieces and nephews and found myself once again irritated that there is no collective, non-gender-specific term for nieces and nephews. Every time I want to talk about them, I have to spell it out: nieces and nephews. Three words, five syllables. It’s all very clunky.

I whined about it on Twitter, and struck a chord. Someone also pointed out that there is no word that means aunts and uncles. We have words to use for both mother and father (parents), grandmother and grandfather (grandparents), brothers and sisters (siblings), husband and wife (spouses). Why the weird gaps? (As a side note, there also aren’t specific words for a female cousin vs. a male cousin.)

Someone on Twitter mentioned that Norwegian has a word–søskenbarn–that, directly translated, basically means “sibling child.” I love that. I’m not sure it quite works in English (siblingbairn, maybe?), but…there should be a word!

Back in 1951, the linguist Samuel E. Martin coined the word “nibling” to mean “a child of a sibling,” but the word never really caught on. Maybe it didn’t make it to the right people. Maybe he was an awkward word nerd who wasn’t great at parties. (If so, I feel ya, Sam!)

But he also didn’t have the advantage of social media.

In a time and place where “cray” and “adorbs” and “on fleek” can sweep the nation to become common in a matter of years, at least among the youf who are our future, surely we can create and spread some new words to fill these holes in our great language.

Let’s get together on this, people. Let’s make it happen.

Missing morphological forms. Personally, I’m rooting for stupible.14591649_1386829998013492_5520201211032846952_n

UJTU: Crafts, Concert, Kids, and Cats (Plus Pizza)

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This is his fixin’-to-pounce-on-sister face.

At some point in the past, one of the members of the typosphere coined the acronym UTJU: Update Just To Update. Sometimes you don’t have profound thoughts or an important topic on which to enlighten folks, but here you are anyway. So it is.

Had a very busy weekend, with more ups than downs, so that’s cool. Saturday afternoon I went to a craft fair/bazaar in the retirement community of Ryderwood, WA–a proper craft fair this time, with nothing but handmade goods of all sorts, plus a bake sale. A few of the more captivating things I didn’t buy: wind-chimes made out of bizarre conglomerations of found objects like colanders and cheese graters and flower pots all welded or glued together (I may have one of those someday), and a quilted hanging of a Christmas tree with lights woven into it. That’s probably the only kind of Christmas tree I could really get away with considering the cats, and I wanted it, but at $100 I couldn’t buy it. Would have been a lot of work to make, so I don’t question the price, but I couldn’t. Would be neat for someone, though–something you could bring out every year for years, and the kids would remember it for ages and no one else would have one quite like it.

I did buy a small assortment of items, and not all of them for me. Though, admittedly, two of them were for the cats, which I guess counts as me. There was a lady selling all sorts of felted things–hats and bowls and stuffed animals–and she had catnip stuffed felted mice. I also bought a little knotted braid of scrap material from a lady that made fleece dog beds and blankets–intended as a tug toy for dogs, but Timo thought it was pretty great. Cassia absconded with the mouse, and as of this writing, it is MIA.

Saturday evening, I saw Sierra Hull in concert at Traditions in Olympia, WA–a very small venue, probably only on their itinerary because her bass player (Ethan Jodziewicz) is a local boy. Speaking of Ethan, MAN, he’s good. I hate to say anyone is “the next so-and-so” because that implies they’re not a standout in their own right, so I won’t say he’s the next Edgar Meyer, but… Just a phenomenal musician. Used the bow quite a bit, too, and oh, bowed bass makes me weak in the knees when done right. He did it right.

Sierra has superb mandolin/octave mandolin chops (and is just so doggoned cute and endearing), and her other band member aside from Ethan (Justin Moses) can apparently play the heck out of anything with strings. And they all sing. It was a very good show. Tough in parts, for me–a lot of her recent album is about growing up and moving on and while in her case, this applies to being in her early twenties and dealing with being an adult, I’m kind of in a place like that again/still, and it almost hurt. Plus she did a song about missing your mother, and I bawled and didn’t have Kleenex and felt like a goober.

But yeah, it was a wonderful concert. And we were close enough to the stage that I could just about have kicked it. I don’t think they play places that small much these days, so that was pretty special.

Afterwards, some friends and I went out to eat at La Gitana. If you like thin crust, very fresh and flavorful Southern Italian style pizza, you must go here if you’re in town. Must. It was a little chaotic, though, being Saturday night, and a guitarist and singer were providing live music there (old jazz standards, mostly), which was great, but made it a bit loud for casual conversation.

The server was pretty patient amidst all the commotion, I thought, and made sure to check on us and was apologetic when things took awhile due to the crowd. I meant to leave a decent tip, but when I got home and started getting ready for bed, I discovered the tip money in my pocket. Apparently I absentmindedly stuffed it back in my pocket as we were picking up to go. Leaving her thinking and feeling…I don’t know what.

I felt so bad about it, I tossed and turned Saturday night, and had an odd dream in which I was a settler on a new planet, helping my brother and sister-in-law farm the land, but strangely the new town on this planet had several pizza parlors and I kept doing things that made the managers of all of them think I was an unpleasant nut case.

(Speaking of nuts, pecans grew WONDERFULLY on this new planet, and people there pronounced them peh-KAHN, as is Right and Good.)

So there was that.

After discussion with a friend, I decided to bring the accidental non-tip down to the restaurant when they opened with a note, so I spent Sunday morning writing and rewriting that note. Also drawing margins in the notebook I plan to use for NaNoWriMo. I’d planned to use some smaller notebooks, but I kept eyeing these giant notebooks I had made a few years ago, before all the office stores in town went out of business in spite of all my efforts to keep them afloat.

Seriously, this side of town lost a Staples, an Office Max, and an Office Depot, all within the span of a few years. It makes me sad.

But I do still have several of these notebooks. They’re heavy and a bit awkward to lug around, but the paper is so, so very nice for fountain pen. The one issue I ran into with them for NaNo is that, although I’m pretty good at writing in straight lines on unlined paper, I tend to write almost to the edges, and (especially for fiction), I like to have space to add notes and corrections in the margin. So I’m trying something a bit like law ruling in these, with the help of a few penciled lines, giving myself a generous space on the left to doodle or add notes.

I’ve only treated the first fifty pages, so if I find myself hating this setup, I can go back to using the full page, or experiment with different margins.

Sunday afternoon, I went up to an October festival at the parish where my nieces and nephews go to school. They had half German food and half Mexican food, and my oldest niece decided it would be a very fine thing indeed to have one parent from each country for the sake of the food. And I decided I really need to make another batch of sauerkraut.

There was also a little bit of a bazaar there, with crafts and food and some second hand items. My sister-in-law bought me a late birthday present: a Russian (?) plate with an icon of Christ calming/walking on the sea. I need to find a hanger for it so I can put it up without Cassia experimenting.

The kids got to paint pumpkins and play games and make sticky messes with caramel apples, so a highly successful day, all told!

More random kitten pictures from the weekend, just because. Though they’re almost not kittens anymore! Eight months old now, probably almost as big as they’ll get. Little Cassia is still little Cassia–she’s still under seven pounds. Timo is just about ten now.

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Cassia solemnly observing life from atop the fridge.
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Cassia “assisting” with the sweeping up of SO MUCH DOG HAIR by taking sliding leaps into the piles. Thanks, Bitty Girl.

Aaaaand that’s my update.

I Am Not Where I Thought I Would Be

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It is my last day of being in my 30s.

Last night I dreamed I held a sleeping newborn baby in my arms. I don’t remember anything else about the dream: only the sleepy warmth of that baby, and that she was not mine, and the pleasure and pain of looking into her face, and the love on her mother’s face as I gently returned her and walked away.

I am not where I thought I would be.

Life rarely turns out how we expect it to. No one has the life they imagined at 20. Lives are far more complicated than we can possibly dream, good and bad.

And I realize there is a lot of good in my life. I have a home. I have a job, if not my dream job. I have a good parish, and at least some connections there–people to pray for, people who pray for me. I have some pretty amazing pets who are great little companions. I have objects and instruments–musical instruments, pens and pencils and paper, cooking and baking tools, bicycles–that bring me enjoyment. I have friends and family, even if I’m separated from them a lot of the time.

But I am not where I thought I would be.

Up until recently, some part of me still half expected to be dealt an abbreviated version of just about every little girl’s dream life: meeting someone, falling in love, building a home, having children. The usual path, with variations.

Now I feel like I’m passing a point of no return, into uncharted waters.

As always this time of year, I want to call Mom so much, and yet, it occurs to me that even if I could, she couldn’t really have Big Life advice for me anymore. By the time she was my age, she’d been married for what, sixteen years? She had a big family. She was a homemaker. She had plenty of concerns and challenges, but totally different. I have sailed beyond her reckoning.

Likewise, many of my siblings have families of their own, very different circumstances. They have entered a world I can’t completely understand.

I don’t know of anyone quite like me.

I guess what I worry about above all is that I’m not where I’m supposed to be. What if I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque? What if I got lost in the fog for awhile and then headed toward the wrong star?

What if I’m outside of God’s will somehow, and have been for years?

I know that’s not how it works. But I also don’t think there’s an actual vocation to the single life. So where does that leave me? What am I?  Where am I going? How do I keep going without the graces that come with an actual state, like marriage or holy orders? And, on a more practical level, what’s going to become of me as I age, alone?

At some points in our lives, we can’t really ask “what does God want me to do with my life?” We have to be content with “what does God want me to do in this moment?” But a) it’s really hard not to look up sometimes, and b) the first question still matters, and sometimes, it crushes me.

In any case, 40 is coming at me like a storm across the waters. I can’t avoid it, and I don’t think any sort of Pollyanna grin can prevent it from tossing me around for a period. It’s going to hurt. I’m going to feel regrets and anger and confusion. I’m going to feel doubt and loneliness.

But it won’t last forever. There will be rough days, I’m sure, but this isn’t the end of the story.

I’m not where I thought I’d be. I’m not really sure where I’m going. I feel like I’m forging my own path, now more than ever, and there’s no map for where I’m headed. I’m not very good at accepting that unknowing. But who knows, maybe at 60 I’ll look back at 40 and laugh.

Crash Theory

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Pretty little Cassia, on top of the refrigerator

The kittens are eight months old today! Getting all grown up, but still very much kittens in all sorts of ways. They both do a lot of knocking things to the floor and breaking them, for one, though their methods are very different.

Little Cassia is scientifically minded. She will navigate her way up onto a high shelf and push something very slowly to the edge (even as I scramble across the room saying “No, don’t, please!”) and then she watches curiously as it crashes to the ground. You half expect her to take out a pencil and notepad at the end to jot down notes on the results of the latest experiment.

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Timo: so gorgeous…mayyyybe not so bright sometimes.

Timo, on the other hand, is basically anti scientific in his methods, in that the boy does not understand physics. For example, he’ll jump up and try to grab hold of something that might have held him when he weighed four pounds but does not now that he’s approaching ten, so he brings a whole shelf of stuff down on top of himself as he tries desperately to prevent gravity from taking hold. Frequently I’ll hear a HUGE crash from another room and walk in to find him sitting wide-eyed amidst the rubble, like “why did that happen?”

Either way, I’m down a lot of picture frames and bowls at this point. Le sigh.

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NaNoWriMo, My Old Friend

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2002 was not, shall we say, a very pleasant year for me.

For starters, the country was still reeling with grief and uncertainty over 9/11, and the economy was struggling. Tensions ran high at work even early in the year. At our sister company, employees who had worked the factory floor for decades were laid off, with no real hope of finding new jobs in the local area.

In February my mother–who was truly my best friend, for better or worse–finally went to see a doctor about feeling tired and sick, and that funny feeling in her throat. By April, she’d been diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer that had already metastasized to her liver. It was too far along for chemo or surgery. It was too far along for anything but attempting to say goodbye, really. She passed away on May 22nd, my brother Ben’s 20th birthday.

The summer went by in a sort of blur. I went to World Youth Day in Toronto, with three of my siblings and a small group from our parish. There were enjoyable, enlightening moments to be sure, but I also spent a certain amount of time hiding in bathroom stalls or facing into a window on the bus, crying because I couldn’t call Mom and tell her about the places we were seeing, the people we’d met, how much I was coming to love hanging out with my little sister now that she was getting all grown up.

For years, especially when I was overseas, everywhere I went, I tucked away facts and anecdotes to discuss with Mom. Now she was out of reach of even expensive long-distance phone calls. I couldn’t even write in my journal as a substitute–writing about real life brought me face to face with too many strong feelings. It was still too raw. It would be nearly a year before I started keeping a journal again.

And in October, I lost my job. There was a company draw-down and I was one of the group that was cut.

Just to add to the stress level, I had purchased a house less than a year before, with all the expense and responsibility that goes with that. The winter heat bills were starting up. And Christmas was just around the corner. And now here I was, in a rural area with a very limited job market, jobless and broke and with who knew how many weeks to sit alone contemplating my own dark thoughts.

And that was when a friend of mine told me about this crazy challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the course of the thirty days of November. “You have to do it,” she told me. “It’ll be fun!” I wasn’t so sure, but I was intrigued, nonetheless. Could I actually pull it off? I was curious. And at least it seemed more positive than spending the month counting flowers on the wall and crying. So I agreed to join her (and other recruited friends) in the madness of NaNoWriMo.

And you know, it was a surprisingly wonderful experience. My plot that year was a sort of sci-fi / fantasy thing involving time travel and a sinister secret society bent on fixing history to their advantage. My main character that year was a guy who had recently lost his wife, and into that poor character I poured all my own sorrow and pain and guilt and anger. And I brought him through it. I gave him a happy ending. It was cathartic. The story? Eh. It was probably too big for me. It was most definitely not the Great American Novel.

But I finished the challenge. And, in a way, it pulled me through what could have been a much worse time than it was. By the end of the year, I’d had two job offers out of three interviews, I’d been able to go to a midnight opening of “The Two Towers” halfway across the state on account of not having to work the next day (coldest line party EVER at at least -20F, but we prevailed), and we’d managed to live through the first holiday season without Mom with more laughter than tears. And I could say I’d written my first novel. Life was looking up.

NaNoWriMo will never again be for me what it was that first year, but it’s largely because of that year that I keep coming back.

I really don’t know what I’m going to write about this year, but I think I’m in. I’ve signed up at the website, I have pens and notebooks ready. What I don’t have is a plot. Or a setting. Or any characters whatsoever. But hey, there are twenty one whole days left to figure that out, right?

Much of this post brazenly stolen from my past self at my old blog, Little Flower Petals.

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Rant of the Week: Party People

What is up with “party” companies selling at craft fairs and bazaars? I never saw this until I moved out west (Washington State, from Vermont), but maybe they’re everywhere now, and it bugs me greatly.

I get that people gotta make a living somehow, but when I go to a bazaar, I expect it to be pretty much all local handmade crafts and foods (good, bad, and ugly) and maybe a section for donated “white elephant” junk.

We went to a fall bazaar yesterday, and while there were *some* local craftspeople (best: cool reusable bags made out of feed bags, pumpkins made out of welded horseshoes), I’d say close to half the space was dedicated to Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, one of those essential oil thingamabobs, etc. And if you ask many questions, they start trying to bring you into the cult by scheduling a party.

It just makes me sad. I go to bazaars to, you know, buy weirdly colored hats and lumpy mittens from some crazy old aunt (could be me someday!). The way life should be. No party people peer pressure.

But I guess a part of this is just me being all nostalgic this week. Would love to be able to go to the Christmas bazaar put on by good old St. John the Evangelist in St. Johnsbury, VT to buy some peculiar potholders and such and get a styrofoam cup of middling coffee and maybe a crumbled brownie wrapped in saran wrap by a kid all excited to be helping out.

I guess I’m just a party pooper.

I did get this cool bag!

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Which the kittens are very interested in.

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Thanks, Buddy!

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Proof that Orientals are kind of half dog / half cat: last night I got caught up in reminiscing about the last few years, and I was *so* caught up that when Timo bounded into the room and did that little chirrup greeting cats do, for a split second, I thought he was my dear, departed Tam.

And then I cried. And then Timo came over, put his paws around my neck, and gave me a big ol’ cheek-to-cheek hug. Aw.

And then he tried to steal my glasses. Because cats are jerks.

Hey, Dad

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My parish has Perpetual Adoration, with parishioners taking turns being there in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Anyone can come and go, but, at least in theory, every hour has at least one person committed to being there every week. Wednesdays at 6AM are mine.

I usually start off with a rosary, then do morning prayer, and finish off with some time meditating on the Mass readings for the day. Today’s Gospel is a nice one–Luke’s take on the Our Father:

LUKE 11:1-4

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished,
one of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.”

The Our Father is my fall back prayer when I just don’t know what to say. I never get tired of it, and it seems like there is always something new to discover.

What stood out for me today was the intimacy of Jesus giving this prayer to his apostles. What do I mean by that? Well…bear with my clumsy words and clumsy analogy for just a minute.

Before I begin, let me say that in real life, I had a pretty sheltered and stable upbringing. I have a cool father and family.

But for just a moment, imagine you’re a broken little kid from a broken home, unsure of yourself, lonely, longing for love and forgiveness and acceptance. And then you meet this guy, Jesus, who takes you under his wing, claims you as a brother.

He has a relationship with his father you can only envy, and his father is everything you’ve never really had: loving, forgiving, merciful, kind. And your new friend tells you to call him father. “Daddy,” even. It’s sort of embarrassing and sort of wonderful. He’s totally bringing you into his perfect family, telling you to forget whatever came before.

“I can’t,” you tell him. “I mean, what would I even say to him?”

And so, he tells you. He encourages you, and gives you words. It’s so generous, and so gentle.

I’m not good at talking to strangers. I’m not good at new situations. I love that Jesus not only shares his Father with us, but also takes the time to give his disciples guidance as they learn to pray, gives them a formula to fall back on.

Maybe some of them were awkward introverts like me. I kinda like that idea.

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Hard, Soft, or Sparkly?

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I have a tendency to watch TV series after they’re long over–everyone else has moved on to new and shiny, and I’m over here SO EXCITED about something that was on “real” TV a decade or two ago. One case in point: Stargate SG-1. I finally got around to watching the first season of that in…hm, maybe 2013? It launched in 1997, so…yeah, I was a bit behind. It was kind of a shock to notice how styles had changed. Hey, wait, I had glasses a lot like Daniel Jackson’s back in 1997! Were they really that gargantuan and dorky? Holy cow.

Anyway, I enjoyed SG-1, for the most part, but I got kind of burned out on it. Didn’t finish the last few seasons. It just got to be more and more of the same things over and over, and the characters I’d first fallen for dropped out, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care anymore. I never got around to the spinoffs.

But Friday evening, I was bored, and I stumbled across Stargate SGU in the Prime free options on Amazon, and I started watching it.

So far, I like it. It’s very different in feel from the original series. That series, to me, always had a sense of being larger-than-life, like a comic book, everything just a bit skewed and exaggerated and not to be taken seriously.

SGU, on the other hand, is almost Stargate-meets-Battlestar Gallactica. It’s darker, for one. Oh, there’s a fair amount of humor. Eli’s primary role is comic relief (plus, perhaps, a that-could-be-me for all of us nerds), and there are light moments. But overall, the stakes are higher, the realism is greater.

And the threat is on-going. There is no cyclical “we go out, we face danger, we arrive home safely and triumphantly and all is well.”

But–and this is where my point finally gets thrown into this mishmash!–there is still a fair amount of what’s essentially magic.

One thing which, as a writer, I’ve always sort of envied about the Stargate universe is that you can pretty much dream up whatever sort of object with whatever sort of purpose or function you can imagine, dub it Ancient, and you don’t have to explain it. Little round stone looking things with no visible power source which somehow let you speak to someone on the other side of the universe with no time lag or distortion? Sure! How does it work? We don’t know–it’s Ancient technology, and they’re so far advanced our puny brains can’t even contain that knowledge.

It’s brilliant. You totally get to sidestep any pseudo-scientific rationalization. And you get total creative freedom.

When it comes right down to it, Stargate–like Star Wars, if you ignore (as you should) the prequels, which try to get all sciencey–is really just fantasy set in space. Oh, there’s a little bit of sci-fi, but mostly it’s jamming myths and magic into a space setting. And…I admit, I rather like that.

I do like pure sci-fi. But I admit, I tend to like the softer stuff, where technology isn’t practically a protagonist all by itself, and where aliens don’t have to have a clear evolutionary path and space travel doesn’t have to jibe with real physics. A lot of my favorites wander into this blurred territory where sci-fi and fantasy kiss. It’s kind of fun when the explanations can go by the wayside and anything goes. C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy has a lot of fantastical elements. Some Andre Norton could go here, too. I’m sure there are others that will occur to me once I’ve had a bit of time to think about it.

This year’s NaNoWriMo story may just be a sparkly sci-fi-ish fantasy-ish something. Let me let that rattle around a bit.