Resolved 2017

It’s a little late for New Year’s Resolutions, but c’mon, is the chaos of Christmas season and its aftermath really the best time to think about goals? I usually need a break and some reflection, and this year has been no exception.

But here are my resolutions in a nutshell:

Pare down, use up, put away.

I feel like I spent a lot of the last decade acquiring. I have stacks of empty notebooks. I have odd ingredients I bought for a recipe but then forgot about, which I really should use before they expire. I have pens and pencils and ink. I have clothing I bought (from Goodwill generally, but still) and put in a drawer, forgotten.

I declare 2017 the year of living inexpensively. There will always be cool new limited edition notebooks and pens and boots and that. I have more than I can use anytime soon.

I also want to clear out the things I don’t use or need–a surprising amount made the cut in spite of my move, and while there’s not necessarily anything wrong with a few sentimental objects, I can proooobably at least let go of that old bluetooth headset I haven’t used in six years and which doesn’t charge. It’s a bit daunting to go through every drawer and closet, but exhilarating as well.

I’m also realizing one of the reasons I’m so challenged by order is that I keep treating symptoms rather than disease. The reason I end up with jackets strewn all over creation just might be because there’s no coat rack. If I brought the hamper in from the garage and used it without the stoopid flippy lid I hate so much, maybe there wouldn’t be dirty clothes on the bathroom and bedroom floor. If I put away the winter clothes in the spring and vice versa (after all, I have an attic now!), maybe I’d have enough room to keep all my clothes and blankets and sheets in the dresser where they belong.

It’s all going to take some effort. Building some habits. Establishing new routines. Maybe avoiding certain temptations. But just thinking about it makes me feel freer.

So off we go.

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Random February

I am inordinately fond of this face.img_20170203_092448_746

This one is pretty cute, too.

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Currently reading:
1. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic is fascinating, but also scary and sad. It mostly traces the rise of opiate addiction stemming from prescription drugs, and the changing face of drug dealing that partly fueled and partly followed that addiction. As someone from an area (rural Vermont) that really didn’t have much in the way of drug abuse when I was a kid but where there is now a startling rise in overdose deaths, , this was an eye opener.

2. (Much more uplifting!) The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I’m not all that far into it, but so far it’s pulling at my heart and mind in all sorts of ways. On top of the heartbreaking personal challenges faced by the rower on which the author spends the most time (Joe Rantz), I’m captivated by the local connections: seeing Seattle and the Kitsap Peninsula as they were during the depression and leading up to WWII. As someone who didn’t grow up in the area, it can be easy to forget how young civilization really is here, how recently it became a center of culture and technology, how shaped it was by logging and fishing and other more rugged enterprises.

Currently up to: aside from reading and some clawhammer banjoing, mostly cleaning off some devices to sell: my old phone and my computer. In part, this is to pay for…

This.
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When I bought my house, it was a fade-into-the-sky-stormy-slate color, which wasn’t terrible, but since the paint was chipping and cracked in places, I needed to  get it painted anyway. After much consideration, I switched to TARDIS blue (AKA Sherwin Williams Honorable Blue). And I love it. I LOVE IT. I’m broke, but my house is so pretty!

I suppose the guy across the street might frown on my bringing out a chair to sit on his lawn so I can admire the outside of my own house as I read this weekend, too broke to do much else.

But it’s tempting, I admit.

Slice

For a brief time when I was about 13, I had a contact lens.

Yes, that’s singular. As in one lens.

I have very poor vision in my left eye–unaugmented, I see a matter of inches. As it turns out, I’m actually nearsighted in my right eye as well, and eventually I got glasses. I still don’t see with both eyes together, but whatever.

But at the time, the doctor just wanted to see whether it was possible for me to use my eyes together and actually have depth perception. So they just corrected the left to bring it up to the same strength as the right.

It didn’t work. I saw double, or saw things shifted to one side so I’d go to touch something or pick something up and find it had disconcertingly dodged me. I ended up closing one eye or the other a lot of the time just so I could function. The whole thing rather put me off contacts.

BUT! There was one really cool thing. And I’m never sure why this isn’t talked about more. Am I the only one who experienced this? Is it supposed to be a secret kept by contact lens users? Do I risk being hunted down and silenced? I don’t know.

But here’s what I found: soft contact lenses protect your eyes from onion vapors. Usually I turn into a teary, snotty, miserable mess when cutting onions. I love them, but oh, they hurt. However, I could close my non-contacted eye and slice away.

For a few short months, whenever Mom needed help in the kitchen, I was an invincible onion-chopping cyclops. And that was SO VERY COOL.

Replay

I have a tendency to obsess over two or three albums or artists at a time. I’ll spend a month listening to almost nothing but Bach Cello Suites, for example, or play a particular 90s band’s albums on repeat for days at a time until I know what song is coming up next before it starts.

And then sometimes those albums get lost. I have music I’ve not listened to in years. It is the joy and the challenge of the modern world, I guess: gone are the days when someone might have just half a dozen records they know by heart.

As I was setting up a new device the other day, I started scanning through the list of albums in my digital library–so many old friends, so many brief but passionate flings, so many that brought back so many memories. And I decided it might be fun to take a weird little piecemeal stroll down memory lane. (Ain’t it funny how a melody can bring back a memory?)

I’m working my way through them, in alphabetical order, at least the complete albums, and skipping over a few of the Giant Box o’ Bach types. There are some odd juxtapositions (Ray Charles to monastic chant?!), and admittedly my tastes have evolved (and devolved) through the years, so not everything is going to appeal as much or in the same way as it did at one time, but I’m still enjoying the trip.

So far:

• 12 Greatest Hits – Patsy Cline (An auspicious start. Love me some Patsy.)
• 25 – Harry Connick Jr.
• Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet
• About Time – Don Stiernberg (swing mando!)
• Achtung Baby – U2
• Acoustic Phenomenon – Patrick Ross (GREAT Vermont fiddler)
• Advent at Ephesus – Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles
• Afternoon in Paris – Stephane Grappelli (Spent a LOT of time with this one back in the day!)
• Alive Again – Matt Maher (which I tend to sing along to and scare the dog)
• All The Good ‘Uns – Ian Tyson (man knows how to paint a word picture…)
• Amahl and The Night Visitors
• An Enchanted Evening With Jose Carreras (which makes me miss Mom, his biggest fan…)
• An Evening in the Village: The Music of Béla Bartók – Jake Schepps (banjo!)
• An Spealadóir – Bua
• Anam – Clannad
• And I Feel Fine: The Best of the I.R.S. Years – R.E.M (how to feel drunk without drinking–hefty doses of R.E.M. over tinny speakers)
• Angelina Carberry & Martin Quinn (Irish tenor banjo!)
• Anthology – Ray Charles
• Anthology: Chants & Polyphany from St. Michael’s Abbey
• Armchair Apocrypha – Andrew Bird

Music of the Spheres

I listen to classical music quite a bit. I’m not really as knowledgeable as I’d like to be with regards to history and styles and terminology, though I’m always learning, and we’re fortunate to have a truly, truly excellent classical public radio station in Classical King FM, based in Seattle, WA. In addition to broadcasting on FM radio, they also stream on-line, in a few different flavors.

I just started listening to their Evergreen channel a few weeks ago. It’s made up of relaxing pieces, great for while you’re reading or writing or otherwise trying to focus.

Well…this one piece kept grabbing my by the heart every time it came up. Over and over. I love it so much. And then…another piece did the same thing, and it turned out to be the same composer: Ola Gjeilo, a young (only 38 *now*, and he’s been writing for some time!) Norwegian composer and pianist, now based out of New York.

I love his music so much I’ve been sharing it all over the place this week. I love it so much I had to buy his self-titled CD. But this piece is still my favorite.

Again, I don’t know the right terms, how to describe in words the way the chords shift all as one, intersected, woven together, and the way the music is at once harmonious and dissonant.

But I love the depth of it. It’s so emotional it is almost pain as well as pleasure, the kind of joy that aches.

You know what it makes me think of? Have you ever been out in the middle of nowhere on a clear, cold, winter night when the sky was lit by pinpoints of stars, and stars beyond stars until the whole of it glowed and you understood why they call it the Milky Way? And oh, the daunting timelessness of starlight: ancient light, newly arriving for our eyes, making one feel so small and yet touching eternity. This is like that put to music–there are notes behind notes, tangled, spinning around one another, pulling the listener into a spellbound dance. I’m sure the title is part of why my head goes there, but really, that’s how it feels.

And then, on top of that, we get the Kyrie Eleison. “Lord, have mercy.”

The whole thing just gives me chills.

Check it out. Do.

Beyond the glow of the city lights, a universe awaits. (9193084187)

Why I’m Using Google Docs for My NaNoWriMo Project

For the last few years, most of my fiction writing has started by hand: I get up in the morning, I make coffee (or hit the coffee shop), and I scribble for awhile in fountain pen with real ink on actual paper. At some point, I transcribe that handwritten text into Scrivener to organize and edit.

But I’ve been trying to improve my thinking-on-a-computer-screen skills. I struggle with it, but some of that may be a mental block. Partly as an experiment, at the eleventh hour, I decided to do this year’s NaNoWriMo novel in Google Docs.

I live in Google world. I have for a long time. I was one of the first people to fall in love with a strange little bare-bones search engine way back when AltaVista and Yahoo ruled the world. I’ve had a Gmail account since dinosaurs walked the earth and you needed an invite to get access to Gmail beta. I tried out many if not most of Google’s primary apps before they were officially supported.

Much of my life is in Google. When I finally broke down and got a smartphone, I went with Android, since it made it easier to keep using my Google calendar, mail, documents, etc.

So I’m an early adopter of the cloud. It makes a lot of sense to use Google Docs.

1. It’s available everywhere

I love that I can stop in the middle of a sentence on my Chromebook, and when I get to my work PC or my phone or anywhere else I happen to jump on-line, there it’ll be. No manual syncing or other setup involved. This is fantastic news for absentminded dopes like me who tend to walk out the door without their laptop, or forget to grab that USB drive when stepping away from a computer. If I have access to the Internet, I have access to my documents.

I know other companies have some sync solutions, but I don’t think any others work quite as well on as many platforms as Google Docs does. I’m not restricted to Apple or PC or Android or any subset or variant thereof.

Plus, my personal dictionary travels around with me from device to device. For those of us writing fantasy or sci-fi with worlds and words of our own making, this is a pretty sweet boon.

2. It doesn’t get in my way

Google Docs is a relatively simple word processor. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles–no big grammar checker, minimal auto-formatting options. For the drafting stages, at least, I don’t need any of that. They’re just distractions. Speaking of distractions, I like that I can set Docs to full screen (View/Full Screen), clearing away everything but the text I’m working with.

(I do wish there was a single keyboard shortcut that would take me to full screen mode. If any Google dev folks happen to wander onto this post…can I have that for Christmas? Pretty please with a cherry on top? I know it’s only a few clicks as is, but I love me some keyboard shortcuts.)

3. It’s simple to add comments and track changes.

Right now, I’m just trying to get my first draft down as quickly as possible. This means there are occasionally times when I need to come up with a name for a person or place, but get stuck, or want to add a note to correct a discrepancy or plot hole when I have time. It’s very simple to jot down a quick note to self (“The window shouldn’t be broken until after the party, you knucklehead.”) so I can deal with these later, but keep plugging along without losing the flow.

Google also keeps an extensive revision history, so I can easily go back and see what I added or changed at any given time. (Click on File / Revision History, or press Ctrl-Alt-Shift-H). Constant snapshots. Me likey. I have a tendency to change important sentences, then regret changing them but forget how I’d originally worded them. This makes it simple to flip back.

4. Because it’s lightweight and runs from a browser, I don’t need anything fancy to run it.

I bought a small Chromebook about a year ago, mostly for some very specific media consumption purposes, but it’s become my primary computer the vast majority of the time. It’s cheap, it’s fast, it boots quickly, the battery runs forever, and (maybe most importantly) I don’t fret about taking it out into the world. I’m about to receive a refurbished  Dell Chromebook 13, and I’m looking forward to the bigger screen, better keyboard, and even more ridiculous battery life. Both computers together cost less than a several-years-old Macbook would. Score.

5. It functions off-line as well.

I admit, I’ve had an occasionally rocky relationship with Google Docs offline on my Chromebook. But for the most part, when it comes to working on an existing document offline for a little while, it works fine. It’s still more stable when working online, but it’s perfectly sufficient if I need to spend an hour or two typing away without wireless access.

Most of the cons of Google Docs for me come down to “it’s not Scrivener.”

In particular, I miss the binder / outline function.

1. I love the way Scrivener lets you divide documents into easily manageable chunks, yet still compile them in a single manuscript.

I tend to dash scenes down willy-nilly once I get going, rarely writing in completely chronological order. I then go back to organize and apply spackle between scenes at the end. This gets messy with novel-length works. When you’re wrestling with tens of thousands of words, it can be really tricky to remember where you left the first sentence of that scene where Juan and Steve argue about the moral implications of rhubarb, or that one really good description of Bob’s Special Sauce That Changed the World. I can use comments or bookmarks to mark off scenes to some extent, but it’s not as slick.

Having folders and a hierarchy in Scrivener also makes it easy to have separate non-manuscript text documents with character sketches, setting descriptions, notes, links to research, etc. For the time being, I just have a sort of dump document to accompany my primary manuscript, but again, it isn’t as slick or friendly.

2. Reordering scenes or chapters in Scrivener is as easy as dragging and dropping a document within the binder.

No need to painstakingly scroll and scroll to the right spot, highlight the text to be moved–all of the text and only the text–copy or cut, painstakingly scroll and scroll to where it needs to go, paste.

Granted, this method is still light years beyond redoing whole paper manuscripts by hand like they did in the bad old days and I’m ridiculously spoiled and whiny, but…you know. It’s still clunky.

3. It’s very easy to output documents from Scrivener in a variety of preferred manuscript formats.

Once you have everything set up, it will generate your cover sheet, add useful headers, remove or add smart quotes, etc., per submission guidelines, and then output in pretty much any document format known to (wo)man. I’ve not found anything to rival those features, though they can be daunting.

I’ll likely stick with Scrivener for the editing and manuscript compilation stages.

However, It’s still not quite there when it comes to device transparency and easy access. They’ve worked hard and come a long way, and I highly admire the developers. If I was the sort of person who was joined at the hip to a single laptop (many are!) the lack of cloud integration might not matter so much. If I lived more in iOS, it might not matter so much–from what I hear, Scrivener’s iOS version for iPad and iPhone is pretty excellent. But I don’t have an iPad or iPhone. And I’m cheap frugal enough I’m much more likely to lug a Chromebook around than a tablet costing twice as much, plus an expensive keyboard.

Still, Scrivener really shines when it comes to polishing up the end product.

But for better or worse, I’m a Google girl. And Docs works well for most drafting purposes.

Different Strokes

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The things she does with her tail never cease to amuse me

Subject: Kittens’ attempts to crawl into my lap.

Cassia: I’ll suddenly realize I’ve been petting her for the last five minutes, and she’s just very quietly present.

Timo: Jumps onto whatever I’m reading/typing, head butts me with great enthusiasm, loses his balance, drags whatever I’m reading/typing down with him when he falls, head butts me again as I bend to scoop everything up, climbs into my lap as I’m getting settled, gives me a big ol’ hug, settles down, rolls on his side and looks up at me like, “See, I’m no trouble, you’ll hardly even know I’m here!”

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Boy is about as subtle as a flying brick.

One more bonus photo of Timo, just because it makes me laugh. He was blocking the light as I tried to work at my desk, while looking up at me like, “Wah, why are you tryin’ to make me move?”  The ear floofs add…something.goofy-timo-11-03-16

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!

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