Blog Reading (and, erm, writing)

Pleasant Hill 173 HDR

First off, apologies are due to all of you who follow this blog. There isn’t really any excuse for not writing to you all, except that, well, life has gotten a bit busy: D. has begun a new job (which he’s enjoying very much), we’re trying to squeeze in time to prep the garden, we’re doing choir … and, well, we’re no longer “abroad” so are struggling a bit to find things to put up here. Yes, we could do food … and we like doing food … but we’d have to have time to do some baking other than just what we make all the time.

We’ll find our balance here soon, promise!

Now, on to the crisis du jour: idiot Google has decided that they are retiring Google Reader. For some most, this isn’t an issue, because you don’t even know what it’s for. For those who read lots of online content, though, it’s been the easiest way to manage to keep up.

So, without further ado, here’s how to switch from Reader to something else (we’ll be trying Brief, in FireFox).

Step 1: Export your Reader Subscriptions This is a needlessly complex process, at this point, because idiot Google decided that they had to change the process right when most people would be using it. It now takes quite a few steps, rather than simply going to “manage subscriptions” and choosing “export.” Still, start with that:

Step 1 - Export 1

Then click “create archive” and wait for it to do its thing.

Step 1 - Export 2

When it’s complete, click “download” and save your .zip file somewhere (or just open it – we only really want one file from it).

Step 1 - Export 3

Step 1 - Export 4

All we’re interested in is the “subscriptions.xml” file, which you should save somewhere convenient (and rename to be a “.opml” file, later).

Step 1 - Export 5

Step 2: Install Brief. If you want to try Brief, download and install the Brief add-on from Mozilla. You’ll need to restart FireFox before using it.

Step 2 - Install Brief

Step 3: Set your FireFox preferences to use Live Bookmarks Brief isn’t necessary to use Live Bookmarks – they’re built into FireFox – but Brief gives you a different way of reading them.

Step 3 - FireFox Options

Step 4: Open Brief Brief gives you another little icon, to the right of your search bar. Click it to open Brief.

Step 4 - Using Brief

Step 5: Rename your .xml file from step 1 to “subscriptions.opml” and import it. The initial Brief page will have asked if you wanted to import anything, but if you missed that, click the little “tools” icon in Brief to import the .opml file you’ve obtained from the perfidious Google.

Step 5 - Import Feeds

You now have the ability to read feeds, via Brief.

This isn’t an ideal solution if you use the “Starred Items” feature in Google Reader, particularly if you rely on it as heavily as I do. I depend upon it to work up my “links” posts (more about that process here), and it’s quite laborious even with Reader in place. With Reader gone, well, I’ll be searching for another solution.

On the bright side: since I won’t be using Reader any longer, and I can’t use Google Chat from work, I now have no reason to sign into Google! Yes, they own FeedBurner, which powers the email subscriptions to our sites, but they’re gradually driving us away. I can’t say I’ll miss them, except for Reader


Sign Wonders

2012 Benicia 056 Finnieston 162
Dog Fouling Around Glasgow 213 Hayford Mills 031

Oh, the subtleties of signs. I spotted the first sign here in downtown Benicia this weekend & had to photograph it, mostly because it’s just so … well, nice. It doesn’t tell you about laws against letting your dog make a mess, it doesn’t tell you you’ll be fined or what have you. It appeals to people’s health concerns instead.

Funnily enough, I’ve had a fascination with signs, and have a handful of “dog fouling” signs taken in Scotland. Some appeal to the better nature of the pet owner, some threaten by stating the text of some applicable statute, and some merely mention that there is a statute while making a graphical appeal.

Do these work? Would someone who was otherwise unmotivated find them motivational? Do they say something different to people from different cultures?

Personally, I find the appeal to self-interest to possibly be more motivational than the rest.

I guess that signs are meant to both inform and motivate. There’s something in each of the dog fouling signs, though, that appeals to self-interest, as if there’s nothing intrinsically valuable in having a park free from dog mess.

Lafayette 16

We can contrast these, though, with a sign spotted 3 years ago, embedded into the concrete above a storm-drain. This sign lets you know that anything dumped into the storm drain leads to the sea, and makes the – subtle – appeal to be concerned about the fish in the ocean. It’s playing on a concern for nature, rather than pointing out that it’s illegal to dump things* into storm drains. I suppose that the fish might also be an appeal to one’s health concerns, provided you care about what goes into the fish you eat, but it doesn’t seem that way, really.

The motivational aspect of the “no dumping” sign is to appeal to a supposed pre-existing concern for the environment. This is similar to the second dog-fouling sign (which appeals to the dog owner to “help us clean up our city”) in that it’s concerned with the environment, although for aesthetic reasons in the fouling sign, rather than focusing on healthy salmon.

In any event, signs are interesting things (and all the more interesting when they come with odd caricatures of animal waste).


* I’m certain that it’s more than just “things” that you’re not supposed to dump, but that’s not the point.

It’s All in the Vowels

T’s friend Lissa took Voice & Diction at a Colorado College in the early nineties, and remembers having to recite bits of this poem as part of an oral exam. Read it aloud – and it seems reasonably easy at first. And then you remember: (Edited to add: – this is according to Lissa’s long-ago professor -), the English pronounce Pall Mall “pell mell,” for some reason, and viscount has a long I sound… and it all gets worse from there. Shudder:


The Chaos

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
   I will teach you in my verse
   Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
   Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;

   Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

   Just compare heart, hear and heard,
   Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
   Made has not the sound of bade,

   Saysaid, paypaid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you

With such words as vague and ague,
   But be careful how you speak,
   Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via

Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
   Woven, oven, how and low,
   Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
   Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,

   Missiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,

   Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
   Solar, mica, war and far.

From “desire”: desirableadmirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
   Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,

   Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,

One, anemone, Balmoral,

Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
   Gertrude, German, wind and wind,

   Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.

   This phonetic labyrinth
   Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured

To pronounce revered and severed,
   Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
   Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;

Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
   Blood and flood are not like food,

   Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.

   Discount, viscount, load and broad,
   Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
   Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,

   Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.

   Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
   Buoyant, minute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,

Now: position and transition;
   Would it tally with my rhyme
   If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,

But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
   Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
   Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,

Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
   You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
   In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!

Affidavit, David, davit.
   To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
   Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.

   We say hallowed, but allowed,
   People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,

Between mover, plover, Dover.
   Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,

   Chalice, but police and lice,

Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

   Petal, penal, and canal,
   Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
   But it is not hard to tell
   Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,

   Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
   Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
   Pussy, hussy and possess,

   Desert, but desert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.

   Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
   Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker“,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor“,
   Making, it is sad but true,

   In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.

   Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
   Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
   Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
   Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
   Mind! Meandering but mean,

   Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
   Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,

   Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?

   Prison, bison, treasure trove,
   Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
   Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,

   Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;

   Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
   Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
   Evil, devil, mezzotint,

   Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
   Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
   Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,

Though I often heard, as you did,
   Funny rhymes to unicorn,
   Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,

I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
   No. Yet Froude compared with proud
   Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,

Tripod, menial, denial,
   Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
   Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
   But you’re not supposed to say
   Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid

Worthless documents? How pallid,
   How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
   When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,

Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
   Episodes, antipodes,
   Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,

   Rather say in accents pure:
   Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
   Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
   Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you
More than r, ch or w.
   Say then these phonetic gems:

   Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em
   Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
   Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit

Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
   With and forthwith, one has voice,
   One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;

Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
   Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
   Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
   Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,

   Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners

   Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
   Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,

We say actual, but victual,
   Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,

   Put, nut, granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.

   Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
   Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
   Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,

   Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it

   Bona fide, alibi
   Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,

Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
   Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,

   Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,

   Rally with ally; yea, ye,
   Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.

   Never guess-it is not safe,
   We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,

Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
   Face, but preface, then grimace,
   Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;

   Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
   Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often

Which may be pronounced as orphan,
   With the sound of saw and sauce;
   Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
   Respite, spite, consent, resent.
   Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,

Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
   Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,

   Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid vapour,

S of news (compare newspaper),
   G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
   I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
   Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,

   Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
   Won’t it make you lose your wits
   Writing groats and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
   Islington, and Isle of Wight,

   Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?

   Finally, which rhymes with enough,
   Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!
РG. Nolst Trenit̩

Please ignore the extra ‘u’ here and there – it’s an English poem (as in, the nation), and was written by a Dutchman, Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946), who also wrote under the pseudonym Charivarius. It first appeared in an appendix to the author’s 1920 textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen.

One must ask: in what world does parquet rhyme with khaki???

This does not help us with Scots English at all.

Cab Tales, Words du Jour, & etc.

Around Glasgow 562

The city is wide-eyed in the dark.

On dim afternoons, the lights come on, and the party goes on. Lights are strung across pedestrian thoroughfares, and white lights – fairy lights – are twisted through trees. It’s the same every autumn in every wee town we’ve visited, but it’s all the brighter in Glasgow now, for it being November. Trees are being lit this weekend in city squares, as the great Christmas/Hogmanay countdown begins. Our rehearsals are full-time Christmas revels now, and between the John Barry tributes (who knew there were four-part choral arrangements of the theme from Goldfinger??), the show tunes from Grease and the ABBA/Mamma Mia songs — (we’re “dancing queens” again!) — we are indeed hauling out the holly. Or something. How we wish you could all be there.

We, meanwhile, have had important things to do, which take us to town. T. is scouring out the last of the library’s stock for Cybils reading, as the first of the big boxes from the publishing companies come thundering in. (Though she’s used the library this year more than ever, this past week, she received twenty-eight books from publishers in a single day. Made the UPS man right curious, that did.) We are also sending donations to a few charities who have requested T’s books (it’s expensive from here, and time-consuming, and she’s glad that the last of them are done and dusted, and she hopes the Illinois Dept. of Children & Families has an amazing Christmas party), which has necessitated additional cab trips, and many chatty cab drivers. Because of this, now, Ruth, we know what your man is getting you for Christmas. And it’s even engraved! (Also, T. thinks it’s really cute how your swain refers to himself as”, “Ruth’s man.” T. thinks she ought to take it up, and call herself “D’s wumman.” However, it’s not quite as convincing when she bursts into loud guffaws afterward.)

Meanwhile, at D’s work, there were quarterly reviews – an embuggerance (a nice British military slang word) – and lots of team meetings – a further embuggerance – as they prepare to add onto their staff of four. As the interviews go on – and D. is stuck at work until almost eight at night! – we’ve decided to regale you with Drew’s Collected Wit & Wisdom once again:

Last week’s Phrase du Jour, scrawled on the white board:
“Never test the depth of a burn with both of your feet.”
(Apparently a bit of conventional Fife wisdom our Drew learned as a lad at his Mam’s knee.) For once, that’s something that’s easy enough to understand.)

How fortunate we are that Drew’s advice extends to shopping as well! Says he, “If you’re ever in an English shop and they don’t have any thingamybobs, look for duberryfirkins instead. Duberryfirkin is the London equivalent to a thingamybob, which is the Northern England equivalent to the Scottish thingummy.”

Americans are so conventional. We just look for stuff.

Friday’s Word du Jour: shufti. /shuf-ti/
n. Informal, British, military; to take a wee looksee, or reconnoiter.
Usage: “Take a wee shufti at this!”
Now, this one was amazing – it really does date from WWII. The word is of Arabic origin meaning “look!”, and was brought back to Britain by soldiers returning from Arabic lands who had learnt the word from …dudes selling nudie postcards. The peddlers used to keep the postcards hidden inside their coats and would show them to soldiers saying “Shufti, shufti!” – “Look, look!”

And now you know.

Stirling 180

The great dial of the season spins, searching for its stations between late autumn and the year’s final cold. We remain astounded by the relative mildness of the days. The temps remain in the mid-forties Fahrenheit/ eight-seven Celsius range, and we. get. sun. Almost daily sun. Granted: a thin, weak sun which is reminiscent of a California January, a sun backed by a pale blue sky criss-crossed with high ragged streamers of nearly transparent cloud. It is such a gift, as compared to last year at this time.

Hayford Mills 162

Now D. has done the annoying and picky job of the first binding for his 200 + page dissertation (thesis), he continues to await a date for his oral exams (and when he gets one, you’ll probably hear the rejoicing all the way to your house). While he waits, he’s applied to a few promisingly complicated-looking positions in various fields (some of you can imagine him easily in a psychology department. T. just shakes her head in bemusement). Many and long are the discussions about where to land, and now that T’s mother has had a serious bump in her relatively healthy road, some of our plans are being reconsidered, since air travel for her will be severely curtailed (by the entire family, if not just by her good common sense). Meanwhile, as the application process progresses, D. has been seeking to get his grades from the University for the Master’s he completed here his first year… only to discover that the University’s new computer overhaul over this summer has erased his grades, and still has him enrolled. Apparently it’s a time-machine as well as a database, and has reset us to 2009. HOPEFULLY this week upcoming, the nonsense will be cleared up, but T. commented that this doesn’t bode well for getting a job in academia, as it all seems so distressingly disorganized, as compared to the business world. (To which D. replied, “HAH!”)

Hayford Mills 165

The wee birds have kept busy, fighting and stealing seeds from one another, and we see bolder — and bigger — squirrels streaking across the green every day. (And bolder cats following rapidly after.) As we bundle up and hunker down for the worst of The Dread Dark, we are surprisingly cheerful, hopeful, and grateful for the graces of having our families alive in one piece, for our warm blankets, books, faux haggis, and of course — you.

Thanksgiving, indeed.

Hayford Mills 163

Words which rhyme with…

Stirling 107

Today D. realized that there are all manner of rhyming words for kook. House rhymes – say who-sss and you have it. Book also rhymes – say “boo” and put a “k” on the end. The best, though, is that cook sounds exactly like kook. Awesome. A “kook” is somebody who cooks food. Yeah. Right.

Every now and again we’re glad that we speak American English rather than Scots English. How else would you know whether someone was talking about a “nutter” or somebody working in a restaurant?

Of course, we have been told that “dune” should not be sung as “doon” (the way the Scots say the word “down”) but should be pronounced “dee-yoon” instead. Yeah. Sure. OK, then. We’ll sing it that way. In our own “who-sss” we’ll keep on saying “doon” instead.

-D & T

Project Management: A photo essay

Paisley Stawberries 10

Paisley Stawberries 12

…let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to… Strawberry Fields… Just add a tiny bit of water, and a long, slow cooking time. Later, as little sugar as we can get away with, and this time we also added fragrant lime zest and juice, to preserve the color, as much as possible, and add a little bite in what can sometimes be just a bit too sweet. Both the strawberry sauce and the rich, dark preserves, sweetened with brown sugar, turned out beautifully.

Paisley Stawberries 05

William and Julie's wedding 129

Never at any other point in our lives are we judged as harshly or scrutinized as thoroughly as we are when we are in school. We met a guidance counselor for the university, who, finding that D. is a PhD candidate, remarked, “After completing a PhD, many students are relieved at the idea of 9-5 employment.” Indeed.

If you suddenly had the burden of the last 65,000 words or so lifted from your brain, you, too, might find yourself buoyed, and bewildered by the incredible lightness of your being (five points if you can identify the author within two seconds) (Sorry. Reflex. Was remembering school…). D. has often said that he’s a fairly simple person. “Either I’m happy, or I’m stressed.”

It’s so nice to see “happy” again.

(“Nice” is such an unbelievable understatement.)

Tanita Henna 1.8Charing Cross 555
Tanita Henna 1.4 Tanita Henna 1.5

So much to do these days suddenly emptied days – weddings to attend, fruit to find, flowers to photograph, random women to anoint with thick henna paste… Okay, wait. That last one we don’t advise just anyone try with any random woman. First, pick someone wearing shorts nearby, whom you can be certain won’t clock you one upside the head. Next, one must beguile said woman, and approach them whilst they are reading, and utterly ignoring everything but their book. Then, the ensuing grunt of assent means that as long as you can get them to hold their book or pick-and-tap on the computer one-handed, one can do whatever one pleases with the other hand. Or, leg, as the case may be…

Kelvingrove Park 398
Denim Skirt 1 Denim Skirt 2 Denim Skirt 3

The librarians smile when we come in with our huge bag. We, who were weekend regulars for two years suddenly vanished for the last two. They may have wondered at our reappearance, thinking us gone back to our country, but no. We only just now have realized how circumscribed our lives had become, under the burden of student budgeting, stress, work, and more stress. Reading absolute nonsense from the new fiction section makes a weekend afternoon feel like a holiday.

And so the summer – thunderstorms and rain showers notwithstanding – finds us savoring various projects. How are you?

User Registration

Awhile back we had a problem with spambots registering new accounts (hundreds of registrations a day), so we disabled new user registration for awhile. Registration is now opened up again. Apologies to those who wished to register (and comment) and were unable to do so.

This site requires that you create an account if you wish to comment. Your first comment will be moderated, as will any comments including more than 2 hyperlinks. This, also, is to cut down on the spammers. After you’ve proven yourself to be a human being, and one who is actually interested in this site as this site (rather than as a place to hawk your bogus pharmaceutical deals), you’ll be able to comment and have the comments come through immediately.

-D & T

A Problem With the Playlist

Lynedoch Crescent D 387

For those of you who happily listen to your music in “shuffle” mode, this post should mean very little. For those who listen through the albums in the order in which they came on the CD, and who have organized their playlists in a particular order of albums, this post may not mean anything unless you use music as I do. Yes. Music, for me, has a very distinct use: blocking out the external world so that I can focus.

Don’t get me wrong: I love music, and happily listen to the radio (although I do object when, say, we transition from Sibelius’ Finlandia to the theme song from The Big Valley, which happened just Wednesday afternoon). But when I’m at work, I need something which is consistent, and which I’ve listened to so many times that the next song isn’t any surprise. The music all needs to be of a fairly high energy – to get the fingers flying over the keyboard – and the albums must come in the same order, which my player kindly does by default. The order in which I place the albums is the order in which they’re played, and I typically array the music out from happy pop music (Lenka, the Cranberries), through darker pop music (10,000 Maniacs, Tori Amos, Sinead O’Connor), and then conclude with the hard stuff (Metallica and Paris, Sonic Jihad). Lenka just recently supplanted The Cranberries as the lead album, as she’s a new addition to our music collection.

I don’t always start at the beginning, and I usually don’t make it all the way through because I’ll have had a particular mood which suited me for that day’s work. Yesterday, however, I began with Metallica, carried through Paris … and got the shock of my life when everything rolled over to Lenka. It was truly, truly horrible. I actually had to pull out the headphones and tell T. about it, it was so startling, and then roll back the playlist to Pearl Jam (comes before Metallica). After a few times through Pearl Jam, I could work my way back, and reconsider Lenka, but it was tough.

Music gets into your brain, folks. Very far into your brain.


WORDY Wednesday (As Opposed to Wordless)

Tom Kha Tofu with Udon

Springtime in a bowl, folks; a good Thai soup burnishes the stomach with warmth and makes you not mind the wind and the intermittent rain and hail. Plus, it’s stuffed chock full of veg. We started this soup with a pair of Thai bird chillies, a thick slice of galangal root (or you can use ginger), a half stalk of lemon grass and a handful of bruised makrut lime leaves (they’re sold as kaffir lime leaves. Kaffir is a racial slur in South Africa, so we say makrut… {ETYMOLOGICAL DIGRESSION #1} *Oddly kafir in Arabic, which is the words origin language, merely means infidel or unbeliever – which is an insult to a Muslim; no idea how it got so twisted with apartheid and such), and simmered them in three cups of water for about a half hour. We then added a can of coconut milk, a container of firm tofu which had been frozen and thawed (accidentally), roughly chopped onions, a cup of button mushrooms, a random amount of fresh green beans, broccolini, a sliced zucchini (or, if you’re from here, a courgette) and a couple of carrots we had sitting. A quick ten minutes, and we added some pre-cooked udon noodles, two tablespoons of mae ploy, which is a sweet pepper sauce, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and a dash of lemon juice. It. Was. Amazing. You’ll note that the veg was barely cooked, and the aromatics were left in — that’s always tricky. Note: don’t eat the lemon grass. It’s just not that tasty. If you’re concerned about your veg being too raw with such a short cooking time, you can always give a three minute blanch to everything except for the zucchini/courgette.

{ETYMOLOGICAL DIGRESSION #2 BEGINS HERE} Hey, by the way, we found out why the Scots use the French word for all of their veg like aubergine instead of eggplant and courgettes instead of zucchini, as Americans who lived with Italian immigrants do. It’s because the Scots are French. (Just don’t tell them.) A brief history lesson for you:

Henry the Eighth kinda hated Scotland, and figured they were überreligious annoyances, despite marrying off his sister Mags to King James IV in 1503. Realizing they were going to get messed about, the Scots cozied up to the French, and renewed an “auld” acquaintance. And it was old — it was from all the way in the 1200’s! In 1295, the Scots signed what is termed “The Auld Alliance” with the French, against the English. They’ve had bad cess between them for ages and ages and ages, apparently. History records that they were even on hand to fight with Joan D’Arc, were the doughty Scotsmen. Scottish mercenaries were paid in French wine, which was a pretty sweet deal to them. (Perhaps that was pre-whisky?)

Well, on to more recent times (Recent, hah! But, recall, the Battle of Bannockburn (Blàr Allt a’ Bhonnaich) is still discussed here in strong terms, and that was in 1314): in 1538, James Four married his son James Five to Mary, daughter of Claude de Lorraine, Duke of Guise, who was super rich and somewhat royal. They pushed their children, as one does, and encouraged their daughter to be queen when she was but four days old. The poor dear’s name was Mary, because they didn’t have a Baby Names book, and they went with what worked for her mother, apparently. (Oh, all right – her other name was Mary Queen of Scots, and she was either a beloved saint, or a vicious harpy, depending on who you ask around here.) Mary wed the eldest son of the king of France (aka the Dauphin), and the English went ballistic, because suddenly they realized that, Oh, ignoring Scotland is probably one of those Bad Ideas, and now they were going to gain a better organized set of enemies. They revived their feudal claims of ownership, and started Yet Another War, which ended up pitting Mary against her half-sister, Elizabeth, and you know how that ended. (What? YES, you do know how that ended. Oh, for shame! Go look it up right now.)

The point of all of this for our purposes is that the alliance between France and Scotland was never rescinded. They agreed, in that Auld Alliance, to a common language and a common purpose. Scots spoke Gaelic and French, as a matter of course… thus the inclusion of French words in Scottish conversation. Neat, huh? We learned all this at Stirling Castle our last visit.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting that French words in American Vernacular English tend to be specialized. We have “loan words” like ballet, bouillabaise, cabernet, cachet, chaise longue, champagne, chic, cognac, corsage, faux pas, nom de plume, quiche, rouge, roulet, sachet, salon, saloon, sang froid, and savoir faire — but if you’ll note, the words aren’t …common, really. While they’re well-known, they’re not easily used by most of the population; they’re all sort of upper crust-y kinds of words. (With the exception of more pedestrian French loan words like denim, garage and bigot – but the plain words from the French are few and far in between.) Conversely, Italian loan words are as common as — well, Italian Americans. Think of words like alto, arsenal, balcony, broccoli, cameo, casino, cupola, duo, fresco, fugue, ghetto, macaroni, madrigal, motto, piano, opera, prima donna, regatta, sequin, soprano, opera, stanza, stucco, studio, tempo, torso, umbrella, viola, violin, cappuccino, espresso, linguini, mafioso (mafia!), pasta, pizza, ravioli, spaghetti, spumante, and zucchini. These all (with the exception of spumante, possibly) are well-used and robust parts of the American language, and not special or fiddly words at all. We find that fascinating. Guess we Americans like our music and our moods and our food, eh?


For good or for ill, this tom kha taohu soup was the last really amazing, fresh-tasting, veglicious dish we made ’round these parts, and that was about, oh, two weeks ago. Since then, the Work Fairy has come and smacked us in the head with her pointy little wand. D’s dissertation deadline is looming, his work project deadline loomed, and T’s got an editorial letter at last and another manuscript revision ahead of her — plus her end-of-April freelance revision. Erg.

Our house looks like the scene of a crime. The piles of laundry – nicely separated, not yet put into the microscopic machine – have become ambulatory and are congregating in corners, plotting. The bathroom is routinely disinfected and the dishes get done — simply because we have a limited amount of them, and T. has Issues With Germs — but the vacuuming isn’t done and the dust is collecting in drifts, which is sort of hard to avoid this time of year. The occasional sunshine has at last provoked the trees into bloom — and the grass, trees, flowers and nasty Scotch broom manages to send commando pollen dust into any little crack or crevice on the wind, which blows and blows and blows. Allergies go hand-in-hand with the Spring, alas. But, we aren’t complaining. (We don’t have time).

Along with our regularly scheduled work, we’ve had extra rehearsal for our Spring concert, which is going to be awesome, by the way. It’s a Vaughn Williams/William Walton retrospective, which will be delightful for our English audience members, and a bit stressful for the rest of us, but things are coming together and we’re finally getting to where we can look forward to the orchestra bits of the piece. Aside from our single choir, which has been split into two parts singing away at different bits, the score calls for two flutes, a piccolo, two oboes, something called a cor anglais or a sax, three clarinets in B-flat an alto saxophone in E-flat, 2 bassoons, and a contrabassoon. We’ll have four horns in F: three trumpets, two tenor trombones, a bass trombone, a tuba; timpani, and three or four percussionists playing a side drum, a tenor drum, a triangle, a tambourine, castanets, a silvery shimmer of cymbals, a bass drum, a huge solemn-sounding gong, which is going to sound like the tolling of a bell, a xylophone, a glockenspiel, a wood block, slapsticks, and an anvil. (YES. An. ANVIL. As in, blacksmiths.) Finally, there will be two harps, a piano, an organ, and a full complement of strings.

We’re beginning to wonder how we’ll all fit on the stage.

Despite our amusing tone, we are both kind of out of our minds with stress, and it is beginning to show. We ask you to think of us from time to time, as we stagger through. Please keep in touch.

*RE: the etymological asides. Sorry! This has turned into the etymology blog today, and we’re not sure why! Oh, well. Just another sampling of the random things which cross our minds. Take care of yourselves.