31 December 2009

What Christmas music makes you merry?

What were some of your favorite Christmas recordings this year?  New and classics accepted. :)

29 December 2009

Rain, ice, hazards of same

We had that ridiculously warm Christmas, which led to lots of stuff melting, which disappointed my cranky self as I stewed in my too-hot apartment.  I forgot the added bonus of melting before a hard freeze: icicles everywhere!  Snow falling off roofs and refreezing haphazardly and absurdly!

And crappy, terrible, awful, hazardous roads.  And no white, snowy Christmas.  Bah-humbug indeed.  :) 

Since we won't get a full thaw again until April, we'll have this dratted ice lurking under everything for the next few months.  Boo.

At least we technically had a white Christmas, even if if was more dingy grey than perfect blue like last year.  I also appreciated the lovely white Christmas Eve, which led to some poetry . . .

Is there any kind of weather that leads to poetry for you?

28 December 2009

The Ghost Moon Strikes Back

Wow!  A sunny day today meant that I could see the ghost moon clearly at 3:30 pm, and it was fantastic!  If only I could have basked in the sun instead of being at work.  Well, at least I got in a few minutes during the white-knuckle car ride home.  Lovely sunshine taunting you during bitter cold snaps: what a frustrating tease.  :)

Have you seen a "ghost moon" recently?  Do you like them, or do you think they're creepy?

27 December 2009

Personal Boycotts

A few months ago, I started shopping at a certain store that was on my way home because I realized that their regular prices were cheaper than the sale prices at the other two stores on my way home.  As December descended upon us, I was reminded by the silence at the entryways that this particular store does not let Salvation Army bell ringers on their property.

When this store originally made their decision against the Salvation Army a few years or so ago, I was pretty ticked off, but since I never shopped there, what did my response matter?  Now that I do shop there most of the time, I found myself contemplating my anger and what I should do about it. 

Part of my miffedness was somewhat childish, I suppose.  I was used to hearing the bell-ringers.  They were a cheerful, regular part of the holidays for me.  I saved change all year to give them.  Going shopping in December and not being reminded of this easy way I could help people in need just seemed different, kind of wrong, like something was missing.

I could have just used this reminder to go online and give, but I remember being a bell-ringer during a particularly bitter winter.  I remember how grateful I was when people dropped in their pennies.  (I think I can still hear that bell reverberating in my head.)  Bell-ringers work in less-than comfortable conditions to make sure that other people can be more comfortable.  I guess I just want to reward that effort.

So I did my own private, personal boycott of that store, and I think maybe I will write them a brief letter (not condemning but) explaining why I chose to take (more of) my money elsewhere this month.  I figure it can't hurt.

Have you ever quietly voted with your dollars like this?  Why or why not?

25 December 2009

Home for the Holidays

Well, unfortunately, the predicted snowpocalypse missed us.  It got too warm, I guess, which is why I am sitting in my apartment in shorts and a t-shirt, sweltering.  In anticipation of Snowmageddon, the apartment staff cranked up the thermostat in the lobby directly below me before leaving to spend the holidays elsewhere. 

It's sleeting/snowing/raining outside, so I can't open my window, and it's night, so I have to have a light on to be able to write, and this makes things even warmer.

I just can't bring myself to turn the AC on during Christmas this far north in the Northern hemisphere.  There are some lines I just can't cross.

Don't worry.  I'm staying hydrated as I sweat and listen to Christmas carols.

I'm thinking of leaving the Christmas tree lights on again tonight since they didn't burn the place down last night (hooray, LED lights), and it was comforting to see them while I was doing my usual not-sleeping routine.  It's not every day you can turn over for the 57th time and see lovely blurry twinkling lights that are also still awake on Christmas Eve.  I'm sure lots of kids thinking about presents were on vigil with us, too.

Hope you had as great a Christmas as I did.  Aside from the excess heat, it was nice.  I was happy not to be working in RetailHades, not to have to talk to anyone (I made an exception for my family), not to have to think about looming economic crises for one day.

It was very nice to see my fully assembled Christmas tree, to get some exercise, to watch the snow, to read a bit, write a bit, think about poetry, eat soup, take a few pictures, listen to music, and actually relax for real.

Tomorrow, I'll get back to job applications, credit wrangling, cleaning, laundry, software installation, submitting for publication, and worry.  Today I wanted to be at peace, and I'm glad to say that things pretty much worked out that way, thanks be to God.

How did you spend your holidays this year?

24 December 2009

Let it snow!

The snowpocalypse has begun!  I'm hunkered into my cave and ready to hibernate for a bit as the snow falls down so beautifully I don't even mind if I haven't seen the moon in days.  Bring on the white Christmas!

At my RetailEstablishment, we have all sorts of doodads and stocking stuffers near the registers, including bookmarks.  Someone asked one of the employees how they worked.  Seriously.  The employee had to explain how bookmarks work.  Where do these people crawl out from under this time of year?

Be nice to your retail employees around the holidays.  It's crazy and hellish for them, and they just want to help you and keep their jobs.  :)

Merry Christmas!

23 December 2009

Merry Christmas Radio

Ah, Christmas on the radio.  I might enjoy it even more if I didn't keep hearing the same song.  I mean, I know there is a finite number of recordings of Christmas songs, but there is no excuse for me hearing the exact same recording of the exact same song by the exact same group 3 times in one 24 hour period.  Seriously.

There are a go-jillion Christmas songs to choose from!  Here is my advice to people programming radio computers:

Thou shalt not play the same artist in two songs in a row.
Thou shalt not play the same song more than once a day.
Thou shalt not play the same Christmas carol by two different artists in the same hour.

Do you have any suggestions or revisions to add that might make Christmas radio more merry (and less wearing)?

21 December 2009

Christmas Cards 2009

A while ago, I decided that this year I would write out my Christmas cards on Christmas Day.  It seems to me that Christmas is the day I most want to be thinking about and praying for my loved ones, and I'd like to think that mailing them the next day will mean that my friends get an extra surprise and the knowledge that I really was thinking of them on Christmas Day. :)

Any thoughts about this idea?

20 December 2009


So I found out I had an apartment inspection coming up around the same time I discovered that my what-a-deal-impossibly-sale-priced oranges were a tad moldy.  Fortunately, this occasion coincided with my employee discount days at my RetailEstablishment, and I was able to find a scented candle set that didn't smell terrible or make my asthma and allergies kick up.  I brought it home, wrestled off the plastic packaging, and realized I had no matches.

. . .

Ever had one of those situations where you didn't quite think things through?

19 December 2009

Cleaning Monster Attacks

I'm going to do it today: I'll find some place to ditch all my OWCP nightmare stuff and rearrange, so that my desk is a more comfortable place.

That was my goal for the day, and I refused to stop until it was done.  Unfortunately, this meant I totally forgot to go see a free coffee shop performance by two people I was dying to hear.  Sigh.  I win and lose!

So much space!  So much less heat!  The freedom of organization is so intoxicating!  I'm on a rampage.  Next, I want to get my coffee table cleaned/organized.  I wonder if my overhead shelves will collapse under the weight of all those thesis drafts . . .  Let's find out; shall we?

Is there anything in your house or office you really want to get cleaned?

16 December 2009

How to keep your Christmas tree ornaments in one piece

When my parents came to visit in May, they thought it amusing that I still had my Christmas tree up.  I really meant to take it down; I just never quite got around to actually doing so.  It's still up.  Decorating for Christmas this year was a snap.

To defend my decision to leave it up year round from this time forth, I would like to point out that leaving your tree up year round when you are a calm, quiet person who lives alone is a great way to make sure your ornaments don't get damaged.  Dusty, maybe, but at least no favorite sparkly bit gets crushed in the packing and unpacking rituals.  You can also be sure the tree is exactly the way you want it (and exactly the way you remember it from last year).  So there.  :)

I will have to redo it this year, unfortunately, because the uber-cheap lights I bought ate batteries like they were going out of production and then just stopped working altogether.  I also have some nice tiny turquoise ornaments to add this year.  See?  I'm not totally lazy.

How do you decorate for the Christmas season?  And how early is too early for outside displays, in your opinion?

13 December 2009


"Confidence.  It's not something you keep just for yourself."
- Musashi #9 Vol. 16

I have lost all confidence in myself.  It didn't happen all at once.  It's been gradually wearing away like my energy and memory and ability to focus.  Its loss, like theirs, can be traced back to that injury working for the federal government in 2002.  I lost hope in the government and justice.  I started struggling more and more in school and at work, and I now feel mostly useless, crippled, and incompetent.

It's not a great time to be trying to find other jobs.  I can't sell myself because I feel like no buyer would want such damaged goods.  How can I, in good conscience, try to convince someone to hire me when I wouldn't hire me?  I admit I would get some degree of satisfaction if I managed to obtain another government job (this one without any of the significant physical hazards of the last one), but that desire to be petty hasn't been enough to motivate me to finish a lengthy government resume.

Oddly enough, I started feeling more optimistic about my chances as I was looking through a book about how to make a great government resume.  Focus on what you actually do at work; match it up to skills mentioned in the job announcement and questions (in one case, all 83 of them).  Research the agency to find out what the job really involves, and find keywords.  Use principles of graphic design to format a text resume that is easily readable, scanable, and usefully written.  It helps that the only job I am not too crippled for is fairly entry level, so much so that my grades in college could potentially get me hired at a higher pay band even with no practical knoweldge/experience. 

Yeah, so that last bit's unlikely, but it's possible on paper, and  I have been too chummy with impossible lately. 

When my parents, who feel helpless, even though they are doing way too much to help me already, talk to me, I stress the impossible to them because it's what I know.  Don't expect me to be able to do what I could ten years ago; I'm too broken to do those things now.  I am a different, lesser person, crippled in more than just body.  I hate this state of being even more than they do, and my face is rubbed in it every minute I am awake (and there are far too many of those minutes a day, which is part of the problem). 

So much is impossible for me that it's been a while since I've even bumped into the positive possible.  I've stopped looking for it, even.  It would take a miracle to save things now, and a miracle may not be what God is planning for me.  Maybe even more quietly epic failure is His plan for me, and, honestly, I had a great run there for 21 years, so who am I to complain?

Anyway, this past Tuesday, when I got past being sarcastic about all the skills and experience I lack and my crappy retail job and my incompetent boss who is now actively trying to fire me since we have yet another new store manager (my incompetent boss is trying to use the confusion of his ascendence in this time of holiday hell to her advantage to fire me without any oversight) and my discouragement over all the skills I polished in college and never got to use, I realized that completing this resume could be more of a writing and style exercise, like something I did in technical communication classes back in the day. 

I used to be good at learning a lot through negative examples.  Why couldn't I spin things at my current job in a more positive light now?  (Because I'm out of practice, is the simple answer.)  But the light was there, and I could see that maybe the tunnel had edges, a long way away.

Today I was exercising on a stair machine on my day off.  As usual, I was reading a book (Musashi #9 volume 16, which came out 19 months after volume 15).  As I had suspected, a particular character died, and after that story finally wrapped up, there was a short side story told from the point of view of a girl who was really unhappy with her personality and who wanted to change.  She encountered #9 and came to the realization I quoted at the beginning of this piece, so you'd realize the end was going to be uplifting.

"Confidence.  It's not something you keep just for yourself."


I know I've been hurting my parents and concerned friends with my lack of confidence.  It made me feel guilty and a little irritated.  Why should my problems affect them?  And what was I supposed to make them feel better?  It was my problem in the first place, and I can't fix it, not as broken as I am.  I hate disappointing my parents, previous witnesses to most of my triumphs, bewildered long-distance spectators of my slow destruction and descent.  A recent phone call reminded me of this fact.

This quote and my pursuit of this job were kind of like a heartening, non-physical kick in the pants.  Maybe I'm too tired to fake confidence for myself, but I think I need to for my parents and other concerned people their age around me who are worried about me.

And maybe, just maybe, this time I'll be able to fake it first and long enough that it will grow to fill in the space I've left for it.  A person can dream, right?

12 December 2009

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Subaru

Something I have loved this Christmas season: Cars, trucks, and vans sporting antlers on the front windows and a red nose on the grill/fender.  It makes me laugh every time.  :)

Something I have not loved this Christmas season: Vapid Christmas carol lyrics that are ridiculous and stupid.

My un-favorite at the moment is from "Here Comes Santa Claus."  It comes right after the part where it talks about how Santa doesn't care if we have broken our toys and how he loves us anyway.  "Santa knows that we're God's children," Mr. Sinatra sings, "that makes everything right."  It is probably not Mr. Sinatra's fault that these lyrics exist, but it is his fault for singing them. 

I would just like to ask Mr. Sinatra how a fair, just anthropomorphic personification who keeps a list of naughty and nice kids and gives lumps of coal to the naughty ones and presents to the nice can be the same one Mr. Sinatra is describing, a watered down being who forgives all and doesn't care how we treat each other. 

I know, I know.  The song is really just to reinforce the lie of Santa Claus when small children ask why Johnny-the-evil-bully-next-door gets a jillion presents every Christmas even though he tortures squirrels and the neighborhood children, but that's not a lie I ever believed or intend to reinforce.  Ba-humbug.

I guess some of my irritation is misdirected here from my frustration that even Christian parents lie to their kids about Santa and wonder why their kids are easily confused in their thinking about Jesus the same way (Jesus is love, so He doesn't really punish bad and reward good) (?!). 

As a tangent, kids tend to love those stories where good defeats/punishes evil; they recognize something inherently right and just about that dynamic.  Just saying.

Anyway, do you have any "favorite" vapid Christmas song lyrics (or whole songs) you'd like to share?

11 December 2009

How can I keep from singing

I'm starting to wonder if I should voluntarily quite my choir next semester.  I just don't think I can do it anymore.  After that last concert, I don't know if I trust myself not to screw it up for everyone.

Not that they probably noticed the number of times I screwed up, even if I did.

To be fair, most of the problem stemmed from work.  I had requested the day of the concert off as I have every year for the past 7 years, and my request was approved, but we have a new manager now, and he keeps scheduling me when I can't work, but I can't ask to get out early, or I'll end up with even fewer hours and not be able to pay my rent, and you can probably see where this is going.

I should have just told him, taken my day off as I planned, had a great concert, and let him deal with the scheduling problems, but my job's hanging by a thread due to the machinations of another manager who is trying to get me fired, so I just couldn't risk it.  I woke up ridiculously early and worked, tried to relax and focus for several hours, and then tried to sing a full concert after already being awake and functioning for nearly 11 hours.  It didn't work.  I'm just not capable of something like that anymore. 

I missed words, missed cut-offs, misjudged my voice's breaking point.  My timing was off ever so slightly, pretty frequently.   I didn't blend well; I was too loud.  I couldn't see the director.  I kept getting distracted.

We had some stunningly lovely moments; don't get me wrong.  People I had invited told me it was lovely.  Most people probably didn't notice any of my mistakes (except one really obvious one, which they probably don't remember because it was early in the concert).  I don't even think the director noticed most of my flubs.  But I did.  (Did I ever.)

I can't guarantee that next semester will be better.  My focus is getting worse every year; my ability to concentrate is laughable and likely won't be getting any better without a miraculous healing.  There is no way to guarantee that I won't totally screw up the spring concert in obvious and embarrassing ways. 

It's selfish of me to want to sing in it anyway, selfish to even be willing to think about singing in another concert I could ruin just because there are those moments of indescribable beauty you earn when you make impossibly beautiful music with a group of people you've worked with for a time.  My weakness is swallowing up even the small beauties I have left. 

I am a desperately selfish person.  Or maybe I just know how diminished I am when I am without music, as I was in college for three years.  That is, I suppose, just more selfishness.  If the director told me not to come back, I wouldn't come back.  That's how bad I feel about my mistakes in this last concert.  But I still want to be in the next one, if I can.

Is there anything you're that selfish about?  Something you enjoy doing so much that you don't care how bad at it you are or how much trouble you make for others when you do it?

08 December 2009

The Current Snowpocolypse

AHHHH!  It's here!  The snowpocolypse!

It started out so innocently, like fine flour sifting down.  From the second floor, I could barely see it.  But even that dry, dusty, tiny snow powder adds up if it falls long enough.  Now the wind is kicking up, and it will get much worse.

On the positive side, all that embarrassed, Styrofoam-wannabe-snow that's been hanging around since the last dusting is finally covered.  It's been too cold for it to melt, so it just sat there frosting the grass and piling up miserably in corners and cracks in the parking lots and blowing around sulkily.  Now it is the foundation for a fine, slick, freezing, miserable winter.  :)

I think I'm going to get up early tomorrow.  Traffic will be challenging, I suspect.  You'd think that since we all live in this state, people would know how to drive in snow, but you would be so, so wrong. 

How do you prepare for snow in your neck of the woods?

06 December 2009

Why you shouldn't listen to pop Christmas songs on the radio before your classical Christmas performance

Because you remember the wrong words.  Ugh. 

(Also, it can make you a little teary, which can make you a bit congested before your concert.)

I particularly enjoy when the words of Christmas songs are altered for slightly dumb reasons, such as the line in "The Little Drummer Boy" being changed to "where ox and lamb are feeding."  I recently heard a version of "Silent Night" where a choir swells in wordless splendor, so you can't hear Mr. Sinatra say "virgin."  That one was great.

If you want a great Christmas song, check out "Adoration" by the Newsboys.  Powerful and thought-provoking, especially the repetitions of certain phrases.  Very well done.

Have you heard any examples of dumb Christmas song word changes recently?

05 December 2009

Confident Ignorance

I used to pride myself in knowing the right answers.  Then I discovered it was difficult to do so when there are no right answers or when you can't actually figure out the right questions.  It's a good thing I was a bit more mature and flexible by the time I started getting smashed by these truths.

Now, I'm all about asking the questions, especially when I don't know the answers.  I am very comfortable with admitting my ignorance.  I prefer that kind of honesty.  I wouldn't want to lead people astray simply because I don't want to be seen as ignorant, even though as a very finite being, I know I am.  I prefer to question honesty rather than to fight and die for a position about which I am not completely certain.

So I was intrigued by the following quote:

“A theory that is wrong is considered preferable to admitting our ignorance.”
– Elliot Vallenstein, Ph.D.

The author was talking about the prevailing position in medical research/science (and was challenging it, I think).

Any thoughts?  Do you think this idea is beneficial in the area of medical research?  Could any progress be made if the prevailing position was one of open questioning?

01 December 2009

Practicing for Failure

Why is it that I don't get better at failing, even with all the practice I've had?  Should I even want to?  I'm pretty sure that being good at failure is not something I should be striving for, but it's the only thing I've had a lot of practice in lately, so I should be great at it.

My small group music fell through.  I could blame it on unprofessional singers, but it was more a matter of priorities, or maybe high expectations.  True, we're not professionals, but if you commit to doing something, especially something as complex as an a cappella musical piece, then I darn well expect you to follow through.  I don't care if you're not a professional, if you're a college student, or if you can't play piano.  I just care if you do what you say you'll do.  I expect that you will.  I am . . . disappointed.

It's partly my fault for choosing the group members I did, but I really think I chose people who had the ability to get things done.  I tried to strike that balance (I thought I was getting better at) between pressuring enough to make them work hard but not so much that they quit.  Should I have turned into Captain Blood?  I don't know if that would have helped.

There were things I could have done differently, such as dropping that easy song the second time it went so badly because some of them just didn't want to learn it, or dropping both in favor of the one tune we all knew from an earlier concert and could have done with the Christmas words . . .

I think the trick is that even if you fail a lot, you have to keep trying or you'll lose.  Something.  Your forward momentum?  The game?  I don't know.  I blame Miles for his bad influence by insisting on playing the game and winning with the hand dealt.  I should pause and consider what he lost, I suppose. 

Sounds like it's time for another read-through.  Maybe I'll stick with the later ones.  I always did like the summary for Memory in the chronology for the Vorkosigan books: "Miles hits thirty.  Thirty hits back."  In theory, Miles was far more breakable than me.

There will still be plenty of beauty in this Christmas concert without my special pieces, and I can go sing from the balcony tomorrow before rehearsal.