Monday, November 19, 2007
On the more practical side of things, last week after a literature lesson, I learned how to play "Ghost in the Graveyard". Like all the better games, it is somewhat conducive to black eyes and bloody noses unless handled with care--so consider yourselves warned. You choose somebody to be the "ghost". Then you turn off all the lights (and if you are truly thoughtful put away any china statues that are standing out in the open). Then, to make sure the ghost has no advantages you put a blanket over his head. (You see what I mean? It's the sort of game in which subtlety, stealth and sharp ears are really much more useful than speed. . .but the high-spirited and excitable still insist on running into corners, couches, refrigerators, and any available stationary object. The more timorous and crafty (me) prefer to sidle along the wall, feeling carefully and silently for the corners and sliding their feet over the floor so as not to come suddenly upon the couch leg. Even so, it is fun. Excuse me, I digress.) After you have the ghost properly blanketed, you begin to sneak about the room. The idea is quite simple--that the ghost is going to tag you if he finds you, and if he does, you are going to be the ghost. No matter which side of the blanket you are on, this concept is infinitely intriguing.
1. I don't write an awful lot on here
2. There are a lot of interesting things to write about, or even just to know about.
For instance, there is the sarrusophone. One of the fellows who comes into the shop is a clarinet/saxophone/oboe teacher and in a random moment recently, he brought up the sarrusophone. It was, evidently, meant to be a marching version of bassoon-like instruments. Somehow, it never caught on much (the very look of it frightens and perplexes me, but then again, I'm just a piper--what do I know?) If you read every word in this article, you will know more about sarrusophones than I do. . .and you are welcome to it:
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Warning: The glaze used on this item contains lead which is known to cause serious damage to health.
Then, below it:
This warning does not apply outside the state of California
I knew I should have stayed in Vancouver; it's ever so much safer there.
Friday, October 19, 2007
As at all other games, the various clan associations had booths set up. It is a custom I must admit I do not understand, but I admired the Morrisons' booth; they had proudly decorated it with a large cardboard cutout of John Wayne (whose real name was Marion Morrison).
As far as the games themselves were concerned, my favorite bit was the Sunday morning piobaireachd competition. I entered and got exactly what I had coming to me for several months of not practicing. I got about five bars into the tune ("Lament for Mary MacLeod"), drew a blank--no, a void--and fell to pieces. Well, better at the beginning than halfway through. (That wasn't the part of the piobaireachd competition I enjoyed, in case anyone was wondering.) I was very impressed (and humbled) listening to the other Grade III's and IV's, but even better, the competition included a Grade I/Professional division. (Pipers are graded somewhat like beef, Grade I being higher than Grade II, etc.). I was delighted to hear Ian Whitlaw play in the professional division; I had heard that he was one of the best piobaireachd players in California, but had not yet had a chance to see him pipe. He played a very delightful nameless piobaireachd which would have made the whole trip worth it had it been the only thing I saw or heard all weekend.
The Mass schedule in Ventura works beautifully for anyone who wants to attend Sunday morning piobaireachd competitions. The Tridentine Mass at the mission is at 1:30. Again, this would have been worth the entire trip. Like many other California towns, Ventura gets its name from a Franciscan mission. If I'm not mistaken the church of San Buenaventura has been mostly rebuilt and little is left of the original, but it is still an exceptionally beautiful building.
This is a statue over one of the side doors. I was disappointed not to get more pictures, especially of the exquisite statues inside, but I didn't have the nerve to "play tourist" with the crowd before and after Mass--especially as I was already making myself all too obvious by showing up in my piping uniform. Perhaps "delightful" is too flippant of a word, but it was truly delightful, in a deep, quiet, satisfying way, to attend Mass in such a solemn setting, and one with such a long history. Before Mass I got a chance to stroll around the museum (just a room really) attached to the mission. One of the most striking things there was an old thoroughly decrepit cello which, the placard informed me, made up about a quarter of the original mission choir--the other three quarters were the cello player (who sang) and another man who sang and played the violin.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
"And what's your name?" she asked, getting her follow-up information in order.
There was a delighted sigh on the other end of the phone. "Oh! I used to have a dog named Molly. A pit-bull rotweiller mix, just the *sweetest* thing. . ."
I like dogs, but this was not the first time I had been credited with a canine name, and it was beginning to wear, even if I did have the same name as the sweetest little pit-bull rotweiller ever. Concluding the conversation, I hung up the phone and came out of the office in a state of some indignation.
"How would you like it," I demanded of my co-worker Suzanne, "If every time you told people your name was Molly they said, 'Oh, I used to have a dog named Molly!'?"
Suzanne, who is a very patient soul, looked properly sympathetic. Unfortunately, she is also a very truthful soul.
"I have something to add to that," she offered, "I have a dog named Molly."
Sunday, September 30, 2007
The history of Spain, let alone its language, is new to me, so I am delighted at trifles. One word Spaulding offers as pre-Roman is arroyo which he defines as a "small stream". Although I've never come across that particular usage in English, ours is fairly close as it means a washout or, as Merriam Webster's has it, "a water-carved gully or channel." Upon reflection, I suppose we probably use a good many words that are as old and well-traveled as this one. . .still, there it is, a pre-Christian word that belonged to some vague, faceless people with good taste in cave drawings; a word that survived a flood of Latin and a couple of thousand years, crossed an ocean and wandered about a new land until it got itself pinned on the Southern Californian coast in Arroyo Grande.
Arroyo, as I said, was the linguistic property of some pre-Roman people. Spaulding (and Strabo before him) list quite an array of Iberian tribes, several of whom, evidently, spoke separate languages. Some of these were the ancestors of today's Basques, others were the Celtic populations of Galicia. Not surprisingly, it was the Celts who are credited with giving the Spanish language the indispensable word cerveza, that is, "beer."
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Another striking feature of Sand Canyon were the fields of rabbit bush*, all in bloom. I pulled over for another picture. . .
. . .and then had to try one on the east side of the road as well.
I very much admired the contrasts I saw in an hour's drive. As the previous set of pictures show, the road rises up into pine country; lower down where the rabbit bush grows, the Mojave Desert is trying to climb up into the southern Sierras.
*I've always known it as rabbit bush, but a quick internet search convinced me that common names can be very confusing on that count; I believe it is either the genus Chrysothamnus or Ericameria.
The picture above shows the most fascinating thing I ran across in my wanderings that afternoon (unfortunately, it is also probably the worst picture I ended up with). Those little black specks are ravens, and only a small portion of the ravens that were flying around the top of the hill. When I first noticed them I made the gruesome assumption that a large animal had died and the unusually large flock was there for supper, but after I had watched them a few moments, I realized that they were not paying attention to anything on the ground. The air was where their interest lay; they were darting and wheeling about the hilltop in a manner that, the longer I watched, suggested an overflow of high spirits. I know nothing about ravens, of course; perhaps a biologist would have ascertained right away that they were engaged in their tribal mating dance or sending a gathering signal to others of their kin, but those birds really looked like they were having fun, perfectly pointless and delightful fun, swimming in pools and eddys and rivers of air.
The mountain which was inexplicably so popular with the ravens was on the northeast side of the road. When I turned the car around to come back towards the south, this was the view that I found myself driving into. . .so after a few hundred halting yards I had to get out and take another picture. (It was close to sunset and the gold tones were much more vibrant in real life.) I believe the furthest mountain is the ubiquitous Tehachapi Peak, shown from yet another angle.
Monday, August 27, 2007
These pictures do not do the scene justice, but they were taken last Saturday at Ming Lake Park in Bakersfield after my pipe band played for William Wallace Day. The colors were much better in real life--you could actually still see a faint green in most of the trees--and the sky was much, much bigger. The William Wallace festival was interesting, and not a bad idea, but the weather (several thousand degrees?) and the humidity (equivalent to the inside of a teapot) was not conducive to a large crowd. Then again, one couldn't complain about the heat too much; there was cold Guinness on tap!
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Paul Potts is an amateur tenor (opera-style) from England who won the latest round of "Britain's Got Talent." I don't know where Dad heard about that, but hear about it he did and he found a video clip of the winning song ("Nessun Dorma") to show Mom. It's a very endearing performance; the singer is very much an "everyman;" in fact at the time he entered the competition, he was a cell-phone salesman, and seemed to be a rather shy person to boot. I thought the TV performance was quite decent, but the CD passes it at a gallop. Somehow he managed to include nearly all of the standards I would have wished for on a tenor album:
- Nessun Dorma (of course!)
- Nella Fantasia
- Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye)
But my favorites were unexpected; a gentle little Spanish piece called "Amapola"; another which was new to me called "Cavatina" which is in English and has very wistful lyrics set over a background of classical guitar, and "A Mi Manera" which is, as a matter of fact, "My Way" in Spanish translation. The latter was a good song, but I think I got the biggest kick out of it because it is very obvious that Mr. Potts is singing Castilian Spanish (where they say "th" for some instances of the sound "s") which one doesn't hear often in these parts. I know nothing about operatic singing, but I do know what I like to hear as far as expression and phrasing are concerned and Mr. Potts certainly has that. He very rarely uses his full range in either pitch or volume; the resulting tenderness of the softer pieces ("Cavatina," especially) is exceptionally lovely; the sort of singing you hold your breath to listen to.
This is the design I used for the white bracelet. (I added beads on the knotting cords on some of the knots.) Tie the first part of a square knot, but don't pull it tightly around the filler cords; leave a space on either side of the cords.
Carefully tie and tighten the second half of the knot to preserve the spaces around the filler cords. (For some reason the space on the left tends to be smaller than the space on the right.)
You can tie a whole row of these "open" knots for a different pattern.
Another alternative; you can unclip the lower ends of the filler cords and thread on a bead.
Bring the knotting cords around the outside of the bead and continue knotting as usual. (And use better color coordination than in the picture above.)
5. The second half of the square knot is the same as the first half, but with the blue cord starting on the left. Notice that the blue cord always goes under the filler cords, regardless of which side you are starting on.
So, the blue cord goes under holding cords and over the white cord.
6. The white cord goes under the blue cord, over the filler cords, and under the blue cord again. Pull it tight.
7. There is your finished square knot.
If you compare all the pictures, you will notice that the blue cord always points up (compare it with the white cord above and in picture 5, which always has a loop of blue cord on top of it and so points more towards the underside of the knot). This is a useful thing to notice because you will remember that the cord that points up is always going to be the one that goes under the filler cords. Here it's easy enough to keep track of them since I used two different colors, but if you decide to work with one color, the position of the cord will be the only thing to remind you which side of the knot you are working on.
8. A row of square knots makes an attractive pattern and it comes together very quickly.
I did just say that I liked the idea of "knots." To be more truthful, as far as the macrame business goes, I have only used the square knot and the half hitch. Here is the square knot for anyone else who would like to try it. I'll have to split the post into two parts because I can only post a limited number of pictures at a time.
I've used different colors of yarn so hopefully the important over/under bits will show clearly.
1. It is easiest to tie these sorts of knots when the filler cords (the red ones in the picture below) are anchored firmly. I clipped the top and bottom of the filler cords to the back of a notebook. The top of the knotting cords (the blue and white pieces of yarn) are also clipped to the top of the notebook.
2. Bring the blue cord under the filler cords and over the white cord.
3. Bring the white cord under the blue cord, over the filling cords, and under the blue cord.
4. Pull it tight. This is only half of the square knot, so it won't stay very tight on its own.
I like glass beads almost as well as I do flowers, but until last week I didn't have much to do with them. Then I took a sudden notion to learn a bit of macreme (a word which always brings to mind oppresive, 80's-style hangers for potted plants) since it involves glass beads and tying knots. It has turned out to be so much fun that I have a hard time working on just part of a project at a time. It's all too easy to sit down to work on "a few inches" of a bracelet and then suddenly realize you have a finished bracelet and it is one in the morning. The one below is my favorite so far.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
This brings me to the subject of one of my new favorite websites which is both useful for identifying strange insects and for ooohing and ahhhing over the exceptionally beautiful job some people do of photographing very small creatures:
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Probably the original was excellent, but I didn't have all the ingredients when I tried it, so here's my version:
NOTE: I used some odd soy spread instead of butter because I was baking for people who shouldn't eat lactose. I imagine real butter should be better (although these really were tasty). Likewise, if anyone with nothing to do wants to try the recipe with 2 1/4 cups of all-purpose real flour in place of the the rice and sticky rice flours and the cornstarch and xanthan gum listed below, I'd love to hear about it.
- 3/4 cup "Soy Garden Buttery Spread"
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (maybe a little more, but almond extract has a pretty strong flavour)
- 1 cup rice flour
- 1 cup sweet (also called sticky or glutinous) rice flour
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 3/4 cup roasted, finely chopped pecans
- zest of one lemon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix the "butter", egg, sugar, and almond extract thoroughly. Slowly add the dry ingredients to form a very stiff dough. The dough should form one big ball on the paddle of the mixer, hardly sticking to the sides of the bowl (if necessary to obtain this consistency, add more rice flour (either variety) sparingly).
Roll the dough into balls about 1 1/2 inch across (these are rather crumbly when finished, so smaller cookies have a better chance of holding together). Place on greased cookie sheets (they do not fall or "melt" when they are cooking, so you can line them up fairly close to each other) and bake at 375 for 15-18 minutes. The cookies are done when deep cracks appear in their tops; don't bake them much past this point.
Yield: About 25 cookies
Above are a couple of Mariposa Lilies (family Calochortus). "Mariposa" is the Spanish word for "butterfly"; if the petals on these flowers do not exactly resemble the wing of a butterfly they at least run it some pretty stiff competition. I was reading through one of my plant guides last night and it also explained the family name. Kalo is Greek for "beautiful" and chortos is "grass." I don't quite see the "grass" resemblance myself, but beautiful they are! Locally we have a white and a light purple species as shown above. Supposedly there is also a golden variety but I have yet to see one.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
It isn't that pipers aren't tough. They're famous for being tough. In the late 1800's, for example, there was a piper named Findlater, a member of the Gordon Highlanders, who was sent with his company into a battle on some South Asian frontier of the British Empire. Findlater piped to encourage the men throughout the action until he was shot twice. Then he sat down and continued to pipe until he lost consciousness. He lived to receive the Victoria Cross; the battle (and his place in it) is comemorated in a lively and popular little march called "The Heights of Dargai".
As I was saying, pipers are tough. It isn't that cold weather scares them off. It is merely a matter of very simple physics; if you can't feel your nose, soon you can't feel your fingers either, and if you can't feel your fingers on the holes of the chanter you can't tell them to grip, birl, taorluath, crunluath or any of the other delightful things that pipers' fingers are supposed to do (besides your birling finger won't bend). It is just like having ten stones growing out of your hands. . .not that you can feel your hands for long anyway. To add insult to injury, wet weather causes reeds to squeal out in the manner of a frightened rabbit and finally to wheeze into silence.
Therefore, it is practicality which drives pipers indoors for the winter, praying that the family will need to make frequent trips to town and leave the living room to substitute for the hills and glens and driveways that are unfortunately covered with snow.
At last there comes a day in the spring when the first tender leaves of young plants begin to peer cautiously from cracks and crannies in the mulch. Pipers begin to peer hopefully from cracks and crannies in the house. The plants, however, have a slight advantage over the pipers. The plants grow freely in the full, fresh light of day; pipers generally have day jobs. It is usually not until dusk that the pipers begin to emerge, in company with the first faint stars, the first yodels of the coyotes, and fifty thousand mosquitos.
The piper takes a deep breath, his* mind suddenly cleared of the cares of the day. He strikes in the pipes, delighting in the smallest details of tuning, vaguely aware of thoughts that encompass past, present and future, the Great Music of the MacCrimmons who were, centuries ago, the best pipers in the world and who left a wealth of solemn tunes behind them, the delight of birls, odd, 7-shaped flicks of the little finger which, tonight are spot on, and the coming competition season which was what moved the piper outdoors this evening in the first place. The sun is setting behind the hill, silvering the sky and blackening the oaks before it until they match the shade of the polished drones which rest on the piper's shoulder. He is very content. The tuning and balance of the pipes is superb. The moment he has waited for all day--no, all winter--has come. With great care, he moves his fingers, caressing the first few notes of "Lament for Mary MacLeod." Then fifty thousand mosquitos appear out of nowhere and start to work.
The Great Music is deep and commands a piper's full attention. However, a mosquito's proboscis can also be very deep, and when it is boring into one's right elbow, it can be a slight distraction. The piper steels his mind, determined to weather the attack, but his elbow moves, almost of its own accord, tearing the top hand from its place on the chanter as it burrows into the piper's side. The "Lament for Mary MacLeod" stumbles, then moves on resolutely. The piper knows he is supposed to be thinking about the contrast between the he and the ho in the second line; it is, however, difficult not to be meditating on mosquitoes when there is one sitting on your nose. The piper tosses his nose magnificently. The mosquito eases away, and so does the cadence--the cadence that was supposed to be cut off so smartly. Perhaps the piper should be perturbed, realizing that his piobaireachd, in its early stages as it is, is already ruined as a classic performance. He is not perturbed, however, because he is too busy thinking about the mosquito on top of his head. He can feel it, settling in for a good long drink, and he grits his teeth about the blowpipe, thinking of the legendary Findlater, who piped through the pain of two gunshot ankles. A little thing like a mosquito--but then again, perhaps this mosquito isn't such a little thing. It feels as though it's through the scalp and down to the skull. But Findlater--The piper's right hand swings through the air, and a note which no MacCrimmon ever invented shrieks into the "Lament for Mary MacLeod". That is the last insect which will have the satisfaction of getting a rise out of the piper--he is now stonily determined to play through any number of attempts on his life and limb in the interest of playing the Great Music properly. . .what line was he on, anyway? Ah well, let's light into the second variation. A mosquito on the shoulder is nothing to glance at twice. Besides, you can get rid of it, if you'd just twitch the shoulder. . .and there goes a particularly beautiful phrase, all shot to pieces. . .Where was I?
*Although the piper in the case study here is a "he", I know at least one girl piper who has had a similar experience.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
"Crossing the Minch" is yet another tune by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. He wrote some tunes which are now classics in the pipe band world and he was also an authority on piobaireachd. There is a tiny article on him here:
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Last weekend Mom, Dad and I flew out to Michigan for my sister's graduation. Her Alma Mater is Hillsdale College, a private school in Hillsdale, Michigan. This was my first trip out that way, and it certainly was enjoyable, albeit a bit quick (we flew out Friday, attended the graduation Saturday, then Dad and I flew back Sunday).
Anyway, Michigan--or what I saw of it between Detroit and Hillsdale--is very charming country. At least 75% of the houses we passed were quite old with two stories, gables and big, comfortable looking porches. The picture on the left shows you a bit of downtown Hillsdale, also quite established, as you can see. I wondered aloud why Tehachapi, which is at least close to the same age, looks so much newer; Dad cleared that up by reminding me of Michigan's lack of earthquakes!
This is a view of the clock tower at Hillsdale College. The statue in the front is a Civil War memorial; the college has been there for quite a while and some of its students fought for the Union during the War Between the States.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
1 English cucumber (the kind that comes wrapped in plastic; you don't have to peel 'em)
A handful of snap peas
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
A pinch of salt
Dice the cucumber. Mince the mint leaves. Mix cucumber, peas and mint and dress with lime juice and salt. Serve chilled.
And if you still have mint left over. . .
A few weeks ago they gave a bridal shower for my cousin. There was chopped mint in the fruit salad, which was very nice indeed.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
California Poppy and my favorite "Baby Blue Eyes" (Nemophilia menziesii) with a bit of a wallflower in the corner.