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Thursday, September 30, 2010

A ten-tube Grundig and the days before rock and roll

I did the right thing today: kept the top down through the dark and fog on the way in.  Yes, the heater had to be on, but the drive is all the more visceral for the exposure to the elements.  It wasn't especially cold (I like those top-down drive, too, but then the heater is on full and the side windows must be up to trap the heat in for that outdoor-hot-tub like experience), but the light fog swirled in and around my little cockpit, bringing the morning scents with it.  The smell of breakfast cooking in one spot, more leafy decomposition in another, and the running-rich exhaust note of a little MG I followed for a few blocks.  He also had his top down: that guy deserves a convertible!  None of this oh-I-have-a-convertible-but-the-wind-messes-up-my-hair-so-I-never-drop-the-top stuff for the likes of us.  His top-down drive was all the more risky because you don't simply pull the top up and over your shoulder in an MG, it is a pull over, park, and get-out affair.  So my cap is off to my fellow top-down on a dark and foggy morning driver, except that my cap was on.

This morning's sound track was decidedly in its own face, from delicate classical to edgy rock.  It finished up with Van Morrison's In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll, one of my all-time favorites of his.  An odd song with a mostly spoken cadence, it recounts the days when dialing up good music required time on your knees before the wireless knobs. It makes me think of the old ten-tube Grundig stereo system my dad had shipped back from Germany, and that I grew up with.

That is exactly what the dial looked like when you lifted the center lid on the birch wood cabinet. Each of the dials shifted a red dot on the back-lit screen, with each column of dots connected by little lines.  There was a definite heft and click when you depressed those Bakelite keys. It took time to warm up the tubes, and the the glow coming from that screen was warmer than any digital device will ever be able to match. Much of what it was designed to do was wasted in the airspace of our little corner of the U.S., but it was a total wonder to a young kid who loved music.  It still amazes me when I look at that picture, considering the technology of the day.

Van Morrison's song pays tribute to the likes of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, and the days of Radio Luxembourg:

Justin, gentler than a man
I am down on my knees
At the wireless knobs
I am down on my knees
At those wireless knobs
Telefunken, Telefunken
And I'm searching for
Luxembourg, Luxembourg,
Athlone, Budapest, AFN,
Hilversum, Helvetia
In the days before rock 'n' roll


Fats did not come in
Without those wireless knobs
Fats did not come in
Without those wireless knobs
Elvis did not come in
Without those wireless knobs
Nor Fats, nor Elvis
Nor Sonny, nor Lightning
Nor Muddy, nor John Lee

Good stuff, I say.  Today's full playlist:

Pink Martini: Clementine
Jacques Loussier Trio: Gnossienne No. 5
Turtle Island String Quartet: Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2
Weezer: Keep Fishin'
Van Morrison: In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Tarzan Trail

Today's drive in was dark, but dry.  Technically, it was foggy on the hilltops, and fog is certainly a form of moisture, but the roads were dry if not entirely clear.  Usually, fog settles into the low spots on the drive, but this morning it encircled the high points.  Also, leaves are really starting to accumulate.  Driving home from work yesterday was the first top-down drive in a few days and I really saw (and smelled!) the brown and orange leaves accumulating in piles along the road.  There is a particular smell to the arrival of fall.  It is a breezy smell of decaying foliage, and it always takes me back to the woods of my youth.

I grew up here in the PNW and in a place where we had many small (often connecting) patches of woodland around us. The walking route to my elementary school (I know the idea is unthinkable now, but back then it was perfectly normal to let small kids walk a mile or more to school) took me out the back end of a dead-end street, through a small copse of woods between neighborhoods, and across an undeveloped field. There was even a log over a pond on the route.  To us kids it was known as "the Tarzan trail." I have no idea who coined that name for it, but one of us kids must have. To us, the woods were fun places to explore, and the early season of decay especially ripe for discovery.  (The other memory that fall's smell brings back is actually a spring time memory of family trips into the woods to hunt for morel mushrooms – what I wouldn't give for a fresh batch of those today!)

One of this morning's tracks would have made a good soundtrack to a Tarzan film, come to think of it. Marco Benevento's Diego Garcia is an almost entirely percussive work with piano and xylophone (guessing) along with a variety of drums and other formal and informal percussion instruments banging away intensely for ten-plus minutes. It lies at the far boundary of what most folks would consider music, and I grew tired of the cacophonous clanging and banging long before the track finished (though I did listen all the way through).  It was also at odds with the other three pieces in this morning's random playlist, which are all mellow and melancholy:

  • John Barry/Chris Botti: Remembering Chet
  • Kings of Convenience: Homesick
  • Marco Benevento: Diego Garcia
  • Robert Plant/Alison Krauss: Stick With Me Baby

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spontaneously wet, with musical notes

Tuesday, warm, wet, and (by extension) humid.  Today's weather looks much like yesterday's felt.  On my walks to and from campus it was unpleasantly humid. Too muggy-warm to want much by way of clothing and too wet to go without a coat and cap.  At times it wasn't so much raining as spontaneously wetting, with the water quietly exploding out of the muggy air and forming on anything that slid through it.  According to Cliff Mass' Weather Blog from yesterday, the humidity was "extraordinary" for our part of the world with dew points in the mid to upper 60's.  He goes on to describe the highly unusual atmospheric conditions that lead to the most humid day so far this year.

I stopped for coffee this morning, and the corner kiosk was moving a bit slowly for the fairly small line of cars it was handling, so the playlist stretched out quite a bit longer than usual.  A very mixed and interesting playlist today, as a result.  A couple of musical notes:

Largo was a 1998 project album from The Band built around a theme of Dvorak's New World Symphony. It was a collaboration with the Hooters and featured a diverse artist list: Taj Mahal, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Joan Osborne, The Chieftains, Carole King, Cyndi Lauper, David Forman, and Willie Nile. Mostly rock Americana with heavy shades of Appalachian folk, Irish reels, hard blues, and classical. There is no way to really classify this album, but it is so worth checking out if you have not heard it before.  [Note to self: it would be interesting to see what Pandora pulls together by way of a radio channel based on this album!]

Perla Betalla's duet (with Bill Gable) rendition of Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the End of Love is absolutely perfect.  The opening instrumental strains remind me of the theme music from the Thames of London World at War documentary from the 70's (if you have never seen this 26-hour series on WW II you have missed the most compelling and insightful documentary on war that has ever been made, captured on film at a time when many of the key players from all sides of the war could be interviewed first hand), haunting and sad. With beautiful instrumental work and Perla's softly powerful voice, the tune has a magically compelling hook to it.

Good stuff, I say.

  • Robert Walter: Scores of Spores
  • Two Siberians: Lake Baikal
  • Jean-Yves Thibaudet: Lucky to Be Me
  • Largo: Chieftains Largo - Reprise
  • Bruce Cockburn: See You Tomorrow
  • Train: All American Girl
  • Jay Nash: Wayfarer
  • Perla Batalla: Dance Me to the End of Love (feat. Bill Gable)

Monday, September 27, 2010

The rain in my head

Monday: rain.  Forecast says sun and mid-seventies today, with rain materializing late tonight.  Maybe it's a bit early for today's forecast?  I feel a bit slow-motion this morning myself, just a little bit forced-to-get-up-and-moving, if that makes any sense. Usually, once I'm up, I'm go.  Today, I'm up but sort-of-go. I am reminded of Shel Silverstein's poem, Rain:

I opened my eyes
And looked up at the rain,
And it dripped in my head
And flowed into my brain,
And all that I hear as I lie in my bed
Is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head.

I step very softly,
I walk very slow,
I can't do a handstand--
I might overflow,
So pardon the wild crazy thing I just said--
I'm just not the same since there's rain in my head.

Well, I've never been able to do a handstand, regardless of the weather, so I can't put that down to this morning's rain. 

Sunday was a football and baking day for me.  I made two beautiful loaves of whole-grain bread and pizza dough for dinner.  Then made tuna melt pizzas with the dough. Those were an invention from many years ago when our kids were young.  We all liked tuna melts and we all liked pizza, so I decided, why not?  The family turned up their nose at the thought and approached the table with dismal resignation only to find they loved them.  A hit was born.  I agree with food author Mark Bittman that pizzas should have a limited number of flavors and toppings and that a good rule of thumb is whether or not the toppings would be good together on a plate.  In this case, the dough is topped by nothing but olive oil, sautéed red onion, and cheddar cheese (light on all three). A magic combination.

Speaking of combinations, the iPod was mashing together an odd assortment of tunes this morning. Not what I would call a great (as in, plays very well together) playlist, but certainly interesting:
  • Sara Bareilles: Love Song
  • Christine Lavin: All I have to do is dream/A summer medley
  • Doves: Almost Forgot Myself
  • Jónsi: Around Us
  • Bruce Cockburn: The Mines of Mozambique
Slishity-slosh ––shakes head–– enough of all this; on with the day.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chasing the moon and driving into the sun

What a beautiful day, and perfectly timed for the weekday-workday set.  The usual joke in the PNW is that it rains on the weekends and the sun comes out mid-week, and it does often seem to work out that way.  Today, forecast high of 72º, 76º, or 77º (depending on which weather app/site you check).  A perfect top-down morning to drive into work (alas, my work week is necessarily extending into at least part of today).  Stopped for an iced coffee (compensation for working through what may be the only sunny bit of the weekend; rain is forecast by late today).  Also got to meet one of our newer Security staff members who usually works weekends (came to see who was turning off the building alarm on a Saturday) - nice guy and finally getting to meet him was a nice benefit of coming in.

A sunny yet not-hot morning like today is my second favorite type of top-down driving conditions.  Last night I got a bit of my true favorite top-down conditions: late night, clear skies, and a bright moon to follow home.  M and I had dinner with friends we hadn't gotten together with for many years, along with their (now grown) children and grandson.  Two chefs in the house meant a mountain of truly wonderful food (not an on-diet meal!) and an evening of crazy laughter (really, I think it was non-stop) ensued as we picked up where we left off years ago and simultaneously caught up.  It was late when M & I headed for home, and the night was clear and comfortable, so the top dropped and we followed a still-full post-harvest moon home.  A beautiful cap to a fun evening.

The iPod worked its magic and produced another one of those satisfyingly unusual blends of musical flavors that make shuffling the music library so interesting. It started with old Italian liturgical lyrics set to old Italian pub music (just like Luther) and then shifted from alternative and jazz.  Miles Davis went perfectly with the feel of the morning, though all five tunes were appreciated:
  • Acantus: Cum Autem Venissem
  • The Guggenheim Grotto: A Lifetime in Heat
  • Miles Davis: All Blues
  • Travis: Writing to Reach You
  • Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny: He's Gone Away

Friday, September 24, 2010

Only pulled into music

The sky was dark and cloudy, the road was wet, and the top was up.  Yet, by the time I reached campus the sunrise was deep blue and gold, clouds appeared to be parting, and a gambling man would see a sunny day as a wagerable possibility.  NOAH says mixed sun and clouds, high of 70º (!!) and 20% chance of rain.  So, the only real gamble is which comes at which hour.  I do know this was the second morning that the heat pump came on to push a little bit of heat into the house in the early morning, which considering how low we have the temperature set, is surprising.

I was pulled into the music this morning, so my thoughts stayed there.  The first tune is from Mark Isham's very electric tribute to Miles Davis, and every tune is worth getting lost in.  Same goes for the Seamus Egan tune that followed it up, a tuneful Irish ballad with lots of deep riffing on a recorder over some very good fiddle work.  More good stuff.
  • Mark Isham: All Blues
  • Seamus Egan: Mick O'Connor's
  • John Mayer: In Your Atmosphere (Live)
  • Don Byron: Tobacco Auctioneer

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Harvest moon

Did you see the moon this morning? It is the real Harvest Moon, which for this year means 5 1/2 hours after the autumnal equinox, or the early morning hours of September 23rd. And sure enough, right on queue, a large, bright, and very round moon hung over my trip in this early morning. A very pretty sight on an otherwise wet morning. It would have been fun to have been able to do the drive top down, for an even better view of the moon.

I had a car come full across the center line straight at me this morning, though I was able to slide away from it in time, and they corrected path after they passed me. Maybe they were watching the harvest moon in their rear view mirror. Most likely, they were texting.

Folks sometimes shake their heads at small cars like mine, saying how unsafe they would feel in something so small. However, small nimble cars have a big advantage when it comes to accident avoidance. Had I been driving the typical massive American-sized automotive monstrosity there wouldn't have been enough room for me to avoid getting hit, I would have been in an accident this morning.

The iPod was being witty this morning with at least a couple of its selections. I'm sure you can spot those tracks, too.

Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet
Pinback: Bouquet
Supertramp: It's Raining Again
Oscar Peterson Trio: Satin Doll

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The abbreviated version

In early because of all that needs done, so no time to think or write much today (about this, anyway). Here is the short and sweet version:
  • Dark at ground level, with clear blue skies starting to glow above, so top down drive in!
  • Heading West, drove slowly into increasing fog, quite foggy on campus when I got here.
  • Tall pine trees encircling the golf course next to the college started out sharp and strong at ground level, then gradually faded into soft black outlines, and were finally topped off by the swirling grey cotton above.
  • Dave Grusin: Cuba Libre ("Se Fue")
  • Bob Dylan: Hurricane
  • Rod Stewart: Time after Time
  • Diane Schuur: Stormy Monday Blues
  • Patrick Cassidy: The Fairy Cavalcade
  • Pat Metheny: Traveling Fast (Live)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The measure of my dreams

A very fall drive in this morning, with cooler air and misty fog, giving way to a truly golden sunrise by the time I reached campus. Projected high today is 65º and sunny. This seasonal transition is still in it's early days, though, so the deciduous leaves are just turning and not yet dropping.

Apart from hyperactive retail desperation for holiday-spurred sales, the trappings of Halloween and fall festivals are not yet littering doorsteps and mantles; we'd like to think it is still summer for a little bit longer. That's fine with me. There is something magical about the wedge of nether land between seasons, something that heightens our senses and awareness. Maybe it stems from a time in our distant (or not so) past when feeling the subtle changes in the season was critical to survival. At a minimum, at this particular seasonal shift, it stirs both longing for the warm days past and anticipation for the season to come.

Clearly, today was Tailgate Tuesday and I missed the memo, but thankfully nobody rear ended me. Must be a number of folks who are running exceptionally late this morning.

The iPod was in a mixed mood, but finished up on a truly beautiful contemporary Irish ballad: A Rainy Night in Soho. There is a line in the song that I find compactly poetic and expressive, and which always reminds me of my beloved: "You are the measure of my dreams." What a wonderful expression, sentiment, and thing to say to some you care deeply for.

Leonard Cohen: Ain't No Cure For Love (Live)
Michel Camilo: Why Not!
Frank Sinatra: Nice 'n' Easy
Damien Dempsey: A Rainy Night in Soho

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, September 20, 2010

Waking weather

Monday, grey but not wet, and certainly not cold.  According to WeatherBug, the current temperature is 56° and factoring windchill in actually raised it a degree to 57°.  It has been a weekend of odd weather (for us), with high humidity, sunshine, pouring rain (some places in the area received more rain in one day than they should have received all of September), wind (and not wind), and warm. The kind of weather that defies any particular wardrobe and which requires carrying something just in case.  Too warm for layers, too wet (off and on) to go without.  Weather probably best suited to nudists, with a towel. Easy weather to wake to, though, because it calls for no extreme decisions first thing in the morning. Whatever you wear will be fine, and probably wrong, so wear what you want.

By 7:00 AM this morning parking lots on campus were already starting to collect cars; the campus is coming back to life after a few weeks off.  For all the added workload that brings with it, it is still nice to see the campus alive with students and employees.  Campuses were meant to be vibrant and living, and the quiet of quarter breaks fits a campus like a pair of oversize pants: too much sag and bunching to ever look right.  So the campus is waking, like the poem of the same name by Theodore Roethke, a portion of which reads:

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

As befits a Monday morning waking, the iPod was suitably mellow today:

P.T. Walkley: Sunshine
Sam Baker: Broken Fingers
David Lanz: Green into Gold
Sigur Rós: Samskeyti (Live)

Friday, September 17, 2010

It doesn't have to be a choice between hooves and hoofprints

'tis a season of top-up-ness.  Driving home last night was driving into driving rain and rooster tails of splashing water thrown up by other cars. Driving in this morning was at least dry, but with low-lying swirling fog.  The sort of fog that's almost invisible to the eye in the dusk of early morning and which reveals itself only in the sense that more than morning dusk is keeping you from seeing all the way down the street and, of course, which dances and twirls when caught in the beam of headlights.

Cockburn's song Incandescent Blue, from the album Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws (1979), which popped up midway through this morning's random playlist, is a wonderful piece of poetry with powerful themes and imagery. Funnily enough, I was thinking about the last line of the first verse just yesterday:

I sneaked across the border -- it was threatening rain --
So I could stand in this tunnel, waiting for the roaring train
And watch those black kids working out kung fu moves
If you don't want to be the horses' hoofprints you got to be the hooves

My context for the quote was different than the one Cockburn so aptly describes.  As we grapple with wave after driving wave of increasingly worse budget news and resulting cuts in our state funding, we face correspondingly increasingly more difficult budget decisions.  These decisions impact the lives of our employees and our students, and can't be taken lightly.  When push comes to shove, I hope we will all be pulling together as we make these decisions, working with a common set of values (already articulated) and not degenerating into the panicked divisions of scarcity thinking. Scarcity thinking and the emotional (while understandable!) reactions that come with times like these can lead some to operate from a decidedly hoof-rather than-hoofprint perspective. Little that is positive or sustainable comes from that, and we need to be intentional and careful to ensure our processes and actions don't inspire this kind of counter-productive reaction in reasonable people.

People getting ready behind all those rectangles of light
"Put on your grin mask, babe, you know we're steppin out tonight"
You hear that sound, like hammers only small?
It's what the people's heads say when they beat them against the wall

Transparency and honesty combined with a truly participatory process is the best way to move forward as a cohesive organization. There are, however, always some who view any impact to themselves or their operational area as inherently unjust and unfair, regardless of the similar (or worse) impacts also being experienced across the institution. They lack a larger context through which to filter change; it is about them and it is both personal and intentional.  Fortunately, this is a minority.  Most folks roll up their sleeves and start pulling together when faced with the kinds of challenges we now face, and we will need every creative mind on our campus to come up with the best range of options and solutions now.

Concrete vortex sucks down the wind
It's howling like a blinded violin.
Oh -- tongues of fire, come and kiss my brow
if I ever needed you, well I need you now

Finding grace in the midst of such challenges is also important. Seeing the human stories and sacrifices, knowing the extra hands pulling with us on the rope, offering the hand up to our colleagues, and shouldering the heavy decisions as a community – these are the things we will hang our hopes on.  The good news in these difficult times for our college is that we have plenty of this kind of community to draw on, and it always surfaces when things get tough.  Our actions, therefore, need to be designed to draw out and on this most important resource and spirit.

In contrast to my pensive mood this morning, my iPod was alternating between pensive and unashamedly whimsical:
  • A Fine Frenzy: You Picked Me
  • Billy Bragg & Wilco: Ingrid Bergman
  • Bruce Cockburn: Incandescent Blue
  • Bela Fleck & the Flecktones: Flying Saucer Dudes

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More music than memory

A very nondescript drive in this morning; I barely remember it.  Weather was (and still is) cloudy and threatening rain (score one for the weather forecasters), traffic was typical, and I hit the same miserable pot-hole I've hit two other times this week (should now be fixed firmly in my internal route map to trigger a slight swerve when I next pass that spot).

Playlist was also more static than dynamic, since I had switched from shuffle to my Sigor Rós playlist in the office yesterday afternoon and hadn't toggled back to shuffle.  Since the artist is the same throughout today's playlist, I'll list track followed by the album it comes from:

  • Happiness: Riceboy Sleeps (Jonsi & Alex)
  • Boy 1904: Riceboy Sleeps (Jonsi & Alex)
  • Saeglópur: Takk...
  • Track 8: ( )
That last album really is titled "( )" and all of the tracks are simply listed as Track 1, Track 2, Track 3, etc.  ( ) was the second Sigur Rós album I ever purchased and it really cemented my appreciation for this group.

Also, I lied when I said the artist was the same throughout this playlist since I have two albums in the mix that are projects of Jonsi, the lead singer/guitar player for Sigur Rós, and this morning's drive-time concert tossed up two back-to-back tracks from his project album Riceboy Sleeps.

No word on a forthcoming Sigur Rós album, since the group is taking a break, having babies (at least two of the group members), and Jonsi is currently touring for his Go solo album.  If you happen to be in New York on November 15th (lucky you!), the group's Web site (eighteen seconds before sunrise) reports a Lincoln Center affiliated concert that sounds fascinating and which will include the group's pianist, new works, and pieces from the above mentioned Riceboy Sleeps album:

composer and keyboardist kjartan sveinsson of the icelandic post-rock group sigur rós will join forces with the hilliard ensemble and the latvian national chorus for an evening titled credo. they will perform three of his new works, one of which features texts by canadian poet anne carson. the evening also comprises works from riceboy sleeps, the celebrated ambient creation of jón por "jónsi" birgisson, the incandescent voice of sigur rós, and his partner alex somers. credo takes place at the church of st. paul the apostle, 60th and columbus avenue, manhattan.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Just Great Music

A pleasant drive in, with light fog and overcast heading toward some blue sky.  It is supposed to cloud up as the morning progresses, though, and rain is the forecast for the next few days.  Still, today is so far clement.  The music today was intensely good and (mostly) instrumental.  Three long to long-ish tunes by three fine sets of musicians:

Pink Floyd: Shine on You Crazy Diamond
David Lanz: A Whiter Shade of Pale
The Bad Plus: And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation

I picked up the Pink Floyd tune about midway through (it started on my way home last night or it would likely have covered the entire drive in at over 13 minutes). The guitar work and timing on that tune make it one of my all-time favorites.  How can you not get pulled into its sweep?  David Lanz' piano rendition of A Whiter Shade of Pale is beautiful.  He keeps the original's timing, and that effect is aided by having the organist from Procol Harum join him on the recording to provide the trademark instrumental work from the original tune.  It is one of the few covers of a classic tune that is both different and yet equally as good as the original.  Finally, the Bad Plus is always a treat to listen to.  They have an amazing sense of timing and collaboration and their tunes are busy, highly detailed, and rhythmic. I saw them a while back (a year or two ago?) at Jazz Alley in Seattle, and it was a great show. They do mostly original compositions but occasionally deconstruct a cover of someone else's music.  Their rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit is great fun, as an example.  They are usually labeled jazz, but that's hardly a fair or encompassing description.  If you haven't heard them before, I recommend checking them out.  Their sound is unique.

With music that good for the drive in, my thoughts simply didn't stray far enough from the notes to make any impression.  Good music, good stuff.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Swinging like Blue Monk

Fog! I really like morning fog like we have this morning.  This isn't the horribly thick can't-see-in-front-of-you fog that makes getting around downright scary, just normal run-of-the-mill fog that settles in and softens the lines of houses and trees, shortens the horizon to something less than a block, and swirls in front of you as you pass through it.  It was just heavy enough (read: bearing sufficient wetness) that I had to pull the top up after a couple of blocks to avoid the settling condensing wet moving into the car.   Not particularly cool this morning (the weather, that is, I've never qualified as "cool"), and we're set for a sunny day with a high of 72 F.

On campus today is the official welcome back ceremonies, speeches, and other sessions.  Faculty and staff who have been away for some or all of the summer are drifting back in and getting prepared for the start of classes next Monday.  The campus, which has been largely still and quiet the past couple of weeks, is suddenly coming back to life.

My iPod was also extra lively this morning, selecting and offering a series of tracks designed to set my hands tapping on the steering wheel.
  • Terence Blanchard: Flow
  • Annie Lennox: Precious
  • Phil Keaggy: Caliente
  • ELO: Confusion
  • Fountains of Wayne: A Fine Day For a Parade
  • Big Head Todd & the Monsters: Dinner with Ivan
The Thelonious Monk Quartet is whipping out his signature Blue Monk as I write this over my morning cuppa of yerba mate.  After I finish this post and probably before I finish this first mug-o-mate the workday will officially kick off.  It's good to have folks back on campus, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of my colleagues who have been away for a while.  Sure, it's going to get crazy, and lots of last minute requests will start to pour in as folks realize all the things that they haven't yet done before quarter start up, but for now its time to come back together, greet each other, and square up together for what promises to be a year of difficult choices in the face of dire budget projections and further promised budget cuts.  We will need these times together to keep us cohesive and focused on what is most important: continuing to serve our students to the best of our abilities with whatever resources we can scrape together.  Like Blue Monk, it may be the blues, but it is still up-tempo and swinging, and that's the way I hope we will work through this challenging new academic and fiscal year: swinging.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blueberry Hill

A pleasant Monday morning, and mostly a top-down morning. It would have been totally top-down, except the top was up when I left and I didn't think to drop it until a few blocks were past. Iffy weather, with a solid hazy cloud layer, but dry.

This morning was the first that I absolutely had to use the flashlight app on the iPhone to grope my way out of the bedroom. The creep of winter darkness marches steadily forward.

I find myself looking forward to each distinct season as it approaches. Of course, we generally have mild seasonal variations, just enough to be distinct but not enough to make any of them especially onerous. I always miss the sun of summer, but fall has its appeal. I especially love the mulchy smell of fallen leaves and the sharp crisp bite fall mornings have on the nose. We are not there yet, and for the sake of a garden full of green tomatoes I hope we get another short burst of sunshine in the next week or two.

I watched two football games on Sunday, something I haven't been able to do in a few years, what with school. The whole time I keep feeling like there was something I was urgently supposed to be doing. I will add that both Seattle's and Washington's new teams looked surprisingly good. It will be interesting to see how both teams shake out as the season progresses.

Short playlist this morning, with songs that run just a little longish. Good playlist, too:

- Nanci Griffith: Goodnight to a Mother's Dreams
- Chris Botti: Emmanuel
- Jeremy Fisher: Left Behind
- Bruce Cockburn: Blueberry Hill

If you have never heard Cockburn's lazy, bluesy, reverb-heavy rendition of Blueberry Hill, you're missing a real treat. He's joined by Margo Timmons (Cowboy Junkies) for a growling and sultry romp through one of the few covers he has ever recorded. Yep, good stuff!

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Angry mob, bloodshed, and good music

I took the long road in this morning.  I've been putting off doing my annual fasting blood draw (make sure things like cholesterol numbers are all in the right zone!). The clinic opens at 8:00, but that's an hour or more later than I'm used to being in the office being productive before everyone else gets in and calling, emailing, and meeting.  I decided this morning was a good time to get this done, so puttered a bit longer at the house, left a bit later, filled up the Miata's tank (low fuel light came on last night) and still had to kill about 10 minutes waiting for the clinic doors to open.

Half the senior community of Lynnwood (really: half a dozen seniors) was queued up and impatiently (vocally so) waiting for the doors to open and grumbling when they didn't open right on time (according to a consensus of wrist watches being heartily consulted).  Judging from their indignation and frustration, it was clear they each had highly pressing other matters to get to this morning, so I dutifully hung back and waited for them to take the first set of numbers at the blood lab.  After all, I only had get to work this morning. I know my place in an angry mob.

My turn came, and the woman who drew my blood did so with exquisite professional accuracy and speed.  Really, it was over and done so quickly that the obligatory cotton wad taped to the crook in my arm was hardly necessary.  Still, I proudly wore it in to the office as proof of the ordeal I must have endured. They'll never know.

Stopped by the coffee shop drive-thru after that, since I had skipped breakfast and the diet has been going well this week, and treated myself to a large iced latte. With extra shots of (decaf only, thanks) coffee, that's only 180 calories, even with 2% milk.  Extravagant, I know!  They were moving extra slowly this morning, but cheerfully so.  Really, a very friendly group there, always nice to chat with. 

The upshot of all of this was a longer-than-usual playlist for the drive in today.  Apart from two tracks back to back from the same album (maybe they stuck together; have to shake the box harder next time), a very good mix.  Peterson's Hymn to Freedom is one of those beautiful instrumental ballads that sweeps slowly toward a powerful climax.  It was playing through most of my wait at the clinic, so I got to really sit and listen to the beautiful piano work and the impeccable timing of that classic trio.  Good stuff!

Bruce Cockburn: Mistress of Storms
Ron Affif Trio: Steeplechase
Oscar Peterson Trio: Hymn to Freedom
Van Morrison: Browned Eyed Girl
Belle & Sebastian: I Took a Long Hard Look
Belle & Sebastian: Acts of the Apostle, Pt. 2
The Beatles: Yesterday
Lafayette Gilchrist: In Depth

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Analog week: why Thursday feels like Wednesday

Thursday already, these short weeks really seem to fly by.  My mind constantly struggles to find myself in the spacial timeline of a week like this.  I liken it to the difference between feeling one's relative position in the hour on an analog clock versus reading the exact minutes of a digital clock.  My calendar reads out the exact day of the week, which fixes my position in the week absolutely.  But I am used to also feeling my position in the week relative to the passage of time, just like I can look at an analog clock dial and feel how much space lies between me and the next meeting or event. Consequently, my internal calendar is constantly telling me today is Wednesday even though the calendar fixes the day as Thursday.  It is mildly jarring, but offset by the companion reminder that the work week is almost over.

The weather gods predict a 14% chance of rain for all points along today's hourly forecast, observing that it will be mostly sunny/cloudy.  Since it was lightly misting rain all of my drive in this morning, can I apply that against the forecast 14% chance and color it done for the day?

The iPod's mood was inscrutable this morning. From old folk-rock, to country, jazz, driving rock, to jazz ballad.  Just the kind of eclectic mix that I most enjoy, and which was responsible for this whole silly iMood blog thing.
  • Van Morrison: Astral Weeks
  • Nanci Griffith: Cold Hearts / Closed Minds
  • Brad Mehldau Trio: Embers
  • Moments of Grace: Broken Promises
  • Kurt Elling: Where I Belong

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Altered Routine

Wet, wet, wet. Cloudy, grey, fall wetness that darkens the morning hours more than the rapidly shrinking window of daylight as summer inexorably becomes fall. While it is likely we will still see some sunny fall (or even late summer) days, today feels deep into fall and sunshine seems a million days ago.

I'm flying solo this week, as my wife takes a well deserved break visiting her sister and husband at the vineyard they farm in eastern Oregon. For me, that means the daily routine becomes more important. Not just because the dogs, cat, and everything else that needs done for the household is relying on me, but because that is how I deal best with suddenly being solo.

December will mark 29 years of marriage, and you can tack on another year of knowing each other before that. We were young when we decided to marry, so in many respects we have grown up together. That is a primary reason for the deep abiding comfort of our relationship, and we count our blessings for that regularly. I count that even more so when she is away, for the lack of companionship I suddenly experience.

Which isn't to say I shrivel up in a catatonic corner when she's gone; we (the "boys" and I) have our slightly altered routine and we do quite well. Also, I love that she has these opportunities to spend time with her sister. So it's all good. But on wet if-its-not-fall-it-sure-feels-like-it mornings, when she is away, I am acutely aware of what is missing.

The iPod also seemed to be searching for missing (or, at least, long lost) tunes this morning, pulling up items I haven't heard or thought about for ages:

- Sara Bareilles: Bottle It Up
- Munich: Munich
- Barbara Streisand: Evergreen
- Chris Botti & Sting: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
- George Harrison: Wah-Wah

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fall: Just in Case

It's the Tuesday after Labor Day and I am officially back at my post after a week (mostly) off. The last of the school districts start back today, and this weekend the weather declared fall back in fashion. Wet, grey, and cool, I was inspired to re-light the pilot light on the gas fireplace. Just in case.

That is the sense that comes with fall seeping in after the summer warmth: just in case. Its time to start down the are-we-ready-for-winter check lists.  Even in the suburbs we instinctively, like other animals all along the wide bare branches of the full-family tree, start preparing for the possible. Weather forecasters talk about The Farmer's Almanac, La Niña, and extended forecasts.  Ours already shows a depressing long-term forecast of, "below normal temps and above normal precip." (Cliff Mass). Thoughts turn to things like snow tires, jackets, hats, rakes and shovels (just in case!) and wet brown falling leaves.

Needless to say, the top was up and latched on the drive in this morning.  The iPod was in a mostly-mellow ballads mood this morning, which I thought was a nice gesture on its part given this was Tuesday-cum-Monday sort of morning.  Seamus Egan's Irish instrumental To an Old Rose came lilting on as I pulled into my parking place this morning, and seemed the perfect tune (and title) for this morning. The roses are looking old, though we have been enjoying the last round of their cuttings on our table the last couple of weeks.  We may get one or two more spotty cuttings, but the pickings will be sparse in contrast to the surfeit of colorful blooms from just a couple of weeks back.

We also pulled up several recipes for green tomatoes this weekend, I took a quick stock of my sweaters and sweatshirts, and this morning I wore a light rain jacket in.  Just in case.
  • The Weepies: Painting by Chagall
  • Bob Dylan: Lay, Lady, Lay
  • Bruce Cockburn: Tie Me At The Crossroads (Live)
  • Wilco: You Are My Face
  • Seamus Egan: To an Old Rose

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dine and dash, again

For the third time in a month I have spent the night in the bathroom contending with... well, let's just say contending and leave it at that. The first time I was pretty certain it had to be food poisoning or a bad clam from a dinner out. The second time, also following a dinner out, I would also have said food poisoning (it comes on so quickly and severely), but others had shared servings of pretty much everything (seafood) I had eaten with no ill effect.

Last night M and I dined out and she had a delicious shrimp risotto. I had two bites, just the risotto, none of the shrimp. And once again, I was quite ill, though not quite as bad as the two previous episodes.

I am now afraid I may have suddenly developed that most-common of all food allergies: shellfish. This can, apparently, be tested for, so I will contact my doc this week and find out for certain. However, the process of elimination (which, come to think of it, is also the result!) seems to make the shellfish connection pretty likely. Clams the first time. Crab the second. Shrimp this last time. No shellfish between those events, and the results in each case were proportional to the amount ingested.

The thought of never having cioppino, crab bisque, clams, or lobster again is really quite daunting. I have always enjoyed seafood and frequently opt for it when dining out. On the other hand, the current course of aversion therapy isn't lost on me either.

Time and testing will tell, of course. For now, I'm laying low for the second time this vacation, which I view as a waste of yet another perfectly good day.

iMood: I'm listening to Jonsi's Go album, earlier it was the Weepies new album, Be Kind To Me. There is no pun intended in my selection of Go, even though it does accurately describe my condition. It also happens to be awesome music.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

A Vacation Day at the Office

It's the last Friday of my week of vacation, so naturally, I am driving into the campus to spend the day there. I have a committee meeting that has to take priority, and which is scheduled for half the day, and then I'll spend some time getting my inbox whipped back into shape so I'm somewhat prepared to hit the ground running on Tuesday, after the holiday. Also, my colleagues and I take the days when the President is out of the office in turns, as "administrator in charge." I keep drawing the short straw with regard to Friday shifts.  I think the system is rigged, to be honest.

Waking at 5:45 to the dark of pre-dawn (is it already that time of year? Soon I will be back to using the flashlight app on my iPhone to creep out of the room without disturbing my wife or tripping over the dogs), I felt only cranky and tired.  By the time I had showered the dawn was breaking and by 6:30 as I drove in, the sky was fully lit. In this case, that meant it was deep blue overheard (with a glowing crescent moon almost directly overhead), fading to very pale misty blue just above the trees and mountain peeks, changing to a peachy-rosy glow at horizon level.  Cars parked outside had a heavy coating of morning dew.  I left the top down for the drive in, but did add a little heat via the vents to take the edge off the morning's crispness.

The theme of today's drive seemed to be trucks in a hurry.  First it was an enormous Chevy thing that had to border on barely-road-legal-monster-truck category, flooring it's diesel engine and flying down the arterial and into Lynnwood proper. Then it was a small older Toyota pick-up flying down another arterial, trolling a length of green string out the back of its bed.  Towing a gang-troll lure around a lake was the primary mode of fishing we did growing up, so I know you troll at a slow, steady, fixed speed. I feel certain that at the speed that truck was moving he wasn't going to catch anything, but I kept my advice to myself.  As Ben Franklin is reputed to have said, of advice: "Everybody has it, nobody wants it, fools won't take it, and wise men don't need it."

The music was up and down tempo this morning (or, to be precise, down, way down, up, swinging, really up, down). The Jazz Networks was, to the best of my knowledge, a one-album project of some very good jazz musicians covering Disney tunes from the classic animated films. He's a Tramp, of course, coming from Lady and the Tramp, swinging loose and sultry.  A great album if you love jazz, one of my absolute favorites.  Don't be put off by the seeming kitch of the song selection.  And how can you listen to The Night I Punched Russell Crowe without smiling?

So, between good music, humorous lyrics, and beautiful skies, cranky had given way to reasonably good spirits for a vacation day at the office.
  • Lewis & Clark soundtrack: Juice of the Barley (Downriver to the Sea)
  • Eugene Friesen: Vocalise
  • Brendan James: Green
  • The Jazz Networks: He's a Tramp
  • Gaelic Storm: The Night I Punched Russell Crowe
  • Andrew Bird: Section 8 City

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A fartweasle, no train, and Whidby Island in late summer

I have been away from the office (physically, at least, if not sufficiently electronically) for this past week, so no regular morning commute and therefore no regular morning iMood blog post. M and I were supposed to hop the rail down to Portland for a few days of haunting Powell's City of Books, good food, and relaxed downtime, but I came down seriously sick Sunday evening and didn't emerge until Tuesday morning. Still not sure if it was food poisoning or a quick and hard virus. Either way, to borrow a phrase recently twittered by Stephen Fry, it was a real fartweasle of a whatever it was.

So the salvage-the-rest-of-the-week-off plan, and a fine plan it was, was to take advantage of the forecast blue skies for one of our favorite half-day top-down local drives: up to Deception Pass, down the length of Whidbey Island to Coupeville, lunch at the Knead and Feed, and jump off the Southern end of the island via the Mukilteo ferry and from there home again.

The weather was perfect. One of those late summer mid-seventies days, blue skies with occasional high strafes of white cotton-fluff stretched out thin, a light salty marine breeze, and sunscreen required.

We grabbed coffee on our way out of town and then stopped at the Deception Pass bridge to stare out over the Sound, watch the boats pass under us, and tried to fathom the sheer heights and distances of the place. Here's circumstantial proof we were there:

From there it was rolling through the hills and woods of Whidbey until we reached Coopeville, a kitchy little historic town at the island's edge. We had lunch at a favorite tiny restaurant, the Knead and Feed

, known for their homemade breads, sandwiches, and soups. Also for their extravagantly delicious sweet rolls (3 orange rolls came home with us for post-dinner desert tonight!).

We walked the boardwalk and pier and watched an old wooden ship sail in across a glowing Mt. Baker and tie up. Then back to the Miata for the rest of the drive down to the ferry terminal. Traffic was light and reasonable, apart from one maroon Toyota SUV (whose license plate frame declared the driver to be a member of the Fairwood Country Club - wherever that is) that rode our rear bumper (as we clipped along at the full posted speed limit behind a handful of other cars) until he could fly past us in angry frustration. I watched him treat several the vehicles to the same behavior. In the end, though, we were right behind him at several lighted intersections and ended up getting on and off the ferry ahead of him (maybe this is a better use of Stephen Fry's wonderful fartweasle phrase).

A ferry was just docking as we got to the terminal, so we had very little wait, and it is a short run from there back to the mainland.

For a week that started off on a disappointing note, today redeemed it. Nothing could be finer that a beautiful day like today with my beloved. Here are a couple more pics, for further proof:

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