Saturday, December 30, 2006

Annual review of a great night

On Tuesday I attended the 37th Annual Messiah Sing-Along & Play-Along at University Unitarian Church, the BEST Messiah sing-along ever. It's the best because they do they whole Messiah - every movement, note, repeat and da capo - and we, the people, get to do all of it. The arias, the recitatifs. Even the orchestra is volunteer. The only people who are arranged in advance are the conductor, harpsichordist, and a first chair for each string section. This year there was apparently "a near-riot" at the door, as tickets sold out much earlier than usual.

It's the populist Messiah, a musical barn-raising: a few people have a plan and know what they're doing, but other than that you work with whoever shows up. As a result, some things come off beautifully, while others are a bit dodgy. But that's all part of the fun.

Another part of the fun is meeting the people near you. My neighbor this year was a lovely, elegant woman, recently retired to Seattle from a a career of teaching music overseas to children of US military personnel. She had come to the sing-along the previous year by chance, and declared it to be one of the best musical events she had ever attended in a lifetime of musical events. Alongside the moments that are painfully off-key or off-tempo, she marvelled at the moments of improbable beauty, where "if you close your eyes you can imagine we're a great professional chorus, singing in a beautiful cathedral." That's exactly it, the addictive nature of this sing-along. And the beautiful moments aren't just the easy or well-known bits, either. Of course the Halleluja Chorus sounds great - it isn't very hard to sing. Sometimes a terribly difficult aria - written for one voice, not 100 - soars and flows so exquisitely it takes your breath away.

This year we had a lovely alto section, while the tenors were quite thin, oddly enough. The orchestra was huge, which is a mixed blessing. When you've got an orchestra of varied skill levels playing three hours of music that they've never rehearsed together, more people tend to be more ragged than fewer people. More wrong notes, poor tuning, early entrances. But that's not the point. This year? Three string basses, hauled out on a night of pouring rain! A trumpet player who also brought her cornet for the The Trumpet Shall Sound, really a rousing duet between bass and trumpet. Two people brought period instruments - crude, recorder-like ancestors to the clarinet and oboe. Damn hard to keep in tune, which added to the raggedness, but also to the fun. The conductor is a wonder, keeping us all moving.

Having recently shifted from soprano to alto and learned that harmony is HARD, I ordered a score back in November and have been practicing along to a CD. Boy, did that help a lot, although I learned that not all Messiah recordings are equal. The one Enrico checked out from the library somewhat at random was great, but when it had to go back, I bought my own, impetuously assuming that the London Philharmonic Orchestra would serve me well. Alas! Of the four major alto arias, they gave one away to the bass (But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming), truncated one down to a third of its full length (He Was Despise'd), and eliminated one entirely (the very lovely Thou Art Gone Up On High) - leaving only O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion unscathed. The tempi of the choruses alternate between Plodding Through Molasses and Bat Out of Hell (I forget the Italian terms - larghetto? prestissimo?). But I believe I've ordered one from Amazon that will fit the bill when it comes time to practice again next year.

(P.S. If anyone would like a two-CD set of the Messiah by the London Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus - it's free to a good home!)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

En busca de la tecla "O"

HP sent me the replacement keyboard assembly for my laptop. Overnight mail, so nice of them since I've waited three months!

It's a Spanish keyboard. Sure, the letter O is in the right place, and I could teach Enrico the meaning of "bloq majus" and "avpag" - but all the punctuation and shift characters are in different locations.

So back it must go. The search for the O key goes on.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

All I want for Christmas is new O key...

You may recall that the O key popped off my laptop keyboard and HP was going to charge me $300 to replace the whole keyboard - and worse yet since I am self-employed, make me ship it to Tennessee for ten days. Right around that time, we had a variety of unusual and unexpected expenses, all of which turned out to be $300. Our life was like one of those Mastercard commercials. Two flat tires with nails in them? $300. Trip to the emergency vet with two dogs suspected of ingesting rat poison? $300. Refurbished clarinet? $300. New O key? $300. Driving my healthy dogs to the park after practicing Mozart's clarinet concerto and sending a few emails filled with the letter O? Priceless.

BUT the rub is, I never sent the computer in. I was annoyed, and the key still works most of the time, and I had a big job I was finishing up. Every time I'd think about doing it, I'd come up with a reason to procrastinate. So finally on Friday I decided to suck it up, but figured I should call HP and make sure my service ticket was still open after three months - the last thing I wanted to do was send the computer into some kind of bureaucratic black hole because they couldn't figure out why they had it.

The phone was answered by a nice man, clearly Indian (as in the subcontinent), who informed me that his name was "Scott" because of course Americans are generally too provincial to deal on the phone with someone named Lakshmi or Vikram even if they are speaking perfectly good English. Before arranging to send my computer in, I asked him to please check one more time that there wasn't some easier and cheaper way for me to just get an O key, since I truly believed it was only the plastic tile that was damaged, not the underlying keyboard. Couldn't I at least try the simpler solution first?

He checked. "Oh, Ma'am," he said when he came back, in the most lovely of accents, "I do not know why the other people on the phone told you to send your computer in and pay $300. We can send you a new keyboard for $50 and it is very easy to install. We will send you instructions and there is even a phone number that you can call to walk you through it if you have trouble. You should not have to spend all that money!"

Oh, "Scott," you have made my day! Sometimes it pays to procrastinate, I guess.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Things learned and pondered

I'm pretty sure this will be the last post relating to the storm. I'm sure folks have every right to think, move on already! But this is less about the storm and more about the reflections that resulted. So, top ten things I learned and observed, in no particular order:

1. I would have made a really crappy pioneer.

2. I understand why people used to live with their livestock in the winter. Four creatures in a freezing cold bedroom sharing body heat is better than two, and I didn't care one whit what species my companions were. A dairy cow or a goat would've been quite welcome.

3. Sometimes the greatest gift you can give is a warm beverage and clean underwear. We were in a 8-by-2 block area that was persistently without power after much of the neighborhood got it back, and the woman across the street actually had electricity (apparently getting hers from the next feeder down). Now, I know her only to say hi and this is truly not intended to judge her - I know nothing about her as a person nor about her circumstances, and it's always harder to see the needs of others when you don't share them. However, I learned that if I am ever the one house with power, I will put little flyers on the doors of all the immediate neighbors, saying "Hey, if the power is still out in the morning, feel free to stop by for a hot beverage. I'll have tea and coffee from 7 to 9 for anyone who wants it. I can't offer everyone a shower, but you can at least use my bathroom to freshen up a little, maybe change your underwear without risking hypothermia." That little bit of comfort would be much appreciated.

4. The hot water bottle should make a come-back. The one way we were able to create heat was by boiling water outside on our little one-burner camp stove. I would have paid - well, a lot of money - for an old-fashioned rubber hot water bottle to take to bed at night. We looked at a couple of drug stores, and it was all electrical heating pads.

5. We are ridiculously dependent on the Internet. It took the radio announcers and government officials a surprisingly long time to catch on and stop saying "You can get more information about [school closures/emergency shelters/places for a hot meal] on the Web, at ...." I think at first they didn't realize how many people had so little hope of connecting to the Internet, and of course lots of low-income folks have no way to connect at home even with electricity.

6. Some people are buttheads. There have been over a hundred cases of carbon monoxide poisoning from people using grills, campstoves and generators indoors - several of them fatal, the majority among people speaking limited English. After several days the health department started going door to door in targeted neighborhoods, and the newspapers published front-page warnings in a half-dozen languages. Well, conservative radio listeners and letter-writers have actually spent mental energy condemning this (and I quote an example from the Seattle Times): "Shame on you! You and others are making a big deal out of how friendly you want to be to people who don't read or write English well. English should be our language in this country and we should not be enabling people not to speak or learn it." Excuse me? We were talking about a deadly public health threat that was causing people to actually die, and you want to withhold information that prevents deaths as a sort of linguistic tough-love policy? Heartless idiots. These people should be expelled from the country to live somewhere where they don't speak the language. Somewhere really fun, like Turkmenistan.

7. Gratitude is too quickly forgotten. The inevitable analysis and questioning has begun: Did the city/county/utilities do enough to clear dangerous trees? Are property owners to blame for not clearning their trees? Why did City Light send their workers home the night of the storm, and did that cause delays in the recovery effort? Why aren't our electrical wires underground? (Hello, anyone worried about earthquakes... ?) AAaanyway - that's all fine, we have the right and the responsibility to challenge our public services and make them better. But let this in no way denigrate the work done by the actual crews, day after day in cold and rain, getting our power back up. Somebody should throw these people (and their families) a big-ass party come January. Perhaps one or two of those hotels that made an unexpected windfall...

8. I should probably overcome my hatred of pumping gas. All the emergency prep literature says "never let your gas tank go below half full." I never follow this advice, because I loathe pumping gas and I leave to the last possible moment. But I may reconsider that policy. In a real disaster - well, if nothing else you might be able to get the hell outta Dodge.

9. I understand why newspapers, musical skills and storytelling used to be so valued. Remember learning in history class about how Americans on the remotest frontiers bought newspapers and devoured every detail of the Lincoln-Douglas debates? How there used to be hundreds of daily newspapers? You know how in Jane Austen novels they are always learning with enthusiasm that Miss Paddington has consented to entertain with a few tunes in the evening? Have you ever read The Decameron? It all makes sense now. When you have no other way to get information about things that affect your life, you pounce on a recent newspaper. And, when it's too dark to read, you can still while away the dark hours playing an instrument, singing, or making up stories.

10. And speaking of Jane Austen...You know how they're also constantly going out on walks? Miles and miles of walks across the pastoral English countryside? That makes sense too. Gotta keep the blood moving to stay warm.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mr. Blustery? The Storm that Particularly Hated Duvall?

The National Weather Service is asking us, the citizens of Puget Sound, to come up with a name for our recent storm. The last two big storms had the courtesy to land on special days. There was "Inauguration Day Storm" (1993) and "Columbus Day Storm" (1962). This one didn't happen to land right on a handy holiday - I guess "Ten Days Before Christmas Storm" doesn't have the same ring to it. Our storms aren't hurricanes, so they don't follow that naming system, and the winds weren't strong enough to merit typhoon status.

So, the weather people are asking us to suggest names for our storm (through January 4).

The dork of the wolf pack

"I took a picture of Toby in his coat so I can post it on the Internet with my story about our storm experiences, but I realize you object out of some sense of masculine solidarity."

"It's not about his masculinity. It's about his canine dignity."

"Canine dignity?"

"Sure. If he were to meet a pack of wolves while wearing a green fluffy coat, what would they think of him?"

"Whether or not he was wearing a green fluffy coat, I'm pretty sure they'd conclude he was some kind of retarded* cousin. Which is pretty much accurate."

"They'd eat him, is what they'd do."

"Nah. I think they'd take him under their wing as a sort of lovable village idiot. The green coat would just seal the deal."

* I just want to point out that I realize the word "retarded" is offensive when applied to people, and it's not a term I would customarily use, but we ARE just talking about dogs here - my dogs, in fact, whom I love. So if you feel an urge to send me hate mail, let me respectfully suggest you need to lighten up.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Emergency prep list

If recent weather events have not yet prompted you to create a comprehensive emergency kit, then you are simply thickheaded. Especially if you have kids. You're just asking for trouble. So, below a list of suggested emergency kit items.

Home emergency kit:

  • Clothes, shelter and warmth: Blanket/shock blanket, tarp, heavy-duty plastic dropcloths; shoes, socks, shirt, pants, hat and gloves for each of us; camp towels; sunglasses; rain ponchos.
  • Nourishment: Water, Gatorade, food bars, nuts, tuna, canned fruit, Emergen-C, protein powder, plastic dishes & bowls.
  • Cleanliness and sanitation: Bleach, iodine tablets (for drinking water purification), antiseptic towelettes, rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, vinyl gloves, dust masks, plastic bucket with lid, garbag bags, ziplock bags.
  • Toiletries: Toilet paper, bar soap, all-purpose liquid soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, lotion, sunscreen, lip balm, femine supplies, ponytail holders.
  • First aid and medication: Well-stocked first aid kit, Pepto, antacids, immodium, benadryl, ibuprofin, poison control kit (ipicac & carbon), saline eye wash.
  • Basic stuff: Batter-powered radio, flashlights, extra batteries, extra flashlight bulbs, candles, matches, laminated city map, paper & pens, army knife, whistle, rope, duct tape, rubber bands.
  • Tools: Leather work gloves, hammer, crowbar, wrench, pliers, screwdriver, folding hand saw, shovel.
  • Pets: Leashes, carriers or crates; harnesses, muzzle, sedatives, protective booties, pet food, canine/feline first aid manual.
  • Paper: Copies of important documents, bank account and insurance policy numbers and phone numbers, copies of pet licenses and shot records, extra cash.
  • Underrated handy items: Bandanas (can be used as hairnet, hankerchief, washcloth, dish towel...lightweight, quick-drying, very handy); carabiners (handy for stringing, hanging and securing things).
  • Luxury items: Solar shower, deck of cards, bottle of wine, corkscrew, rawhide chewies.

Car emergency kit list
  • Water
  • Food bars
  • Emergency/shock blanket
  • Flashlight
  • Lighter/matches
  • Paper & pen
  • Basic first aid supplies
  • Antiseptic towelettes
  • Funnel
  • Shovel
Storage – What do you put this stuff in? Here in earthquake land, we’re advised to keep most emergency supplies (except for papers, cash, etc.) outdoors, since they won’t do you much good buried under rubble should your house collapse. That’s challenging for people in apartments/condos, of course…and anyone in flood zones will have a different set of issues. But, here are some handy suggestions.
  • Garbage bin with wheels ($15)
  • Storables has nice plastic boxes with handles, suitable for car kit or first aid kit - $9.95; and also cooler-sized box with latch and carrying strap for $9.95
  • The thick/zippered plastic pouches that sheets and blankets come in are great for organizing and segmenting stuff
  • Store batteries separately so they don't corrode electronic equipment
  • Fire-proof safe (a small one is about $50 at hardware or office supply stores)
  • Portable hard drive for computer backup - can be stored inside fire safe
General tips:
  • Set yourself a calendar reminder to review the kit once a year and replace items that are at their expiration date. Rotate out drugs, food and other items into the house for consumption before they expire so they don't go to waste.
  • Keep your full first-aid kit inside the house (rather than duplicating everything outside) but in an easy-to-carry container so it can be removed.
  • Have at least one old-fashioned (non-cordless) phone in your house that will work without power.
  • Army surplus stores are a good source for cheaper tarps, warm clothing, rain ponchos - all kinds of stuff.
  • Agree with your fellow household members on a person OUTSIDE the area that you will call into to report your location and condition, in case you are separated during a disaster. Keep this phone number with you in your cell phone or wallet.
  • Don’t let your car get below a half tank of gas.
  • A camp stove and stove fuel are handy for cooking and boiling. However, NEVER use a camp stove indoors.
  • If you have a house security alarm, it may go off when the power goes out, the backup battery dies, or the power comes back on. Know how it works, or write down instructions if you don’t use the system frequently.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Saga

The Saga of the Storm

This story is probably familiar to anyone who lives here, who can rightly say, So what? Quit yer bitchin'. But, I'll record it for out-of-towners and posterity anyway, and any lessons that can be learned.

Day One: The Day of Great Wind
In retrospect, I probably should have given more credence to the weather reports, but you know how the media are about storm predictions. So dramatic! So overwrought! I knew we had plenty of emergency supplies, but I probably should have filled up the gas tank and battoned down the hatches a bit more. By midnight the wind was howling so loud that sleep was impossible. I heard the wind chimes clanging, clanging loudly, and then go silent - shredded to bits, as it turned out. By 1 am the power was out. I got up and looked out the windows with the dogs, watching the trees gyrate and sway. I went back to sleep knowing we'd wake up cold.

Day Two: The Day of Great Darkness
It was pitch dark as well as cold on Friday morning. We live on the slope of a valley, a big bowl where we can see for miles around - and we saw no lights, none. We heard on the radio that 175,000 people were without power in the city of Seattle, and another 700,000 around Puget Sound, but we didn't need the figures to realize we wouldn't have power by nightfall. Enrico works downtown where power was reportedly on, so he went to look for a bus. Most buses in our neighborhood run on electric trolly lines, but he found a crowded deisel. He called me to report that there appeared to be no electricity south of Jackson Street - basically the entire southern half of the city.

As I work from home, I had no office to go to, and no hope of escaping to a wireless coffee shop. Not without more gas in the car, and the radio reported two-hour lineups at functioning gas stations. With 14 hours of darkness ahead, I dedicated myself to preparing for the night - pulling out candles, batteries, blankets, the radios; cleaning up the kitchen before the hot water ran out; tidying up clutter that would just get in the way while fumbling in the dark; and boiling water on the camp stove to fill our thermoses. Periodically I'd call Enrico at work, and the sound of clacking keyboards and ringing phones made it seem like we were on two different planets. I'm on this primitive planet, with no hope of escape, and he has travelled through the stargate to the Land of the People of the Light.

Still, it was mild outside, probably in the 50s, and our evening of candlelight seemed like an adventure. Seattle City Light reported that of 65 main lines down, they'd managed to get half up on Friday, reducing the number of powerless from 175,000 to 55,000. They hoped to get the rest of the main lines up on Saturday, and the secondary lines on Sunday.

Day Three: The Day of Great Cold
Saturday we toured the neighborhood with the dogs - an amazing number of trees down including a big chunk of our maple tree which politely but narrowly avoided bringing down either our fence or our living room window. Not everyone was so lucky. Our neighborhood commercial district was back up and running, and we went out for lunch and dinner, hoping we might have power by evening.

But as the day wore on our hopes faded: City Light reported much slower progress than expected, as they encountered damage in the south end that was stunningly worse than anticipated. By the end of the day, only 10 more main lines were up instead of the remaining 30, and 36,000 people were without power - including us. The rural and suburban dwellers were in even worse shape, as PSE battled trees down over an immense, forested service area.

And worse yet, the temperature was dropping fast, predicted to go into the 20s at night. Not unheard of in Seattle, but rare, and cruel that it should hit right now. Would our pipes freeze? Was there anything we could do about it? Cities around the region opened emergency shelters.

Hardest of all was the fact that there was electricity all around us now. Where once we were in the majority, now we were surrounded by people with power, even right across the street. I didn't begrudge them their heat, but somehow when the entire valley was black, it was easier to be resigned. Now we passed the bustling commercial district, and houses with their Christmas lights blinking obliviously a mere eight blocks away. When the sun set, the cold suddenly became like a physical companion in our house, sucking the life energy from us. Our breath appeared in enormous, billowy clouds, and even the dogs were cold. We hunkered under blankets and read each other stories. We went to sleep with the dogs between us, tucked under a blanket for warmth.

Day Four: The Day of Great Breakdowns
Worse than going to bed in a 35-degree house is waking up in a 25-degree house. How do you get out of bed in that kind of cold? Enrico got up to let the dogs out and feed them, and I bleated weakly that he should check all the faucets to see if the pipes had frozen. Reassured that they hadn't, I went back to sleep.

Eventually I got up and killed some time by calling my family to complain piteously about my lot in life. We went out to breakfast at the only diner, surrounded by fellow refugees. Waiting for a table, I heard somebody say to his companions that "No, my power never did go out, go figure!" - and I was overcome with an urge to yell at him, GET OUT OF THIS RESTAURANT, today this place is only for people without heat or light! But I restrained myself.

We had an offer from friends for a place to stay, and after breakfast I came up with the brilliant idea of asking them if we could come over for a few hours with the dogs - have a shower, get some coffee, just be warm for a while. Toby had started to shiver and I was increasingly unwilling to just leave the dogs in the cold house. Of course they have fur, and they spend time in colder weather than this - but it's one thing to run around, it's another to just sit with no way to get your blood moving. Nelly's coat is thickly luxurious but Toby's is thin, and he's had shivering fits on camping trips warmer than this.

So Enrico called the friends, and they said they'd be glad to have us over - in about three hours' time. I started to cry. I had a picture in my head of heat, and a SHOWER, and changing out of the clothing that I'd been wearing for 72 hours straight because it was too fracking cold to disrobe. It seemed like a respite was right in my grasp, and to see it slip by even three hours caused my pluckishness to collapse like the downed trees that surrounded me on all sides.

Enrico really, really hates to see me cry. Thus my breakdown was immediately followed by his own, which took the form of focusing all of his considerable mental energy on finding a solution to all our troubles. Trained as an economist, I could see him trying to construct an equation in his head that would solve for all the variables - heat, food, unhappy wife, shivering dogs, collapsed tree...

We puttered around. We went for a long walk. We went to the friends' for showers. We left the dogs and went to a coffee shop to read the Sunday paper. I broke down and bought Toby a fleece coat - pastel green and fuzzy like a baby's feety pajamas, with little pink swirls. Enrico was a little apalled, in solidarity for the affront to Toby's manliness, but I didn't care. As the day wore on it was clear - once again - that we would not have power for a third night, fourth if you count the night of the storm itself. By now, the Christmas lights were getting on my last nerve. It was like electricity pornography, this obscene display of energy consumption.

City Light hoped to get the rest of the main feeders up by midnight, but then they would have to start on all the secondary lines and individual transformers. They predicted 18,000 still without power by Monday morning, with many people out at least until midnight Tuesday. Still the suburban and rural folks were worse off, an inconceivable quarter million of them without power with no end in sight, and people were starting to fall ill and even die from carbon monoxide poisoning - bringing grills inside, hooking generators up improperly.

Temperatures were once again dropping into the 20s, so we accepted an invitation from Zena and her husband to spend the night. They have 18-month-old twins, two cats, and a dog, so they are basically saints for taking us in. Nelly wants to beat up their dog, and both of our guys want very badly to eat the cats. But we made it work, and it was very much appreciated.

Day Five: The Day of Great Wandering and Great Joy
By now I was getting the hang of this. I took my agitated dogs home from Zena's and went to a couple of meetings. When I returned mid-day, there was an army of City Light crews on my street. Six bucket trucks, a dozen guys, replacing multiple power poles. When I got home Toby greeted me happily in his little green coat - in a palsy of shivering. I had planned to head back out to a coffee shop to get some work done, but clearly the dogs couldn't stay. They couldn't keep warm sitting still in a 35-degree house.

So I threw my plans out the window and threw the dogs in the car, and - as my grandparents used to say - we went bummin.' I bought some lunch and ate it parked by the lake, listening to NPR. I took some business calls. We ran errands. Periodically I'd swing by the house, and the City Light crews were still working away. The neighbors were out, and I met people I've never once talked to in 10 years. The crews were hoping to have us up by 10 pm, but making no promises. The damage was - par for the course - worse than expected. We went to the grocery store and bought cookies and fruit for the City Light guys. I didn't ask them when they'd be done; I just thanked them.

By late afternoon I was home, under the blankets with the dogs next to me. They were curled into the tightest little balls, nose to tail, under a blanket, and when I got up at sunset to light candles and boil water, they didn't move. They were just four glowing eyes under a mountain of blanket.

We had an offer of lodging from another friend for Monday night, and Enrico and I debated the pros and cons. The promise of having our home back within a few hours was too tantalizing, but of course it meant another cold, dark evening, and maybe the power wouldn't come up. Our friend's house would be warm and inviting and completely dog-friendly, but we'd be sleeping on the floor. After weighing the options, we decided to stick it out. Enrico walked the dogs and I went to the store for hot deli food and more candles. We had just set up our meal - dragging the dogs' beds into the dining room so Nelly and Toby could be nearby without lying on the frigid floor - when the lights went up. Just like that. I could have run outside and kissed the City Light crew. We watched a Jeeves and Wooster episode on DVD, and put the emergency supplies away. The furnace ran for three hours straight to heat the house back up. At first it seemed surreal to have the light, and so many options again; but soon it seemed surreal that we'd ever been without them.

The utility crews have been working 18-hour shifts since Thursday: 18 hours on, 6 hours off for sleep, often in their trucks or in substations to maximize sleep time. I'm sure they are getting massive overtime pay, but so what? They have to be exhausted and COLD. Their families are without them, a week before Christmas. A lot of them are probably without power too, and when I think about the extra effort it took us just to live our lives for the past four days, I wonder how the spouses and children of these electrical workers are managing. I want to find a way for us, the grateful residents of Puget Sound, to somehow throw them all a big thank-you party when this is done.

So today I emptied the fridge, and restocked the food, and answered email. I know that there are still thousands of people in the cold, with no idea when it will end. I know those crews have been joined by colleagues from around the country, but are still working 16 hour days. I wish them all the very, very best.

Next up: Some things I learned, about human nature, the electrical grid, neighborliness, emergency preparedness, why people used to sleep with their livestock, and the apparent but tragic extinction of the hot water bottle.

Oh the joys of juice

After 90 hours without power in sub-freezing temperatures, I am pleased to be back on the grid.

Oh the blogging that will come from this experience! Some photos even, including dramatic destruction and, as a bonus, Toby in a pastel-colored, fluffy dog coat, looking like quite the girly-boy. But for now I need to clear out my fridge and catch up on my life.

My sincere empathy goes out to the 200,000 people still without power - some of them in my neighborhood, still. Many are likely looking at a cold, dark Christmas. And my sincere thanks goes out to the Seattle City Light workers who have toiled on 18-hour shifts for five days now, many of whom spent an entire day on my street yesterday replacing four entire power poles and many yards of line. THANK YOU, guys!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

In our continued avoidance of anything actually important...

It is my humble opinion that people take the wrong things too seriously. Here in Seattle, our airport removed nine Christmas trees because a rabbi asked to put a menora up next to them, and the airport authorities decided they didn't have time to think through all the other religions that would need to be represented too. I'm all for separation of church and state, I think the so-called "War on Christmas" is a crock of hooey, and I am in vehement disagreement with the Christian right's assertion that the US is a "Christian nation." However. HOWEVER.

I wish people would lighten the frak up a bit about the holidays. First of all, Christmas trees are not Christian religious symbols. They have nothing to do with Jesus, and I seriously doubt there were any Douglas fir trees anywhere remotely close to Bethlehem. They're a pretty holdover from northern European pagan cultures, folks. Just enjoy them for the pretty lights and the nice smell. I know plenty of Jews who do. And if somebody wants to put a menora up too, fine. Both symbols are really about creating light in the darkness of ever-shortening days, and the symbolism thereof. I'm not particularly sympathetic to either party getting their panties in a bunch over this one.

I'm sure you all know about this story, wherever you might live, since it has been all over the news. Obviously there is nothing more important going on in the world at the moment.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

It's all a matter of definition

Enrico and I are not big on socially mandated gift exchanges. We like to purchase gifts for people when we see something that we believe they would appreciate, and not just when society says we should be out BUYING. Thus, we don't always do gift exchanges at the holidays, or for birthdays and anniversaries. We're much more likely to do something fun - like, say, go to Italy for a month - and declare that to be our combined birthday and anniversary gifts for the whole year.

At Christmas, we go by whether we feel moved to do the gift thing or not. If we get in the spirit and it feels fun and fulfilling, we do. Otherwise, we skip it. Happily, my family is cool with this principle, though Enrico's family takes a more traditional view. Because they feel the need to buy us gifts, I try to come up with a list of things that we genuinely need or want, so they can have the satisaction of buying us something, and we can have the satisfaction of sincerely appreciating it.

This year, I have come up with what I consider to be a FABULOUS list of potential gift items for myself, anyway. It's probably too late in the year to feed these ideas to Enrico's clan, but I've suggested them to Enrico himself in case he feels moved to buy me a couple of things this year. The list includes: a new pair of warm slippers (mine have holes); a metronome; and a nice soft pajama shirt to replace the one that's literally falling apart at the seams.

"Those are not gifts," Enrico scoffed. "They are weekend errands. I am not buying you any of those things. They are too boring." Of course, he raised no objections when I suggested to our mothers that we needed another set of flannel sheets, or new bath towels, or (I kid not) potholders. But apparently, he has a higher set of standards. Fair enough. I will just have to buy my own metronome, on a future weekend errand.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Apparently the Universe is a Buddhist

On Sunday, there was a fabulous sermon at church. Seriously, one of the best sermons I've ever heard. The preacher was working from some Buddhist writings by Pema Chodron, about the techniques that we use to avoid what scares us and therefore to avoid being fully present and awake for ourselves and others, and before she was done she'd managed to roll in a story about screaming kids on a plane and a wrap-up story about a family gathered around their dying father, which had half the congregation in tears.

It was a tour de force. I left feeling inspired and refreshed and centered and determined. All I had to do was hold on to that moment of insight, FOREVER, and I would be a perfectly enlightened human being.

Alas, I've realized I have to go to church every week because the centering and perspective and humility and whatever it is one gets from a good sermon does not last forever. It doesn't even last a week. By Sunday afternoon, I was trying to explain to Enrico about the great sermon - which he would have loved because he resonates with Buddhist thought - and I couldn't produce a remotely articulate summation of what I'd just heard. Oh well. I'll just have to wait for the podcast. (Just imagine what Ralph Waldo Emerson could have done with podcasts!)

Meanwhile, by Monday, I had worked myself into a snit about a board meeting that I was about to attend. My piece of business wasn't on the agenda the way I wanted it to be, this group moves too slowly, I end up doing too much of the work, wah wah WAH. We're always short on money, I'm the treasurer, nobody else worries about this as much as me, wah wah WAH. Even as I worked myself into said snit, there was a part of my brain that stood back and watched, saying, "You know, this isn't at all helpful. Or even accurate, for that matter. Why are you doing this?" That part of my brain apparently remembered about Buddhism and creating our own suffering. But, the rest of my brain didn't care. It barrelled merrily along creating this very satisfyingly self-righteous snit.

And then, two things happened in rapid succession. I won't go into the details, but suffice to say that money for this organization appeared from two unexpected places. Not one, but two. Just at that exact moment. It was like the Creative Force of the Universe saying "Ha! You think everything hinges on you, do you? Well, let me teach you a little lesson."

The moral of the story isn't so much that I think we're powerless in the events around us - on the contrary - but that we constantly, stubbornly, blindly misunderstand the nature of that power. That, and the fact that sometimes the Universe really knows how to rain on a good snit parade.