Thursday, February 28, 2008

*happy dancin'*

I'm going to Kamp, I'm going to Kamp!

Now I just have about three bazillion tunes and their corresponding chords to learn in four months. And I've not played in so long that my fingers are all soft. I played much of last weekend, and every night this week; now I think I've decided I need a new left hand. Ow. Unfortunately, music stores don't seem to carry those.

But I'm going to Kamp, I'm going to Kamp!

One benefit of being forgetful and of having moved twice in the last few years is that I've been having many almost-like-Christmas moments with regards to my music stuff. I'd forgotten just which books and things I'd picked up over the years. One example: I've been trying to start on the list of tunes that I know get played a lot at camp, and I was thinking it'd be really nice if I had a copy of Steve Kaufman's "Four Hour Bluegrass Workout", which I've always heard was really good - and it'd let me practice with backup, so I know I'm not slowing down on the hard parts and not really playing the tunes properly. I've been stumbling along without it, but last night, I was going through my shelf o' books, and there it was! Autographed, no less!

Heh...and now I remember when I bought it. A full-on blonde moment made me forget the actual item purchased.

I went to a concert Steve did down in Centralia, WA right after I arrived here in WA. Afterwards, there was a table with lots of CDs and instructional materials and that, and since I'd heard so much about that book and tape set, I grabbed one. He scanned my credit card (which, strangely, has my name on it), and afterwards said, "Thanks, Elizabeth!" I kind of stared open-mouthed and said, "You remember my name?" 'Cause (as I stammered immediately afterwards) I went to his camp all those years ago, but.... Poor Steve...you could see he was trying to think fast for a way to answer that without being rude. ;-) I are a natural blonde... We kind of got past the moment and he kindly autographed the book for me. Looking forward to playing with it this weekend!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The flock is down by one...

I sold one of the Hermes 3000s today. It worked out pretty well for all involved, I think. I had two near-identical ones, as I've mentioned, primarily because when I happened on the second, it was local and a decent price and I couldn't resist.

I had planned -- when I posted the Craigslist ad -- to sell both 3000s, but I'm rethinking that. The beat-to-death one that I used for NaNoWriMo is begging to stay, and I think I'm going to let it. It's the nicest typer I have, even if it is teenski print.

The girl who bought the other didn't look more than eighteen or nineteen. She wants to do more writing, and hoped that a typewriter might be a good inspiration, and a good way to write without the distraction of the internet and games and all. Sound familiar? For me, typewriting allows exactly that (plus the inability to easily edit or obsess about wording too much), and I raved a bit about what a wonderful tool they are for writing your initial draft.

So, we looked at the two 3000s side by side. I am a lousy salesperson. I told her the prettier of the 3000s had one small problem: in one ribbon position, the vibrator was sluggish when going back to its resting position after each character. It works fine in other positions.

So she was standing by, I'm trying to explain the problem, and it wouldn't do it. So do I just smile and say, "OH, I guess I fixed it!" No...I say, "No, really, it has a problem! Honest! I'm sure I can get it to do it!" I think it's mostly a disuse sort of issue, and maybe having been used a bit, the problem is mostly gone. In any case, it wouldn't act up, even in the trouble position. Go figure. It made me feel a bit better about the sale.

She dithered very briefly between the two typewriters, until I confessed to having second thoughts about the ugly one. She was happy to "settle" for the pretty one. I sent her out the door with ribbon information -- and a small stack of Duffy Moon's typewriter paper, which she thought was really cool. A convert? I hope so! I so love these things...spread the typewriter love!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Musical memories - warning: long!

In the last little bit, I've started to become obsessed again with guitar. Because, don't ya know, it's always when I've no spare time whatsoever amongst my many hobbies - crocheting, calligraphy, baking, writing, biking - that I decide to cram another back into my life. I always end up picking up old hobbies in November during NaNoWriMo, when I have no spare time. Go figure. (Incidentally, both times above when I typed hobbies, I first typed "hobbits". What that means as a Freudian slip, I have no idea....)

I'm seriously thinking about slapping down the credit card and attending Steve Kaufman's Flatpicking Kamp at Maryville College, TN this year. I went once before, back in 2001, before 9/11 and before Mom's illness. It was one of the best weeks of my life. I was surrounded by music crazed lunatics, many with out-of-this-world guitars and mandos that they let me play to my heart's content: old Martins and Gibsons; new Collings and Santa Cruz and Bourgeois and Gallagher guitars; fabulous beauties from one-man or very small shops like Dudenbostel and Merrill. And there was jamming, classes, jamming, workshops, concerts, jamming, and a tiny, tiny bit of sleep. Mostly, I listened. Everywhere you went on campus, there was music. Some of the attendees were serious pros...you could stand outside the dining hall for hours just listening in on folks standing around playing music under the trees there. Someone was always ready to offer tips, or let you pick something at your own pace. I came away dazed, still hearing tunes ringing in my ears, with more material (both mental and in books and tapes and things) than I could get through in a lifetime.

I planned to go the following year, either for guitar or mandolin classes, and for the rest of the experience outside of class. I was signed up. But around March or April, we found out that Mom had terminal cancer, and would likely pass away by summer, or in the summer. She died in late May, a few weeks before camp would have taken place, and of course I didn't go. I couldn't. Later that year I lost my job and things just...changed a lot.

This year, I'm finally in a position to go again, I think. I'm terribly rusty. I've hardly played guitar or mandolin since moving to Washington, and for the last little while, I've made little effort to seek out other musicians. For the last few days I've been practicing guitar - fiddle tunes, mostly, as those are what typically get played in the easier jam circles. The jazz tunes are left to the more advanced crowd, generally....

Tonight, I got out some CDs of old playing sessions back home. A number of us used to get together and play a night or two a week, and one of the guys had recording capability. He'd make CDs of the night's playing and give us copies. Partly it was for those who learned by ear, partly it was just so we could hear ourselves. We weren't very good. But it was fun. And, important for practicing along, we played slowly. I found a CD that had many of the tunes I'm working on, popped it into the computer, and started playing along. On the very first one, I noticed the cello in the background and had to stop and listen. It's very bittersweet.

Most of us kids learned to play an instrument at some point, at least in a basic way. Some of us have stuck with it more than others, but almost all of us at least enjoy playing casually. Mom, bless her heart, put up with the never-ending racket for years, without ever joining in. She didn't think she had any musical talent. A teacher when she was in grade school told her she would never be good at music. I wish I could go back in time and throttle the creep. In any case, it wasn't until about a year or a year and a half before she passed away that she finally decided she wanted to play music. She chose cello -- she loved the sound of it, and the feel of the wood singing, and the movement of the bow -- everything about it. She couldn't play anything very complicated, but had started playing along with us toward the end, just adding bass notes to fill in the background. It sounded really cool. And now...it's such a beautiful thing to hear. I've been thinking a bit sadly about the fact that I never saved letters she wrote to me, not knowing I'd want them so soon. I have very little of her in that way. But there she is on these old recordings of poorly played, limping music, proudly adding her notes to the bass to hold the tunes together. It makes me smile and tear up at the same time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

And in other news...

This weekend I got brave and posted one of the Hermes 3000s on Craigslist: the really beat-up one I used for most of NaNoWriMo. I almost took it down immediately, because while I had it out to take photos, I used it for a bit, and I have to say, from an ergonomics and touch standpoint, for me, the Hermes models are tops. They're intuitive, they feel nice, and the rounded models are particularly attractive. Granted, the reason I'm selling them is partly so I'll have an excuse (and some fundage) for a Pica 3000, but that's in the future, not the here and now!

Today I got my first bite -- someone who says they want to do more writing, have never used a typewriter, but think they might find it inspirational. A part of me wants to go all typewriter fangirl on them and gush about how they're the *perfect* rough draft tool, and they sound so *cool* and they smell nice; and ramble about ink and paper and websites with more info and...and.... And maybe give one away if I can't convince them without their trying one free.

And another part of me wants to hug the beat up little thing and say, "Mine! Go 'way!"

I'm not sure which mode really shows the most maturity.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Reflection

Particularly with Lent upon us, I thought this was a very good article, well worth passing on!

Confessional Advice

The part that resonated with me the most was the bit about resisting temptation - number 10. in the article. Handing temptation over to God, admitting to it? That's so simple, and so trusting. Why don't I think of these things? My usual method is more akin to the method of the sort of dieters who fail: I feel guilty about even being tempted, I end up obsessing over whatever temptation I'm currently struggling against, and whenever I do fall, (and of course I do, frequently!), I feel like the dieter who's given into temptation, had that piece of chocolate cake, and thinks they might as well give up trying at all because the diet is broken. I turn away from God, right when I should be turning to him. It's not logical, of course. The way to get back on course is to accept that mistakes have been made, accept God's offered mercy, and live from that point forward.

But one of my biggest faults is being disappointed when I fail to be perfect. It's pride, pure and simple, and it's a turning to self, away from God. Lately, I've been trying to actively offer even my imperfections and failings to Him, accepting that I'm not perfect, that I need Him - a lot.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Paper, pica, and the perils of pickiness

A hodgepodge of topics for today...

1. Paper!
Back in December, shortly after the madness of NaNoWriMo, the Typewriter Brigade's Fearless Leader, Duffy Moon, purchased a stash of old Eagle-A Typewriter Paper - 9 lb., 25% cotton bond. It's legal sized, with red stripes down the margins. I recently got to play with a sample of it (trimmed to letter sized), and I like it! I'm finding myself fascinated by the texture, more than anything. It's so wonderfully flimsy feeling, yet strong; it doesn't tear or puncture as easily as the much thicker multipurpose paper I'd been using. It almost feels like really thin paper money. I've been frightening the cats by rattling sheets of it, too....

The margin stripes are...very red. But I rather like them.. I'm terrible
about being consistent with margins when typing, and those bright red lines (while they *do* make the pages look rather like the old loose-leaf notebook paper we used to use in our Trapper Keepers back in the day...) make setting margins idiot-proof. Duffy is selling some of the boxes, so I'm purchasing one. The jury is out on whether or not I'll cut it to letter sized or leave it long.

2. Pica
A few short months ago, there was a discussion in Yahoo's Portable Typewriters group about elite (12 characters per inch) vs. Pica (10 characters per inch). I came down solidly in the elite camp, because a) you can fit more on a page and b) the typewriter I was using most and liking most at the time was my '58 (?) Hermes 3000, which happens to be elite. Now, a few months older and wiser, I'm beginning to think I was wrong, as I so often am. For one thing, I've been trying to get caught up on transcribing (still have some thirty or forty pages to enter into the computer), and since I don't have the ability to do OCR (and I'm not sure I'd trust it if I did), it's all manual, reading it off and typing it in. And I confess, the Pica pages (I switched around a little) are much easier to read. So...the last few typewriters I've picked up have been Pica, and I'm seriously thinking about selling off a few (or most of) the elites. Which, really, means the Hermes 3000s. I do like the way they type, but it's also true that I'm not using them as much. It's also true that they're about the hottest selling typewriter on eBay, for some reason. I'm guessing I could more than recoup my fifteen or twenty dollar investment. Leaving me with more cash for ribbons and paper and other fun things...

3. Pickiness.
When I'm doing a lot of writing, I am far more critical of any text I read. What this means is that I'm *more* appreciative of good writing, but bad writing grates to the point where I find it painful. Cases in point: I intensely admire C.S. Lewis, even aside from his subject matter. From a strictly technical standpoint, he is a wonderful, wonderful writer; and where his fiction is concerned, he is a master of description. I always like his books and reread many of them every few years, but when I'm writing, I'm all the more appreciative of just how *good* he is. Opposite case: I'm currently reading Robin Cook's Terminal. When it comes to casual reading, I tend to gravitate toward mysteries and what are sometimes called "medical thrillers"; i.e. stories about viruses that are going to destroy the planet, or scary medical conspiracies. Richard Preston's The Cobra Event is an example of a very good book in that genre. I was discussing books with co-workers the other day, and someone recommended I check out Robin Cook. Now...I realize that sometimes authors' books are uneven in quality, so maybe I'm being overly harsh, but I have to say, this book reads like a completely unedited, very rough draft -- and not a very good one at that. There are some errors that may just be typos on the publishers part (a last name that is spelled differently from one page to another, for example), but a lot of it is just poor writing and editing. As I read it, I have to resist taking red pen to the extra words and the descriptions that are reused for three or four different people within a short span of time. I could go on. I have far less patience for poor writing these days. I'm such a snob...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Really, really old bread

It shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me and my fascination with old objects and older ways of doing things that I also find myself intrigued by the idea of baking with a proven sourdough starter with a nice long history. Granted, the idea of making starter from scratch also appeals, and I've tried it a time or two, with mixed success. But starting with a bit of starter that is the direct descendant of that used as leavening by someone on the Oregon Trail or by New England bakers of old...well, isn't that romantic? I think so! It connects me to a long line of people who baked with some version of the same starter, in days long before electricity, before pre-sliced Wonder Bread. (Incidentally, this has me thinking about the history of stoves...did they have cast-iron wood-burning cook stoves two hundred years ago, or are those relatively recent? How would the original Vermont settlers have baked their bread? Hm...)

In any case, what with the new oven and a run of cold and blustery weather, I've been hankering to do more bread baking. And I decided to splurge on a proven starter - the New England one linked above. I grew up not far from the King Arthur store, and I just liked the idea of having some of that particular starter.

It arrived Thursday, I fed it according to the instructions, and Saturday I made my first loaves!

I tried two different ways of slashing the top, and I don't think I went deep enough with either one. Next time. They aren't pretty, and I think I could have let them rise a bit more, but oh, it's good bread! Marvelous tangy flavor, and a wonderful chewy crust. I think this starter and I will become good friends. I almost feel like naming it...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

NoFiMo No Mo'

It's now a week into the month I and some friends set as a Novel Finishing Month. How am I doing? Pretty dismally, it must be confessed. On the bright side, I've written every day. Some days it was just a few sentences, but I did write.

On the down side, I've come nowhere near averaging my 1000 word a day goal, and I don't think there's any way in the world I'm going to finish this story by the end of the month. This is more of a Get Something Done On My Novel For a Change Month (GeSoDoOnMyNoMo?), as one of the other participants dubbed it.

On the bright side again, I've mentally filled in a lot of holes. I tend to have a really well developed beginning, a good idea of the end, and a lot of murkiness in the middle that I hope will sort itself out as I approach, like objects in a fog. The fog had been exceedingly thick, but I now have a good idea of where I'm going.

Baby steps. If I could actually be consistent, even it's just consistently writing a paragraph a day, I might actually finish a story for a change.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Juicy bread?

This past Saturday I woke up thinking, "Hey, I betcha pineapple juice would be a good liquid base for bread!" The previous weekend, I'd purchased some juice because it was an ingredient in a teriyaki marinade I wanted to try. (It was good, by the way...) Being me, it didn't really occur to me until after I got it home that maybe buying an entire gallon jug wasn't the best idea considering a) the recipe only called for about a cup, and b) I live alone. Drinking a cup or so as a morning Vitamin C boost only goes so far when the jug is that huge. So it had been on my mind, and I was trying to think of other ways to use it up. I'd been reading up on sourdough starters (more on that later) and understood that yeast likes a slightly acidic environment, and with the sugar in the juice as well...it just seemed like a happy mix. The recipe, more or less (I'm not a precise kind of baker...) was this:

1 1/2 cups pineapple juice
The equivalent of one packet of yeast
1/4 cup butter (half a stick), melted
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 - 3 cups of white flour (or however much it takes to make a soft dough)


1. Heat the pineapple juice until just warm (if it hasn't been in the refrigerator, this step probably isn't necessary.) Add the yeast and stir to dissolve. Set aside for about five minutes, until the yeast has started to grow and the mixture looks foamy.
2. Stir in about half a cup of the flour and the salt, then add the melted butter.
3. Slowly (about half a cup at a time), add more of the flour until the mixture just starts to gather into a ball. Spread a kneading surface with another 1/4-1/2 cup flour, and turn the dough out onto it. Sprinkle with an additional 1/4-1/2 cup flour, and knead until smooth and springy -- five to seven minutes. It's done when you can you can press your finger into it to about the first knuckle, and it springs back to almost fill the hole.
4. Place in an oiled bowl, cover (I use a damp towel), and let rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in bulk. It rose beautifully for me, and by that time already smelled yummy...
5. Punch down, turn out and knead again, just long enough to work out the air bubbles. Form into a single loaf, and place in an oiled loaf pan. Let rise for about 45 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 400°F. Now...this is where I did a lot of because-I-wanna things. I brushed the crust with egg wash (1 beaten egg with a little water added) because I wanted a pretty, glossy crust. I also put a pan of water on the rack below the bread for the first fifteen minutes of baking, to create some steam, which in my opinion helps the crust. Totally personal preference. About halfway through the baking time, I lowered the temperature to 375°F. Total time was about 45 minutes. When it came out of the oven, I brushed the top with melted butter to keep it soft. Again, totally personal preference. Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, and then remove to a wire rack to cool the rest of the way.

The final result was a loaf that was attractive (albeit a bit lumpy, 'cause I formed it wrong), very even in texture and easy to slice (nice for sandwiches!), slightly sweet but not overly so, and kept really well. I just finished the last of it today, nearly a week later, and it was still very good -- not always the case with homemade bread, in my experience. I think that was likely due to all that butter, but in any case, the combination worked. I'll make it again. I'm also thinking it might make a good cinnamon bread. And I just got some good Vietnamese cinnamon. Hmm...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

ASH WEDNESDAY

Canto VI

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Bless├Ęd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

T. S. Eliot

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Grammar pet peeve of the day:

Using the contraction "there's" to refer to a plural noun; i.e. "There's storms on the way for later in the week." It should be "There are storms on the way for later in the week." Storms is a plural. You would never say, "There is storms," would you? I hope not. Use of the contracted form is no different! This particular error is no less annoying because I find myself using it now and then. I should know better, and I usually correct myself (sometimes very vehemently), much to the amusement of my co-workers.

But what's really starting to bother me is that I'm now seeing this incorrect usage crop up in legitimate news articles, by journalists! Journalists should know better, especially when it comes to the written word! What are they teaching in these schools? What is wrong with you people?!?