Days Off

Been a busy several days. Saturday, we had our Knox Music Series performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Christmas Cantata: Vom himmel hoch da komm ich her, and Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Hodie; it went well, I think. The next morning, we had a regular church service, with very simple music. We didn’t really have the time to learn anything too complicated. Besides, there was the Christmas Eve candlelight service just a few days later. That’s a lot of singing for a choir that normally performs once a week for maybe 15 minutes.

Ault Autumn 053as
Before I moved, I used to go out here and sing for myself. See? Almost relevant.

After the Sunday morning church service, I ran to the restroom and changed – I was heading to the Bengals game. What a game it was! Good Andy Dalton showed up and made the Vikings look like a college team, while the defense held up their end. There was a bit of screaming and cheering and speaking loudly to be heard. I anticipated being a little hoarse Monday morning. Bit worse than that. It actually hurt to speak Monday morning, and a good bit of the afternoon. I could still barely talk on Tuesday; singing was out of the question. I stayed at my father’s house for Christmas Eve, since I couldn’t sing. Got to see the little kids open their presents, so that was cool.

I was concerned, though. Losing my voice permanently is a trauma for me up there with my PKD diagnosis. It’s part of me, something that makes me happy, that I can use to express what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking. I make up little songs for myself sometimes; other times I sing ones others have written. Being able to sing is almost as important as breathing for me. I didn’t really realize that until, well, in 1997 when Julie Andrews had those nodes removed and the surgery was botched. I cried. I cried for her, yes, but I also cried because I could easily imagine how I might react to such a thing. This past week, I was hit with that fear again. Fortunately, it would seem that is not going to happen this time; I’ve gotten to keep what’s left of my voice (used to have 4 1/2 octaves – just under 4 that you’d actually want to hear…just because you can hit the notes, doesn’t mean you should). Whew!

Christmas Eve itself was a bit on the chaotic side. Well, it would be if you have a house full of people (a bit over 30 at last count). It’s a good chaos, though; fun. Just siblings and their descendants and various hangers-on – okay, significant others, some of whom helped make another layer of descendants. The next morning, breakfast at my oldest sister’s house. Something happened there that I didn’t really expect – I felt comfortable.

08-19-2013 127b
One of my favorites

Okay, let me explain that one. See, there’s being comfortable enough to not feel like an intruder, which I’ve felt for quite some time, and then there’s feeling comfortable enough to be who you are without worry of repercussion. It was the latter. Perhaps even ‘safe’ isn’t out of the question. In spite of the fact I was exhausted, because my neighbor is an ass, I was good. Gave my niece one of my favorite childhood books, then hung out for an hour or so. Couple hours, actually. Didn’t really notice how long I’d been there. So yeah, it’s a good thing.

Anyway, on Christmas Eve, I handed out a few photos I’d had printed for my sisters and father. Just some shots I took in Daytona. Naturally I had my own camera with me that evening; growing children need to be recorded as often as possible. Good practice, anyway. Since I couldn’t sing, couldn’t do the Christmas Eve candlelight service at my church, I stayed the entire evening for once. Got to watch the little ones open their gifts, so that was nice.

I had a lot of things on my mind at one point; the voice thing sort of knocked it all out. I’d even written notes to myself, so I’d know what I wanted to write about; I deleted them. Life goes on. I’ve been off work since Christmas day, and don’t go back until January 2nd. I really needed the break. I’ve not been out with my camera, aside from my father’s house on Christmas Eve, but I think I’m going to make the time Monday or Tuesday. I haven’t taken anything really since, well, November, and that was a gig.

Balluminaria 2012 165b
I’ve had time to go back and edit old photos, though.

Because of the holidays, people are coming home for the season. Thursday, after a morning appointment, I had lunch with a few friends that I’d only met online. I was very nervous about it, as I usually am when I meet someone new; I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would they be the same as they were online, or would they be different than what they presented? Would I be uncomfortable or bored, or would they? As it happened, I need’nt fear; it was a great lunch. Last night, I spent several hours at the local casino with a bunch of other people I’d only met online, for the most part. Both of these groups have something in common, though – our high school. I’m constantly amazed by how tightly-knit our alumni can be. People who graduated years apart, who weren’t even in the building at the same time, meet up at events, hang out, put in friend requests on Facebook. It’s pretty cool. Our greatest rival is the same, it would seem. At least, so I was told last night by someone who graduated from there.

Well. Maybe I’ll remember what I wanted to write about at some point, and I’ll make a note that I won’t erase. For now, I just wanted to keep my promise to myself, and write. I’d told myself it didn’t have to be good; I think I managed that one today. Happy holidays, for whatever holiday you may be observing.

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Writing Prompt Wednesday

Wouldn't join a mediocre choir, now, would I?
Nothing to do with anything, just advertising

It’s Wednesday, and I’m working harder at keeping promises to myself. I just finished “Thud” by Terry Pratchett, which reminded me if you’ll be late (or slack off) for a good reason, it’s easier to do it for a bad reason. I’ve had what I would consider some pretty good reasons, but not good enough. A power outage or *gasp* internet outage† might be a good excuse to delay, but not to skip altogether.

On Saturday, I had a few ideas of things to write. I wound up scrapping most of them, even after writing over 1,000 words on one of those ideas. Won’t be revisiting that one. There were a couple others, though, on the more creative side. Since Wednesday was supposed to be for writing prompts, and can be fact or fiction, or something in between (US journalism), I thought a couple of those ideas would be better suited here. Not that there’s a theme on Saturday or anything – ‘cuz, there isn’t – just that there sort of is on Wednesday.

One of those ideas involved a fragment of a dream I had, where I dreamed I had a fairly creepy, and somewhat dangerous, stalker.‡ I figured I could make it a bit more suspenseful, but then I remembered I have trouble with plots deeper than The Blues Brothers, so it wouldn’t really go anywhere, just be suspenseful. You know, home alone, dark outside, sultry summer night in the middle of August, heat lightning periodically lighting up the night. Walking through the hallway, lit only by the strobing sky, reflecting off of the highly-polished wood flooring. Walk into the living room, flop down on the overstuffed couch in front of the large picture window, covered with a few layers of sheer curtains, allowing light in, and the illusion of complete visibility. A flash; a shadow appears on the curtains, knobby, bare limbs, gnarled into uncomfortable shapes. Leaves blown off of the tree in the front yard early in the year. The storms have been particularly fierce in the past few weeks, with powerful, straight-line winds. Just down the street, the Wilsons had to replace a section of their roof, thanks to the shingles that wound up a few blocks away on Route 26. Outside, the twisted arms clack together, clap together, knock together, tap the gutter, the roof, the window. Another flash. A straighter shadow, smoother, at least, visible for just an instant. At the next flash, it is gone. Until the next flash reveals it on the side of the house, just visible through the bathroom window. The shadow is rounded, now, hunched over, less visible than before. Another flash. The shadow has moved. Now it’s in the back, peeking through the sliding glass door, testing the lock. The screen slides back with a shusshh, a sound that is only heard by the cold oven and ceramic rooster resting above the refrigerator.

Columbus Day Out 152as
Scratching against the siding

The glass door itself proves more stubborn, shuddering in its track, opening in fits and starts. A fence is not enough to keep people out, no matter how tall or smooth. It would have been faster if there had been a ladder, sure, but even sow, it wasn’t that difficult. In the living room, the light show continues while the television provides background noise. The ‘visitor’ does nothing more than walk in, quietly padding across the linoleum, interested only in a better view. His prey has curled her legs under her, while she leans on the thick cushion of the sofa arms. He moves carefully, does not get into the shadows or the light. People will notice something they saw out of the corner of their eyes, particularly if it is no longer there. Survival skill; without it, humans would have fallen to every predator with stronger jaws and claws and muscles millenia ago. The floor right here is not worn, yet; the boards do not yet react to the slightest pressure shifts. For the time being, they remain silent, even with the new weight upon them. Still only watching. This time.

Another idea I saw on someone’s Facebook page – what would it be like if you were inside a snow globe. I think that one I need to reserve for a day when I’ve not spent the past several days being essentially beat up at work. I think I’ll need to leave this for now. It’s not late, but I am tired, and I haven’t gotten to sleep before 1 am in over a week. Perhaps tonight, I break the streak.

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†Last week, last Friday, to be exact, my cable went out. That wasn’t a big deal; my internet went out with it! Longest hour and twenty-five minutes ever!

‡Most of my stalkers were pretty harmless…ah, the problems of the rich and famous.

Bread and Milk

Heading Home
Daddy/daughter sledding day in Ault Park

I had a lovely, long post about driving in Cincinnati, about areas where people who regularly drive behave differently than those just passing through. There was even a little rant about people who have no idea how wide their cars are. Then I looked it over. I knew what I was talking about; I lived it. But man, was it dull! So I cut it.

In a similar vein, though, there is a little matter of winter driving. Because of our latitude, and geographical location, our weather can be – diverse. That seems to be the case across the entire midsection of the country. Here, we have influence from Canada, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic. Big hurricanes in the Atlantic have a dramatic effect on the weather up here. Hurricane Ike in 2008 caused significant power outages (over 927,000 households, some for up to a week) and wind damage here. I was kinda glad I missed it.

In Colorado, there was the combination of Canada and Mexico, or California – what could make it over the mountains – doing fun things to the weather. In the ten years I was there, there was always at least one week during December with single digit, or even negative, temperatures. Negative in Fahrenheit, is a little worse than negative in Celsius, what with zero Celsius being the freezing point of water, and zero Fahrenheit being some 32 degrees less than that. Zero degrees F is -18 in Celsius. That bitterly cold week usually happened at the beginning of December. It seemed Christmas Day was as likely to be 70 as 20, much like here. Halloween costumes are created in layers, so that there are enough to wear in case it snows, or enough to shed in case it’s warm. Easter might be warm, or it might snow. One year, when it fell on April 19, it snowed. A few years later, Easter fell on April 16, and it was nearly 80.

Rose orchids from a neighbor's yard, since removed. Kinda sad about that.
Rose orchids from a neighbor’s yard, since removed. Kinda sad about that.

We are far enough south that on average, winter doesn’t get all that cold. That means we don’t get all that much snow. it’s humid, though, so we get plenty of rain. Plenty. More than Seattle, which many other cities in the US can say. Ours doesn’t spend all day misting and drizzling. Not all the time, anyway. Sometimes, it likes to come down all at once, creating new little rivers where there once were streets. Flooding isn’t uncommon. It’s more about how badly the streets flood, not whether they will. There was a street outside my first apartment in Colorado that flooded every time there was a heavy rain. Badly. to the point where cars would get stuck, it was so deep. It wasn’t a side street, either, it was a major north-south artery. About two blocks away, there was a side street over a culvert that flooded, too, except with rushing water, rather than standing. People would drive through that mess. Good way to get swept off the road. That, I avoided.

A week ago, we had our first major storm of the season. Not the first one forecast, just the first one that actually hit. Our county ended up at a level 2 snow emergency. A couple of areas went to level 3. Now, I’m not an alarmist when it comes to severe weather, and that’s probably made the difference between my getting home, and needing help getting home. Folks from points north complain about schools getting closed when there’s a half-inch of snow on the ground. What they forget is 1) Cincinnati is NOT flat – Colorado Springs is flatter, just higher in elevation, and 2) There is always a layer of ice under that snow. Imagine driving on a narrow, 2-lane road, twisty, turn-y, hilly, with woods on either side. There may or may not be a drop off, and it may or may not go into a creek that didn’t exist last year. Now cover it with a thin layer of snow, over a thicker layer of ice. That you won’t see until you’re on it. My neighborhood isn’t so bad. There are areas in the greater Colorado Springs area that are worse. But going straight east, or straight north from my house, that’s a little trickier.

So this last winter storm, it closed schools before it even hit. The warnings were so dire, stores ran out of bread and milk 24 hours before it hit. The one before that was a non-event. This one wound up meeting expectations. The morning was no problem. Just cold. Around lunchtime, the snow started. Innocently enough at first. It had been over 60 just two days before, so the ground was warm; the snow didn’t stick, it just melted. The temperature kept dropping, and the melted snow turned to ice. At work, they were letting people who lived a considerable distance leave at 1:30 if they wanted. they could either work from home, or use vacation for the rest of their shift, but they could go home. I live close to work, so I figured I’d wait until everyone else left before I struck out. My manager sent us home by 4. That doesn’t happen. But, our county had declared a level 1 snow emergency. Roads are not that great, so be really careful. As opposed to level 2, which is only go out if you absolutely must. That happened about twenty minutes after I got home. And level 3, unless you’re a cop or a doctor or nurse or firefighter, or someone with a job as important, stay off the roads or risk being ticketed.

Eden Snow
Above the Ohio. Not even the highest point in the park; that’s behind where I’m standing.

It didn’t take any longer for me to get home than it normally would. Big difference, though, is instead of traffic – which there was almost none – there was icy, snowy, hills. And I have a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive, high profile vehicle. There were only two spots that concerned me – the street my workplace is on, which goes downhill at either end, one steeper than the other, and the hill that starts at the bottom of the street where my workplace is, that I would have to go up to get home. One thing time has taught me is how to handle that. It isn’t a particularly steep hill, but it goes uphill for an entire block. Slight curve the whole way, too. Oh, and buses and semis with trailers use that street. There’s a school and a Coke plant right next door to where I work. The top of the hill ends at a traffic light, where it flattens out for a few blocks, before dipping down for a couple blocks and back up for a few more. I knew that if I got up enough speed, I’d make it. The light at the top of the hill was red when I saw the car. Far enough away that if I could get in front, it would be fine, but I had to get in front, first. The car was stuck right next to a little island that separated straight and left from right. The street was two lanes at that point, and the car was blocking one, and a little bit of the other, right next to a little island that separates the straight and left from the right turn. Two other vehicles were turning left onto the street just as I was getting close to the top. One minivan, and one semi. A small one, but a semi just the same. That left less than one full lane for me to get through, on an icy, hilly, curvy, busy, road. I couldn’t stop; if I didn’t want to get stuck next to that car, if I didn’t want to get in the path of those other two vehicles, I had to keep going.

Hit the gas just a teensy bit too hard, and I’m in front of a semi that can’t stop. Back off just a little too much, and there’s nothing for me to do but go back down, backwards, and try again. I was kinda glad the light was still red when I got through; my heart was pounding. After that, it was smooth sailing. Sort of. I almost took the entire time of the light to get out of that intersection and complete my left turn. Made it without incident. Went down the major east-west artery (literally down), made it to the bottom where the light turned red. I sat there hoping the people behind me knew how to stop. Just past the light, another hill. That was my best option for going home; every other direction was very steep, or miles out of the way. The hill started right after the light, so I had to get my running start early, and just hope the light stayed green – or at least yellow – long enough for me to get through. Otherwise, once again, I would be forced to find another way to build up my speed.

There were maybe five other cars out at that point. If traffic was even half as bad as it normally was that time of day, I wouldn’t have made it home; it’s as simple as that.

Whenever you're feelin' good and hungry...
Whenever you’re feelin’ good and hungry…

Today, it was cold, but not cold enough. Rain fell from the sky all day, heavy, light, drizzly, misty. After stopping at the post office – and I just now realized I forgot to put a return address on the boxes I sent – and picking up my contacts for the year, I headed for lunch. Now, if you have something negative to say about Cincinnati-style chili, I suggest you keep it to yourself. I’m sure you have some regional delicacy that the rest of the world thinks is sick and wrong. I stopped there for a couple of reasons. One, two of the packages I sent had canned chili in them, and two, I’d been thinking about it since one of my other homesick friends mentioned she was craving it. Took forever – I must have sat there for 3 whole minutes before the server brought my food to me. Took longer to order, and that only because we were having a discussion over whether the root beer has caffeine in it (Barq’s has bite – i.e. caffeine). She said it didn’t. Promised it didn’t. Well…okay.

I sat and enjoyed my meal – small three-way and a cheese coney, no mustard – and read for a bit. It was warm in there. Steamy, even. Outside, it was at the misting stage, barely strong enough to need an umbrella, but too annoying to go without. Got up, paid my bill, and turned to leave. I had to pause. Even though the building had gone through a major remodel, it still had some feel of the original building, small, bright, old-fashioned. The moment I put my hand on the door, I looked at the window right next to it. I could barely see outside; it was steamed up from the temperature difference. That moment, I don’t know. There was something about that moment that reminded me of all the other meals I’d had at various locations around town, with family or with friends, and at that moment, at that very moment, all was right with the world.

As usual, this went a completely different way than I intended. I even had to change the title. Took me over three hours to write, too. There’s a reason I try to write first thing in the morning; fewer distractions.

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Doctor Blue GroverI know, I know, horrible human being, not giving the fans what they want. I wish to apologize to all four of you – I didn’t not deliberately neglect you. It’s been a bit nuts the past few weeks. I’ve had a lot on my mind, and I’ve not had the energy to deal with it all. It’s not all been bad – on Monday the 25th, I sat in a theater with several dozen other people and (re) watched the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special. It was the third time I’d watched the whole thing (I fell asleep halfway through the 11 pm showing on Saturday). The people-watching was spectacular. There were a lot of fezzes and bowties, and a handful of really, really, ridiculously long scarves. There was a distinct lack of jelly babies, though…

The experience was great; the crowd was receptive, and most of us had already seen it. We knew what to expect. The energy, though, that’s what made it worth the extra money for me. It’s one thing to watch at home alone, or with a few friends; it’s another thing entirely to watch with a bunch of strangers dressed as Doctors and daleks, and scaring people with images of angel statues – it was wonderful. I did regret my lack of Doctor Who-related clothing, however. I’m going to have to do something about that. Twenty-one days to the Christmas special, when we say goodbye to Matt Smith, and hello to Peter Capaldi.

Thanksgiving was a non-event, which is fine by me. I can watch the parade if I want, and the dog show, I can eat what I want when I want. I made a lot of food. I learned that maybe next year, I’ll need to scale back a bit. Kidney function’s reached the point where the appetite starts to fall off a bit. Maybe by the time I get to the transplant stage, I’ll have lost enough weight to make the doctors happy. See? Not all bad.

I thought I’d go back to what started these Wednesday posts – the writing prompt. I chose one at random:* 

Writing Prompt 71 – Write about a memory related to a holiday

So many to choose from, and so few that sound particularly interesting. Since we just passed Thanksgiving, I suppose I’ll go with one of those. Or a few. Growing up, Thanksgiving was a small affair, just me, my brother, and my mother. My mother and I would spend all day in the kitchen, making the turkey and stuffing, her teaching me how to make stock.ˆ Every year, we would make two pies. One fruit, and one sweet potato. Not quite sure how that started, but I love sweet potato pie, so that became required for every Thanksgiving. Now I make two (because that’s how the recipe works out) and give most of it away. I like making it, but I can’t eat it all.

Mom hated to cook. I think because she felt like she had to, instead of having the choice. It’s certainly not because she couldn’t – mom could cook. I learned from her, important things like what herbs go with what meats and vegetables, and how in most recipes, the measurements are just strong suggestions. Anything with yeast seems to require exactness, so I don’t do much with that. But I had some cookie recipes, and baking powder biscuit recipes that I was a little proud of. Even now, I go by smell moreso than measurements. I used to take a breakfast casserole to work on occasion. Nothing spectacular, just eggs, sausage, and hashbrowns, sprinkled with shredded cheese. And salt, pepper, sage, maybe some dill if I have some, and the cheese might be sharp cheddar, Monterrey jack, or maybe a 4-cheese Mexican or pizza blend. Never American – that’s just wrong. I like American cheese, it’s just not right for this. I’ve had people ask for my recipe. I can give them the ingredients; the measurements are a different matter altogether. I don’t even use the same number of eggs every time.

Slice of sweet potato pie with freshly-whipped cream
Slice of sweet potato pie with freshly-whipped cream

Right, so anyway, we got to the point where we usually made lemon meringue with the sweet potato pie. We’d experiment with the meringue, seeing if we could make little nests to fill. Never worked, but it was fun eating the mistakes. The sweet potato recipe we cobbled together from three different sources, and our own inventiveness. The recipe I use now won’t be found in any cookbook, even one I’ve written. Not that it matters, really – it’s not the same every time anyway. The recipe I take from the most calls for a couple tablespoons of rum. I prefer bourbon or, if I don’t have any, vanilla. As with everything except the milk,† salt, and sugar, my measurements fall into the ‘about this much’ category. I do actually use measuring spoons and cups; I just don’t worry so much about them being level.

For the past twenty years, I’ve been a turkey orphan. I have invitations, places I can go, but since they’re not my tradition, they don’t feel quite right. When I first moved to Colorado, we had a little turkey orphan gathering a few times. That was nice, I did enjoy that. But I also enjoyed a day when I didn’t have to talk to anyone or put on a bra. These things are important. Especially since I usually have to go back to work the next day. With the exception of this year, I usually get a lot done. This year was a bit more…challenging.

I only did the turkey orphan thing for a few years. Then I just did my own thing. The first perk, of course, is being able to have all the brown, crispy skin to yourself. Very important.

It’s also very important to me that I make something from those Thanksgivings, those times when everything was good, and it was okay to screw something up because we were experimenting. I have an awful lot of miserable memories from my childhood – and some things I don’t remember at all; I don’t think it’s so bad that I want to hang on to a good one.

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*that I liked and felt like writing about.
ˆno, I still really don’t know how to do more than make turkey juice – but I’m good at it!
†more likely to be half and half, or even cream, than 2%