Friday, November 29, 2013

Fiction Friday: November 29, 2013: NaNoWriMo

Aunt Louise here, writing to congratulate Aunt Laura on completing the novel she wrote during National Novel Writing Month.

It sounds great, and I really do want to read it, Laura! And I promise to not just tell you what a great job you did but also offer constructive advice.

Thank you so much for sharing your writing adventure, and your story, with us!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Weinermobile ...

... came to my local grocery store the other day. Who buys hot dogs for Thanksgiving? I don't know, but I got a coupon and a chance to look inside this marvelous vehicle.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fiction Friday (Saturday): November 23, 2013: Doctor Who?

Because that's the joke, in't it. It's almost as clever as "Who's on First?"

Madame L here, with apologies for being a day late and a dollar short. But, busy as she is, Madame L just had to mention that BBC America has been playing bits about all the Doctors all week long, getting ready for a new special, today, Saturday. Here's the trailer:

If you're not a fan of the Doctor, why not?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mozart's Requiem in D Minor

You can hear the whole thing while doing other things on your computer, because this version only has the music, with a picture of Mozart.

Oh, and these words at the beginning: "I fear I am writing a requiem for myself."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thank You, Whoopi! (Why We Know There Will Be Black People in the Future)

A Pavane for the Nursery

A Pavane for the Nursery

Now touch the air softly, step gently, one, two
I'll love you 'til roses are robin's egg blue;
I'll love you 'til gravel is eaten for bread,
And lemons are orange, and lavender's red.

Now touch the air softly, swing gently the broom.
I'll love you 'til windows are all of a room;
And the table is laid, And the table is bare,
And the ceiling reposes on bottomless air.

I'll love you 'til heaven rips the stars from his coat,
And the moon rows away in a glass-bottomed boat;
And Orion steps down like a diver below,
And earth is ablaze, and oceans aglow.

So touch the air softly, and swing the broom high.
We will dust the grey mountains, and sweep the blue sky:
And I'll love you as long as the furrow the plough,
As however is ever, and ever is now.

(By William Jay Smith)

Here's a pavane by Gabriel Faure, illustrated with some of Monet's peaceful paintings.

According to Wikipedia, the pavane is "a slow processional dance common in Europe during the 16th century (Renaissance). "

Also, "The decorous sweep of the pavane suited the new more sober Spanish-influenced courtly manners of 16th century Italy. It appears in dance manuals in England, France, and Italy." The musical form survived into the Baroque period, "long after the dance itself was abandoned."

The music is characterized by a "slow duple meter (double time 2/2)" and "generally follows the form of A, A1, B, B1, C, C1."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

You Raised Me Up

It says on the YouTube page, "Try to watch without crying."

But I say, "Go ahead and cry!"

Saturday, November 16, 2013


It made my day to read about this boy and even more about the hundreds (thousands?) of people in San Francisco who made his dream come true.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fiction Friday: November 15, 2013: Jack Reacher and "The Enemy"

Madame L is back to review this book because Aunt Louise hates to admit she's still reading the Jack Reacher books.

However, Madame L, although a mostly compleat literary snob, freely admits she enjoys them. They have their flaws, to be sure (including the hero having apparently obligatory sex with an attractive woman, in every one of the books Madame L has read so far), but even these flaws are not fatal (including those scenes, which are tame and and not graphic, to Madame L's relief, because if they were graphic or not tame, Madame L would not have read past the first one).

The previous Jack Reacher novels have dealt with Major Reacher's (U.S. Army, Ret.) life after the Army. This one is set while he is still a high-level M.P. in the Army, so he is wearing BDU's, fresh and clean and pressed every time, instead of wearing the same jeans and shirt for a few days before buying a new one, as he does in his later civilian life.

In the other Reacher novels, we learn that he and his two-years-older brother Joe were raised by their U.S. Marine dad and French mother on military posts all around the world, and we gather that Jack's character and personality come from that cultural heritage: not just the Marine-type discipline but the genetic makeup of his tough dad, as well as the frequent moves from place to place which make the boys have to be tough.

Now we find out another source of Jack's toughness: his mother. Madame L won't spoil your read with the details, but promises you'll be fascinated by those details.

Who is "the enemy"? The story of Jack's mother's past sheds light on the problem Jack Reacher is solving: is the enemy sometimes a person or a group of people who should be on the same side as us? The answer, of course, is yes, but what's interesting is that these traitors have reasons that seem compelling to them, so they're not throw-them-down-cardboard characters.

But Reacher's lifelong job is to do the right thing, and here's why he does it: His mother has, since he was a little boy, tens of thousands of times, put her hand on his shoulders and said, "You've got the strength of two normal boys ... What are you going to do with that strength? ... You're going to do the right thing."

As always, Lee Child writes a fast-paced and detail-filled thriller with twists and turns that will keep you reading when you should be doing other things, all the way to the last page, even if you've guessed who the enemy is. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Be Kind. Always.

It's way too easy to assume
their little world is perfect
while yours is the only one
in chaos and confusion

and that

their mood has anything
to do with you
when actually they're
flying blind
just like you are

so instead of waiting for them
to see me I've been trying
to find them first
and that helps.

 (With thanks to whoever posted this on Facebook originally and to all my Facebook friends who then added it to their timelines.)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fiction Friday: November 8, 2013: Swedish Movies and the Bechdel Test

Dear Aunt Louise and Readers,

Madame L here, back again to mention some interesting news which she received thanks to Aunt Laura:

Movie theaters in Sweden are incorporating a new standard into their movie ratings: To receive an "A," the movies must pass the Bechdel test, which you may recall from when Madame L wrote about this about a year and a half ago:

Here is what a movie must have in order to "pass" the Bechdel test:

1. At least two named women...
2. Who talk to each other...
3. About something besides a man.

Impossible, you say? Ah, it sometimes appears so. In fact, when Madame L thinks back to some of her favorite movies, she finds it hard to remember one which passes all three points of this test.

Disney movies? Even the ones that feature a female heroine, like "Brave," as Aunt Laura pointed out in her comment to Madame L's original post about this subject, don't pass the third point, even when they do pass the first and/or second.

Action movies? Give Madame L a break!

Romantic comedies? As if! 

Any others? Think, Dear Readers, think! And if you can think of any, please comment.

So, back to the Swedish implementation of the test: According to the "USA Today" article: 

"To get an 'A' rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

"'The entire "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, all "Star Wars" movies, "The Social Network," "Pulp Fiction" and all but one of the "Harry Potter" movies fail this test,' said Ellen Tejle, the director of Bio Rio, an art-house movie theater in Stockholm's trendy Sodermalm district."

"...'Apparently Hollywood thinks that films with male characters will do better at the box office. It is also the case that most of the aspects of movie-making — writing, production, direction, and so on — are dominated by men, and so it is not a surprise that the stories we see are those that tend to revolve around men,' Amy Bleakley, the study's lead author, said in an email.

"In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director for 'The Hurt Locker.' That movie — a war film about a bomb disposal team in Iraq — doesn't pass the Bechdel test."
 Thank you, Sweden, for making the Bechdel Test part of your movie rating system.


Madame L

More Photos from the Mountain, 1/3 Century After the Big One

Here's the photo of the beaver skull I couldn't post earlier. Kurt found the skull, and Jeff took the photo. You can see how those two front teeth grow up around from the top and back of the skull. It was fascinating.

And here are two more photos Jeff took, showing how beautiful the day was. This is where we're meant to be, don't you think? --- Outdoors, enjoying this beauty, not sitting at desks in offices all day long. 

Jeff realized as we were finishing our trip on Wednesday that we were up there, and were the last people up there this season, almost exactly one-third of a century after the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. 

Here are some photos Kurt took. Look at how many plumes of steam you can see in the crater in this photo:

And here's the steep trail, covered with snow, which we declined to take. We've all been on this trail before, and even without snow there are a couple of places where you think you're going to die because below that steep slope down to the right there's a 1,000-foot cliff.

Kurt got a great photo of a bull elk.

Here are the plastic pads of the Sno-Tel station. There's some kind of gel or something in the pads, so the pressure of snow or rain can be detected, and the amount of precipitation calculated.


Kurt took this picture of me taking a picture of Jeff taking a picture of one of the pipes.

And Kurt took this photo of us as we were first hiking in.

On Thursday, the day after we were on the mountain, it rained 2 inches, which made us realize again how lucky we were that we got there and did our work on Wednesday, when it only sprinkled a few times during the day and rained not even very hard the last hour.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Day on the Mountain

Near JRO, a remnant of the 1980 eruption

Yesterday I had the most fantastic and wonderful day of this whole year so far.

Notice I write "so far," because I'm an optimist. For example, I'm hoping it won't snow on Mount St. Helens for another week so I can go there again next week.

Yes, it was so much fun that I want to go again! Even though I came home so exhausted and muscle- sore that I took the maximum allowable dose of Ibuprofen and went to bed early, I want to go again!

Here's what we did: Kurt, one of Jeff's fellow employees at the Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO), drove Jeff and me to the Johnston Ridge Observatory (JRO), where we hiked out to the Pumice Plain to check water table levels there.

First, I just want to give this recommendation for breakfast: The Subway in Castle Rock, where the nicest lady in the world recommended toasting our egg sandwich WITH the spinach and bell peppers and pepper-jack cheese already on the eggs, so it would taste like a veggie omelet. She was right. It tasted like that, and it was really, really good.

Also, I recommend salt-and-vinegar potato chips for breakfast. They were absolutely the perfect accompaniment for my egg-cheese-spinach-bell-pepper-omelet sandwich, along with Coke Zero.

And I recommend this same Subway for lunch, because we got our lunch sandwiches there, too, and they were still delicious about 6 hours later when we finally had a chance to eat them.

Can you see the three plumes of steam coming up out of the lava dome in the middle of the crater?

Anyway. Turns out that some federal agency drilled holes specifically for measuring the water table all around the Pumice Plain, years ago, and those water levels have changed over time.

So we were the lucky ones who got to check the levels this time. Not in all of the drill holes---we couldn't possibly have done that in a day---and my USGS companions were frankly surprised that we were even able to find the nine drill holes we did find, and measure the water levels there.

Here are a few of the amazing things we saw on our 18-mile, 6-1/4-hour hike around the Pumice Plain:

We saw a few elk herds during the day. They didn't let us get very close. You should see them run down that steep slope!

Quoth the raven: Grawk! Grawk! Grawk! as it checked us out.

Weather and snow-measuring station near the watering hole

Looks like it's from a Mad Max movie, right? And it clanks as it turns around.

Can you see the frog? It's below and to the right of the two orange rocks.

Mountain lupine, still flowering, next to a bunch of snow

And we did stay on the trail, the trail that we could tell from the map would keep us safely away from the cliff below.

One of several small lakes we passed, this one is obviously an elk watering hole.

We woke up this guy when we followed an elk trail.

Did I mention that Kurt found a beaver skull near one of our stations? I'll add a photo of that later.
Again, flowers growing a few feet from the snow

Ingenious cap for a pipe that has lost its regular cap
And of course we saw LOTS of pretty rocks. (Right, I'm not an actual geologist, so I'm allowed to just call them "pretty rocks.")

Yes, this day put me behind on my NaNoWriMo goal, but it was well worth it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dear Mr. or Ms. Anon Commenter

Thank you, thank you, and thank you again for making my day every time you comment anonymously to one of my posts.

I love the links to your Magnetic Makeup Blog, your Jaguar Dealership somewhere in the south of England, your uncle in Nigeria who just wants to help me get rich, your Secrets to Making Money Fast, and, most of all, your links to Vitamins and Minerals and Secrets to Losing Weight Fast!

I love all of them because of course I want to do everything Fast! Especially Get Rich Fast! And Lose Weight Fast! (And you know, since you see me every day, how much I really need to lose weight, and fast, don't you!) And I want magnetic makeup, and I want to give you access to all my personal information including my bank accounts so you can drain them (ha! ha! --- as if there were anything in them to drain!).

Yes, I want all of that. And more. So if you could please send me information on how to get my 15 Minutes of Fame, without having a first and last name beginning with the letter K, and without debasing myself to some level below where the earthworms crawl, I'd appreciate that very much.

Meanwhile, thanks again for sharing your most intimate and valuable ideas with me, and with everyone else on the Inter-Blog,

Aunt Louise

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Hero I Know Right Now

I won't put her name here because I haven't had a chance to talk to get her permission. I haven't even seen her since she found out she couldn't race in the triathlon she'd been preparing for.

"R" was the reason I decided to try a triathlon. She was often at the 5:30 am spin classes led by Derek (on Mondays and Fridays) and Christie (on Wednesdays). She had a smile and a cheerful "Good morning!" for everyone, and one day she called one extremely shy man her workout partner, to his delight.

She was training for a triathlon even though she has the use of only one lung. She doesn't talk about this much except to explain why she was going to use the side stroke for the swimming portion of the triathlon because she can't really put her face in the water as you have to for the crawl.

In addition to the spin classes, she was working out at least once a week with a personal trainer on her running, and I don't know how often with a swimming trainer.

This woman's courage, as I mentioned, inspired me to think I can do a triathlon. 

What happened next: A couple of weeks before the triathlon was scheduled, her swimming trainer took her to a nearby lake so she could get the necessary experience swimming in open water. It took her a long time to swim across, and then she had to rest a long time, and then the trainer had to help her get back to their starting point. The trainer was very concerned, talked to the other trainer, and they recommended that "R" see a doctor to find out if there was another problem in addition to the lung problem.

And there was: Some tests discovered a heart valve problem, and the doctor told "R" she should not do the triathlon after all.

She's still my hero. I hope I can ever be half as brave as she has been.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fiction Friday: November 1, 2013: Lavinia (and NaNoWriMo)

This is Aunt Louise again, writing about one of the best historical novels I've ever read: "Lavinia," by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ms. Le Guin has been one of my favorite writers ever since my husband introduced me to her "A Wizard of Earthsea" when we were dating. Her books are so good that I've read many of them, including all the Earthsea stories, at least twice. And she's not one of those authors who makes you think you could write as well as she does (and certainly not in the maigre month of November).

No, not at all. She's one of those authors who makes you think, "How did she do that?" --- "that" being the brilliance of plot and complexity of characters, the layers of meaning in every scene, the parsimony combined with generosity of her language, the feeling that you have entered into the world she's creating and don't want to leave it.

But a historical novel? And one based on the ghostly character of Lavinia, the last wife of Aeneas, the creation of the great Latin poet Vergil who may not have even seen her as a real person? How did she do THAT?

Well, I don't know, but here's what I do know: You will love this book; you will read it slowly and carefully so as not to miss a single meaning; you will want to re-read it; you may, like me, even want to re-read Vergil's Aeneid, even if, like me, you hated being forced to read it when you were in high school and then having to translate a few lines from it in Latin 101 in college. In fact, in Ms. Le Guin's afterword, she makes me want to re-read and re-translate it in/from Latin, not just read the translation I had to read in high school, because, as she notes, Vergil's original poem in Latin is so beautiful in itself that it can't really be translated.

But anyway, all that aside (because I'm about 95% sure I'm not really going to find my old Latin dictionary and get a copy of the epic poem in Latin and probably can't even find my old English translation of it), here's the reason to read this: Ms. Le Guin spares us from all that by writing this novel about Lavinia, who becomes a real person in her hands.

It's like she took some clay and molded it into a real human woman and breathed into the form so she would live for us, but on ink-on-white-two-dimensional paper.

And through Lavinia we see Aeneas as a real person, along with his father, his two sons, his enemies and his friends, and their feelings and actions as inevitable and tragic. We see the Trojan War as a real and regrettable historical event, and we see people torn between their own ambition and their fate, making the same mistakes all humans have made and will make, through all history, whether we know in advance the will of our gods and defy it or know what is right in our world and deny it.

Wait, did I make it sound all literary and historical and boring? Sorry, I didn't mean to do that. Because, even though it's beautifully written and full of history, it's not boring. In fact, you could even read this book at the beach. And you would be able to look yourself in the mirror and not feel ashamed for reading the usual trashy beach novel.

So, enjoy. Be edified and think deep thoughts and pat yourself on the back for having actually passed Latin 101 all those years ago (or whatever---that's probably just me), but enjoy.