Monday, December 2, 2019

Random Verbal Doodling

I work part-time, flexible hours, from home. At one point some years ago, I did have a desk at which I could work if I were in town and so inclined. Now I save my unit the cost of desking one more body. I do have to put on adult clothes and darken the door of the building from time to time, the frequency of which has been on my mind lately.

Our relatively new (two or so years) boss has tried to have monthly staff meetings but never set a regular day and time such as a designated day of each month at a designated hour. That made it hard to find a time that ten people all had free. A date and time would be announced then changed a time or two before being cancelled. We probably had a staff meeting only every couple of months.

I used the term "staff" intentionally in the previous paragraph. Recently, the university administration decided that our office should be combined with another office, more than doubling our size. That office will remain nameless here but has much more of a business team mentality than does our office, perhaps because they had "Business" in their name while we never have. They have matching notebooks, for example, which they all bring to meetings. They may have matching pens, but I haven't checked. When I turn on my work laptop, Microsoft Teams loads automatically now; it has even started loading on my personal personal computer. I have tried to see how one uses Teams, without success. Actually, I don't want to know how to use it.

What I have been pondering is that as a staff, we had only sporadic group meetings as noted above. Now, as a team, we have meetings scheduled for the next three months. I find this unsettling. For one, I must drive to and from the office, which takes around 20 minutes if traffic and lights cooperate. If we are meeting at what has been our office, I then must pay $2.50 per hour to park and spend 10 minutes walking from and back to the parking garage. I make myself feel better about this by noting that the steps I take coming and going contribute to any daily step goal I might have set.

Why has the team-to-staff switch changed the attitude toward group meetings? Are team members more closely joined at the hip than staff members? Both groups should be working toward a common goal, in our case the accuracy and flow of information to, from, and about the university. Is it that the "team" has twice as many members as the "staff" did? This seems more plausible in that the number of possible connections between individual members or groups of members may require more monitoring.

And maybe I just need to find something better to do during those meetings than doodling random thoughts on a pad of paper that matches no one else's with a writing implement that matches no one else's.

Note: I started writing this post some time ago, before I decided to retire from what was, admittedly, a very good deal. Staff vs. team meeting no longer matters. I like that.

Back in Grad School ...

Back in grad school (which I started 42 years ago come August), three of us formed a small group we called the Lunatic Fringe and Literary Society. Each month, we would read a different science fiction book and discuss it over lunch, which had to be at a eatery none of us had ever visited. Given the time that has passed, it should not surprise me that so many of the places I remember visiting are no longer in business. In the case of a few, the building in which they were located is not longer there.

We should probably have read a wider variety of books. To this day, I feel overdosed on science fiction as a genre. Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God are the exceptions; I thought they were excellent and am glad I read them. Anything else? Nope. I tried on a recent trip to re-read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin after reading an essay that praised it. It was a big no-go. I could not not get into reading it, no matter how hard I tried.

There is a plus side to this affliction in that it makes the list of books I want to read shorter by one genre, the proverbial silver lining to any cloud.

If I Made You a Thing

I was pondering lots of everything recently as I trimmed the edges of my latest quilt in preparation for binding. I possibly should not have rejoined the local quilt guild or, having done so, not become a more active member. This thought occurred to me as I trimmed the somewhat un-square corners of the quilt and, again, viewed the small puckers visible on the back of the quilt.

At one guild chapter meeting, a discussion was held on what type of needles members liked for what purpose. Upon my turn, I described myself  as a "ghetto quilter" and noted that a good needle was one I could thread with my 63-year-old eyes. I similarly do not obsess over what brand of thread I use for the quilting, really only caring about the color and whether it gives the effect I want. If there were quilting "neighborhoods," mine would be one you might not want to visit.

I know, for example, that there should not be puckers on the back of a quilt after it is quilted. I assume that if one stretches the backing tightly enough when basting--with thread or pins--the layers of the quilt together and/or stretches the layers snugly when quilting, the finished back will be puckerless. I have possibly achieved an unpuckered back on a wall hanging, but I am not sure I ever have on a larger piece. The two pieces I have had professionally quilted have no back puckers, nor do the quilts other guild members bring to Show and Tell. Even when I consciously try to not have puckers, well, yeah, I still end up with them.

I also know that the corners of a quilt should be square assuming, that is, that the quilt itself is rectangular in shape. Again, I am not sure I have ever had four square corners on the same quilt. As with the puckers, I might have executed square corners on a wall hanging, particularly if it were of a size matching one of my larger cutting templates. On a larger quilt, though, the border may not always be precisely the same width along a side since I might have had to trim it more in one place or another to keep a side as straight as possible.

And then there is the binding itself. I have never mastered machine binding despite having taken a very informative workshop on the subject. In terms of hand binding, the quilts others bring to Show and Tell have no visible stitches along the length of the binding. I have asked several members how they do this, and they usually reply with something like, "You just hide them." This tells me nothing about whether I am supposed to do the stitch on the back of the quilt inside where the edge will sit and put the stitch in the binding underneath what shows. If that is the case, I wish someone would show or tell me how to do it.

And if I can't hide the stitches that hold the binding down, the same can be said about the stitches that hold the label on the back of a quilt. Actually, even my labels seem to be on the plain side. Rarely do I put any decoration around the text, and the text is generally just something about the recipient of the quilt and why he or she is getting it.

I say all this but then have to admit that no one who has received one of my quilts has ever mentioned the puckers or the corners or the visible stitches. It may be that I have only given quilts to very polite people, but if you know my friends, you know that's probably not the case. They see beyond those visible shortcomings and, I hope, know how special they are to me or to whoever asked me to make the quilt in the first place.

Monday, July 1, 2019


Today is the last day of the first half of the year. It is also Canada's birthday as well as mine. I am quite pleased to share a birthday with a country we resemble less and less every day. According to the daily horoscope column in The Washington Post, the next year will go as follows. I do not think this applies to countries, but if Canada wants to share it with me I'm cool.

This year, you open up to many new ideas. You might not be ready to live them out, but your parameters around life are changing. If single, the person you choose to date today might be quite different from the person you would choose a year from now. Do not make any commitments unless you are 100% sure. If attached, your sweetie needs to understand where you are coming from more often. Take the time to explain. Let your sweetie know they are valued and include them in your outside life as well. Gemini reads and understands you well.

I'm not sure what, if anything, all that means. What does including my sweetie in my outside life really mean? Would that be outside my relationship with that person? Should I not hide anything from him? I don't really hide much at all of anything in which he'd be interested. The not making commitments part is really the most understandable one and one to which I really should pay more attention.

"If you were born this day" aside, I usually use this post to look back at the pesky resolutions I made for the year now halfway gone. Here we go. (I actually have to look back at what I wrote on December 31, 2018, to know what specific resolutions I made.)

The second (saving the best/worst for last) was to do one artsy-crafty project each month. That would mean six. I did finish two of the three quilts I put in this year's guild show; if adding a hanging sleeve can count as a finish, that would made three. I also finished two small quilts that are supposed to be delivered today. Once I hear that they have been, I will post photos of them. They were a joy to make, made out of love as much as skill. I can't think of anything else that would count as "finished," which I guess leaves me one short, but I'll take that.

Third was to complete a wellness challenge through the university that employs(ed) me. The challenge was to do a certain number of strength training sessions each month as well as another number of 15-minute meditation or otherwise "quiet" time. Those flew out the window in the abyss that was May. (I've actually started but not yet finished a post about that dark time.) I may also have quit my work position. I actually did send in my resignation, but the boss-lady persuaded me to call it a three-month sabbatical and give her a final answer at the end of August. I do hope to get back to the strength training and meditating, but at least the strength training has to wait until I've recovered from the pneumonia currently wreaking havoc on my body.

Fourth was to do things at a slower pace and not feel as if I needed to keep up with other people. This is a hard one to assess given the times in which I legitimately had no real time in which to make a decision or do something. I'll call this one a work-in-progress.

Next was to waste less time. I've struggled with this one in the last couple of months. Twice I've installed then removed a solitaire app from my phone. It was too easy to fill waiting time with the  mindless moving of cards. I then find myself spending too much time on Facebook or reading news sites, but I'm working on this one as well as the slowing-down one.

So the first resolution, and the biggie, was to get back into some reasonable shape without hurting myself. I was working hard at it until May happened followed by the pneumonia currently wrapping up (or so I hope) after a week on antibiotics. That has taken more out of me than I would have thought. I get out of breath reading something aloud or taking even a short walk. In other words, I'll be starting over yet again.

As for May, in the event I don't get back to finish the post I've started, I went through my mom's being hospitalized, having emergency surgery to remove a fungal mass from one of her sinuses, being admitted to hospice care with a total intestinal blockage, leaving hospice care when said blockage somehow disappeared, moving to a nursing home horribly depressed only to start to recover when she finally agreed to start physical and occupational therapy. Along the way, she has an offer on her condominium unit leaving me to clean and empty it. Things progressed, and by mid-June the husband and I were scouting assisted living options. I'd had a cold and cough for two weeks when the husband basically dragged me into Med Express where I was diagnosed with pneumonia and told to be glad I'd come in when I did, because of how bad it was. The antibiotics end tomorrow, though the cough remains, and I can feel that my lungs are still somewhat not all there. All that said, the next two months have to be better than the last two, eh?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Are We There Yet?

Below is what I wrote last Sunday night before getting interrupted. I thought I would finish it the next night, in our hotel in Bergen. The cancellation and rescheduling of one of our flights the next day meant getting up at 3:00 a.m. meaning that bed took precedence over blog. I had a tiny list of other things I had planned to include in this post. Even if I could find it now, they seem somewhat outdated. I will, however, share the photo I got from the Into the Ice excursion discussed in my previous post.

I am the third person from the left side; the husband is on my right. The lack of light makes detail hard to come by. But in terms of the lack of light, the walk on this excursion offered our only glimpse of the sun in our time in the polar night. We could see it on the horizon, bright orange against a royal blue sky. No more than a third of the sun's circle was visible, which is what makes it the polar night. I was afraid we would not get to see it and was glad we got that one chance.

The day we saw the sun led into the night we saw the aurora. It was the only night of the trip that could be called "clear." It was not the almost gaudy aurora that we saw in Iceland two years ago, but it was impressive nonetheless, visible on the horizon and curling around the nightscape. I did not take any photos, having done that on our first Iceland trip and feeling that all the technical aspects of aurora photography took away from my simple enjoyment. Our Australian friend did get some good shots with her point-and-shoot and has said she will email us copies. We had two desires in taking the trip, to experience the polar night (nice to visit, but I wouldn't want to live in it) and see the aurora. We scored on both.

The previous, unfinished post:
Tonight is our last aboard ship; the trip draws to its inevitable close. Did I get bored? Not at all. The sitting and reading or sitting and crosswording times, while not what one would call at all exciting, nourished my soul. It is good to do and good to be, and this trip offered both. We got to know some of the staff, even to the point of developing a few inside jokes. Two nights ago we saw the restaurant manager, Ole, come aboard with two pizzas. Besides the obvious threat to tell the chefs, we have repeatedly commented on the absence of pizza from the lunch buffet or dinner entrees. We got to know some other passengers. We met Oliver on New Year's Eve, watching the fireworks, and finally exchanged names after the Into the Ice excursion three days later. Kerrie, an Aussie, boarded at Kirkenes, the turn-around point, and fit right in for a table for four.

Waxing philosophically now, I noted, and the husband agreed, that at meals, our table for four features smiling and laughing, something sadly lacking at every other table. Most of the other passengers seem to be Norwegian or German; I can't accept that those are two so dour nationalities that they swore off humor. Besides, Oliver is German. Is it that people are not making connections with other passengers? Even the tables with obvious family units are quiet. I sometimes wonder if the laughter coming from our table is rude. The serving staff don't seem to think so, approaching with the pitchers of tea and coffee or picking up the used dishes with smiles on their faces.

Cell phones and laptops have airline mode, but so do Apple Watches and BAHA units. My replaced knee does not require airline mode, but then it does force the choice of the full-body scanner over the metal detector at TSA checkpoints. Technology eases some things while complicating others. Based on our experience on the trip here, facial recognition seems likely replace paper boarding passes or passes shown on smartphone screens.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Into the Ice? Into the Wind!

I took exactly zero photographs yesterday. I missed the window of enough light to make trying worthwhile. I am in a photograph someone else took yesterday, but have not yet managed to get a copy.

The husband and I signed up for just two of the ship's off-ship excursions. The first, a visit to a brewery was cancelled. The other was yesterday, and it was a doozy. Said excursion is described here, but I must caution you to disregard the headline photo. They offer this excursion from November 8 through March 22; the light in that photo would be from the very start or very end of that period. They also offer this excursion only if there is adequate snow and only if they have six to 20 people registered. We squeaked in with seven, one of whom was our new German friend Oliver (we finally shared names after we had finished the excursion).

I've always been a bit of a polar expedition junkie, particularly of the stories of the South Pole. Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott competing to see who could get there first. Ernest Shackleton's Endurance adventure and so on. This excursion seemed right up that alley, especially since the other "polar" excursion, a walk in Tromso, did not run on the day we were in Tromso, December 31.

We started the excursion a bit late since that was when we arrived in the port of Hammerfest. The guide was told that the ship would be in port 15 minutes longer than usual and please try to get these seven passengers back in time for that delayed departure. As a result, we missed the normal start of the excursion in the "large cosy tent with fireplace" and headed straight up the mountain. The mountain is not all that steep, but the ground cover varied considerably from knee-deep snow to dry rock to rock covered with ice. I did my best to adhere to my resolution to keep my own pace, but, yeah, I failed pretty badly. I slipped or fell several times; fortunately, the husband and/or Oliver were back there with me (did I mention that I was bringing up the end of the group?) to help me get up. One complicating factor was that I chose to put on one of the replica hats similar to those the original South Pole expedition might have worn, and the brim encouraged my glasses to fog up. Had I kept my own hat on, I would have had less of a problem.

The other complicating factor and not just for me was the wind. Even with the extra weight I've put on since the knee replacement, I could have been blown over quite easily. Early on the walk I asked the guide how fast the wind was blowing; his answer was 15 meters per second. It got stronger later on; the husband estimated it at some 60 miles per hour. I tried to keep my side to the wind to give it a smaller target, but that was not always possible. I don't know if we cut the climb short due to the time constraint, but heading down was even more treacherous than heading up had been. We stopped at one point, and gathered together so  that the guide could take a photo of us planting the Norwegian flag. That's the photo I haven't managed to get a copy of yet.

On the descent, we did stop at the "large cosy tent." The problem was that the zipper was either frozen shut or caught in the canvas. (The suggestion was made that the male expedition members could urinate on it to melt any ice; fortunately, we did not have to resort to that.) It took the guide some time to get us access to the inside, where a second guide was waiting with a hot beverage and some food similar to what might have been served on the South Pole expedition. We scarfed those down rather quickly and made for the bus. We made it back onto the ship only about five minutes late.

Especially with the wind, the excursion seemed a good, if obviously easier, demonstration of what foot travel (even with dog sleds) through a polar environment might be like. It was easy to see how vital proper equipment and experience would have been. Amundsen's time living with the Inuit gave him much better preparation than Scott had had. And there were rules to be played by; when Amundsen realized that he and his colleagues had celebrated arriving at a spot close to but not atop the magnetic south pole, they repeated their flag planting--and celebrating--at the proper location the next day.

The husband slept in this morning, meaning I breakfasted alone. I had a nice chat with one of the servers, though, a young woman probably in her 20s. From her, I learned that this ship, MS Lofoten, will be retired permanently in two years. At that point, she said, she would look for other employment; she did not want to work on one of the larger ships. I also learned that it is possible to overcome seasickness. She said that her first voyage was so calm; then she heard the captain say that it was the calmest voyage he'd ever had. The next voyage, she was very seasick. She now has no problem. I commented about the ability of the servers to carry dishes while the ship was rocking; she said that carrying was not the problem; walking without appearing drunk was. She still prefers serving thick soup to thin. Part of a server's training is to graduate from carrying two bowls of soup, one in each hand, to three, one in each hand and a third one up the arm from one of the other two. She described how, when first graduating to three bowls, she was so focused on putting the first bowl down carefully she did not notice that she was spilling some of the other two bowls. Finally, she worked over Christmas this  year, and then would not have to do so again next year. She said her family was leaving all their Christmas decor up until she got home so that she could still have a small Christmas celebration.

Here are two of the noon photos I took today. The blue light has been with us for all our time in the Polar Night; I'm not sure where the pink light came from.

I'd note that it is now dark, but then it's been pitch black for several hours. We have a two-hour stop coming up in Svolvaer. Oliver will be leaving on the horseback riding excursion and will dine early. We plan to dine a bit later with Cary, an Australian we met at lunch, and then look into a gallery of ice sculpture. Since that will not be an official ship excursion, we'll definitely watch the time and be back on board early enough to keep me calm.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year!

I would have a photograph of last night's fireworks except that my iPhone for some reason will connect to the ship's router but not go beyond that to the Interwebs. The photos I took with my camera pale in comparison to the one I took with my phone. You'll just have to take my word for it.

The ship did New Year's Eve up right in Tromso last night. Rather than two dinner seatings for four-course meals, they did one seating for a five-course one. The crew well, the ones not cooking or serving dinner, ate and mingled with the masses. The ship then stayed in port for several hours longer than usual so that we could see the fireworks which turned out to be pretty darn incredible. The husband and I pre-gamed it watching individual fireworks set off all around the city. At one point we were joined by a German who had the same somewhat warped sense of humor that the husband and I do. A good time was had by all,

The part of the city we could see sat at the bottom of a fairly steep mountain up which runs a cable car. We could see teeny lights which ended up being the flashlights of people setting up some sort of flames (super luminarias?) that when lit spelled out 2018. As midnight approached, there were more and more fireworks sent up from the town at the foot of the mountain. At midnight, the official fireworks started at the top of the mountain. The last fireworks we saw were in Hue, Vietnam, in 2012. I actually think these were better. It definitely helped that they appeared as the crown to all the fireworks being set off below. As the fireworks went off, the 2018 on the mountainside became 2019. Those who had not already finished their champagne did so, various hugs were exchanged, and we all, or at least the husband and I, stumbled off to our cabins.

One of the plusses of a small ship and a small number of passengers is that you get familiar with the crew. I never knew who the crew member in charge of the hotel aspect of the voyage was on the ship we took in 2015. I never recognized any of the serving staff, or even the activity director. We've chatted this time with quite a few crew members. Last night, I exchanged New Year's hugs with the bartender, who would not surprise me at all if he asked what was in my wallet. And on New Year's Eve Eve, because we were passing the Trollfjord, they served mulled berry juice with or without alcohol and fish soup out on the flag deck. Both juice and soup were excellent (yes, I got mine with alcohol), and it was fun to kid around with the hotel manager and the other crew member helping with serving.

I realized that I could set one of the options on my Apple Watch to be the sunrise-sunset times of wherever I might be. Right now, it reads as "SUN DOWN ALL DAY." In that vein, here is yesterday's shot under the noonday sun.

And here is today's.

Later today, we will get to what may be our farthest north, 71 degrees, 2.28 minutes North (27 degrees, 51.17 minutes East, if you're interested in the other dimension). While there was snow on the ground in Tromso, none fell while we were there. Further north, there is more snow, both on the ground and in the air. The snow in the air was falling sideways, but not fast enough to be a blizzard (that's using the western definition rather than the eastern one of "hell of a lot of snow" one). There was an excursion to a monument sitting at the northernmost point in mainland Europe. Some 40 passengers went. We had no interest in spending almost $200 to visit an outdoor monument in the night-time dark. We did take a short walk into the town center; only a grocery store was open given that New Year's holiday. The falling snow was very powdery. Returning to the ship, we each dropped for a snow angel.

A couple of hours have passed, and no evidence of those angels remains. Mother Nature wins again!

When we leave Honningsvag, where we are currently docked, we will be in open waters until early tomorrow morning. For our two bouts of weather, I have taken sea-sickness pills, eaten ginger candy or chewed ginger gum, and slept. I am not sure which helps the most, though the ginger candy or gum is what I think quiets my stomach enough that I can fall asleep. Blaine appears not to be bothered, though he has taken the pills when I have. Does this mean I would not sail on this ship again? Heck no! I'd much prefer this small ship to one of the big ones even with the no-stabilizer aspect.

Possibly because of the small number of passengers, the activities director announced yesterday morning that small groups of passengers would be permitted to visit the bridge, something that is usually a huge no-no. I immediately ran down to the reception area to sign up. The husband was just waking up then and somehow missed the announcement. As one might expect, the lack of stabilizers makes the ship harder to sail. The captain said that he could move onto one of the larger, stabilizer-equipped ships in the fleet with no problem, but a captain of one of those ships could not easily move to this smaller ship. There are segments of our course that have been sailed since the coastal ships started in 1893. There are other segments that have changed. They still have the capability to do a depth sounding from the bridge, but never need to given that the information is now readily available. The path to becoming a captain has changed over the years. The captain said that as he came up the ranks, he served in various able-bodied seamen positions before going to school for the technical training to captain a ship. Today, the classes come before the experience.

The husband and I recently learned that the U.S. Naval Academy for several years stopped teaching the students celestial navigation but had recently re-introduced it into the curriculum. I asked that captain whether he had been trained in celestial navigation. He said that while that was part of the training, using it was never needed due to today's GPS. Famous last words? I certainly hope not!