Month: December 2012

Little Things Gone Right

On the day after many things went wrong, it is nice to have a day when a dozen little things went right. The kids did not fight or cry about their game turns. I was able to clear enough space on my computer that I could print postage and keep an observational eye on how the hard drive space disappears. (Good news: Internet connectivity has no effect. If the computer is completely idle, no memory gets used up. Bad news: space is still disappearing. I’ll begin troubleshooting steps tomorrow.) The rain did not start falling until after the postman picked up my packages. Gleek came home from school and did her homework. Link was late coming home, which at first seemed like a bad thing, but it turned out to be because he went to talk to a couple of teachers. He’s turned in work and has a plan in place to bring up the remaining low grade. All of this he did on his own recognizance. I did not push, prod, remind, or prompt. During my packaging I kept having convenient coincidences: I’d pull out a stack of mailers and it would turn out to be exactly the right amount for the list I was working on.

By 3 pm today I’d completed all the packages I was able to do. The rest require sketches from Howard. By tomorrow morning more orders will come in, but that is fine. It finally feels like I’m on track with the shipping.

As for the rest of my evening, brownies are in the oven.

The Day My Computer Failed Me

I could make a long list of ways I could have prevented today from being what it was. There were things I could have done differently a month ago or even a week ago which would have made today a much more pleasant place to be. Such a list would only serve as a tool for self flagellation and would do nothing to make tomorrow better, so I will skip that list. In the large scheme, everything is fine. The house is fine. The kids are fine. Really what I have is a big pile of technical annoyance during my busiest shipping week of the holiday season. Sadly it is not a problem more hands can solve. Putting items in the packages is easy. The annoying part is having to set up Calcifer, who is supposed to be my writing machine, to instead print postage because my desktop machine is manifestly unfit for use until I can spend some hours troubleshooting. (The thought of actually shooting problems on a gun range to turn them into little fragments of former problems is highly appealing right now.) But at least I have Calcifer to use instead of being in a terrified panic about being able to get the shipping done.

The calendars arrived on Wednesday. This meant I could begin mailing the unsketched orders, and I did, focusing on the international orders first because they have the farthest to travel. The first batch went out on Friday just before my sister and her kids arrived. Visitors in the house meant no room for Howard to set up and sketch. I sorted invoices and did some preparatory work on Saturday, but wore out quickly. This means I hit Monday morning feeling behind with no sketches done. Then I discovered that international orders all needed to be in the mail by 5 pm for guaranteed delivery before Christmas. I hit high gear, Howard hit hight gear. He rocked through over one hundred sketches so they could go into packages. I was supposed to rock through the matching postage and pack the boxes, except kids needed things. I had an appointment at the school. There were phone calls. After each interruption I knew it would be okay. I would make up the time. I could still do it.

Then my postage printing provider had their own technical snafu. It took them 45 minutes to process my payment and refill my postage account. I had to do that multiple times, and my nerves frayed each time. I tried to fill the dead time with tasks which were useful, but useful is not the same as truly efficient. I was printing up list of postage when my desktop computer popped up a window claiming that it couldn’t print unless I freed up some space on the hard drive. I have a 900GB drive. I have about 250GB of files on it. Yet the drive had only 45MB left on it. Some invisible log file or auto save has been chewing through my hard drive space. Using it up. I identified this as a problem about a month ago. Unfortunately it is a familiar problem. This same issue is half of why I had to abandon my mini laptop and get Calcifer. (The other half being battery issues) I spent hours downloading hard drive analyzing tools, but made little sense of the results. I could not figure it out. None of my tech savvy friends could make sense of it either. I was so glad to leave the trouble behind, but here it was in front of me again. I knew I couldn’t afford to ignore it on my desktop machine. This is the machine I use for book design, accounting, and order processing. Yet I’d hoped I could make it through the holiday shipping first. I was wrong. Within an hour the drive went from 45MB free to 0.

By scrambling to do work from other machines, I was able to get most of the international packages into the mail. I know I’ll solve this issue even if I have to reformat the hard drive and start fresh. Unfortunately the common element between the two machines is me. I don’t know what I did to create the problem in the first place. I don’t know any way to find out. And I still have packages to mail tomorrow. So I despair while simultaneously feeling like everything is fine and will continue to be fine. I don’t want my computers to be fancy. I just want them to be workhorses who keep working without me having to do major overhauls. Is that too much to ask?

Rainy Weather

We were all in the kitchen when we heard the sound of rain pelting on the windows.
“Sounds like weather.” Howard said. I flipped on the porch light to show us the blowing rain.
“But our cat is out there!” Gleek said. She jumped out of her chair and called out the back door. Then she ran to the front door and called from there too.
“The cat is fine.” I assured Gleek. “She’s found a dry place to curl up and probably doesn’t want to come through the rain to the door. I reminded Gleek that our cat took care of herself just fine for several months while she was a stray. That’s how she became ours.

Bedtime continued, but I left the lights on so we could see the cat should she show up. She did only about ten minutes later. She was wet, but only a dash across the yard wet, not soaked by the rain wet. The cat did not much appreciate the quick toweling, but she purred for the petting. Gleek was quite relieved to know that the cat was indoors and safe.

This is far from the only instance when my kids have been worried for our cat. Sometimes she spends all night outdoors and the kids worry about her. But she always shows up, ready to purr and be in the house. In fact a major source of conflict in our house is differing opinions about how we should treat the cat.

So our wayward pet is indoors and I lock the deadbolts. No one else will be exiting before morning. I pause a moment to look out at the puddles out in the street. Raindrops scatter the reflected light from the street lamp. There is a flash of lightning and thunder rolls overhead. Thunder is not the usual music for December, but I feel happy hearing it this evening. I’m not really ready for the world to be snowy yet, but we can use the moisture. I like the sound of the rain. It feels cozy and Christmas-ish. My childhood Decembers in California never featured snow.

Earlier in the day I walked home during a light rain. It was more of a sprinkle, certainly nothing like the windy wetness outside. I like walking in the rain. It feels free. When I am in the rain, I know that I have not let the weather stop me from doing something I want to do. Sometimes a desire to not go in the rain traps me at home, which is why I feel strong and confident when I do venture forth. Out in the rain I’ve abandoned responsibility and opened up that part of myself which likes to splash in puddles and kick through piles of fallen leaves.

I was very responsible this weekend. I made sure that eight children and four adults had three meals a day for two days. I sorted invoices and attended meetings. I went to bed at night with a head so stuffed full of responsibility that it kept me awake. I wish there had been rain to listen to in those dark post-midnight hours instead of only my own breathing. I got up in the morning feeling barely rested and continued to be responsible until about the time the rain began. I don’t think it was the rain which caused me to curl up and watch TV. I was already headed there, the rain just made it feel more cozy.

The wind has calmed now, leaving the sound of raindrops falling to the ground instead of blowing against the house. My house has calmed too. Soon we will all be in bed, hopefully to sleep restfully. The weather report says the rain will be gone tomorrow.

Songs of Christmas

This morning I turned on “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” as background while I did the dishes. Except that song never stays as background. Within moments I was singing along. Howard wandered up the stairs and joined the chorus. Then he plugged in his iPad to play an alternate version. We sang to that one too. After the music stopped, Howard pointed out that it really is an odd addition to the canon of Christmas music. It is a song about a truly terrible person sung by a narrator who is trying really hard to be thoroughly insulting. Yet it is unequivocally Christmas music for me. This is because every time I hear the song, I remember the rest of the story. I remember that Christmas came without packages, boxes, or tags. I remember the whos hand in hand singing. Most of all I remember the Grinch’s heart, his triumphant return, and the carving of the roast beast. None of this is in the song, yet all of it is there. This is the power of story.

I started to think about it, and realized that this is true of many of my favorite Christmas songs, though for some it is not the story their writers may have intended. I remember the other times of singing a particular song. Memories return of singing when I was 10, 12, 15, 25, 38. Year after year the songs do not change, but they accumulate more meaning with every memory which is attached to them. Ten years from now this morning’s impromptu concert will be part of the grinch song. It reminds me of an essay I wrote long ago about composite memories. Love in the Cookie Dough.

Attending a Concert

It was an excuse to dress in fancy clothes, which concert we picked was an after thought to that original purpose. My friend and I both lamented that our lives did not have enough reasons to be pretty, so we created one. That decided, we selected a Utah Symphony concert. We left early so that we had plenty of time to travel and find parking. We talked of various things on the way there, but our discussion turned to umbrellas when the first fat drops of rain hit the windshield. Neither of us had one, but we agreed that a little rain would not hurt us. We parked the car and still had an hour until concert time, so we walked to Temple Square.

The Christmas lights on temple square are a popular destination in December. The rain had cleared out the crowds some, which meant that we were able to see the lights reflected on wet pavements as well as shining over our heads. We stepped inside the Tabernacle because I love historic buildings. A man was playing songs at the organ, but we did not stay long. Our evening would have music later. We wanted someone to take a picture of us together in our lovely clothes, so we walked over to the visitors center.

I heard the sounds rising from a floor below. It was obviously a choir, but there were multiple tempos and discordant notes involved. Some of the voices sang away making up words as they went. I cringed inside. Who on earth selected such a choir to sing on Temple Square during the holiday season? I stepped down the stairs, and breathed “Oh.” I never knew before how much a sight could change a sound so completely. The faces of the choir were beautiful, happy, Down’s Syndrome, differently abled, did I say beautiful? The music they made brought tears to my eyes because by seeing them I remembered to listen to the joy instead of the notes.

We arrived at the concert hall wet, and a little footsore. Abravanel Hall was designed as a concert space. The whole thing is built like the cone of a speaker and everywhere I looked there was wood. I loved the feel of it. Once I came home I learned trivia like the fact that cello and base players are encouraged to make holes in the stage so that their instruments will resonate through the wood of the stage.

I watched the conductor as he gestured with his entire body. I watched the musicians as they responded in unison. All of them joined together, so practiced that they become one until the music ends. The conductor was emphatic, gentle, vigorous, smooth, sharp, and soft. I watched his hands and back, realizing that every motion was speaking to the orchestra in a language I do not speak. Sometimes I could discern meanings, but mostly I could just tell that communication was taking place.

I know the terms fugue, cantata, symphony, chorale, I can even look up the definitions, but I have not studied the forms. I can not listen to the first few minutes of music and know which themes will come back. I felt the beauty of the music, but I missed so much nuance. Without advance preparation, I did not understand the stories of the pieces. All I was left with is knowing I’d been in the presence of something remarkable, but not being able to explain what or why. I know the violin soloist was virtuoso, particularly for one so young, but I did not have the appreciation of my friend who grew up with music and played the violin as a girl.

We talked about music on the way home. My friend feels music inside and doesn’t need it to have words. I appreciate music most when it exists in support of stories, whether those stories be in dance, song, or acting. I learned songs at an alarming rate during my growing years. I loved the blending of sound and story to create something lovely. Music without story is more difficult for me to comprehend and appreciate. This is not something I knew about myself until tonight.

All the kids were still awake when I arrived home, but they vanished into sleep soon after. I got to sit in the kitchen and tell my visiting sister about the fun time I had with my friend. The concert was scheduled long before I knew my sister would be in town this weekend. Also there were brownies. I always recommend coming home to a plate of brownies after a concert.

The dangerous thing about going to a concert is that now I want to go to many more of them. I want to see live performances, dance, plays. I shall have to pick and choose, the tickets are not cheap. I also want to make another trip to Temple Square. Gleek has been really wanting to see the Christmas lights. I should learn how to ride the Trax train and make a day of going to see Temple Square with her. She would love it. There is a special feel the moment I enter.

It is now long past late and headed toward early, but I did not want to let my concert thoughts escape me. I know they will synthesize and change during sleep. This is good, perhaps tomorrow I’ll have even more things to say about the lovely evening I just had.