Monday, December 31, 2007

Gone For Good: Music of 2007 in Review.

Just about everyone has his or her or its "Best of" list for music of 2007, and I cannot resist a bandwagon. But to put a personal twist on things, my list is not exclusively music released on 2007, but rather music I discovered in 2007. That means that there are some older things on there--many of which you probably already knew before this year. But so be it: sometimes I am behind the times.

ISIS'S'S'S TOP 12 NEW [to her] SONGS OF 2007
(listed in an order in which she could imagining listening to them)

1. David Byrne, "The Sound of Business," from Music for the Knee Plays (Nonesuch CD release, 2007).
Originally released in 1985, this stuff is finally on CD--and I did not have to resort to high-tech maneuvering to make it so! I remember a lot of the tracks from the cassette that I may still own but that probably no longer plays. The CD comes with a great insert explaining (for those of you who, like I, have long wondered) what a "knee play" is ("the 'joints' that hold together the larger scenes--even Shakespeare used them." Well, shame on my English-PhD ass) and giving schematics of the various acts. But with or without apparatus, "The Sound of Business" is a great track, in its mid-1980s minimalist horn-playing way.

They were driving south on the highway.
Their business was in another town,
Bigger than the town they were driving from.
Business took place during office hours in both towns.
This drive was considered business.
The feeling of passing other cars was also considered business:
The feeling of business being done.
The feeling of drifting slowly through a field of moving vehicles.
This was the real speed.
The speed of business, not the numbers on the spedometer.
I love it that his examples of oldies, "gone for good," includes one of his own songs.

2. Black Devil Disco Club, "The Devil in Us," from 28 After (Lo, 2006).
Your guess is as good as mine--and numerous other people's--as to whether this is the same band as Black Devil from 1978, whether these are new songs on this album, or whether they are some thirty-odd years old. The important thing is that there is something timelessly compelling about the beats, the synth, the groove.

3. LCD Soundsystem, "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House," from LCD Soundsystem (2005).
Who would not love the idea of your favorite band playing in your very own house? All the kids wanting to crowd in? Every kid for miles in your house? And the neighbors can't call the police?

4. The Dresden Dolls, "My Alcoholic Friends, from Yes, Virginia. . . (Roadrunner, 2006).
This album has made a significant contribution to getting me through the fear and anger of my Year of the Shoulder. Wow, I can almost remember back to a time when I thought there was no way I could possibly bear to have surgery. Ha! Two surgeries later, the saga continues. I'll be on my best behavior, taking shots for mother nature. . . .

5. Andrew Bird, "Imitosis," from Armchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum, 2007).
In some ways, this is yet another loneliness song, but what a cool twist--a reminder that a desire for closeness comes from nothing but micro-organisms. Add that to very layered music, featuring what seem to be strings, xylophone, and well, coolness: not too bad. How can gametes be so mean?

6. The Real Tuesday Weld, "The Day Before You Came," from Backspin: A Six Degrees 10 Year Anniversary Project (Six Degrees, 2007).
From a compilation where Six Degrees recording artists cover songs that influenced them, this is easily the most ass-kicking ABBA cover that you could ever imagine. Especially if your imagination leans towards songs of travellers and cabaret's darker underbelly.

7. Taraf de Haïdouks, "Asturias," from Maškaradă (Crammed, 2007).
What a cool concept for the latest album from the mack daddies of Romani gypsy music: performances of music written by such early twentieth-century composers as Béla Bartók, Aram Khachaturian, and Albert Ketèlbey--all of whom borrowed heavily from Roma music. Now the music is "re-gypsified" (isn't that a Police song, "Regypsify Yourself"?). My favorite track is "Asturias," written by Isaac Albéniz. Trust me: however much you liked this piece before (have you heard Christopher Parkening's recording of it?), it rocks so much harder now.

8. Mahala Raï Banda, "L'Homme Qui Boit (The Man Who Drinks)," from their self-titled album (Crammed, 2004).
It turns out that the reason I was rejected as artistic director for the Clemson U. marching band is that I wanted their entire half-time show to be built around the music of the horn section of this band: these guys are all army brass band veterans. Elsewhere on the CD you find some excellent Romanian violins and accordions, but this one is all about the brass. Huppah!

9. Luminescent Orchestrii, "Knockin'," from Too Hot To Sleep (2005).
Probably the most accessible track from this band, who can lay down hot folk fiddle and random electronic play equally comfortably. According to their intro when they performed here back in February, the song is about their neighborhood in Brooklyn: "I was watching your lips while we were walking, you were talking / I wasn't listening but watching your lips. / Down to the corner store and right back up the stairs."

10. Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, "The River In Reverse" from The River in Reverse (Verve, 2006).
By now I'm sure everyone knows about the collaboration between Elvis Costello and New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint. Many tracks from Toussaint's catalogue, but I think this one is written by EC. Wake me up with a slap or a kiss indeed.

11. Nick Lowe, "I Trained Her To Love Me," from At My Age (Yep Roc, 2007).
This is one of those strange pop songs, written by someone good at writing pop songs, that seems to take the pop genre apart at the same time it builds it up. It reminds me of Paul Simon's "You're the One" and and Billy Bragg's "Jane Allen," and Bob Dylan's "Summer Days": they are more about age than youth, and their look at love is a little more complicated that pop music usually allows. "Do you see the way she lights up when I walk in the room--that's good. / And a skip in her step when we're both out walking in the neighborhood. / This one's almost done, now to watch her fall apart. / I trained her to love me so I can go ahead and break her heart." Sure, revenge is not a particularly complicated notion, but I love the way the song starts out making you think it is sweet, and then it most certainly is not.

12. Tom Waits, "Young At Heart" from Orphans (Anti, 2006).
What could be better than a sleepy slide steel remake of this standard than a voice so distinctively not young at all? Nothing, that's what.

Because nothing says "Happy New Year" . . .

. . . like new panties!

(Go over to eternally cool if you want to know why.)

Meanwhile, though I wish I were in Rome, I'm not, so from here in the Upstate (where I have some gnocchi alla romana to make for tonight's dinner) I am wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2008.

Me? I'm hoping for a year of healing and getting stronger.

See y'all on the other side!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Family Recipes

On the day that my parents left here to return home, we found a few recipes in the kitchen, forgotten by my mother. I set them aside on my desk, planning to mail them to her once I finished The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, which I had already promised her, having sent her home with The Golden Compass.

When my parents got home (after 8 hours of driving), I received their usual phone call, letting us know they had gotten home safely. But my mother also said, "You have the only copy of the Almond Butter Sticks recipe."

This filled me with fear for two reasons.

First, these are my favorite Christmas cookies.

Second, the recipe looks like this:

The textual scholar in me immediately recognized what a tremendous responsibility I now had, with both a unique manuscript containing the only existing remnant of occult knowledge AND an item that was fading fast!

So, for the sake of posterity, because I believe in free access to knowledge, and for all of you out in TV land who may not have had these amazing treats before, here is a fair transcription:

1 c. butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 1/4 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/8 t. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 1/2 t. almond extract

In large mixing bowl combine all ingredients except sugar & almond extract. Blend with mixer until dough forms. Knead on floured surface until smooth.

ADDENDUM: The dough should be refrigerated for 45 minutes at least, before attempting the rolling process.

Roll out dough, half at a time, to 14x8 rectangle. Combine sugar & extract. Sprinkle each rectangle with 3-4 T. of sugar mixture.

For each rectangle fold one end of dough over center. Fold other end over to make 3 layers. Turning dough 1/4 of way around, repeat rolling & folding 2 more times, sprinkling with sugar each time. Roll out again to 14x8. Cut into 3 x 1 1/2" strips. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 mins. Remove from cookie sheet immediately. Cool.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007 Knitting Round-Up.

Given that I did not start knitting until mid-February of this year, I have accomplished quite a bit.

I have learned the basic stitches, increasing and decreasing, how to knit simple lace, how to use circular needles and dpns, how to finish sweaters.

I have made:

15 scarves

9 hats

4 sweaters

2 baby afghans

2 pairs of mittens

1 shawl

In case you were wondering, that took a shitload of yarn. That means I have also purchased a lot of yarn (and um, also some yarn for future projects).

In progress, I have another shawl, a baby hat, a to-be-felted bowl, a sweater that is having gauge issues, and my very first ever sock!

Physical Therapy Update.

I have entered a new--active!--phase of physical therapy: strength training.

To warm up at home I still do pendulums, but at my PT's office I use the shoulder bike--a crazy-looking mechanism if ever I saw one, where you pedal with your arms. Most of my effort comes from my right arm. As my PT says, the left arm is "along for the ride."

Do not be fooled: I am still working on regaining mobility. I had quickly regained the first phase of my mobility (0 degrees for external rotation and 90 degrees for forward elevation). Now I am moving past those ranges, and adding other angles as well, to try to bring the joint gradually back to normal. What is even more exciting, I am starting to do these exercises actively. In other words, I use the muscles of my left arm and shoulder to do them, rather than using my right arm to guide, or being guided by my therapist.

But I have also added small stregth-building exercises. For instance, isometric exercises, done against a doorjamb, that will progress towards the regular range of rotator-cuff exercises (external rotation, internal rotation, elbow back, and arm straight out to the side). Also, I am starting to return to cable exercises--again, isometrically, which are performed by holding the arm and shoulder still and inducing stress by stepping with the body.

This all feels like progress.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

An open letter to new Isis-ball owners!

Dear people in Internets Land who have questions about your new Isis ball puzzle:

Merry Christmas.

If you want:

(1) solution tips,
(2) step-by-step instructions,
(3) to know how it works,
(4) an x-ray image of the darned thing,
(5) to know whether it has to face magnetic north,
(6) a list of people who solved it, or
(7) an isis ball that does not hate freedom,

then I am terribly sorry, but you have come to the wrong place.

Keep puzzling away!


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas.

Christmas, I suppose, is always a blend of sameness and difference. Just when you think something will always be the same, it changes, and the samenesses sneak up on you until you take them for granted.

It is also a time we feel losses differently than we do on other days, perhaps because of their interruptions of sameness. It is a time that lets us mark growths, compare past with present, remember things calendrically.

My mother went outside in her new shawl and could swear she felt, saw, and heard sleet today, even though temps were in the mid-50s and no one believed her. Jacques Monod had a romp through piles of wrapping paper, viciously maiming anyone who came close. We have made the obligatory phone calls, passing along greetings, finding out about gifts, giving thanks. I have a brand new bottle of Talisker. The PP will not take off his knitted cap, even though temps are in the mid-50s and he is sweating and red in the face. My father is just back from his daily constitutional, having taken a brief break from his new sweater. We have around us tins and tins of big chocolates, almond buttersticks, pecan fingers, peppermint rounds, spice cookies, jam thumbprints, and assortments from the neighbors, too. When I block the PP's sweater, it will be long enough (meanwhile we keep tugging on it...). My family is wrapped in knitted things, save for the cats, who are not as patient as turtlegirl's.

And as for me, I put a sweater on over my head--the first time that has happened since November 20.

Now the sun, if we could see it, is making its way toward and over the yardarm, and soon we will be getting out little plates for cheese and olives and bresaola, and then heading on towards dinner of roast and mashed potatoes and Brunello and maybe some Ridge wine. Life is good.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Indulgling the google search.

You might be interested to know that this blog is presently the #1 hit on google for "how to get low maintenance girls."

I now feel mildly obligated to offer some advice on that topic, but emphasis on "mildly."


I am here to pat myself on the back and proclaim that my Christmas knitting is FINISHED. (With two days to spare--not bad considering I started in July.)

That's four scarves, three hats, two sweaters, one hair wrap, and one shawl.

(And a partridge in a pear tree.)

Pictures will follow after The Big Day, but for now know that I am toasting myself with a glass of Chimay.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Long, long night.

It's the longest night of the year tonight, and here it will feel even longer because of the dreary weather. (But this means we have been getting some rain--a very needed thing.)

Several years ago I went to a soltice celebration where we went round and round a fire carrying pinecones, which we through in the fire to make it even brighter--little evergreen grenades.

Tonight my parents arrive from parts somewhat north and quite a bit east.

Tonight we light every nice little candle and treelight and porchlight and penguin string lights and little sconce lights around the table in hopes of luring the sun back and fending off the darkness without with lightness within.

So for today, instead of a Friday Random 10, A Distinctly Unrandom Solstice Ten:

1. "Bring on the Night," The Police, Regatta de Blanc
2. "Dark Was the Night," Ry Cooder, Paris, Texas
3. "Light Bath," David Byrne, The Catherine Wheel
4. "The Winter Solstice," Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas, Vol. 5
5. Nørgård: "Winter Hymn," Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, dir. Paul Hillier, Baltic Voices 2
6. "Winter Wind," Patty Larkin, Angels Running
7. "Barefoot," k. d. lang, Unplugged Collection
8. "Put Your Lights On," Santana f. Everlast, Supernatural
9. "(Ultraviolet) Light My Way," U2, Achtung Baby
10. "Here Comes the Sun," The Beatles, Abbey Road

So here's wishing you and yours a bright Winter Solstice.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thirteen Things I Could Do Without, Thanks.

Forgive me if I have become rather taken of late with the Thursday Thirteen notion. Hey, if I did a WiP Wednesday, Thirteen Thursday, and then Friday Random Ten, my blog could sustain itself!

But seriously:

Thirteen Things That Make Me Count Down to January 9:
1. Can hardly fasten own pants in public restroom.
2. Hooking and unhooking bra a bigger deal than it was in high school.
3. Almost impossible to fix own hair in a manner that would not embarrass own mother.
4. Cannot carry a pot of water from sink to stove.
5. Cannot wrap own Christmas presents.
6. NO SWIMMING (but this doesn't change until April, sigh).
7. Also no running or cycling or dryland. Walk. Walk. Walk.
8. Cannot change sheets on own bed.
9. Driving is a bitch (and possibly illegal).
10. Sleeping on back got old a long time ago.
11. Cannot open fridge and remove milk all in one shot.
12. Having only four wearable shirts (because they button up the front).
13. Wearing watch on dominant hand is awkward.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ocular proof.

In an earlier post, I mentioned a couple of old family heirloom ornaments, made by my parents "back in the day." (M. or Mateen, can you confirm an actual date?)

And here, my patient friends, and courtesy of my father, is shot of them both!

Mighty fine, eh?

I love my job.

Here is a slightly expurgated, but not otherwise manipulated, e-mail alert that I just received from campus news services:

ALERT: [University where I teach] Police receive another report of panther on campus

[University where I teach] police received another report of a panther on campus today (Dec. 16).

Campus police responded to a call from an employee who reported seeing what was believed to be a panther between [the building where my classes are] and [the building where my office is]. Officers searched the area but were unable to find evidence of a large cat.

An earlier sighting on Nov. 23, during [my University's] Thanksgiving break, was reported by a contract security officer who spotted what he thought looked like a panther near the [historic landmark on campus] . Police officers later spotted the animal near [two other buildings on campus].

Police Chief [Name] urged students, faculty and staff to avoid contact with wild animals that may have wandered onto campus.

"For your own safety it's best to stay away from any wild animal that could have rabies or some other disease," [Name] said.

Call police at [phone number] if you spot an unusual animal on campus or one that's not acting normally."

Did you catch that? This is the second reported sighting.

I should note, however, this passage from the original Thanksgiving alert:

Police Chief [Name] said the department contacted a wildlife expert who said it's unlikely the animal is a panther, but that it could be a cougar, a dog or some other animal.

Yes, "a dog." That kind of reminded me of the time my graduate school roommate claimed to have seen a wolverine in the parking lot for our apartment. Turns out it was a woodchuck. And no actual wolverines live in greater metropolitan Ann Arbor.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not all about shoulders.

"M" (presumably not for "murder") asked, "How many days left for the sling?"

The best case scenario is 26.

Yes, Twenty. Six.

That is because I am supposed to wear it until I see my surgeon again, which happens 4-6 weeks after the post-operative appointment. And because in my carefuly planning around the academic calendar I forgot about the Christian and federal holiday calendars, four weeks would be Christmas, five weeks would be New Year's, and so it is January 9 that I see him.


But that's not what I came to tell you about.

I came to talk about decorating Christmas trees. (Though I will take this moment to note that you would be surprised to what extent you use two hands hanging Christmas ornaments....)

I am not sure how you store your ornaments, if you store ornaments, but last year anyway, we seemed to organize ours by material. In one box are all the really fragile ornaments, made of glass or porcelain or stonewear, and most of them have their own little boxes and stashes of tissue paper or bubble wrap, or else they are wrapped in disintegrating Kleenex and stored in a plastic baggy. Then there are all the little crocheted ornaments, mostly made for me by the mother of some childhood friends, and along with those are a few cotton-stuffed felt ornaments with zigzagging and sequins and cotton balls affixed to represent ornamentation or lights or Santa's beard. The wooden ones are all in their little group, though I wonder sometimes whethere there is a yearlong feud between the flat ones and the ones with little moving arms and legs (I bet on the latter every time). Also, we have a sizable stash of homemade ornaments that are covered with gemlike beads: these all have their own box.

Ricketiest of all are the baked cookie-like ornaments that we made back in the mid-1970s. I only have a few of those, since most of them live with my parents, but the ones I have are mostly the same: a cut-out shape decorated with special magic markers, then with a paperclip glued to the back as the hanging apparatus. In most cases, the glue or the dough has caused the paperclips to rust, sometimes to the point they have broken apart. The ones my mother decorated still look really nice. The ones I decorated have a sort of abstract expressionist quality, but cut me some slack--I was four or five at the time! And one lesson we cannot seem to get through our heads: do not wrap these ornaments in Kleenex if you do not want Kleenex-adorned ornaments on your tree.

Somewhere, apparently with my parents' stash, is a black Christmas tree, that my father "decorated" during the Vietnam War. And similarly, there is a round one decorated with a peace symbol.

Our more recent acquisitions tend to gesture to people's hobbies and recent experiences. We have several rock-climbing Santas and a climbing shoe, as well as a little skier with the PP's name on it. There is a pair of cats wearing snorkels and diving masks and seeming to be chasing fish, as well as a female swimmer on a diving block. There is a trout commemorating some beautiful meals my Mother made us in France. And yes, there is a Santa decked out all in Spartan green. Thanks, Dad.

Lowest on our tree go the unfragile ornaments. (Have I mentioned that we have two cats?) These were mostly made by me, in school. There is one made of red burlap with a Christmas-card picture of Santa on it, adorned in some glitter. There is a big ball made from circles cut from Christmas cards (can you sense a theme?). There is a wooden snowman.

Because we have had accidents. For instance, about 4 years ago, some cat or another brought the thing down (or could you have sworn that it might have been both?). I do not know if anyone heard it happen, but when people emerged from sleeping, there was the tree, lying diagonally across the living room floor, with numerous glass and pottery shards around it.

Now we wire it to a window frame and a doorjam.

That mostly protects things, though it did nothing for the wooden penguin that took a foot-severing dive early this morning, bringing a felted Santa with it.

Truth be told, that was only one of many penguins. Too many to count, really. This all started some years back, after people came to learn about my fascination with things polar. (Especially narratives about polar exploration and dogsledding!) Then the penguins started appearing. First it was an ornament or two, then a few plush toys, or a book, or even a large light-up porch ornament, or a DVD of March of the Penguins, and then an entire string of lights adorned with penguins! Those were supposed to be Christmas decorations, but we decided to keep them up all year, and here is why:

Some years back I was at the meat market of my profession and I was walking into a hotel with an admittedly surly colleague. If you have spent time in big hotels during the holidays, then you know that they typically have big Christmas-oriented displays in their lobbies. In this particular hotel was a North Pole scene, complete with Santa, elves, polar bears, and penguins. Being the polar expert that I fancied myself to be, I said to my colleague, "Hey! Penguins don't live at the North Pole!" He sort of snorted back at me and said, "Neither does fucking Santa."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thirteen Pet Peeves.

Magpie inspired me to get a few things off my chest. Please congratulate me, because it has taken tremendous restraint to think globally and so not list "My sling" as Number One.

1. People who drive slow in the left lane.
2. People who tailgate in the right lane.
3. People who do not signal when they plan to turn.
4. People who signal even though they do not plan to turn.
5. Late papers.
6. My sling. (OK, sorry: I could not resist. You may rescind your congrats.)
7. People who reply to all when they really have something to say only to the person who sent the e-mail.
8. Ubiquitous Christmas music.
9. People who when walking have no sense of there being other people in the world, let alone in their quadrant of the sidewalk.
10. "Special" displays that clog up the middle of crowded grocery store aisles.
11. Advertisements that use "quotation marks" for "emphasis."
12. Misuse of the word "comprise."
13. Most of the arguments made by letters to the editor in our local paper.

There. I feel better now. I feel better than James Brown. How do you feel?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Because it is Monday,

and because we all love charts and graphs,

and also rap music, go here. (via)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Meanwhile, have a ball.

A word on the Politicians: my poetry is angelic ravings, and has nothing to do with dull materialistic vagaries about who should shoot who. The secrets of individual imagination—which are transconceptual and non-verbal—I mean unconditioned spirit—are not for sale to this consciousness, the music of the spheres. Who denies the music of the spheres denies poetry, denies man, and spits on Blake, Shelley, Christ, and Buddha. Meanwhile, have a ball. The universe is a new flower. America will be discovered. Who wants a war against roses will have it. Fate tells big lies, and the gay creator dances on his own body in eternity.

--Allen Ginsberg, "Notes Written on Finally Recording Howl," 1959

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Now, with pictures!

WARNING: If you are squeamish about photographs of the insides of bodies, if you get grossed out by those scenes on CSI where they show bullets penetrating people's organs, or you are my mother, you may want to skip this post, as it contains arthroscopic photographs from my surgery.

I believe that in an earlier post, I told you that I had a SLAP lesion of the second type, which means that there was a distinct tear in the tissue that is supposed to connect the labrum to the glenoid bone. Sounds clear enough, but here is what it looks like:

(That is my doctor's handwriting on there, from when he was explaining the surgery to the PP immediately after it was finished, before I had returned to the land of the unanesthetized. The blue-gray thing in the upper right is probably a tube for drainage and suction during the surgery--yummy.)

My doctor was also able to see some effects of the infection from last spring. In this photo, the top white area shows how the tissue in question should look, but notice that the tissue in the bottom half looks kind of frayed. Thank you, infection:

The doctor did two things during the surgery. First, he used a couple of anchors (yargh!) to reattach the labrum to the glenoid. The anchors are the sort of sparkly blue things in the upper right:

(Again, that black line is my doctor's writing, showing the contour of the glenoid bone, in order to make clear that there is no longer a tear. Thanks to the anchors (avast!), the tissue can grow back there, making the connection secure.)

Then he shaved down a bone spur, to give my shoulder joint more room to operate and prevent further impingement:

(That one is kind of weird, I think, since it so clear where the bone was filed.)

All in all, it should take care of the problems. Meanwhile, I am gradually weaning myself off the oxycodone (after ill effects from trying to quit cold turkey. . .). And I am already tired of my sling.