Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Here comes the sun.

If you have not been to Orkney, then you logically have not visited Maeshowe, and you may not know that this chambered cairn, built around 2700 B.C. is designed so that the last rays of the setting sun on winter solstice shine in through the entry way, and light up the interior of the cairn. (And you probably have not seen the cool runic graffiti, from the time of the Orkneyinga Saga, when some Vikings sought refuge in the tomb--writing things like "Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women" and "Thorni fucked; Helgi carved"--but that's another story.)

Solstice means "standing still sun." Here, today, we get about 10 hours of sunlight, from 7:35 a.m. to 5:25 p.m., which feels short enough. In Orkney at midwinter they get only six hours, and not the strongest sun either.

Many linguists believe that our word "Yule" comes from Scandinavian origins, referring to the festival around the winter solstice. I can well imagine that in northern climes the urge for the sun to get its ass back over here would be powerful. Traveling in Scotland (the same summer I went to Orkney), I stayed at a bed and breakfast on the Isle of Skye, and the owner was very clear that it is Prozac and Prozac alone that got him through the Scottish winters.

But even here it is good to remember that the light is coming back, even if we have to beat on drums (literal or figurative) to remind it we are here.

I learned recently of the Icelandic tradition of the Yule Cat (or Jólaköttur), who eats lazy people. Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote a poem about this cat, and here is a part of it:
He roamed at large, hungry and evil
In the freezing Yule snow.
In every home
People shuddered at his name.

If one heard a pitiful "meow"
Something evil would happen soon.
Everybody knew he hunted men
But didn't care for mice.

He picked on the very poor
That no new garments got
For Yule - who toiled
And lived in dire need.

From them he took in one fell swoop
Their whole Yule dinner
Always eating it himself
If he possibly could.

You can help the little poor children not get eaten by the Yule cat by giving them something new and warm to wear, so that the kitty won't assume they are lazy. Ultimately the Yule Cat is a lesson about working hard and also thinking about your community.

I'd like to think that Mina has just gone out to serve as the Yule Cat. She is a vicious beast, and I know she has always looked with disdain at lazy people (and especially at lazy cats), so it would not surprise me a bit.

In the meantime, Come on back, Sun! And happy solstice to all of you in Blogland.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Baby, please come home.

If you have seen a brownish tabby, fairly small but very fluffy, with a high-pitched meow and an occasionally friendly demeanor, please tell her that we miss her very much, that we promise to try to keep it warmer in the house, and there is plenty of canned food to be had at home. Oh yeah, and that we are really worried.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

All I want for Xmas.

First, let me thank all the powers that be for the restoration of my electricity. You should have seen the poor little feline ladies curled up into shivering little balls. The lowest the indoor temp reached was 47 F, and I did not lose anything from the freezer or fridge--thank goodness we bought a new fridge last summer. I feel very sorry, though, for folks around the Upstate who may not get their power until Monday or Tuesday or even later.

One of the real pleasures of the PP is his record-keeping ability. Before he embarked on Christmas shopping this year, he pulled my last year's list from his file, and asked me whether there were items I wanted to add or delete.

Given my birthday's relative proximity to Christmas, last year's had been an all-purpose list, and from the looks of it prepared in late October or early November. First on the list was "A new president." Well, we all know how well that worked out.

But you can't blame me for trying again this year. So for all of you who are looking for last minute gift ideas for me, here is this year's list.

1. Buried cables for the Upstate.

2. Indict Rove, indict Rove, indict Rove.

3. Some sense that although I oppose the war, my e-mails, phone calls, library list, and shopping tendencies might not be monitored by the National Security Agency.

4. For the people who fear Peak Oil to have a conversation with the folks turning the Upstate into a sprawl zone.

5. A media unafraid to publicize the likes of Harold Pinter's Nobel speech.

6. A new desk for my office at work--and preferably one in which all the drawers close and do not make screeching sounds in the process, and in which none of the drawers randomly lock themselves, although I do not nor have I ever had the key.

7. The ability to watch Law & Order at any hour of the day or night. (No wait, I got that one.)

8. For the new little strip mall in town to have more than sub shops and cash advance stores in it.

9. The flatter stomach I need and deserve.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Peaceful Solstice, and Happy New Year to all of you. May you have a day or two in there without the fury.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Jack Frost nipping at my nose.

Roy Orbison has a song that begins, "A candy-colored clown we call the Sandman / Tiptoes to my room most every night / Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper / Go to sleep. Everything is all right."

We joke sometimes about this candy-colored clown, because really, who needs a clown, candy-colored or otherwise, trolling your bedroom? And what exactly is it he's up to anyway?

Well, who knew that last night it would be Jack Frost masquerading as that aforementioned clown? I am fine with JF doing his nipping while I am walking in a winter wonderland, but I get more cranky when that wonderland has settled inside the house.

All of which to say: still no electricity. The indoor thermometer read 47F this morning, and all the cats were in little balls, each in her own blanket.

As for me, I relied on the kindness of friends, and found myself a cozy guest bed where I could evade that sneaky clown, if only for one night. I would have hated to become one of those people who show up in the local paper, found dead from exposure in their own house.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The weather outside is shiteful...

...but how delightful is it, really, to sit in a cold house with no lights and grade papers by headlamp while ice-covered branches pelt the house, such that things get spookier and spookier with each branch, since it still is not possible to see outside and the PP is out of town too? No, no, let me tell you: not that delightful.

And it was the classic scene: when the sun came up, I could see that there was not all that much ice out there--just enough to send some branch cratering onto the key powerline.

But here in the office there are lights! And an outlet where I could plug in my hairdryer! And most important of all, computer access!!!

I am not, however, complaining about the drive in. The roads were fine, and all the bamboo along my street bowed to me as I went by.

Meanwhile, I am reflecting on the solstice and the darkness. This is the time of year when we cherish the darkness, and remember that it must be here for the light to come. This morning for the first time in I don't know how long I got to be in the dark, without the glaring streetlights even, to be in my house and my skin without seeing. The part of me that doesn't get chuffed about schedules secretly hopes that the lights are still out tonight, so I can go back to that darkness and deal with what is there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Not the most wonderful time of the year.

I am confident that the world will be a happier place when I get through my seemingly endless to-do list, but I need to take a brief break to note that my least favorite part of being married is the Christmas-card assumption that I should be addressed as Mrs. Patient Partner. I suppose we should have sent out those wedding announcements that Martha Stewart recommends, letting people know how to address us. My current hero, though, is my Belgian aunt, who sent a card assuming that we had both taken MY last name. Granted, this may have been because she was not sure that Patient's last name is Partner, but it still warmed my heart.

Now let's go dig into some of those chestnuts.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Powered by Panjabi MC: Meet Report # Whatever

You know that feeling you get when you work your lungs so hard that if you try to breathe at anything more than a super-shallow level, your whole body goes into coughing convulsions? PP says, Oh right, like you get from running. Well, PP, I personally have never gotten this feeling running, which tells us all we need to know about my running. But I do get it from swimming, and I am still battling it this morning after 2 days at the Team Greenville Holiday invite.

Day One of the meet was a tough one. I kept trying to remember something I had learned from a book I got for my birthday: FAILURE IS FEEDBACK, AND FEEDBACK IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS. For me on Saturday, the failure came early, in the form of a 200 IM. Apparently I took the fly out too fast, and then my backstroke is really bad (no, I mean REALLY bad) and it demolished whatever rhythm I had going, so when I got to the breaststroke, I was done. You must understand that usually this is where I can turn it on, but there was nothing to turn on. It was all so bad that my breaststroke leg was actually slower than my backstroke leg, and that never happens for me (although my coach insists that for most swimmers, the backstroke leg should be faster). The one bright side of the event was that I swam the best 50 fly of my life: all the elements of the stroke seemed to come together with ease. (Of course, it is probably that feeling of ease that led me to take it out several seconds faster than I should have, thereby totalling the event.)

So in part, I suppose, it was just bad race strategy that did me in. But I also felt like I got slammed by a severe lack of energy--much more than I would have expected in the first event of the day, even of the meet. It took forever for my heartrate to come down, and after it did, I could not get warm, and I could barely stand up. So I suppose it was a combination of the poor swimming and perhaps the time of the semester or something.

I did manage to power through the 50 free. That is what I love about 50s: you hardly have to have anything to get through them.

I swam the 200 BR the best I could under the conditions. I tried to work on my turns, which are pretty slow and a place where I could really cut some time before Nationals in May.

But man oh man, was it nice to be done with that day, or what. The PP and I stayed in G-ville for the night, going out for quite a lovely and sinus-clearing Thai meal that couldn't be beat, then retired to our hotel for about 12 hours of sleep.

The next day I was a little worried when I felt exhausted after warm-ups again. But I really wanted to go after the 100 fly, especially after the way the fly had felt in the first 50 of the 200 IM. My coach said, "just swim the 100 the same as you swam that 50 yesterday--but don't stop after the 50."

The first 50 felt great, and I even felt OK through the 75, although I was starting to get a little tired and I had to concentrate more (on not drowning, for instance). The head official (who we sometimes swim with) said afterwards, "You would have dominated if it had been an 80 fly," and that about sums it up. With about 15 yards to go, I could hardly move my arms, and I was in serious oxygen debt. I finished by cutting 3 seconds off my seed time, and 2 seconds off my best.

In the open division of USA swimming, there are no 50s for any strokes except free, so in order to go for a masters' national cut in the 50 breast, I have to get creative. Yesterday I swam the 100 breaststroke, but announced that I was going for a split, which means that the time after the 50 would be official, as long as I finished the event legally.

Inspired by that 100 fly, I decided to go for the cut. I told the official and then worked to get psyched--stretching, focusing in, and most of all, listening to Panjabi MC. Do you know that cut that samples from the Magnum PI themesong? Well, what better motivation is there, really, than memories of Tom Selleck in Hawaii?

The national cut for my age group in the 50 BR is 37.28 and I managed to swim 37.15. Whew! And although I was wobbly on the blocks, and could have been called for a false start (although the PP who was timing for my lane thought I looked slow off the blocks), only 1 referree saw it. And as one of the team parents pointed out, Rowdy Gaines got a gold medal on a disputed false start. So there!

Made it through the 100 free with nothing to write home about, and then enjoyed the hell out of a tepid shower.

200 IM 2:53.88
50 FR :30.96
200 BR 2:55.47
100 FL 1:16.73
100 BR 1:23.32 [split: :37.15]
100 FR 1:07.80

Friday, December 02, 2005

Go ahead, treat yourself.

Had a long week? Sick of what the world has to offer? Looking for a last-minute birthday gift for that special someone? Ready to be taken away, but all out of Calgon?

Then look no further than Barney v. Tupac (via ropeadope). No really, go look at it now.