Tuesday, October 24, 2006
If you would like to buy a gorgeous Northshield mug, hand-made and hand-glazed, go here before Oct. 31 (postmark date), or forever hold your peace (and a succession of ugly styrofoam coffee cups).

I feel tired and lightly achy; I wonder if now is the time for a cold? Now would actually be good. There's nothing I'm committed to be at until...well, sometime next week. There are fresh linens on my bed and the laundry/dishes are caught up. And I have a ton of books to read and a ton of knitting set up (including a lace scarf that is just starting to look like something). We'll see, I suppose.

Yesterday morning and this morning, I went to Temple to help give tours to high school groups. We call them tours, but they're really more lectures; the temple as a building is not that interesting to those looking to learn about Judaism, though Linda (the woman who schedules the presentations, and performs most of them) does incorporate the sanctuary into her talks. I mean, I like the building because it holds a lot of memories and feels homey. But some kid from Lodi probably just thinks it looks kinda like her church, except without the crosses on the wall.

After the tour today, my mom was at Temple covering the office while the staff went out for a "congratulations on handling a busy High Holyday season" lunch, so I got her some lunch and joined her. She was surprised when I said I am very ambivalent about these tours. I don't hate them, but I don't really enjoy them. I'm helping out now because I have the time, and am not helping out in any other way at Temple.

It surprises me, actually, that I don't like them. I like teaching beginners/newbies: I was a Freshman Studies writing lab tutor in college, I taught people how to access and use the Internet at my NAHEC job, and I'm a former group chatelaine and current Kingdom chatelaine in the SCA, giving prospective new members information and a welcome.

I think the difference is that for these tours, which are scheduled by church education staff or high school comparative religions teachers, are not attended by people looking to learn more and get involved; we aren't recruiting here! These are educational sessions for middle- and high-school-age kids. The purpose is to give kids some basic information about Judaism and a flavor of some of the traditions of the religion.

Most of the kids would rather be anywhere but at Temple, though there are always a few who are genuinely interested in what they're learning, and ask good questions. Those few are more than negated by the ones who fall asleep, the ones who ask snarky questions to crack the other kids up, and the ones who ask stupid questions because it's not cool to be smart. Linda is great about turning any wisecrackers into her own joke, by pointing them out for what they are, smile on her face the whole time. She works with high schoolers on a daily basis. The full extent of my experience with high schoolers fell between 1984-1989, when I was one. And I wasn't cool then either! When I'm doing part of the presentation, I get distracted by the smallest thing, my jokes fall flat, I use enough "uh...um..."s that I'm inducing yawns, and I feel like I'm in high school again.

Linda, however, besides being a genuinely nice person who's known my family for years, knows from experience that it isn't easy to get people to come at odd hours/days to help out with these talks, so she is inordinately grateful to me for every time I come to help. After a dozen or so of these tours, she's probably kissed me on the cheek more than my mom has in my entire life! And she praises me to the skies to my family and other Temple members. Granted, I am able to add bits and pieces of information that she might not have, I move props about like a pro, and having an extra person around allows her to split up a large group (this week's groups were 45 kids!) by sending me out to the hallway with the small Torah and half the kids. And this week, I decided that if we were going to feed the kids Halloween cookies and bits of challah, I should at least sing the hamotzi (the prayer over bread) before they ate. Since I can sing, and all, and since I went to camp for seven years and sang it before each meal.

So, I agree with Linda when she says I have something to add, and that soon I'll be perfectly capable of doing these alone. Am I looking forward to it? As though it were surgery. Or a tax audit. Or a case of the shingles.

Sigh. I just keep saying to myself, "It's a mitzvah." As Linda says in her presentations, we are all here to make the world a better place. I agree with that wholeheartedly; I just wish I could make the world a better place in a different way.

But like I said: I have time for it now, so I'm doing it now.

Last Saturday I went up to the Bardic Madness 17 site, for what a few people from Caer Anterth were calling an "unofficial retreat". Basically: some folks brought cooking and camping gear and went up there for the weekend for some outdoor relaxation. They slept in little unheated cabins; I day-tripped. I'm pretty sure it never got above about 47 the whole time I was there, and it rained consistently. We had a lovely wooden shelter with a fireplace; that and the two propane outdoor heaters kept us from hypothermia, but just barely. I guess I wouldn't call it relaxing, but hey...I have a low tolerance for temperature extremes.

Mysie, Adelicia, Rose Marian, Gwynedd, and a new transplant from Meridies named Kaitlin (who was there with her husband and their extremely cute, precocious three-year-old named Steele) spent much of the afternoon cooking. Gwynedd and one of the camp board members also gave us all tours of the camp. In the evening we had a delightful spread of food, including cornbread and white bread rolls baked over the fire, two kinds of stew, sauteed root vegetables, and cheeses. As it was getting dark everyone slowly came to the conclusion that they really, really didn't want to sleep out there tonight. So, no lovely sitting around the fireplace singing...not in that cold.

The site will be really nice for Bardic Madness. We made a lot of plans (and hashed out enough information for an event flyer, so look for one at An Event Near You (tm) ), most of which will become apparent when you arrive on site. The main challenge space, which was my biggest concern, is going to be cozy but not squashed, and is just lovely, with a broad peaked wooden ceiling that is going to be acoustically gorgeous. So, put it on your calendar: March 23-25, the first official 48-hour Bardic Madness in Northshield history!

In other news, a nice man from Iowa has contacted me via Yahoo Personals. He is looking for Jewish women. I'm not yet sure how I feel about that. I would rather be valued for myself. However, he sounds interesting and down-to-earth (he does this for a living, which is rare enough that he wrote the Wikipedia article), and there's something about a guy who moves million-pound items that vaguely, uh, turns me on. Sorta. I dunno. (imagine sheepish look on my face here)

Two weekends ago was Crown Tourney, held in Ironwood, Michigan. This turned out to be the town on the other side of the WI/MI border from Hurley, WI, where I went to give a presentation at the Iron County Public Health office towards the end of my NAHEC job in 1999 or so. I remember being there in the winter; across the street from where I parked there was a large corrugated metal building with a slanted roof. The building had a large sign on it that read: "Welcome to Hurley. Watch for falling snow." I thought this was an odd motto, until I realized that the corrugations on the roof were vertical--therefore, someone standing near the sign is actually vulnerable to sheets of snow falling off of the roof during a (relatively) warm winter day!

The sign is gone, but the coffee place that had just opened when I was last there, is still there. It is always heartening to see small rural businesses survive.

I had had some bad depression days right before the tourney, and couldn't get anyone to ride with me and bump my spirits up, so I was worried I'd be just plain out-of-it the day of the event. Turned out I enjoyed the day. The tourney was well-fought (well, people around me, including a bunch of knights who were sitting on the bleachers behind me, kept commenting about how well-fought it was), and a good couple won: Viscount Hrodir and Viscountess Giulia, the last Prince and Princess of the Principality. I like them both as people and as sovereigns, both for their decisions and for their regal bearing (Giulia looked amazing in her new high-necked Elizabethan gown). The reign will be nice. I hope Giulia will let me help out with something. I was going to knit a whole bunch of of socks for royalty gifts, but Giulia knits better than I do, and is more of a perfectionist, so maybe not so much with the knitting-for-Northshield this time around. Maybe she or her chamberlain can think of something else I can do. I will commence to pestering.

Bardic that night was a little bizarre: no one else volunteered to host it, so I hosted it in my hotel room. One person attended early on that I did not want to be there, but I didn't see a way to get rid of her, nor did I really have the energy at that point, so on went bardic (interspersed with people bouncing on beds and cat impersonations, don't get me started) until she got up and left of her own accord. There was more kibitzing than singing for at least part of the evening, but there were a bunch of fun people there, many of whom were just being exposed to bardic for the first time, and I handed out songsheets, and Valencia played/sang a gorgeous new song, and overall it was unusual but fun. I'm glad I hosted it. I could, however, wish that sometimes there were others willing to do so...!

A Trader Joe's has opened in Madison, on Monroe St. across from a bunch of boutique stores. It's in a new condo building, on a site that used to be occupied by a neighborhood grocery store that closed in 2001. I first visited Trader Joe's in Scottsdale, Arizona, when we stayed at a hotel next door to the local TJ's while visiting my grandfather. But I'd heard of it when Trivia team members from the Chicago area started bringing interesting food items, unde the Trader Joe's brand name, to Trivia to share.

I was wary because: a) we have a Whole Foods not too far away, planning to move/expand soon, and do the local stores really need the competition? b) I'd heard TJ's never carried fresh produce, and c) if you think about it, it's really Wal-Mart with food: they have a huge network of producers making products just for them, under their name, probably with contracts that they can't sell to anyone else, and they undersell brand-name products (many from small, local producers) in their own niches.

After a visit, I'm still wary about all but b; they do have enough fresh produce to qualify as a grocery store rather than just a specialty gourmet store, and a grocery store is really what that neighborhood needs. But I have to say I enjoyed my visit. I bought 9 items and spent about $17; similar items at Whole Foods would probably have run me at least $25. The whole store seems dedicated to one of my own cherished philosophies: food should be endlessly inventive, high quality, fun, and interesting.

One thing I didn't expect is that they seem not just ignorant about using local products, but actively averse to doing so. Pretty much everything they carry is from elsewhere, often from elsewhere on the planet, which can be fun but is also contrary to the popular sentiment in Madison that eating locally is responsible, good for the earth, good for the economy, and delicious. For example, I didn't know how to react when confronted with a large dairy case full of milk, yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, etc., not one molecule of which had been produced in Wisconsin. That's certainly a first around here. (I noticed that the dairy case is either exceedingly well-restocked, or nobody was buying any. I hope the latter--it would send an important message to their management!)

Overall I enjoyed the visit, and would go back, but probably not with a whole grocery list--more for the browsing and novelty value.

Hmmm...I appear to have whiled away an entire evening with my diarrhea-of-the-keyboard. I'm off to order my Northshield mug.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006
I didn't get the job at the Historical Society, and it took a month for them to write me a (very polite, it must be acknowledged) rejection letter. I'm sure someone was on vacation or something, but waiting a month to hear made me a little nuts. I wish human resources policies would take into account job applicants' mental health...!

'Nuff of that. I applied for a job at this hospital, an idea which gives my mom the willies, but it would at least be in my field (medical/consumer health librarianship) and the pay/benefits would be wonderful. Review of applications started yesterday, so I don't expect to hear anything anytime soon. But it's good to have another possibility "in the hopper", so to speak.

Other than that, I am on vacation. All the time. It's a little strange, but it seems to work. My laundry is more caught-up than it's been in a matter of years (and I have gone through some boxes of clothes that really needed keep/toss/donate decisions made for them), my knitting is coming along beautifully, and I am finding that staying at home means I eat at home, leading to a lot more dishes. Thank goodness I opted for the apartment with the dishwasher!

I've been going on walks a few times a week, which is nice when it's sunny, but it's hard to get myself out the door when it's cold. North of the church that is kitty-corner from my apartment, there's a bike path that turns out to lead to a peaceful neighborhood, similar to the one I grew up in, with wide curving roads and spacious but not extravagant homes. So I've been walking there a bit.

Recent events: Siege the Day, where I ran bardic (fun--it was a more active role than usual, since these are folks that don't usually do bardic circles, so they did a lot of waiting for me to lead them). And Known World Bards and Cooks, which was wonderful, but which felt all-too-brief for the hard work we put into traveling there.

It started Thursday night: Sarra had to work until 9:45 pm, so we got to Rose Marian's around 11:30. Taking a look at our airline itineraries, we were literally going to have to be up at 4am to get through security, etc., so Sarra and I went right to sleep, while Rose Marian stayed up and packed, worked on her class handout, etc.

4:00 rolls around and Rose Marian pokes her head in to wake us up before she goes off to the all-night Kinko's to copy her handout. She has not yet been to sleep. A brave woman, that, but I couldn't help but think: and this is the person who is going to be my navigator in Toronto, easily the biggest city I've ever driven in?

Some...slowness on various people's parts led to our nearly being late for the flight, but the long lines at the check-in and at security turned out to move quicker than we thought they would. We all slept on the short flight. Getting the rental car proved to be no problem, getting lunch just as easy, and then we drove into town to get to the Royal Ontario Museum, which is a lovely place, but unfortunately under heavy construction. In fact, part of the new addition is a jarringly modern design that looks like large white crystals have enveloped one of the older buildings and are about to fall over into the street.

The construction meant that a lot of the collections were either closed or severely abbreviated; fortunately, their basic european design history exhibit was open, but I didn't find it very impressive. There wasn't a lot on display, there were holes in some displays where an item or set of items had been removed, and what items were there, were not well-documented--often only two or three items in a dozen-item case had any kind of blurb or documentation visible in front of the display, even on the removable laminated placards. Sarra and I complained loudly about this, since we have both recently been doing replica period pottery, and some of the pottery (of which there wasn't a lot anyway) had no documentation whatsoever! We agreed that we've never seen a museum that didn't label/blurb every single item on display to death. Why show something if you're not going to say what it is? That's not educational, it's just confusing.

When we left the museum, we wanted to get dinner but couldn't find anyplace nearby that looked good, so we decided to get on the highway to the site and see what we found along the way. Good thing we did, because it took us easily three hours to get to site. Causes: horrible, unusual traffic on the 401 (the beginning of a holiday weekend, you know), then later, VERY confusing site directions. (Other attendees used Google or Mapquest to enter the address, and ended up with wrong directions because there were two highways with the same name. Not us: we came by our lostness the honest way--by printing directions from the event website that turned out to be just plain wrong. Sigh...)

This site was 100% better than the last one (an unheated scout camp), mainly due to the heat, but also because we had full-size beds with mattresses in little cubicles. Very comfy. My bed sagged just a little bit, enough to remind me of the beds in Trever at college. Of course, if the bed had been made of nails, we still would have slept eight hours on Friday night!

The site also afforded lots of separate classroom/workshop space, while still keeping one feast/gathering area so people could hang out together and relax. And it was set in a lovely clearing in woods, on property that included lakes and a spring. During the day it got warm enough that a lot of people sat and relaxed on picnic tables or on the grass, soaking up the sunshine. I got some quality time in with Michael and other friends I normally see only at Pennsic.

One thing we missed, leaving Sunday late afternoon, was the Sunday night bardic circle. But the Saturday night one was pretty spectacular. Sarra and I finally left at 4 am, knowing we wouldn't make it home from Milwaukee late Sunday night if we didn't get at least some sleep! I got maybe five and a half hours, which got me through pretty well.

My Sephardic music class, I thought, went well, though by Sunday afternoon people were no longer toting their class handout compendia around with them, which meant that they did not have my main class handout with them. (I hadn't made extra copies. My luggage was pretty full as it was.) Well, not my fault, but it was mildly irritating. Gwen supplied a boom box (yay Gwen!) and people asked excellent questions. I liked people's attitude in the class. At Pennsic (where I taught this class in 2005) people are so distracted/low on sleep/occasionally ill that it was hard to gauge how the class was being received. At KWBC it was more obvious to me that people seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Garraed (the organizer of the event/classes) let it slip to me that he had tried to get Judith Cohen, a preeminent performer/researcher on Sephardic music, to come to the event (apparently she's local), but hadn't had any luck. It would've been amazing to meet her, but I would have been petrified to teach this class if she'd come! She could teach it so much better, esp. being a music professional (and professor).

The return to the airport was blessedly short, and the flight uneventful. We did discover that the Toronto international terminal separates incoming from departing flight gates for security reasons--with a clear glass wall. You should have seen us staring mournfully at the bookstore that just happened to be on the wrong side of the wall from us. Never separate SCAdians from a bookstore!

We got back to Rose Marian's apartment mid-evening--only to discover that my car wouldn't start. Sarra had to get back to Madison for an early morning meeting, otherwise we'd have taken Rose Marian up on her offer of sleeping at her place and problem-solving in the morning. I called AAA, who (correctly) pointed out that my membership ended at the end of August, and (helpfully) transferred me to a customer service person who took my credit card number and got me signed up for a membership so I could get a free jump that night. ("Free" is such a...nebulous concept. Just when you think you have it, it slips right through your fingers, and you find yourself paying $61.)

The guy who arrived to jump-start the car was able to do so right away, and since the headlights came on when the car did, he proclaimed that I had left the lights on and drained the battery. Fact is, it would be nice if it were that simple. This car has automatic lights, that turn on when you turn the car on (hence the fact that they turned on when the jump-start took effect), and turn off when you turn the car off. I have not, in actual fact, figured out how to leave the lights on in this car. And we checked all the interior light switches in case we'd left a map light on or something. Nope. The battery just decided to die over the weekend.

Since returning to Madison the car has been fine (though I did park it facing out in the parking space, for an easy tow if it were needed). I have an appointment tomorrow morning for a new battery and a check-over before winter, which is good because I can't seem to find a ride to Crown, so I'm going to have to drive alone. Feh. Maybe I can convince Eithni to ride home with me--her ride is going on to a vacation trip after the event, so she was going to ride with Chandler and Sarra. Perhaps we can fight over her. Wait--Chandler is fighting for her in Crown, so he'll have all his armor; it won't be a very fair fight!

I will just have to win her over with apple cookies. I finally got a copy of Golde's homemade cookies: a treasured collection of timeless recipes, which is a classic of cookie baking. The iced apple cookies look good, and now is the time of year for apples anyway.

Good thing I'm becoming such a domestic goddess recently, because I don't feel like much of a library goddess these days.

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