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Friday, December 28, 2007

Bubbleheads

In honor of a certain young(er) relative's return to the ol' home place sometime this evening, I commend to my readers "Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog." Scroll and click through his list of others' Submariner blogs, and you'll know more that you ever dreamed about the character of the squid community.

If the notion of claustrophobic living for months inside a submerged metal tube abristle with nuclear power and weapons appeals to you, here's some recommended print reading for the New Year: Clear the Bridge (a WWII--that is, non-nuclear--sub captain's story of his forays in the Pacific. Well-written and illuminating about the mindset of the successful strategist amid serious challenges), Blind Man's Bluff (which is--"off the record"--highly recommended reading for officers-to-be on U.S. boats, a history of submarine espionage, particularly during the Cold War), Hostile Waters (Cold War submarine confrontation between the US and USSR, told from the Russian perspective, of events which almost led to nuclear meltdown and the irradiation of the entire American Atlantic coast) and, for fun, The Hunt for Red October (a well-researched novel probably inspired by the actual events recounted in Hostile Waters).

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto's Assassination

One of my friends is in Pakistan right now. She's a US military officer who speaks Arabic, so I imagine her work became even more interesting this morning.

Sandmonkey (see the link on the sidebar) has a good post on the former Prime Minister's assassination. Her killing does make relationships in that area even more convoluted, as trying to figure out just who of the many people who had motives to murder her actually carried out the plan may never be possible.

And remember, one of the delightful aspects of Pakistani unrest is the fact that the country has nuclear weapons. Of course, it also has large numbers of enslaved people working in brick kilns throughout the country, denied all basic human rights, but that ongoing domestic injustice tends to influence international diplomacy less than the threat of cross-border mushroom clouds.

Speaking of evil in its personal forms, among Sandmonkey's recent posts is also a highly amusing black-humor musing about his strenuously racist mother, who has a Ph.D. from (can you guess???)...Georgetown! Oh, I am totally not surprised.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Rare Victory

This evening I achieved a victory that has been mine maybe once or twice in my lifetime: I beat my mother in Scrabble, and by a considerable margin, too. This never, ever happens: on the rare occasions when she's pressed for spots to play, she can usually squeeze twenty point gains out of a couple of strategically-placed single-point letters, and she always leaves me scrounging around the margins of the board, licking up the dregs from her triple word scores. To be fair, she had really bad draws this game, bereft of "E"s turn after turn. And I managed to play the "Z", the "Q" and the "J" without overmuch trouble. But, wow! It'll probably be years before I can duplicate this feat.

OK, back to Chapter 7 of the "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands" translation. I mentioned my progress to the VBHIK on the phone this afternoon and he claimed he'd never heard me mention the project. Apparently he doesn't read this blog. The possibilities for abuse of this key bit of information are tantalizing. Bwahaha.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I'm in Macon, GA, with my grandparents, staying over Christmas Eve with my aunt and uncle, a gregarious pair of Baptists who insisted we come down for the holiday, particularly since my parents' Christmas plans include only eating canned soup and cleaning the house. Lest my esteemed progenitors sound like a couple of grinches, or worse, I should note that as my brothers aren't expected until this weekend (my seven-months' pregnant sister and her family can't come at all), and I was the only offspring in town, my mother was more interested in preparing for my siblings' arrival than cooking an unnecessary Christmas dinner for me and my father. And since we don't exchange wrapped presents anymore (haven't for a decade now), there was no special reason I should be on hand at home tomorrow morning. In fact, given that my parents tend to rise at the crack of dawn, it is likely I'll get more sleep here.

Perhaps the one thing I have missed about our family's non-commercial Christmas is the tree. I do love a Christmas tree, a real one that can be strung with lights, hung with ornaments and topped with a star. And so it was a truly great pleasure to be asked by my aunt to decorate their tree this afternoon--my uncle had decided at the very last minute (Christmas Eve!) to get a tree, and had talked the seller into giving a Frasier (spelling? I don't know if I should be channeling Kelsey Grammer here.) Fir to him for $9. It's lovely, about 6-7 feet tall, and well-balanced. My aunt had the ornaments out, ready for me to hook them onto the boughs. Fun!

The candlelight service at their enormous Baptist church (two young people were dunked in Believer's Baptism this evening) was good--lots of singing, and a short, solid homily (to give its Presbyterian name) focusing on the costs of Christmas: specifically, the cost to Mary (aspersions on her character, a 70-mile trip when heavily pregnant), Joseph (aspersions on his character), the shepherds (doubts as to their sanity when they went around talking about a savior in a manger), and the oft-ignored mothers in Bethlehem (whose male children, from toddlers down to newborns, were slaughtered on jealous Herod's orders after the visit from the Magi).
And most of all, the cost to God of his only begotten Son. The pleasure of sharing the company of family and friends, and good food, at Christmas needs always to be tempered by the realization of what these delights cost.

It has been a truly good Christmas thus far. I've thrown away two large bagfuls of trash from my room (which no longer contains any furniture except for my wood chair, my parents having donated my old, 27-year-old bedroom suite to a local ministry last week), and set aside three boxfuls of stuff to the Salvation Army. There are a lot of things to be gone through still. Hopefully this cull of my possessions will ease my mother's mind (she's waged a life-long battle against my pack-rat tendencies) and prepare the remainder for a permanent move to my own digs some time in the not-too-distant future.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fruitcake

My merciless sister left a snide message on my cell phone (which has been dead the past two days--sorry folks!--because I crunched the charger) yesterday, accusing me of all manner of wickedness for having misled my readers as to the nature and appearance of Japanese fruitcake.

My only defense is that I have never made a fruitcake, nor have I read a recipe for one, and I just blythely assumed that all fruitcakes, whatever their nominal nationality, resemble one another in their essentials. Apparently my Grandmommy has more than one fruitcake recipe, because the one I saw her make once LOOKED LIKE STAINED GLASS WHEN IT WAS SLICED!

I don't cook, I seldom bake, and although I like to eat, apparently I should never attempt to rhapsodize over food because I will get slammed to the mat and beaten with an egg whipper thingy. Those are called whisks, right?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Birthday Notes

My dear Granddaddy turned 91 yesterday. Grandmommy fixed him his traditional birthday cake: Japanese fruitcake. It looks like a stained-glass window when sliced very thin, with all the candied fruit transluscent and the pecans and other opaque ingredients making interesting "leaded" patterns. I won't touch the stuff. Candied cherries aren't my thing. But I admit it is lovely.

The pecans this year are from Granddaddy's own trees. Despite the late-summer drought in GA that has left much of the state panting for water (and the blueberries in his backyard and out at the 25 acres we grandly call "the farm" shriveled on the 200+ bushes), the pecan crop in the middle of the region has been larger than usual, so much so that G&G have had to prop up the branches of the two trees on either side of their house with pieces of lumber so that the weight from the nuts won't break them. Of course, the squirrels (against whom Granddaddy wages a constant war) have considered the props a special favor, sparing them that taxing trip up the trunk, giving them direct access to the pecans. Still, despite the fuzzy-tailed competition, G&G have gotten a fair number of nuts, and I'm looking forward to a couple of handfuls on Saturday, when those members of the family who are in GA plan to converge to celebrate yesterday's birthday.

Granddaddy was concerned about his heart a week or so ago, and so his doctor sent him in for the usual stress test. They put him on the treadmill and kept cranking up the speed, until at the end, he was running. He admitted to being a little winded afterwards. The doctor said his heart was fine. The test did wonders for Granddaddy's morale, not just because of the resulting clean bill of health--there were men half his age at the testing center who couldn't jog, let alone run, on the treadmill. When I called him on Sunday, I told him he ought to consider entering a marathon, since he'd win his age group, and he and Grandmommy laughed and said he would be signing up for Boston next year.

I love my Granddaddy! Many happy returns!

On the other end of the age spectrum, I'm down in North Carolina visiting my friends Paxifist and Deacon Paul and their two little boys. Paxifist is expecting a third baby in February. I walked (hopped) about a mile with the crutches today, while she pushed the stroller with the toddler in it and the older boy wandering along with us in the distracted way that little boys do. It's been fun to be "Aunt C" here, and take a quiet break--you don't realize how much constant ambient noise big city living subjects you to until you leave DC for a rural small town. I continue down to GA tomorrow, where I will figure out the best way of getting up and down my parents' stairs without killing myself or breaking anything (yes, it's apparently just tendonitis, but I've still got a week to go before I should put any weight on it).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Crutches for Christmas

I'm waiting to see what the x-rays say--it could be either a nasty spot of tendinitis or a small broken bone--but in the meantime I'm hobbling around on crutches. Perhaps "hobbling" suggests too much finesse. I'm not that good. Crutches are a pain in the wazoo. I plant, hop; plant, hop; plant, hop, a few yards, then have to pause for breath. There's a reason you never see a fat person on crutches. My stomach muscles are already so tense a circus clown could use them for a scrub board.

To what outlandish action do I owe my injury? The radiology people at Georgetown Hospital were obviously hoping for some Pulitzer-winning story along the lines of jumping down on train tracks to rescue a kitten and leaping out of the way just as a locomotive roared past, but sadly it's just due to a dance Saturday evening. A Presbyterian dance, at that. Of course, John Calvin was probably spinning in his grave as we all mimed and rocked along to Madonna's "Material Girl," but as far as wild stories go it was pretty tame.

I noticed that my left foot was sore on Sunday, but given that I was severely sleep-deprived (not due to the dance, which was over at the respectable hour of 11, but due to the post-college girls in the department upstairs, who started clogging and singing later, at 2:30 AM, when Susan and I were already long abed), I didn't assign much importance to it. And there were more than enough other things going on to keep my mind off all aches and pains. For example, the candlelight Christmas concert at the church that evening turned out to be wholly candlelit, since high winds had knocked out electricity to that entire part of the county when Susan and I arrived at the church shortly after 5 PM. While the two children's choirs said in the dark at the front of the dais, deacons went around scrounging flashlights so that the orchestra up on the stage could see their music, but the primary illumination came from candles, both tall formal tapers that were perched on large brass stands, and short, fat pillars stuck on plastic plates that had been stuck underneath many orchestra members' chairs.

It being an Advent service, there were several unintentionally humorous moments when the lyrics in the songs, or in the 'tween-music readings, referred to "great darkness" and "light". But the great point which left everyone--the congregation (the sanctuary was packed), the orchestra and the choir--wholly convulsed in laughter was when our new, very young, Scottish assistant pastor, who was doing the readings, paused at one point in his text, then said, "The Laird spoke" and BANG, all the electric lights in the church came on. We all went into a prolonged fit of giggles at this, with some frankly in doubt that this hadn't all been planned beforehand, it was so perfect. But the paroxysms of the pastor and others who would have been in on such a Calvinist conspiracy had one existed confirmed that the coincidence was in fact a delightful bit of serendipity, or Sovereign Humor.

Monday I was in considerably more discomfort from my foot, which throbbed even when elevated next to the warm oven where I was baking date-walnut cookies. Cookie baking is a great activity when one is reading a book on the Russian Civil War of 1918-1920. You can absorb a couple of pages, a few hundred or thousand dead, and then "beep," the oven timer goes off and you have to pause to remove one batch of cookies from the metal sheet and spoon on another dozen's worth of dough. Without the regular pauses and the promise of warm sweet calories to be consumed, the body-count fatigue would just be overwhelming.

Susan and I went on a walk yesterday evening. I didn't tell her my foot was bothering me, as I was hoping it would just go away, particularly since I needed the exercise (in addition to the cookies, I'd also whipped up a batch of homemade chocolate peanut butter cups, and you know that you have to test those things to make sure they're safe for others to eat...). By the time we got to Georgetown (I figured we'd walk there and back, since both of us needed a neutral place to check our email, since we'd been trespassing on friends' hospitality too much in that regard lately--we're hoping to get DSL after New Years), my foot was burning. I thought that was bad until we started the two miles home. I was in tears, and not--as S Dawg or other uncharitable relations might suggest--because I'm naturally whiny. Gosh, it was awful.

Once we got home, while Susan fixed the lasagna for a small get-together we've planned for this evening, I soaked the offending foot in near-boiling water to get the swelling to recede, and then took 750mg of Naproxen to supplement the effort. I was able to sleep some last night, but this morning it was time to head to the Student Health Center, praying that they'd have an opening for an appointment. Thank God, they did. Thank God, I also had my book on the Civil War with me, because I ended up waiting over an hour to be seen there, and then again another hour plus in the Radiology department, where they sent me for x-rays. The second waiting area at Radiology was comfortable for me, as a fully-clothed female, but decidedly uncomfortable, or potentially so, for the man and assorted elderly women who were instructed by the two techs to go into the little booths right across from the chairs and remove various bits of material and put on the hospital gowns provided.

I managed to finagle a wheelchair from Radiology to the other side of the hospital nearest the parking garage, as it is nearly impossible to balance two plastic bagfuls of books, a purse and a heavy winter coat and somehow stay upright on crutches. I left everything but my cell phone, keys, one credit card and the crutches in the trunk of my car before attempting the trip to the history department, where I am processing three decidedly tardy desk copy requests prior to leaving for GA tomorrow.

Whatever the x-ray results, I'll be on crutches for Christmas, but as a result I'll start the New Year with really nice sets of biceps and triceps, and killer abs. See, there is a silver lining!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Faxes and Recent Facts

One O’Clock After Midnight and I’m in the history department working on the last of the professors’ desk copy requests, trying to tie up the loose ends of my responsibilities for my graduate assistanceship prior to my departure for GA next week. I hope to be finished with all the faxing and filing by 2 AM. At least it’s quiet here in the department—not a soul stirring except for the odd night-owl graduate student and a lone Hispanic cleaning lady—and I’m parked right outside the front gate, where there is usually a campus security officer’s car (if not the officer himself). And the weather’s clearer tonight than it was yesterday, when a Jack-the-Ripper sort of Victorian mist suffused the whole area, damping the glow of the path lamps and throwing the bare trees into gothic shadows.

The History Honor Society Craft Sale last week went well—better, in fact, than all previous. Over all, we grossed more than in previous years (my sales were down slightly, but my friends’ were up considerably), but what made the process a pleasure was having enough carts to transport the loads of items to and from storage in the department to the lobby of the student center. Having only to make two trips to move everything, rather than up to six, was a Godsend. And having good help to set up and arrange the merchandise in the mornings (without Leah, DesertRose and the NPV, I could not have managed this) and to pack everything neatly, compactly and swiftly in the evenings (my two friends/fellow artists came to help with the last few hours of selling and pack their things all three days) is essential. It was remarkably, providentially low-stress. Especially after having lost the use of my computer two days before, and having comprehensive exams looming a little over a week after.

About those comps. Friday, my advisor asked me back to his office, sat me down on a worn leather chair and lit up one of his unfiltered Camels. “First, I want you to know that I’m on your side,” he said. A phrase designed to fill the listening heart with dread. I love my advisor. I’ve told him that he’d better not die, or retire. He’s 76, after all, and smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish. He’s awesome, one of the most interesting people I’ve met, but his health habits aren’t to be imitated. In any case, he assured me that he won’t retire, nor die (this latter he’s not the one to decide, though he thinks he is), but that I was going to have to postpone the comps, as the other Russianist on my committee had complained that I hadn’t spent sufficient time preparing my reading list in consultation with her. My reaction was a chaotic mixture of “Oh, dear!” and “Thank you, Lord!” On the one hand, I need to get this mess over with. On the other, it’s no exaggeration to say I hadn’t studied diddly for the Russian History tests and was in no way prepared to take them.

So that’s what I’ve been doing the last several days. Reading Russian history. At last. I’ve gone through John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World (a Bolshevikiphilic eye-witness account of the October 1917 revolution), and am currently embarked on Bruce Lincoln’s Red Victory, a secondary work about the Civil War of 1918-1921, which had the misfortune of being finished in 1988 and published in 1989. That is, immediately before some archives were opened that might have complemented the considerable materials the author had already assembled. Too, Lincoln doesn’t delve much into the nationalities question, which issue had such profound importance for the post-Soviet period, the Soviet period having been, in Lincoln’s opinion, intrinsically shaped by the experience of the War.

Susan and I went on a 5-6 mile walk this evening (we did run about a mile of it, proving that we can go a bit faster than a quick waddle when we really set our minds to it), and I filled her in on some of my recent reading. It helps to talk about it—my memory is horrible, and if I didn’t process it verbally, it would flow out of my sieve-like mind without leaving a trace. At least this way, it has time to curdle a bit and the rime sticks to the sides of my brain. Poor Susan—she’ll know more about the Soviet Union than she ever cared once this process is finished.

Dang it! It’s almost two o’clock. I’m exhausted. The fax machine is crawling. But only three more pages to go, and then I’m done.

Monday, December 03, 2007

No Time

...to blog. Have had two shows this weekend, and the biggie at Georgetown starts tomorrow and runs for three days. Without Leah and DesertRose, I don't know what I would do! But I still don't know what I'm going to do Wednesday, since neither of them can help set up that day. If anyone reading has a yen to be at Georgetown at 7:45 AM that day...I'll buy you a muffin.

My laptop died last night. I bought another this afternoon at SAMS. Thank God for a stipend and jewelry income.

The good thing about these major bouts of stress hitting all at once is that at least I'm getting economies of scale.

Haven't even thought about comps.