Archive for the ‘Whassup’ Category.

Vault of Heaven

Last night we slept out on the deck under the stars.  By we, I mean Conal, our friend Joe, me, and all the other critters we share our mountain with.  For the critters, it was business as usual.  For us humans, it was a magical, gorgeous night a bit outside the usual, everyday experience of life.

Conal and I tried sleeping outside once before.  It was a few weeks ago during the last full moon.  Seemed like a good idea at the time, but the experience was rather less than glorious.  The bright moonlight beaming in our eyes made sleep a challenge.  In addition, it ended up getting pretty darn cold that night.  We abandoned our inflatable-bed-ship sometime in the middle of the night and retreated to the house, snuggling under our cozy comforter indoors with great relief.

This time around there was no moon whatsoever, only stars, splashed across the night in exuberant, sparkly abundance.  I watched, fascinated and wide-eyed, trying to take in the whole scene from horizon to horizon, and not really succeeding.  It was a lot of sky.  The night was lovely and warm, a welcome coolness following on the heels of a day that had reached 106 degrees in the shade.

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A Day to Celebrate

Conal, Ann, and I watched the inauguration this morning.  Never in my life have I seen anything like the throngs of celebrating citizens amassed to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office in the freezing temperatures of a Janurary day in Washington D.C.  And rarely before this past year have I felt cause to actually care about anything to do with politics and government.  Well, other than to be grouchy, sad, discouraged or just plain mad—or all that at the same time.  I know I’ve got lots of company, and I’m filled with optimism and hope for our country.

And mischief, as usual.

Make your own Obama poster here.  Be sure to check out the galleries, especially the top rated submissions.

Blog… Blaaahg

Is just me, or is blogging beginning to be old school?  Passe?  So, like, five-minutes-ago?  Maybe, maybe not.  I’m reading that some forward thinking web gurus are blogging less and less, increasing their use of social networking tools like Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others to connect with the wider internet community, passing around news, tech tips, pictures, ideas, articles, current whereabouts, party plans, and just about anything else you can think of sharing, all online and nearly in real time.

I’ve noticed that my public online writing energy has veered ever further away from blogging and into the developing world of social networking tools.  Blogging for me has usually meant a fairly extended solitary exercise of crafting an article (since I’m kind of picky about what and how I write), perhaps working on an image to include, then posting the article and maybe getting a comment or two.  Or not.  Even if I make the effort to eyeball my site statistics, I don’t really have an intimate sense of who’s visiting.  Now that I think about it, it’s about as enticing as junior high school homework assignment.  Unless there is something I’m hankering to write about just to get it off my chest, blogging has lately become a rare choice.  Apparently, what I’m after is a more lively connection and engagement with the world via online resources.  Hey, it only makes sense, since I live in the middle of nowhere.

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The Longest Night

I didn’t sleep much last night.  I’d been struggling with keeping a headache at bay for a couple of days.  A long drive in the car yesterday over the twisty Sierra mountain back roads didn’t help, nor did having too late a lunch.  Getting too hungry always makes my head hurt.  During our delayed lunch, I got some family news that unsettled me, throwing me a bit further off kilter.

Then there’s the part where I always get a little grouchy around my birthday (December 22nd), which is generally overwhelmed by Christmas.  I usually put on a brave act of not caring, but it actually does bum me out sometimes.  Uh oh, I’ve outed myself!  All you other Christmas kids out there will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Back at home in the evening, I gravitated toward a bit of relative solitude, hanging out with my laptop in the rocking chair in the living room, enjoying the Christmas tree and the warm fire in the woodstove while Conal and Patrick spent time on their computers in the office at the other end of the house.

I’ve been very happy lately, contented and peaceful in my life.  The depth of my reaction to the collision of physical, mental, and emotional upheaval of the day surprised me.  Conal came out and checked in with me at one point, and I shared all this with him.  Oh, except for the birthday thing.  That didn’t occur to me till just now.  He thanked me for letting him know, and went back to the office since I wasn’t at the point of wanting any help.  I enjoyed his asking, and getting a little clearer on what was stirring in me, but I wasn’t ready to exit that introspective space yet.

The evening wore on into night, and I realized I was not getting sleepy.  Rather than toss and turn in bed and disturb Conal’s rest, I stayed up playing with my laptop in the rocking chair.  I caught up on email, read blogs, researched some products.  I listened to my collection of Christmas music and experimented with new software.  I watched part of a movie.  Have I mentioned in the last five minutes how much I love my new Mac?  Sigh.

A Twitter friend tweeted about this being the time of the longest night, and I was struck by the irony of my wakefulness near the turning of the year, when the dark hours stretch their longest.  What a long night to endure without sleep!  Anyway, the hours rolled on by.

I finally started feeling a tiny bit sleepy sometime around 1:30 a.m. and went off to bed.  Getting my eyes to stay shut required a bit of reading with my tiny booklight, but, snuggled into the cozy warmth, finally I fell asleep.

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The Owl Who Wanted to Be A Real Boy–I Mean Owl

In our never-ending quest to discourage the local woodpecker gang from slowly turning our home into swiss cheese, we ordered a fairly realistic plastic owl to stand guard and hopefully fool the wood**ckers into thinking that they are being watched by a terrifying predator.

This life-sized plastic owl has motion and sound sensors, and when it detects movement or sound nearby it hoots repeatedly and rotates its head to peer in the direction of whatever it senses.

So far, the woodpeckers are not terribly impressed.  The owl has perched mute during the day as the hoodlums fly about.  They don’t go too near it, or anyway not near enough to set it off, but I don’t think they’re exactly scared.  Cautious, perhaps.

The owl apparently has other ideas.  It seems to want friends.  For several nights in a row, we have heard a wild owl trading hoots with the plastic owl.  I am not kidding!  We haven’t heard an owl for a long, long time, so I have no doubt that the realistic hooting attracted the real thing.  On one particular night, we heard two real owls alternating hoots with each other and the mechanical owl, which was quite entertaining.

The plastic owl is embarrassingly limited in vocabulary, being equipped with only one short hoot sequence to say over and over and over.  My daughter Tasha commented on the comic potential of the situation when I told her about it and imagined a rather one-sided hoot-versation:

Plastic Owl: “Hey!”

Wild Owl: “Hey!”

Plastic Owl:  “Hey!”

Wild Owl:  “What’s up?”

Plastic Owl:  “Hey!”

Wild Owl:  “Hey?”

Plastic Owl:  “Hey!”

Wild Owl:  “Dude, we said hello.”

Plastic Owl:  “Hey!”

Wild Owl: “Seriously, wtf is wrong with this guy!?”

Poor plastic owl.  He apparently needs to learn some life lessons or something before he can become a real owl. However, even though he pretty much sucks at scaring wood*?#!$!%!!’s, I might keep him around just to encourage the wild owls.  Perhaps having *actual* owls zooming about will make the rotten woodpeckers want to move on.

Thanksgiving Comes Early to Murray Creek

From my perch on the steep slopes of Mt. Zion, as the Elliott family has named the peak above our home at Murray Creek, I have the luxury (so far) of watching the American economic fracas from a distance–literally and figuratively.

Our home is paid for. We live modestly, our freedom more than making up for any lack of shiny toys. We don’t own a car, sharing a fuel-efficient 2000 Honda Civic and the old ranch Blazer with Conal’s mom. We carry no debt, though we came within a whisker of borrowing money to do some major home improvements last year. Knowledgeable people advised us that using someone else’s money rather than our own was good financial sense. Thank heavens we got the willies about letting go of our debt-free status and went against that advice. We pulled money out of stocks to build our deck (now one of if not the best feature of our house). As Conal pointed out to me the other day, those stocks were worth a lot more then than they are now. We would have to fry up a much bigger hunk of nest egg to pull that off today.

My mom and I sold our big house in Seattle back in 2007 just as the market there was having a final peak of excitement. I don’t think we could have timed that sale much better if we had traveled into the future and then gone back, armed with the knowledge of what was to come. I still shake my head in amazement, wondering at our incredible good fortune. Ours was one of the very last bidding wars in our area, and a very merry, profitable war it was for us.

Though we value our life of freedom very highly, Conal and I are relatively young and can go back to work if we need to. Conal’s skills are highly marketable, and interest in his research is building around the world. His knowledge and expertise allow him to get paid well to pursue his passion. My professional skills are not nearly so unique or highly valued, but are broad-based and widely transferable. If it came down to it, I would not be worried about finding some sort of at least mildly enjoyable job. And that honestly would be the lazy way to go, ironically. We’re resourceful enough to figure out interesting, alternative ways to make a living, if we really put our minds to it.

My heart goes out to those who are losing their homes, or staging garage sales, taking on second jobs, cutting back on doing the things that give them joy, or all of the above in desperation to pay the mortgage on a house that may be worth less than they owe. I’m troubled and saddened to think also of those whose retirement plans have gone sideways, dreams evaporating along with the worth of their 401k’s. I can’t even imagine the stress and pain folks these situations must be going through. I have, however, had the experience of being laid off from a job that I depended on, and thus can viscerally relate to those many thousands who’ve lost their jobs. I wonder how bad it will get and how many people will sucked into calamity.

Even if things get a lot worse before they get better, Conal and I will be okay. If things were to get really weird, our property has an excellent well, tillable soil, and plenty of sunshine that could be harnessed to create electricity. With a big garden, some fruit trees (there are already a few growing down in the meadow) and perhaps some goats and chickens we could go “off the grid,” as the saying goes. Conal’s mom’s expertise in the area of animal husbandry and self-sufficiency would give us an invaluable resource of knowhow should the worst happen. Surviving and even thriving will be possible for us even if civilization as we know it ceases to function.

Here on my perch overlooking our private slice of paradise, you’d never know that anything was amiss. Conal is heading off into the cool of evening to gather kindling from the ample supply of downed wood that’s lying around, taking a break from working on his research projects. The evening sun is slanting streams of warm honey through the rich green boughs of the forest, while squirrels chatter and chase each other merrily about. The deep, gentle hiss of the breeze through the valley sounds like a far off, powerful river. Birds zip hither and thither among the craggy oaks doing their fall chores, and furry bees bumble about the rosemary hedge below the front porch. So much to enjoy and be thankful for.

I’m swept by a wave of gratitude for my life, my beloved cuddle buddy Conal, my family, the warm sun, clean water to drink, healthy food to eat, and a snug nest on a mountain to call home.

Antwerp Dreaming

Following is an excerpt from an email I wrote to a friend in Seattle back on July 7th.

It is an overcast, on-and-off raining kind of day in Antwerp. My upstairs neighbor and I are going to have a coffee (tea for me) at the cafe across the street in a few minutes. Such a luxury to me! I’m enjoying the contrast in city living from our country mouse existence at home. There isn’t even a nice cafe in town, let alone across the street! At home, we don’t see anyone for days, unless we seek them out. Here, the sight and sound of humans are all around every minute. I think I like both ways of living, and notice that the experience of one deepens the appreciation of the other for me.

At the moment, a group of school kids are trooping by in two neat lines behind their teacher, their giggles and squeals echoing up and down the square and in through the open windows of the apartment. Cars are swishing past on the wet pavement. Occasionally, and unseen pair of high heels lightly clip-clop-clip-clops down on the sidewalk below the windows, a feminine sounding gait. I wonder if she’s pretty, or what she might be wearing, but instead of checking to see I let her go past and remain a mystery. There are no shortage of opportunities for people-watching here, so I don’t have to be greedy.

Last night, Conal and I had dinner at a lovely Greek restaurant a couple of blocks away. The waiter was charming and chatted with us about America and his first love, who was from New York. There is a huge variety of experience here with people in service positions, everything from haughty to spacey-uncomprehending to absolute charm and graciousness. Our gentlemanly waiter last night certainly fell into the last category. We decided we’d like to go back there, since the food was also excellent. They were out of their vegetarian mousaka, a great reason to go back.

I like remembering life in Antwerp, which is beginning to take on the flavor of a dream. Here is a picture of Oever Street, with our apartment balcony just visible to the left of Jacob Jordaens. Jespers, the little grocery in the white building, and just beyond it the cafe with the red awning, are on the right:

Oever Street looking south

It’s crazy quiet here at Murray Creek. The deers are cute and all, and I have my beloved Conal with me of course, but I guess I’m kind of missing the random company of strangers.

%#?!*#^&#! Computers!!

Okay, okay, I know I said I would start blogging again and then once more went virtually silent. Le sigh. In my defense, on top of my technical difficulties with WordPress, my HP laptop gave up the ghost the day we got home from our travels. A venerable machine, scraped and cracked and dented, with screen flopping and speakers crackling, my old lappy was originally purchased in 2004 and has gone through a memory upgrade, a couple hard drives, and I lost count of how many batteries. The poor thing finally did the laptop equivalent of the Blues Brothers car meltdown. Godspeed, my old, familiar-if-not-trusty companion.

So now comes the big question for me: Another Windows machine? Pfft. I’d like to support an alternative to the Behemoth of Redmond.

At the moment, I’m working on an old Acer laptop of Conal’s, which became his Linux experimentation toy after upgrading to a new Windows laptop awhile ago. Although Ubuntu is being pretty friendly with me so far, I suspect I’m not nearly technical enough to be really comfy in a Linux environment for the long term, even sitting next to a computer scientist as I do. If I caved in and bought a Windows machine, I could use all my hard-won knowledge, decades in the accumulation, of how to get anything at all done on a PC. I’d still bug Conal plenty, of course, but Windows is the devil I know best.

But wait. Here’s a thought: how about if I consider a computer that claims to help me spend more time getting things done, being creative, and enjoying myself, rather than investing a significant portion of my life attempting to prevent or recover from breaking, freezing, crashing, becoming overrun by malicious software, and just generally being a pain in the ass? Yes, I am truly considering a Mac. ::GASP:: Steve’s got me all in a froth about his new forged-from-one-piece-of-aluminum notebooks. This in spite of the fact that there is at least one piece of software I’m not sure I’m ready to do without (MS Money), although I understand that Boot Camp can solve that problem by allowing Windows software to run on a Mac.

Ooo, baby, my kingdom for a durable, reliable, robust, fun-to-use lappy. I entertain visions of making art, music, and even movies with ease and pleasure. I would even consider paying the much ouchier Apple prices to gain entrance to this life of joyful productivity. My eyes are tearing up just imagining such a life…

I dunno really, though. I’m vacillating. I could stick with my comfort zone and grab a great deal on a Windows laptop. Or, I could set off into a new, more expensive venture into the world of Mac, which I find tantalizing and also a bit scary. Meantime, I’m getting to learn a little about Linux, so who knows.

Any PC-to-Mac converts out there? How was it? Are you glad? Any regrets? How ’bout proud Linux geeks? Any words of encouragement for a newbie?

Why Murray Creek is Awesome

Sparkling dew in the trees + hushed forested hills + clear fall sunlight + deer, hawks and other critters + 80 degree weather in late October + Ann next door + my own bed + the smell of warm pine sap on the breeze + other sun-warmed forest scents + home cooked meals + slow satellite wifi (hey, it’s better than nothing!) + my sweetie Conal with me = Awesome.

The morning view from the front porch:

“The Honoring” Released

Oh hai.  Were you holding your breath, in trembling anticipation of a blog post?  For, like, evar????  I sorry.  Blog was broke, but will blog now (also pleez pardon lolcat silleez.  Iz adikshun!!).

But srsly, as many of you know, one of my grand adventures this summer was traveling to Switzerland to record with Michael Stillwater.  The recording was done at a big pro studio called PowerPlay, located in a charming little town outside Zurich called Maur.  That was back in July, and I’ve just gotten word from Michael that the CD, which is called “The Honoring,” has been released online.

The entire album or individual songs can be downloaded from the site.  Song clips are also available for your sampling pleasure.  If you click on individual song titles, you can find out which ones include my vocal tracks.

“The Honoring” is a collection of spontaneous songs created by Michael in his Honoring Ceremony sessions, in some cases embellished with additional instrumentation and/or my vocals.  The original live recordings used as the base tracks for the album were chosen from the hundreds of songs Michael has collected over the years.  In each, Michael is doing his lovely work of improvising a song at the request of a session participant.  Based on what the person asks for and Michael’s intuition and connection to Source, a song is born on the spot, crafted with loving care in the moment for that person.

If you’d like to hear more of my vocals with Michael, check out Feels Like Home, a very cool chant-style song we recorded in 2006.  My vocals are also heard on Michael’s live CD O Great Spirit, which is a recording of a Chantwave concert at The Center for Spiritual Living a couple years ago.

Hope u enjoyz da musik!