After six hours of Bach retreat-ing, a friend and I went to one of my all-time favorite places: the Finnish sauna about an hour south of Boston. I’ve been going regularly since August 2005 and I love it. Fortunately in some ways and unfortunately in others, the place now has a Facebook page and word seems to be getting out; today it was more crowded than I’ve ever seen it, which makes the whole experience less relaxing. But it was still fun.

Because my phone died I couldn’t take a video of any of my five or six dunks today, so I’m sharing this one from four years ago. What I’m saying at the end is that sometimes one sticks to the railing as one is getting out, thanks to the same principles that make tongues stick to flagpoles in the winter, or your bottom lip stick to a cold spoon when you’re five and in bed with the chicken pox and unacquainted with what to do on such occasions.

The evening this video was taken was warmer than today was; the temperature has hovered between 15° and 20° all day, and the wind has been pretty fierce.

In case you’re wondering, I’m now in bed, having ingested some hot chicken soup, donned my warmest pajamas, and turned the electric blanket to High.


My belovèd choir is singing the Bach B minor mass in May, and in preparation we’re having a retreat tomorrow. I’d always heard that this work is one of the greatest in musical history, but I had never listened to or gotten to know it (my dirty little secret is that I tend to be acquainted with only those works I’ve performed myself). The B minor mass is a workout, y’all, in all sorts of ways—but much more Zumba (fun!) than P90X (decidedly not fun). This is one of my favorite movements. It’s chock full of fun melismas and on-your-toes changes, with a few places to catch one’s breath as well. Enjoy…

Ozymandias, King of Kings

Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley has always been one of my favorite poems.* There’s so much to love about it—the explosive word “shattered”; the juxtaposition of “survive” and “lifeless”; the alliteration of “boundless and bare” and “lone and level” and “sands stretch”; most of all, the crescendo of “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” followed by the sobering subito piano of the desolate “Nothing beside remains.” I always imagine the sound of an unquiet, whirling wind when I picture the scene; the sky is cloudless, the sun scorching, the sand burning, the landscape utterly barren.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

What brings this to mind today is a story from the Guardian about last week’s discovery of a 3,000-year-old and 26-foot-tall statue, believed to be of Ramses II, in Cairo. I visited Cairo, the Pyramids, and Alexandria in 2011 and loved it (except for the part where I was ridiculously naïve and got groped by a creepy older guy). I wonder what Heliopolis looked like at the height of Ramses’s power?


* Here I’ll admit that I’m not particularly well-versed in poetry; for someone who has a degree in English literature, I find myself shamefully unfamiliar with any but the most well-known of poets, and I have no idea how to analyze a poem. I always found poetry too intimidating to take an actual class in it.

Once in a lifetime

In August 2016, my belovèd choir sang for an entire week as choir in residence at Westminster Abbey.

Yes, THAT Westminster Abbey.

No coronations or royal weddings were happening at the time—not that any self-respecting English choir would allow a gaggle of Yankee upstarts to usurp its position if such an event had occurred—so we just sang regular services. (“Just.”) We rehearsed for several hours every morning and afternoon, then sang Evensong daily; we sang three services, including an Evensong, on Sunday.

It was magical. Maybe in a later post I’ll wax even more rhapsodic about the experience—walking through doors marked “Private,” rehearsing in a tiny library with books hundreds of years old and a secret door out onto the roof, frustrating B. the Fastidious Verger with our disappointingly undulant lines and inability to bow in the correct direction during the first service, singing warm-ups below an at least 10-foot-tall painting of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. During our last service, the Sunday Evensong, one woman’s very visible joy in our singing moved me to cry my guts out (v. inconvenient as we were only halfway through the service and I had only one sad tissue [things got messy]).

However, since I’m super sleepy tonight, I’m just going to upload some nice pictures for you to enjoy. The Quire (where the choir stalls are) is absolutely gorgeous and we weren’t supposed to take pictures there, so I didn’t… during services, anyway.

Side view of the Abbey.

Look who’s on the schedule! I have one of these framed in my room.

Cheney Gates, where we rehearsed every day.

Lining up for afternoon rehearsal in the Quire.

The decani side, taken (obviously) from the cantoris side.

A few lucky people get to sit next to the choir during services.

Here we go!

Good parenting

I’m not a parent, and at this point I’m not sure if I ever will be—which is something I had to come to grips with last year, and mostly did. It still pains me every once in a while. I’m really glad, though, that I didn’t have children when I was married. It would have made getting divorced and moving to a city that I was made for much less probable. But much more than that—much more than anything I might have felt like I was giving up for myself—I would have been a terrible parent. I would have been frequently angry and frustrated at the situation I had gotten myself into, and, instead of confronting the real issues and people I was facing, I would have taken it out on people weaker than me: my children. I would have yelled and screamed at them. I would have hit them and felt justified in doing so, because at the time I believed in spanking and forcing those with less power than I have to do what I wanted. I very well might have crossed the line into abusive. I would have been needlessly strict just because I didn’t want my children to inconvenience me or because I thought certain (harmless) behaviors were embarrassing or bad. My children would have resented me. We would never have had a good relationship.

What brings this to mind is an article that a friend shared: X-Plan: Giving Your Kids a Way Out. It’s a genius way the author helps his children out of difficult situations. If one of the children finds himself in a situation that’s over his head—with drugs or sex or alcohol or anything else—the child texts “X” to his parents. His parents then call him, tell him that something has come up and they’re coming to get him, and then come and pick him up. That way he has a way out of a potentially dangerous situation.

The genius part of the plan is this.

However, there’s one critical component to the X-plan: Once he’s been extracted from the trenches, Danny knows that he can tell us as much or as little as he wants … but it’s completely up to him. The X-plan comes with the agreement that we will pass no judgments and ask no questions (even if he is 10 miles away from where he’s supposed to be). This can be a hard thing for some parents (admit it, some of us are complete control-freaks); but I promise it might not only save them, but it will go a long way in building trust between you and your kid.

No judgment. No berating. No “I told you so.” No “I thought we taught you better than that.” No yelling. No grounding. Even if he’s 10 miles away from where he’s supposed to be; even if drinking has obviously been going on. Even if the kid himself has been drinking. No making him feel worthless or stupid or sinful or bad. No condemnation. And no telling anyone else about the kid’s mistake, either—not the parents’ friends, not the kid’s friends, not even in a rueful “You know, my children make bad choices sometimes” way.

Some commenters on the original article don’t like this part—they think the child “should face the consequences of their actions.” This makes me furious. It misses the whole point of the plan. When a child has the good judgment to enact the X-plan, she’s showing that she recognizes she’s in a bad situation, and she almost certainly feels none too great about having gotten herself into it. The fear and vulnerability the child feels are already consequences of her actions. What child, knowing that her parents are going to make her feel even worse about a mistake, is going to ask for help? And if her parents reward this kind of humility—because admitting you’ve gotten yourself into a bad situation takes a lot of that—and complete vulnerability with yelling or a lecture, that child is never going to open up to them again, and their relationship may never recover. The child knows she’s done something unwise; she doesn’t need her nose rubbed in it. And treating her like a criminal will only push her toward more unwise decisions.

I have a lot of strong feelings about this because… well, Reasons. I hope that if I ever have children, I’ll have the kind of relationship with them that makes an X-plan possible. And if I don’t ever have children, I hope I can be the kind of adult who can show unconditional love to my nephews or my friends’ children if they ever need a way out of a bad situation.

On the bandwagon!

Frequently in conversation I’ll start whatever I’m saying with “I heard this podcast recently about”—and then regale the listener with three-quarters-remembered details about why the Dow Jones industrial average is completely useless or how women won the right to vote because of the mother of one Congressman from Tennessee (whose political life was subsequently ruined) or how to influence behavior through “unpleasant design”. I listen to 40+ podcasts regularly, with the one that I never miss being Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! from WBEZ in Chicago (home also of another favorite, This American Life). It seems that not everyone is the podcast aficionado I am, however; a study says that only 20% of Americans listen once a month.

So some folks are trying to change all that, including NPR and a host of other fantastic podcast companies (Gimlet Media, Stuff You Should Know, Radiotopia), and as part of this effort they’re asking listeners to spread the word about their favorite podcasts (and use the hashtag #trypod). As a more or less obedient sort of person, I’m going to share a few of the ones I love, that it may be for your profit and learning.

  • Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! – Yep, I’ve already mentioned this one, and longtime readers may remember my “Peter Sagal loves me OMGOMG thrillgaspsquee*dies*!!11!!!!1!!1!!!” story from 2012. I love it every bit as much now as I did then.
  • Crimetown – All about mob control of Providence, RI in the 1970s and 80s, featuring interviews with a plethora of former “wiseguys”. Not for those who prefer their language sanitized.
  • The Moth – Real, fascinating stories told by some of the most interesting people you can imagine.
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class – I learned NOTHING about the late Victorian manure crisis in school. NOTHING. Also, did you know that Harriet Tubman was a Union spy?
  • Freakonomics and Planet Money – The only reasons I know even a minuscule amount about economics and finance.
  • Surprisingly Awesome – How much do you know about glue? Or mold? Or postal systems in the developing world? Not as much as this show will make you want to. (How’s that for some v. good Englishing?)
  • Hidden Brain, 99% Invisible, Only Human, and Invisibilia – Why you and I (and everyone else) are so weird sometimes.
  • Reply All – All you ever wanted to know about teh interwebz and the L337 people who run it.
  • Selected Shorts – Some of the world’s greatest short stories, read by professional actors who make you realize that there’s more than one way to interpret literature.
  • Undone – Shows how what you thought was the end of the story was really the beginning.

And that’s only a handful of the ones I listen to (while I’m running, cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, etc.). I was all caught up back in September right after I ran a half marathon, but since then I’ve fallen behind in several of them. I’ve just started training for another half, though, and am looking forward to lots more quality podcast listening!

Lent FAIL the First

So I’m using Lent as an excuse to jettison some bad habits and jump-start some good ones, and thus far it’s mostly gone well: I’m off Facebook and I’m back on the fitness plan I started in October 2015 (which included going for a four-mile run yesterday when it was 21°F outside with 25 mph winds). But astute observers may have noticed… well… that I didn’t post anything yesterday.

I don’t have a good excuse. The day wasn’t particularly busy, though warming up after the run did take a good while. I didn’t really do much else, including six of the other 11 items on my “Things I Really Should Do Today (But Probably Won’t)” list. I did make soup, and I did shoot whipped cream directly out of the can into my mouth, which is objectively the best way to eat canned whipped cream. (And yes, this shooting of whipped cream did comply with my fitness plan, because dammit I ran four miles in weather so cold my phone shut itself off, which is a thing that I didn’t even know could happen before yesterday.) I guess I was feeling intimidated, reasons for some of which feelings are in the immediately preceding post.*

So… yeah. This is a make-up post. I admit my failure, and am soldiering on.

For funsies: In case you want a visual representation of the effects of yesterday’s temperatures, here’s a shot of the gorgeous ice patterns I was treated to when I turned off the kitchen light last night.

Mr. J. Frost has taken a large bite out of my kitchen window.

*One other reason: The taste/skill gap. Though one could argue that I’ve been writing for so long, the gap should be closed by now. Sigh.

A lot of writing around the bush instead of just asking for support, FFS.

Geez. This is hard, yo.

When I was writing before, lo these two and a half years ago, it was much easier to be earnest and open and vulnerable. I felt like I knew what I was writing about—and that my audience (both of you) would understand it. Or at least you would assume good intent. I’ve become much more guarded in some ways over the past two years or so; I feel even more strongly than before about certain things, but I struggle with how to express those strong feelings without alienating, well, most people.

The thing is, I’m kind of cranky a lot these days. Anger is one of the stages of grief, and I’ve been grieving over a major life upheaval for a while. And that was before the presidential election in November; I don’t know that I’ve felt “normal” since I woke up at 3:00 AM November 9 and read the horrific news on the BBC (I’d gone to bed at 9:30—not because I had any doubts about the outcome, but because I didn’t want to have to watch the incremental roll-in of the totals). Although I’ve been more politically active over the past few months than ever before in my life, I still feel frustrated and powerless*. And exhausted, and guilty for not doing more, and overwhelmed.

Add to that an ever-increasing awareness of social justice issues and the very real consequences these issues have on specific people I care about as well as the public at large. Black lives do matter; systemic discrimination does happen; gay people do love their partners and deserve to be able to marry them (and call it marriage!) every bit as much as straight people, and marriage equality is not going to cause the downfall of society. White privilege exists, climate change and evolution are real, the refugee vetting process is already extreme, and Muslims are no more likely to be terrorists than you are. People can have tattoos (I don’t, yet) and wear more than one pair of earrings and dye their hair rainbow colors and go to protests and swear a lot and still be genuinely good people. These are all things I believed—or professed to believe—before October 2014, but I always felt vaguely uneasy about them, because they didn’t fit the narrative I heard most frequently. There was a lot of cognitive dissonance. Now I believe them wholeheartedly, without reservation, and I feel frustrated and angry that the narrative I had tried to believe in with all my heart turned out to be untrue.

Which means that of the several stereotypes that now fit, the one that many people will choose to see if I write about what’s frequently on my mind is the bitter (or at best misguided/deceived) former Mormon. I know the mindset that will interpret my current life this way quite well, as it used to be my own. And how can I profess to be happier (OMG, immeasurably happier) outside the LDS church than in it if most of my posts are negative?

Well, I guess I’ll just have to try not to care what people think. (Wish me luck with that.) And hope that most of my Lenten posts won’t be negative; in reality, they probably won’t be, because they’ll be too short to say very much. And hope that posting these thoughts in a public place will help me get some of this frustration out of my system. And hope, as well, that readers will understand—or at least try to—why I feel the way I do, and that relationships will remain intact, though some may change.

*Before anyone says something truly idiotic like “Now you know how we felt for 8 years under Obama”: That is not a valid comparison. The way you felt under Obama is similar to the way we durn lib’ruls felt for 8 years under Bush, and the way you felt under Clinton, and the way we felt under Reagan/Bush I. P45—I seriously hate the look and sound of his name—is far, far removed from anything the country has experienced before, and is equal parts nauseating and terrifying.

To thee all angels cry aloud

I was six or seven the first time my heart thrilled to music. I was in the back of our yellow 1977 Toyota Corolla hatchback, lying on my back (and probably drawing in the fog on the back window, allegedly damaging the defroster wires), listening to ABBA’s “Waterloo”—and the lead-in to the final chorus, with its swinging four-note descending scale, made me feel trembly in a way I hadn’t felt before. I didn’t know music could do that.

Of course, I’ve since had countless breathless musical moments, and a number of full-on tearful ones as well. (The tearful ones are quite inconvenient if I’m, like, singing.) One piece that never fails to move me is the “Tibi omnes” movement of the Hector Berlioz Te Deum. I sang it with the Cascadian Chorale and the Seattle Choral Company in 2000 or 2001. To be honest, I didn’t love it, or even like it, the first few times I listened to or sang it—the dynamic contrasts felt too dramatic, and the grand “pleni sunt coeli” choruses after each quiet “sanctus” seemed abrupt. But gradually that changed, and now it’s a hymn that I prefer to listen to with eyes closed, muscles tense because I want to hold on to every moment.

There’s so much to love here:

So much tension and release with each verse; so much emotion in the heart-breaking quiet moments and the heart-pounding triumphant, brass-undergirded climaxes (especially the massive one that starts at 7:50—swooooon).

Here’s an abbreviated version, with commentary that made me hear things I hadn’t realized before (and wonder how Berlioz thought of all of the subtle, and non-subtle, touches that make this so riveting):

Someday I hope to sing this again. Last year the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus performed it the day after my birthday, and I got to go to the working rehearsal two days before the performance. The chance to hear this colossal work live not once but twice, first in rehearsal and then in performance, by a fantastically talented group of musicians, and in Boston’s gorgeous Symphony Hall, was an extraordinary 40th birthday present. I’m pretty agnostic these days, but if there’s a God, I’m grateful to that deity for orchestrating (heh) such a wonderful experience.

Short, not unlike life itself

Today’s post will be short because Thursdays are busy for me.

A while back, I decided that life is just too short for cheap bread and cheap ice cream. Earlier this week, I realized that this list should also include paper products of all kinds—napkins, plates, writing paper, tissues. Because when you use thin, crappy paper products, not only is the experience of using them thoroughly unpleasant, but you have to use twice as many (even in the case of writing paper, since ink bleeds through to the other side). So really, THERE’S NO POINT.

A thought I had at work this afternoon: People who have to work in open offices should be provided with noise-canceling headphones free of charge. (When I communicated this thought to a friend of mine earlier today, it included many more capital letters and some well-placed profanity, as I was v. cranky.)

And something that delighted me: When I got home shortly after 10:00 PM, my 83-year-old landlord, who lives downstairs, was blasting “Waterloo” by ABBA.