Sunday, January 30, 2011

A New Season

Today is a special day for me.

This is my last day to be a mother of a teenager.

Tomorrow, I will awaken as the mother of three twenty-somethings.
I will go to the mirror, count the grey hairs, caused by teenagers, glance at the laugh lines, caused by teenagers,
and acknowledge the new chapter in my life.

Here is my baby boy, soon to be twenty:

Happy birthday, Graham Michael.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hear Ye

Today I went to hear Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak. She is the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

What did I learn? Justice Sotomayor described a day in her workweek: Read, read, read, she said. She spends a good part of each day reading about court cases: potential Supreme Court cases, current cases being heard before the Supreme Court. She said that four days of the week, she takes a small part of time in her day to meet with groups visiting the Supreme Court. The groups might be American school children, college groups, international visitors - the range is broad. She maintains one day each week where she meets with no one, and that day is mostly spent writing on current court cases.

I did not realize that she is only six years older then me. Wowee. I wonder if she is familiar with the judge Deborah in the Bible? I wonder if she ever ponders her?

Justice Sotomayor was asked about her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago: what were her initial thoughts? I liked her reply. She said that she felt a heavy burden on her that she had not felt at her other judicial appointments: to be in the position to judge on matters which were at the Supreme Court level, the final judgment. She also remarked on the collegium of the members of the Supreme Court, and how they hold each other and the Court itself in great respect. She continued discussing the respect found in her workplace, explaining that not only the Justices, but everyone who works at the Supreme Court holds respect for each other and the institution, from the bottom, up.

Wowee. Every workplace should be thus and so.

Justice Sotomayor was seven minutes late to take her place on stage, and she wanted the audience to know that her delay was due to the East Coast snowstorm. When she awoke this morning, her home had no electricity, so she prepared for her quick trip to Kansas in the dark, and we can only surmise how it felt to leave for an out-of-town trip with no kitchen, no blowdrier, no lights, no nothing. And she had a smile on her face, to boot. In fact, her hour+ talk was very congenial and she had humorous anecdotes - something I surely would never expect from a Supreme Court Justice.

A nice perk for me, in the audience? I arrived to the Forum Hall at K-State 45 minutes early, stood in line for half an hour, was one of the LAST TEN PEOPLE allowed into the Forum Hall. But then...there were no available seats in the auditorium. That was problematic. But I eyed someone who looked to be in charge, and made a bee-line down to where he was standing, and sure enough, my instincts paid off: he opened a section of the VIP seating to us left standing, and I got to sit in the second row of the Forum Hall, right in front of Justice Sotomayor. That was very nice, because she is good at establishing eye contact with the audience, and I was close enough to enjoy her facial expressions. Not something those high in the nosebleed section could even remotely discern.

A good afternoon was had by me!
And a disclaimer by me, too! I am not a journalist, I did not take notes, nor photographs, nor video, (all bags, backpacks, cameras, and the ilk were prohibited) so all descriptions of discussions by Justice Sotomayor to me in the audience are mere renderings from my mid-life mind. I tried to be very accurate, though.

What a nice afternoon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Food Stuff

My friend Susan and I made plans to lunch at a local Chinese place this afternoon, but when we got there we were surprised to find that it is no longer a Chinese restaurant but a Japanese sushi/sashimi restaurant. And that was fine; we went in and had a very nice lunch!

Now I am looking in my cupboard to see if I still have sticky rice, nori, and all the fixin's for Japanese fare. This is why it is nice to go out periodically and expand one's horizons on any subject - now I have cause to step into my own kitchen and whip up some really good Japanese cuisine! I am fairly adept at Thai, somewhat good at Korean, have a little trouble with Chinese cuisine. Maybe February will be Japanese Food Month at the Armstrongs...

Tonight the menu options were seafood gumbo or seafood chowder, and that Spouse o' Mine opted for the latter, so we can be called Chowderheads tonight. The tomato offerings at the local grocery were A) big ol' colorless greenhouse things from Canada, B) big ol' red-yet-rock-hard things from the U.S. - I suspect AZ or CA, but I could be wrong, or C) really nice red things from our neighbor down south, Mexico. I picked C. And was not sorry. I will slice up Choice C and top my homemade bread with such, and set under the broiler to have with our chowder.

Other food thoughts which popped into my mind today were that I have quite a few bags of peaches in our freezer downstairs, part of the peach harvest that I specifically froze for February. And here we are, nearly there. Homegrown (albeit frozen) peaches in mid-winter are very nice little celebrations of Spring-to-come.

Ditto my inventory of tomatoes still in the freezer: close to nil. That Spouse o' Mine and I have enjoyed a plethora of soups and stews this winter, and I have nearly emptied my tomato reserve. But that's OK; some years, I find some frozen tomatoes left in the freezer from nine months ago, and that is just not right. (By the way, I freeze my tomatoes whole - I wash them, de-stem them, and put them into freezer bags whole. Saves time and energy in the food-processing.)

And that is all the foodstuff I have to write about tonight. The bread is ready to hit the broiler.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Snow: I'm Melting...Melting!!!

This evening I fastened on my skis and took what may be my last jaunt on XC skis for a while: the snow is melting! Before sundown I headed out to our pasture for an hour and a half of arctic fun.

Last week that Spouse o' Mine and I had made a few trails and tracks to play around on when we weren't out skiing on the Konza Prairie or the local golf course or parks. We don't have crop circles, but we do have parallel lines running at all angles in our little patch of land. Those week-old tracks have been melting, then freezing, then melting again, taking on a luge-like quality that requires strong ankles, good balance, and quick thinking. Tonight I opted to blaze some new trails for Biserka the Bouvier and myself. And off we went!

When one runs, cycles, skis, or does any type of repetitive exercise over a length of time, he can get lost in thought, and this is a really relaxing thing (to me, anyway.). I slid across the now-frozen snow and looked down at the animal tracks around me: little birds, big birds, little kitty cat (?), LARGE kitty cat (?)..feral...bobcat?..the big dog Biserka, the huge horses' rolling spots in the snow... occasionally I would look up and not know exactly where I was in our little pasture. To me, that is escape.

The sun set, the temperature immediately dropped, and Biserka and I kept playing out there. We went down by the woods by the creek; remindful of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

My little horse (dog) must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year

Down there, after sunset, I stopped, stock-still, and could hear the owls in the woods. And then, the coyotes down at the river, wailing their evening songs. The only other noise was Biserka's paws breaking through the frozen snow.

How can anyone not like winter?

I have enjoyed this week of snow so much. I could make a diatribe about this (actually, I did, and deleted it just now.)

Suffice to say,

"Fun is good." ~ Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

Postscript, on Wednesday morning: I managed another hour and a half out on my skis this morning; ski report: overcast and 24º, some ice, but still some powder.

Monday, January 24, 2011

An Additional Seasonal Change of Pace

When I was quite a bit younger, and gainfully employed as a flight attendant on the west coast, one of the commuter flights I worked was San Luis Obispo-Santa Maria-Los Angeles: just down the California coast and back and call it a day. This trip was generally without incident.

One spring day, rain and wind and coastal bugaboos reared their ugly heads and made a horribly turbulent flight to Santa Maria. It is said, particularly in the world of classrooms and airplanes, that if one person vomits, it takes on a domino effect. I am here to concur. That was a very unpleasant flight. We had a brief stopover in Santa Maria, and the two pilots and I went in to the airport diner to grab a quick lunch. A few minutes into the lunch, I remarked to my cockpit crew, "This is amazing: I still feel like I'm on that flight! I feel wobbly!" They laughed at me, and I sat back to settle myself.

No sooner than I spoke, but the chandeliers above our heads began swinging back and forth. I had no clue what it was about - the native California pilots exclaimed, "It's an earthquake!"

It only lasted a minute or so, a swinging-type sensation, not the shake-shake-shake that some earthquakes are described as.

Another time, on another coast, still working as a flight attendant, I shared an apartment with other commuter flight attendants. (That Spouse o' Mine and I lived in East Lansing Michigan, and I commuted to work at JFK International each week.) We laughingly told people our address was "Final Approach: JFK". We were indeed just below the last few minutes of final approach on any given day at JFK. I loved watching the 747s and the Concorde fly overhead. (In 20/20 hindsight, I wonder how much fuel exhaust I consumed during my flight-gazing?) The Concorde would sneak up on me - it was so fast, even on landing, that it was overhead and then gone before I knew what was happening - like a giant bat overhead!

One night I was awakened from a lofty slumber by a horrible horrible shaking. I called out to a roommate, "They're too low!" I meant that the plane on final approach was too low over our neighborhood. She yelled back, "I think it's an earthquake!"

She was right. It didn't last long, or cause damage, just a lot of shaking going on.

In 1989 I was working a domestic flight (I am sensing a flight pattern here, are you?) from JFK to San Francisco. An L1011 holds 300+ passengers, and we were busy with a full flight. Somewhere just over Las Vegas, our captain came on and very matter-of-factly announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, there has been a major earthquake in San Fransisco and we are being diverted to Los Angeles." The rest of the flight was somber and worrisome. A father came up and worriedly told us his kids were at the World Series Game; could we check on their well-being? Similar questions cropped up as we walked up and down the aisles. There was little infomation we could tell them, except that we were being diverted in case the runways had been damaged...landing on a faulty runway is a bad thing.

The passengers and we crew members spent the night in Los Angeles, and the following morning, our flight to San Francisco was the first to land at the SFO airport. We landed without incident, and that final approach was absolutely silent as we flew into the area. All the passengers were witnessing the damage from the air, a vantage point that few would personally experience.

The Loma Prieta Earthquake, San Francisco, 1989

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Seasonal Change of Pace

For those weary of the snow and ice (how can that be, I ask you?!), here is a change of venue, starring that Spouse o' Mine, the same one who starred in yesterday's XC Ski and Snowshoe Frolic.

These are a few of the 100+ pyramids found in Egypt. Some people are only aware of the three largest, shown in this photograph, also known as the Great Pyramids, or Great Pyramids of Giza, or, simply, Giza.

That Spouse o' Mine and I used to live a hop, skip, and a jump from these desert skyscrapers.

If you look at the tippy-top of this pyramid, you see that it is "topped" with stone which is different from the rest of the structure. That "topping" is granite. Granite used to be the "siding" for the pyramids, like a smooth 45º angle of granite kitchen countertop, if you will. But through the years, decades, centuries, human scavengers took the granite off for their own purposes. What was left was the building blocks of stone, carved by hand, hauled miles from their origin, and mathematically and miraculously (those two are synonymous in my lingo) placed atop each other, and made to last, seemingly, forever.

Here is a photo of that Spouse o' Mine, sitting on one of those blocks of stone; can you believe they are so large? He is sitting on the bottom level of stone. Now, scroll back up and compare and contrast.
Now, go back to the snow and ice, and thank your lucky stars that you have not experienced khamsiin: 50 days of Springtime wind and sandstorm. (Nothing worse than going out and finding the paint on your car sandblasted...)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Snow Frolic

What a fun morning!

It started out a little on the grumpy side, because who wants to have to get up on a Saturday morning to have to do something? So I grumped through coffee and grits-making, and then I was good to go.

We went XC skiing on the Konza Prarie - a tallgrass prairie which covers thousands of acres in this part of Kansas. There were three of us Saturday morning adventurers. The temperature started out a brisk, foggy 18º, and progressed rapidly to a warm, and then sweaty 18º. The snow was perfect: not too much ice, not too much powder: the perfect glide to be had. Unsuspected boulders popped up here and there, and they certainly kept us on our toes - no one enjoys going from a forward-gliding motion to an immediate standstill.

There are two narrow simple suspension foot bridges we had to ski across to get to the prairie. One has rope railings, and the other, none. Going across to get to the prairie didn't seem too daunting, in that it was an incline on both, and slow and steady got us across just fine. Coming back across to get back to the trailhead...that was another story altogether. Declines on both snow-covered bridges. The bridge with rope railings didn't cause too much concern in my wee little brain. But the final bridge, snow-covered with a 10-foot drop into the creek below and no railing to slow my speed or my imaginary veering off-course was simply an exercise in Fear Factor.

Anyone who has owned horses, ridden horses, watched show jumping or eventing can get a grasp of what my wee little brain, much like a panicked Thoroughbred, was doing at the edge of the bridge: hyperventilating, maneuvering, backing up a bit, looking forward, down below, thinking of all the horrendous things that WOULD happen to me once that little thing called gravity took its course and sent me barreling first too fast across the bridge, and then barreling down the expanse onto the ice and water ten feet below.

Well. I did make it across. I am such a baby. Later, at home, I commented to that Spouse o' Mine, "I do not understand why a bridge makes me so nervous like that!"

"Cause it's dangerous." was his reply. (I think he was trying to make me feel better about it.)

postscript: I forgot to mention how fatigued my arms are tonight; what would normally be cello time is being preempted by something requiring something other than perpendicular arm position. Online Scrabble, perhaps...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tomorrow, Tomorrow, I Love Ya, Tomorrow!

We are all atwitter.

Tomorrow bids:

The Saturday morning XC Ski and Snowshoe Frolic.

Participants: 3 so far

Our January Pursuit of Insanity is taking us XC skiing or snowshoeing out on the Konza Prairie.

He is kneeling in the kitchen floor, putting new bindings on his skis. I am adjourning to the art room where my skis await me, with my exacto knife, to trim the new fish scales on one of my skis.

Yahoo! Fun time is around the corner!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Rime

Rime: an accumulation of granular ice tufts on the windward sides of exposed objects that is formed from supercooled fog or cloud and built out directly against the wind.

We've got lots of rime going on here. Very pretty snow/rime, and today was a glorious sunny day, albeit pretty cool.

I LOVE reading and listening to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Our kids, bless their funny little hearts, would always groan and writhe whenever I would put in a recording of this long poem on any of our long car trips. We had lots of long car trips; I wonder if any of the three can recite this in its entirety? Probably not. Theirs was probably an exercise of blocking out external stimuli.

Anyway ~

I feel the need to share the wealth in this lovely story, so please do enjoy, in its entirety:

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner Part The First

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner Part The Second

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner Part The Third

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner Part The Fourth

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner Part The Fifth

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner Part The Sixth

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner Part The Seventh

I really hope someone/everyone enjoys this as much as I do.
I don't know why I enjoy it so much...but I do!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Snow Day

One tries to be a good steward of God's creation.
One tries to make His creatures safe, fed, and watered in weather extremes.
Sometimes, God's creatures have a different idea.

Ducks! Go into your house with its warm shavings, hay, and heated water bowl!

Biserka! Come inside, you silly nitwit!

Socksie! Fresh shavings await you! You LIKE shavings...

Turbo, I am sorry, but you really will appreciate the water (not ice),
and the grain, shavings, and flakes of hay.
Really - you will.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Dad

My Dad turned 83 today.

I called him tonight to tell him Happy Birthday.

But he was out playing tennis.

Monday, January 17, 2011


This morning that Spouse o' Mine and I headed to Lawrence, home of grad student daughter Gillian, and also home of the store which holds his Christmas present: new guitar. So while he went and sat in a tiny practice room playing riffs and tunes, Gillian and I hit the Yarn Barn and the quilt store next door.

The Yarn Barn: so many skeins of so many types of yarn! I am only an occasional knitter of basic projects, although I appreciate the craft and talent that goes into it. In addition to the skeins of yarn, this place also held wools and looms and spinning wheels and all these fun projects sitting out for all to peruse and appreciate. I loved sticking my hand down into the silk and alpaca - like feathers! The colors and texture of all the wool and yarns were amazing.

On the drive home, I was describing to that Spouse o' Mine what I had seen. This brought a discussion - nay, a recollection, from him of the woolsheds back in his motherland Australia. And THEN a discussion about wool and sheep and everything else inbetween. It was an interesting conversation to take us the hour back home.

This is a sheep, half-way sheared. A ewe can produce ~ 15 pounds of wool when sheared, and a ram, (merino) ~ 39 pounds. That's a lot of wool, and lanolin, and dirt mixed in!

Once home and settled in for a cup of tea, I turned on the Science Channel on TV, and what do you know? A 30-minute spiel about wool, from the flock to the rug! I loved that I could watch it only a few hours from our visit to the Yarn Barn. So I got to watch sheep shearing (which I have seen in person, at the Jondarian Woolshed in Queensland, Australia), washing, carding, dying, spinning, spinning again, and eventually, weaving into massive wool carpet.

Sheep shearing
Dyed yarns
Wool spinners
A finished product: wool carpeting
A fun day was had...
by me!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Clouded with snow
The cold winds blow,
And shrill on leafless bough
The robin with its burning breast
Alone sings now.

The rayless sun,
Day's journey done,
Sheds its last ebbing light
On fields in leagues of beauty spread
Unearthly white.

Thick draws the dark,
And spark by spark,
The frost-fires kindle, and soon
Over that sea of frozen foam
Floats the white moon."
- Walter de La Mare, Winter

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