The Owl Underground is Moving to WordPress

This will be my last blog post to this blog.  

As I’ve mentioned earlier, with all the problems I’ve been having with Blogger, I have been considering moving my blog to WordPress.  Sunday, I was notified by Blogger that I have used up all my free space for pictures and cannot upload any more pictures.  Rather than pay for more space, I’ve decided to take that as my cue and do the deed.

So, now it’s official.  My blog has moved to WordPress:

The new blog has an RSS feed available so those who use a feed reader can continue to follow my blog that way.

I’ll be keeping this blog as an archive since I won’t be migrating any previous posts over to the new blog.  Eventually, I’ll move WOL’s Poetry Place to WordPress as well, but one thing at a time.  

For right now, the new blog is still a work in progress, as I’m still in the process of learning to use WordPress, and I am awaiting permission to use some photos as a potential masthead.   Still, I like how it’s going so far. 

I’ll see you over on WordPress.

A Revolution for the New Year

Elsewhere, I have mused on the title of this blog. In one sense, it refers to the burrowing owl, Athene cunicularia, who is my “totemic animal” or “mascot” or “spirit guide” or “alter ego” or whatever. But the other sense of “underground” is that of a counterculture, a social movement that exists outside the scope of mainstream, politically correct, popular culture. (The burrowing owl is one of the few birds who nest in a burrow underground, so it works that way, too.)
I resist the term “old hippy” (the way I read the brief,”hippy” and “old” are mutually exclusive terms), but I still try to do my bit to walk against the current of consumerism, conspicuous consumption, and the idea that “retail therapy” is good for what ails you. (It seems ironic to me that those who would not voluntarily reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, are now being forced to do so by economics. — Nothing will make you turn down your heater thermostat like a whopping great fuel bill!). So it was with great interest that I read a recent blog post by a lady I recognized right away as a kindred spirit. (I’m much too Taurean to live like she does, with a free spirit and few possessions, but ideologically, we have much in common. ) I’m taking her up on her challenge to “spread the word, share the symbol.”

Here’s the rune and the symbol:

And here’s the word (in her own words):
For some time I have wanted to make an image with which to start a quiet revolution on the backs of service station toilet doors, on the billboards behind carparks, over the screens of insidious train-journey advertising. In deep hatred for the feeling I get when I am forced to enter motorway service station cafes, shopping malls or toilets, I wanted to rail against all that is bland and homogeneous and commercial and life-suckingly chrome-and-concrete and spreading un-refuted like a disease across our land. I imagined planting little seeds of hope and solidarity in the form of a beautiful and rousing image which I would stick between the scrawlings of desperation and ugliness in the perfumed, disinfected cubicles made for us to shit in whilst we are not at home. The backs of public toilet doors are a fascinating melting pot of honest expression, dissent and advertising; it feels like there’s a communication between strangers played out there in this, the most private of rooms, and this is the way I wanted to communicate: liminally.

I suppose I wanted to plant my revolution-seed in the dirt in the cracks of the pavements, in the dirt between the formica and polyester, in the dirt pushed to the edges of millions of touchscreens, in the dirt underneath escalator rails and hygienic hand-dryers. Like the gargoyles and marginal grotesques of the middle ages, I wanted to coax beauty in once more like a stranger to the citadels of public ugliness we all have become so used to. I wanted to surprise and unnerve and delight and disedge all the lovely human beings who have grown so unseeing in the unbeautiful subway of their daily rush through these places. I wanted ivy to grow over all the chrome and adverts, its clinging rootlets ruining the L’Oréal shine with their ancient, living patination, and its roots grinding escalators to a twisted halt. I wanted green silence to toll through the noisy claustrophobia of shopping malls and for the shoppers to break their ankles on huge ancient roots, which had crept in past the security guards (notwithstanding hoodies and ASBOs) to smash up the shops. I wanted to grab them by the hand, and run with them (limping) to the dark woods and remind them that they are powerful.
I give you this image to do with what you wish: download it, reblog it, print it, photocopy it, make it into stickers and take them with you in your bag to stick on the backs of public toilet doors, on supermarket conveyor belts or over underground advertising screens; make it into a poster, a projection, print it on bags and T-shirts, paint it large on the sides of petrol stations, pavements, parliaments. . . I want this image not to be for sale – take it freely and use it, let’s make it spread unrelenting from the edges, appearing everywhere, but not obviously authored. . . . It is yours. A gift to our revolution for Two Thousand And Twelve. Take it and run.

I want to be the one to bring the revolution to America (The last revolution we Americans had was against the UK. I think it’s time we shared one.) We will probably be called “rooties,” but what’s in a name? Roots traditionally come with stems and leaves attached, and by our fruits ye will know us, to turn a phrase.

I would like to end this post by quoting the soi-disant “activist clown and former frozen dessert” the inimitable and incomparable Wavy Gravy, who says, “Put your good where it does the most.” Words to live by.

A New Blog for the New Year

According to my last attempt to tweek the design of my blog, I have used up my storage limit for blog pictures on Picasa, and in order to get more storage, I have to pay money.  Since that is not an option, and since I’ve been unsatisfied with Blogger of late, this looks like the perfect time to migrate to WordPress.  I’ve got some days off coming up, and it seems like perfect timing.  Watch this space. 

White Christmas, the Festive Board and a Progress Report

 Here are a couple of shots of our white Christmas, such as it was.  We had one of those snows where it’s cold enough to snow, but not cold enough for the snow to stick to the concrete.  All in all, it was the best kind in view of the circumstances.  My sidewalk did not even get wet, so my dad could walk from car to house on good footing.   These pictures were taken the night it fell, which was Friday night, but more fell albeit in a slow, desultory fashion, all day Saturday.  It was beginning to melt in earnest by Sunday.  Last year, I cooked Christmas dinner and had the folks over.  I think it is the start of a tradition.  The only couple left of the several couples who used to take turns inviting each other over for holiday dinners now spends the holidays in Atlanta with their oldest son and family.  This year, their erstwhile exchange student from France who is the same age as the youngest boy, flew over and spent Christmas with them in Atlanta.  Since my brother and sister-in-law were out of town, it was just me and the folks, same as last year.  And, same as last year, I invited my BFF, whose parents are both dead now, to share the holiday with us.

Same as last year, I cooked a turkey breast. ($22/£14 for nearly 7 lbs/3.15 kg worth — the turkey cost as much as the whole rest of the dinner!) I cooked it in one of those oven bags — I washed it, salted and peppered it, and rubbed the skin with olive oil, then popped it into the bag.  You make 6 half-inch slits in the bag, put it in a substantial baking dish, and shove it in the oven.  It comes out moist and juicy, with the skin nicely browned.  It was so tender it was almost hard to slice.    We had green beans, mashed potatoes (instant), corn bread stuffing, giblet gravy, white rolls (which got a little too brown – !) and I made the cranberry Jello mousse thing.  We had the traditional pumpkin pie for dessert.  I put a velveteen drapery panel for a table cloth (that’s Jaks helping set the table), and covered it with the clear vinyl table cover I keep on the table for daily use.  My dad can barely see, and I didn’t want to be hovering over him worrying that he would spill something on cloth that must be hand washed.  I used gold chargers under my blue and white china, and gold napkins with some blue and white china napkin rings.  A while ago, I also found some blue glass pillar candle holders on sale that are just perfect for coasters for my blue glasses.  
My blue willow dishes are “grocery store dishes” although they were made by the Churchill china people in England– you got stamps based on the amount of your grocery purchases, and little cards to fill in.  Once you filled in a card with stamps you could buy a place setting for like $3, consisting of a dinner plate, salad plate, cup and saucer and small dish.  Then you could buy serving pieces etc., for a very reasonable price.  They had casseroles, and serving dishes, soup bowls, relish dish, coffee pots, tea pots, platters, etc.  I bought at least one of everything they had, and have 12 complete place settings, plus serving pieces and the condiment set (creamer, sugar, salt and pepper, butter dish, gravy boat), as well as a teapot and coffee pot, an oval platter and a round platter.  I have two of the little casseroles (called “covered vegetable bowls” here — if you click on the title, you can see what they look like.  I didn’t pay anywhere near $80/£52 when I bought it in 1985!)

I used my sideboard to serve from, and served buffet style.  It’s hard to tell, but the sideboard has pieces of slate inset in the top where you can set hot dishes.  It is in arts and crafts style, and matches my dining room suite.  I got it at more than half off because it had been damaged in shipping (a crunched corner, and some very minor damage to the bottom shelf) and did not have any hardware.  I was able to find hardware on the internet that matched my TV armoire and china cabinet, and it was very inexpensive.

A progress report on the pinwheel baby blanket that I started.  It got too large for the set of double pointed needles, so I put it onto the the 24-inch needles, and  now I’ve moved it to the 36-inch needles.  (see right )

I’m making good progress on it.  Since the only stitches it uses are knit stitches and yarn overs, I don’t have to pay all that much attention to it, and I can work on it while I’m working.  Once I’ve got so many stitches on the needle there’s no room for more, I’ll shift it off onto the 48-inch round needles.  I started with a ball of baby yarn the size of a softball, and it’s only down to tennis ball size now.  I think I’ll keep knitting on it until I run out of yarn in this ball, and see how big it is.  I’ve got more yarn, so I can make it as big as it needs to be.  Think I’ll do a crocheted shell edging on it to finish it off.  I’ll take pictures of it when it is finished and post it on my Ravelry site.

This is the little baby that the blanket is for.   It’s a very difficult time for the whole family, who are having to come to terms with the knowledge that this precious little girl will have serious ongoing medical issues for the rest of her life, however long that might be.  The child’s grandmother (who was born on the day my mom and dad got married) and her husband have been close family friends for a long time.  We grew up together, and we have watched the child’s mother grow up.  A very sad situation.

A Collection of Carols

Alison Kraus and YoYo Ma perform “The Wexford Carol.

This is the English translation of a Gaelic Carol from the Outer Hebrides Islands titled “Taladh Chriasda.”  Sung by Sheena Wellington by Narada on the CD Celtic Spirit.

Gloucestershire Wassail, an ancient carol,  on the Hurdy Gurdy

Loreena McKennett singing The Coventry Carol

Anuna singing Noel Nouvelet

A Medieval Carol, “Gaudete”  (“Rejoice, Rejoice! Christ is born of the virgin Mary, Rejoice!”)

Celtic Woman singing “O Don Oiche Ud I Mbeithil” (One Night in Bethlehem)

And from the sublime, we go straight on through to the ridiculous.

Happy Unspecified Occasion of a Celebratory Nature

Tuesday evening I had my brother and sister-in-law over for supper, since they will be out of  town over Christmas.  We had baked potatoes  topped with strained Campbell’s Southwestern Vegetable Soup (I had the broth for lunch today) and topped with some Sargento’s Mexican 4 Cheeses blend of shredded cheese.  I made a fruit salad with drained mandarin oranges and chunk pineapple using raspberry yogurt as the salad dressing.  Both my brother and SIL love cats as much as I do, but don’t have any because she spends most of the week in San Marcos teaching violin at TSU, and he owns a violin repair shop here in town, and because of the amount of traveling they do hither and yon.  They had last seen Jaks shortly after I adopted him, and both he and Stormie put in an appearance.  Gobi, however, chose to remain in my bedroom sleeping on the bed.  Jaks was in kitty heaven stretched out between them getting scritched and stroked and otherwise indulged. 

I’m cooking Christmas dinner again this year for my folks and my good friend.  I had a yearly health checkup appointment to go to Wednesday, and on the way back, I stopped at Market Street, our local “high-end” grocery store to pick up the fixin’s for dinner.  I’m cooking a turkey breast, and Prater’s is providing the cornbread stuffing and giblet gravy.  We will have the traditional green beans, jellied cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. I’m going to cook the turkey breast in an “oven bag” again this year, as the one I cooked in the bag last year was very tender and succulent.  

Last year I found a recipe for a congealed cranberry salad made with whole berry cranberry sauce (1 can), cranberry flavor Jello (1 pkg) and Cool Whip (medium container).   You make the Jello according to package directions, then blend in the cranberry sauce and Cool Whip.  Refrigerate until it sets up.  I’m going to have it again this year. 

Right now, it’s 31F/-1C and my weather widget has a snow icon for this evening, Friday and Saturday.  I’m hoping that if it snows, it won’t snow much and will melt by Sunday, or at least the sidewalks will be clear by then.  My dad is what is called a “marginal ambulator” — he is becoming quite frail and must use a walker to get around.  On top of that, he’s nearly blind.  My mom telephoned earlier and she and I discussed options for getting him from the car into my house.  He has a wheeled walker that has a seat on it.  If the footing is “iffy” Sunday, we’ll have him sit on the walker and we’ll wheel him into the house.  I have no steps that need to be navigated, so that would definitely be an option. 

I’m going to be working from 9 a.m. to noon both Saturday and Sunday, but I have a feeling work will be light both days.  Anyway, I’ll have everything ready to go so I can just stick the turkey in the oven when it needs to start cooking.  I can have some things done ahead of time, like putting my table linens on the table, etc.  And I’ll make the congealed salad Saturday afternoon. 

I’ll try to remember to take pictures this year — at least of the “festive board.”

In Memoriam

On silent feet, the furry folk arrive,
Leave paw prints all across my days,
Scatter catnaps in my sunshine places.
Oh, how their presence graces me.
Quicker than a winking eye, as agile as a smile,
they stalk the pathways of my heart
And what great emptiness they leave behind
When it is time for them to go.
For Maeve
from (8>)

Poem © December 2011 by The Owl Underground, all rights reserved.

"Where Do You Get Your Ideas?" Redux

The creative process is a source of fascination to many people including me.  Any discussion of how the creative process happens invariably elicits the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”  I’ve addressed this question before on more than one occasion, but here it is again.

I’m going to walk you through it this time.  Here’s where I think it started.  Earlier, when I was catching up on the blogs I follow, I came across this quote:

Breath of Heaven  
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of Heaven.

                      -Chris Eaton

It’s from the lyrics of a song, Breath of Heaven, written by Chris Eaton and recorded by Amy Grant.  It’s also known as “Mary’s Song” as in Mary the mother of Jesus, and represents an attempt to “get inside Mary’s head” and examine her thoughts about the situation she now finds herself in.  That got me thinking about another song called, It Wasn’t His Child, written by Skip Ewing and recorded by Trisha Yearwood (which might also be called “Joseph’s song”), which addresses a another side of the “holy family” that somehow gets lost in the shuffle – that of a man who takes on the task of raising a child he knows isn’t his. 

For one reason and another, my sleep cycle has gotten disrupted again (I am a night WOL struggling to stay in step with the daylight world).  I’m having my brother and his wife over for dinner tomorrow night as they won’t be in town for Christmas, and then Christmas day, I’ll be having my folks and best friend in for Christmas dinner.  After I worked until 3 o’clock Monday afternoon, rather than push on through with house cleaning, I took a nap and slept until about 10 o’clock.  As soon as I finish this blog post, I’ll clean house until time to go to my doctor’s appointment (mammogram) today at 2 pm.

When I awoke from my nap, I awoke out of a dream:  It was about a Jewish family.  The father was an orthodox rabbi much beloved and respected by his congregation.  His two oldest children were both sons.  A situation had arisen where genetic testing of family members to find a donor needs to be done.  The second son was discussing the situation with his father intending to contact his older brother (who lives in another city) who he knows will want to have himself and his family tested to try to find a match.  The father strongly urged the second son not to contact his brother and to drop the whole idea of including his older brother and his family in the search for a donor.  The second son was deeply shocked and horrified to hear this coming from his loving, caring father who had treasured all his children and grandchildren so dearly, and who had gone to great lengths to live his faith.  The son remonstrated his father bitterly about it.  Finally, the father sat the son down and explained. 

The whole family knew that during World War II, the mother and father and their first child, also a son, had managed to escape the Nazis for a time but, toward the end of the war, they had finally been caught and sent to a concentration camp.  When they arrived at the camp, their 3-year-old son was brutally murdered in front of them by one of the Nazi officers.  The camp was one of the first to be liberated by the Americans, and the mother and father were able to contact relatives in America who arranged for them to come to over and start a new life.  Not long after their arrival in America it became evident that the mother was pregnant.  She gave birth to a son whom they named after the child who had been killed in the concentration camp. Then the father told his son what no one else knew except the mother and father:  When word came that the advancing American army was only a few days away, the Nazis in charge of the camp decided that it would be better to flee the camp and get as far away as they could so that if they were captured by the Americans, as seemed likely, they could avoid being associated with the camp. That night the same Nazi officer who had killed their child, took the opportunity to rape the mother repeatedly.  That officer then fled with the rest of his Nazi comrades.  The beloved oldest son and older brother, whom his parents doted on, was not the father’s son, but the Nazi officer’s son, the child of rape. Of all the courses the mother and father could have taken, after much prayer and soul searching, they chose to keep the child, who they realized was as much a victim of the Nazi officer’s brutality as the mother had been.  They would raise it and cherish it as their own.  It would be as if the Nazi officer had intentionally given them one of his own children as restitution for the child he had murdered.  The father knew that genetic testing would reveal that their oldest child was not his, and the information that would then come to light would have a devastating effect on the whole family, as so many of their relatives had been sent to the concentration camps and only a very few had survived, and especially since the older brother, who was now a much respected rabbi in his own right and well-known for his work with various human rights issues,  did not know who his real father is.  This information astonished the brother who marveled at how his parents were able to do this, since he knew how genuinely his parents, especially his mother,  had loved his older brother over the years.  Now the son was faced with the question of whether or not to tell his brother what he knows. 

It would be a great story, especially in the historical and cultural context it had in my dream.  But it would work in other contexts as well because the basic plot mechanics are about how humans deal with a very tragic set of circumstances and its consequences.  I don’t know if it is a story I will every write.  I’m not sure I have the insight it would take to make the story ring true.  But, it would make a great story.

So Much For the Christmas Spirit. . . .

I had ordered two sets of assorted note cards from one of my English blog friends — a very talented artist.  One set was for myself, and one was a xmas present for a dear friend.  I was very excited when I saw the envelope from England in my mailbox yesterday.  But as I took it out, it seemed strangely light.  When I got back into the house, I could see that the envelope had already been opened.  It quickly became apparent why the envelope was strangely light.  It was empty.  The envelope closure was of the kind that has a sticky adhesive, so that it would reseal after it had been open and its contents had been removed.  So, somewhere, either some customs person or some postal employee in one country or the other has $60 worth of merchandise, and I have an empty envelope.  A rather expensive empty envelope.   Needless to say, I’m very upset.  I had been scrimping for over two months to get the money together to buy some of this artist’s wonderful work.  I’m going to file a claim with the Post Office here, but the package was not insured and I very much doubt I’ll ever see my money or those beautiful cards again.