Yearly Archives: 2011

The List

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve (how did that happen??), which means every time I turn around I am surrounded by suggestions for my list of New Year’s Resolutions.  I got one this morning from my gym, with a list of goals I should set for 2012, and I just cringed.

I’m not sure why, but the mere mention of “goals” raises my hackles.  I’m perfectly capable of making a list of errands I want to run, or things I need to get done this week.  But goals??  Long-term objectives requiring planning and tracking?  Not for me, thankyouverymuch.  It takes most of my time and energy just to do the stuff I’ve already agreed to do.

I just looked at the list from the gym again, and it wasn’t just a list of goals.  It was a whole “end-of-year review:”  What did I accomplish in 2011?  What did I intend to accomplish?  What did I learn from all this?  Gah.

This used to bug me at work.  Every year we had to do The Performance Review, in which we set out our Goals for next year, and evaluated how well we did on The Goals for last year.  Maybe that’s why I hate this.  The Work Goals were never realistic, because at any time senior management could breeze by with a new merger, or a major reorg, or a new project, and whatever goals you had set up became instantly irrelevant – except that they were still there on last year’s performance review, waiting for you to be judged on how well you did against them.  Fortunately most of my bosses understood this (they had the same senior management) and judged accordingly.

I understand the emphasis on what-did-you-plan, how-did-you-do-on-the-plan in a job.  If you don’t have something formal like that, then your performance evaluation depends on whether your boss likes you or not, so a set of objectives and progress tracking against them protects you from being fired because your boss wants to hire his son-in-law, or because you wouldn’t sleep with him.  So I did the best I could with it.  But I don’t understand the urge to move that into your personal life, with endless written lists of What I Will Do.

For one thing, it’s commonly acknowledged that people mostly don’t do the things they put on the New Year lists.  It can be useful to write down something you want to do – putting it on paper gives it extra reality, somehow.  But a whole list, say, ten things that you Will Do in 2012, just sets you up to fail, because it’s too much.  If you were really going to do any of those things, you would have started already.  In general, the things you do are the things you find worth doing, and if you aren’t doing them, it’s because you’ve subconsciously made a decision that they don’t make the cut.  For goals like “Quit Smoking,” you may not be doing them because they’re really really hard.  But you may also have as much on your plate as you can handle right now, and to do any of the new things on the list, you’d have to stop doing something else.

I’m  not sure your life is something you can plan out like that, either.  John Lennon was right when he wrote that “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”  Mostly we all just go along, trying to cope with the stuff coming at us.  Mind you, I’ve undertaken major changes, and made them happen:  twenty-five or so years ago, I decided I wanted to change careers, and I did.  It took me about five years, because I had to keep paying the mortgage while I trained myself for a new job and then looked for one.  I don’t remember any list of goals; I decided I wanted to get paid for working with computers, and then tried a number of tactics until one worked.  I remember, every Sunday, going through the want ads and picking out the one or two ads I thought I could reasonably apply for, writing the cover letters and mailing them with a resume.  That was a goal I’d set, to do that every week.  But when it came right down to it, what got me a job in data processing was a friend of mine who worked in a company that had an entry-level training program for new programmers.  She told me how to apply, and I got in.  That’s what I mean by coping with the stuff coming at us.  That option wasn’t on any list because I didn’t know it existed.

I think the one useful thing you can Resolve at New Year’s is that you want to change some one thing, and then you can work on that.  As for evaluating your accomplishments from last year – wouldn’t it be better to work on that change you just decided to make??

Posted in Personal

The Mourners

As a life-long student of the Middle Ages, when the Palace of the Legion of Honor announced a showing of sculptures from the tomb of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1371–1419), I knew I had to go see it.  I’ve made at least 4 attempts to schedule the trip, and finally realized that I had to see it now or not at all – the exhibit closes Sunday!  These sculptures have never left France before and very possibly never will again.

My first impression as I walked into the exhibit was, how long did it take to make all these, anyway?  And what did they do with the dead Duke while they were creating the tomb sculptures?

The sculptures themselves are – amazing.  These are 15th century Frenchmen in the clothing they would have worn for a formal occasion, carved in alabaster.  You can see them at The Mourners Project web site, where you can theoretically view each statue in 360° and 3D (I couldn’t make it work in FireFox, it may need a different browser).  The carving of the clothing made me feel that if I reached out and tried to lift a corner, it would drape over my hand.  Many of the mourners have their hoods pulled over their faces; but if you bend down and look up, they all have faces, and they are all different.  Some of the mourners are monks, some of them are “pleurants,” an old French word which translates literally as “weepers.”  I say “old French” because the word doesn’t appear in a modern online French dictionary, although the verb pleurer does.

The Wikipedia article on the life of John the Fearless matches pretty closely what I read in the museum.  He died (well, he was assassinated; read the article) in 1419.  If you want a historical marker for that, according to Wikipedia, when King Henry V of England invaded France in 1413, John of Burgundy negotiated with him in hopes of taking control of France away from Charles VI.  John backed away from an alliance with Henry but did not fight for France in the Battle of Agincourt.

How long did it take to create the tomb?  John’s father Philip the Bold, first Duke of Burgundy, founded the Charterhouse (Carthusian monastery) of Champmol in 1384, as a burial place for his dynasty.  John died in 1419.  From what I recall reading at the museum, planning for John’s tomb began in 1440, and the tomb itself wasn’t completed until 1470.  So the sculptors had thirty years to complete all those figures.  Actually, they could have begun earlier.  The court of Burgundy supported a sculpture workshop which was one of the artistic centers of its age.  If you are interested in the background, the resources at are excellent and repay reading.

Ironically, the last Duke of Burgundy, Charles le Téméraire (Charles the Bold), died in 1477.  The dynasty that was to be buried for eternity in the Charterhouse of Champmol lasted only a century.  The tombs still exist, but in a museum.

The Mourners are fascinating, beautiful and moving, and I’m very glad I made the time to go and see them while they are here.  If I want to see them again, I’ll have to go to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon.

Posted in Personal Tagged |

Birds in the Tree

I didn’t get any photos because I was indoors riding the exercise bike.  I noticed a commotion in the Chinese hackberry tree that inhabits the parking strip – since the exercise bike is on the second floor, I was looking straight across at it.  We had robins.  We had a lot of robins, I could see 4 or 5 at a time and there were more I couldn’t see, disturbing the branches and leaves, flying from branch to branch eating the hackberries, if that’s what those little black things are.  Also one much smaller greyer bird, also apparently after the berries.

It rained off and on today, not very hard, and we had a lot of birds.  I’ve noticed before that a gray, drizzly day (with a light rain, but not usually a heavy one) is often a day when we get a lot of birds in the yard.  If they were on the grass or in the flower bed I’d say they were after worms but there are no worms in the hackberry tree.

Looking for a collective noun for robins (apparently a group of robins is a worm), I found a comment (from the British Trust for Ornithology or BTO) that robins are territorial and don’t flock, but that “severe winter weather pacifies their mood with individuals becoming much more congenial.”  I wouldn’t call today’s weather “severe”, dismal would be more like it, but we certainly had many more robins together than I’m used to seeing.  I like birds, but robins always seem kind of aggressive to me.  They certainly were today.

Posted in Nature, Neighborhood Tagged |

The Halloween Parade

One of the unexpected pleasures of living on our street is that, every year around Halloween, the entire population of the elementary school, half a block away, dresses up in costume and parades up one side of the street and back down again the other side, one classroom at a time (preceded by signs identifying the teacher).  Today was a bright sunny Halloween Monday, and there they all went.  I stopped eating lunch to watch them.

Some of the costumes were really imaginative.  We had the usual brides, tramps, witches, wizards, and ghosts, of course.  But I also saw:  two little girls dressed as a pair of dice (yes, square cardboard costumes); two different boxy robots; a child in a totem post costume more than twice as tall as he was, with accurate Northwest Indian designs; and a young lady dressed as an 18th century court lady, in white satin and lace, with a full Madame Pompadour wig almost a foot high (the jeans visible under the skirt hem kind of took the edge off that one).  There were several penguins (at least one adult), wearing floppy yellow felt feet, with red chili peppers on the breast and a sort of crown of flames made of construction paper.  I saw a Spiderman, but also a Flash (the Justice League RULES!).  Orange and black striped knee socks were popular.  I do think the young lady in the frilly dark red tutu should have reconsidered the hot pink leggings, they didn’t go with it.  My husband said he saw a bunch of chicken suits, but I missed those.

Our neighbor across the street stared in amazement, he said he’d never been home for it before.  Then he went and got his camera.  I didn’t get any pictures, sorry, but it was a lovely parade.  We have an elderly neighbor who walks a very small elderly dachshund; they waited in our front sidewalk for quite a while as the cavalcade streamed past.  I don’t think the dog appreciated it.

Posted in Neighborhood Tagged |

New Header and Other Things

I got tired of WordPress’ ice forest.  I hope you like the new header photo, I took it this summer.  It’s sunset over the Georgia Strait, viewed from our B&B just outside of Lund, B.C.

We had an episode of flying termites, today, I think.  I looked out the back door and the whole yard was full of tiny flying objects which moved too fast for me to get a really good look at them (and definitely too small and fast to photograph).  But I could clearly see, on each of them, a pair of translucent wings of the same length.  I thought they were flying ants, but Google informed me that the equal-length wings means flying termites.  I began to freak out until my husband reminded me that we always have termites – they live in the woodpile.  They’ve never been in the house that we know of (yes, we do inspect from time to time).  So – the termite queens hatched today and flew off.  The whole incident didn’t last 10 minutes, but for that long, they filled the yard, flittering around in the sunlight.

Posted in Nature, Photography, Vacations

It’s Spider Time Again

Autumn is when the spiders come out.  Last October I got some nice photos of dew-spangled webs all over the yard.  This year I walked out the back door and found this handsome fellow (in both senses!) stringing a web between two parts of the Rose de Recht, about 3 feet from the porch.  I couldn’t resist a couple of shots:

Spider, September 2011

Isn’t he elegant?

Spider, September 2011

I don’t know why I like spiders so much, except that they’re so busy, always spinning; and then there are all the bugs they eat.  I took as close a shot as I could; his (probably her, I suspect!) actual size, excluding legs, is about the length of my thumbnail!

Posted in Nature, Photography Tagged |

Odd Week in Las Vegas

My sister has lived in Las Vegas for the last 20 years or so.  (A long way from The Strip, I may add; we neither of us gamble; she’s a desert rat, and so is her husband.)  She currently can’t travel due to health problems; so once or twice a year I fly over to Vegas, or Jim and I drive over, to visit.  I almost always visit in September, for various reasons (more on that later); and I just got back from the latest visit yesterday.

The first odd thing was the weather.  I arrived Monday afternoon in the middle of an absolutely spectacular sky filled with big white cumulus clouds, shading into cumulo-nimbus.  In desert terms, we had a thunderstorm building; I was relieved it held off until after my plane landed.  But – it wasn’t especially hot.  The high was only 92 – to some that may seem a lot but I’ve been there in September when it was 117.  Ninety-two is merely balmy for Vegas.  It didn’t top 100 the entire week – very unusual.

The thunderstorm happened Monday night to Tuesday morning, and I couldn’t figure out for the longest time what was causing those flashes of light in my room at three in the morning.  Headlights on the cross street (where there’s essentially zero traffic)?  Is the battery going in the smoke detector (but why no noise)?  I don’t reason very well when I’m half asleep, but I finally found an east-facing window and looked out into one of the more spectacular lightning storms I’ve ever seen:  big honkin’ bolt lighting, way across the valley, too far for us to hear the thunder.  (This is why my brother-in-law has multiple lightning rods on the house.)  Now I knew what it was, I could ignore it, so I went back to sleep.

In the morning it was – raining?  In Las Vegas?   Yes.  The dogs were appalled.  We let them out into the yard and they practically took the paint off the door coming back in.  The desert tortoises in the back yard refused to come out at all.  This meant some very frisky dogs that day, because nobody wanted to take them out for a walk in the rain and mud – including the dogs.  It rained for several hours but dried up by noon, and in the afternoon the news began showing photos of the flooding in Henderson, which got Even More Rain.  It rained on and off all day and through Tuesday night.  The weather people Tuesday afternoon were marveling that the high temperature was 78, recorded at 1 AM; but looking back at the week’s stats I see it actually got up to 88.  Wednesday the high was 85 – the “low high.”

By Thursday morning things were settling down, no more rain, but the high Thursday was still only 88.  Friday was quiet, a little warmer; my sister went to physical therapy, I studied SQL.  Then around 5:30, I heard her exclaim something, and went out to find her staring into space.  JD just called, she said.  He says he wanted to tell me he’s alive.

OK, I’ll turn over the hole card.  I was visiting my sister (who has to have someone in the house with her) so my brother-in-law could attend the Reno Air Races.  He’s gone every year for as long as I’ve known him; he is himself a pilot, now retired; he flew fighters in Vietnam and airliners for NorthWest.  The Reno Air Races are a big deal for him and his service buddies, and they were all there when the P51D Mustang crashed.  His preference for sitting at the top of the stands probably saved him; he was about 200 feet from the point of impact.  Fortunately none of his immediate group was severely injured, although it took him until 9 o’clock Friday night to find them all, and one or two of them caught some frag.

For those of you who have read some of the wilder speculations about this incident, the pros (my brother-in-law’s buddies) are convinced that the crash was an equipment failure – they think the plane lost an elevator stabilizer, and frankly their description of what happened next suggests that a brilliant pilot died trying to kill as few people as possible.  I doubt seriously that the pilot’s age (74) was a factor – if he had been impaired in any way, from what they said, he’d probably have taken out the whole grandstand.

So the rest of my vacation was spent listening to my sister answer the phone about every 15 minutes, and repeat, “JD is all right…”

The flight home was totally uneventful in clear calm weather, and I’m glad to be back.

Posted in Family, Nature, Personal, Vacations Tagged , |

FireFox 6 – Don’t!

If you are one of the fortunate people who is still using FireFox 5, or possibly still using FireFox 3.6.x – ignore the repeated requests to upgrade to FireFox 6!  Stay put.  FireFox 5 was a perfectly stable platform.  FireFox 6 hangs nearly as often as FireFox 4, and there are incompatibility problems with several of my favorite plugins.  I save install executables and I’m seriously considering uninstalling 6 and reinstalling 5.

Posted in Technical

Testing PHP Upgrade

This post is actually a test to see if I can post, so far so good.  I’ve upgraded PHP on my site to 5.3.6 to see if WordPress still works.  I think so.

Posted in Technical Tagged |

Early June

What is it about early June recently?  Two years ago we vacationed in Yellowstone, and on June 3 or 4th, it snowed an inch and a half, more or less.  Here we are again on June 4, in northern California, and it is pouring rain and looks like breaking a precipitation record set in 1884.

Climate change?  Naaah.

Posted in Nature Tagged |