Caturday Thoughts – WordPress Is Driving Me Crazy

WordPress is driving me crazy. I hate redoing things, so I don’t like writing a post in Word or Google docs and then trying to copy and paste it into WordPress and spend time fiddling with the formatting.  It does save time to cut and paste any research straight into the post and do my writing and clean things up and edit all in one place. There is one problem, though. I often will find so much on a topic I want to split my work into two or more posts. Or I get an idea for something more complicated, like a series or align posts to the holiday they are about. You can schedule in WordPress, but it’s a little tiny window and the crummy keyboard on my wonky laptop often sticks and I don’t get the date I intended. It also tends to freeze up and it looks like changes are made but in fact they are not. I know there are scheduling programs you can buy, but again that’s another layer technology to manage plus of course they come at a not so cheap price. Once you schedule it so you can see a calendar sequence of posts it is no longer a draft. They assume it’s finished instead of merely tentatively scheduled. So on occasion I wind up with drafts posting before I am finished.

There are also things that I want to do thhat work better on a regular website. So I set one up. Over time I have changed my mind about what I want to do with it. Someone at my coding meet-up has agreed to help me with the tech stuff that’s beyond me but I have had to puther off a couple of times. First the website went down and we spent time figuring out the hosting company would have to fix it. Then when that was done WordPress refused to update. I spent literally days manually upgrading permissions on files in WordPress, file by file. No one could account for this problem and I didn’t want to pay the tech for twenty or thirty or even more hours for something I could do.

Now I am behind. I’d take my laptop to work on it when I drive down to Georgia for Thanksgiving but I really don’t trust hotel internet security. Yes I have to stay in a hotel when visiting my family. Don’t ask. I may take the chance on the hotel internet. One reason I’m driving is the aggravation and cost of getting to and from an airport from where i live. The other reason is a good one though. After years of dreaming about getting one for the cats I am finally getting a custom cat tree from Furrwood Forest. I am just sorry Tony and Mosby never got to play on one. Mosby especially was a climber. This many makes cat trees that are works of art and very sculptural. I am really excited abut getting it and I will sav shipping costs, too. I promise to get my act together with the Go Pro and take pictures. Hopefully Cloud will be interested and go to the top, but he is also putting on extra steps for Mi Sun and Simba and there will be five levels with two cradles at the top so he won’t have to fight with Milk for the top spot.

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Caturday Thoughts – Grey November

String of small bells in front of window with rain frosting the glassWe actually started off with some lovely warm days but as November has  progressed we have had several cold rainy days. Most of this week was rainy. When the sun came out Friday it brought with it cold and wind. What a week!. Monday was overcast but fairly warm. I had to drive over to the new mailbox and office stand-in place I found to sign up and get a new box. The landlord raised the rent on poor Mr. Mohammed who took such good care of me, and now he is closing his business. Wednesday was major work on the truck and yesterday, in the nick of time before the cold arrived two men from the plumbing and heating outfit I found came and checked the furnace and installed a new thermostat so I would have heat. In spite of all this I feel like I am not accomplishing things. I still have work to do to complete my degree, one of my websites is down again, a potential client literally disappeared, and things just keep going wrong. There are not major things but there are a lot of them and it is draining. A major league baseball player must feel much like this in one of those streaks where they can’t get a hit. I think it is the onset of another winter with  many goals not met. And it is the cold and damp and greyness.

In reality, the very first days of the month I noticed that the reds, oranges and yellows were finally showing in the trees. November started out deceptively full of color and it was still very warm when I pulled the quilts out of the storage. Then the November weather began. Even on one of the sunnier days there was fog on the mountain. I don’t know it if is the change in time, the change in the weather or myself becoming frustrated with the constant things needing attention which do not move me toward my goals, but I feel it affecting me. The color is going out of my vision. Not what my eyes see, but my inner vision,

So I must find some way to combat this rather gloomy Eyore-like vision. After all, the truck has been made safe. The cats look at me and I can read their thoughts, “We have heat in the cold, and all the food bowls are full, even yours. There are soft, warm blankets and pads in all our nesting places, especially on your bed. We don’t care if you still can’t get the printer to work, or the website permissions are screwed up. We don’t care if it’s rainy and gloomy, as long as we don’t have to be out in it and we will cuddle against you and purr, so you don’t feel bad.”

I spent a lot of time blogging for October and thought I would cut back this month to get some of those practical things done. I have ticked off a lot of items on the list and think I should get back to blogging more. I have just a couple of unfulfilled commitments to make good on. I won’t be doing a post a day this month but maybe again in December.  I have that website to straighten out, too. And school work to finish up. Those rainy, fogggy days  are perfect for a trip to the library.

Small tree and fence post in heavy fog

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Winter Commences lì dōng 立冬 Nov 7th


Foreground covered in dried leaves and leafless trees against gret sky behindYesterday we passed into the period known as Winter Commences, 立冬 (lì dōng). It will run until November 21st. Colder weather does start in northern China, but winter comes later in the south and thankfully here as well. The pentads for this solar term are ‘Water begins to freeze’ 水始冰, ‘The earth begins to harden’ 地始凍, and finally 雉入大水為蜃’ commonly translated “Pheasants enter the water and become clams’. However, the last character, which can be clams, is also used for waterspouts, and for a marine shapeshifting “monster”. This is another of the inexplicable phrases I find in Chinese lore that fascinate me and I wonder what the pheasants really became.

In ancient times in China, Winter Commences was an important festival as were the first days of the other seasons. Before the start of the festival, the emperor would have a ritual bath and refrain from eating meat. On the day, the emperor and an entourage of high officials would come to the suburbs of the capital to perform the ceremony of welcoming winter and hold a large sacrifice to heaven. Ordinary people still observe the day by eating special foods.

large round platter with three rings of jiaozi on it

By Azchael (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 /3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

One of these are jiaozi, known to westerners as pot stickers or dumplings. I love dumplings and eat them all year round as do most Chinese these days. The reason they are eaten on Winter Commences day has to do with a legend of their origin.  The famous physician of the late Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25-220),  Zhang Zhongjing had retired to his home province of Henan in north central China and noticed the ears of many people affected by frostbite starting around Winter Commences. To remedy this he combined mutton, hot peppers and herbs and wrapped them in dough. To help the people understand their purpose was to warm the body and ward off the frostbite, he shaped the the little packets like ears.

Winter Commences In southeast China in the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong Taiwan, true winter comes later, but on the calendrical day people prepare stewed meats with Chinese herbs to fortify themselves for the cold to come.  In Tianjin, on the northern coast, people eat dumplings stuffed with Chinese pumpkins, botanically known as Cucurbita moschata. They are similar to Japanese kabocha. In Wuxi on the central coast, the special food is tuanzi. It is also a dumpling made with rice flour paste as the outside and filling of sweet bean paste, ground pork or radish. They are eaten at other times as well and often colored green with addition of a wild herb. But those of the Winter Commences time are considered really good because the harvest has just been concluded and the rice is at its best.

This year Winter Commences just after the end of Daylight Savings Time on the 5th. It’s a double reminder to check your furnace and change the filter as well as check your smoke detectors. You don’t want to wait until it’s really cold and find out you need a service technician, at that point they are sure to be really busy and will probably charge more.

I have noticed that the cats are hungrier the past couple of weeks.. I think they are also fortifying themselves for the cold and absorbing the needed nutrition to grow their winter coats. I have been heavier food myself. I bought a big bag of beef bones at the farmer’s market to make bone broth to freeze for the winter. I make an onion free version for the cats, too. I will certainly have jiaozi to celebrate the start of winter.  The cats will get the bit extra they need for a week or two and then go back to their regular, weight watching diet. The seasons continue their transition and it is easier and more satisfying to live in harmony with them, preparing ahead of time, eating appropriately and welcoming them as the emperor once did.

 

Sun setting behind view of bay and darkened foreshore

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Caturday Thoughts – Falling Behind

Row of clockk faces shwing different times on top of glass doored cabinet full of kitchen thingsHere we go again, The clocks turn back tonight. I have t admit it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. It will mean he cats wake me an hour earlier and for a few days I will really need that first cup of coffee. I’ll adjust quickly enough and the cats won’t even notice the difference. Why do we even go through this? Originally, Ben Franklin suggested manipulating the clocks as a way to save candles in a letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris in 1784. Some say he meant it and most that he was joking, but you never know with Mr. Franklin. He did like to jerk people’s chains but he also like to slip in ideas he thought might meet resistance in an innocuous way .

New Zealand entomologist George Hudson, was perfectly serious and quite selfishly motivated when he recommended moving the clocks by two hours in 1895. He wanted the additional spring daylight hours to study insects. To me his honestly self focused reason has a certain charm. He wasn’t trying to suggest any economic or political benefit that was probably minimal or non-existent at that time.

William Willet memorial sundial

William Willett memorial sundial always shows DST
By P Ingerson en.wikipedia

Several years later, British builder William Willett independently hit on the idea. He proposed it to England’s Parliament as a way to give more useful work time by daylight and save the country money by using less electricity. I wonder how much electricity was actually being used then? Probably a lot more than I think. His idea was championed by such luminaries as Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Willett kept arguing for the concept up until his death in 1915 and never lived to see the British government adopt his idea. His scheme was rather complicated even as his logic made great sense. If interested you can read his proposal here.

When the idea was finally put into practice, wouldn’t you know it, it was because of war. In April 1916, Germany adopted DST to reduce the use of artificial light and save coal. A few other countries, including the U.S. and Great Britain, followed shortly after. However, all went back to Standard Time once the war ended. The pattern was repeated during World War II but in the United States states and other districts were allowed to continue the ritual, and even vary the start and stop dates.

As you might expect, this flexibility led to what Time Magazine called a “chaos of clocks.” By 1965, there were 23 distinct pairs of DST start and stop dates just in the state of Iowa! Congress finally took action to iron things out in 1966, passing the Uniform Time Act that set a standard for the entire nation, with a start on the last Sunday in April and end on the final Sunday in October,  However, it was not mandatory, so off curse there were holdouts. Hawaii, most of Arizona, and the US territories, Puerto Rico, Guam, The Northern Marina Islands and the US Virgin Islands, opted out.

United Sates DST has been revised twice since. In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a law that moved the start time to the first Sunday in April. One reason given for the change was to give children with more outdoor playtime during daylight. Later, George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which extended DST by four weeks. The change took effect in 2007, started DST on the second Sunday in March and pushed back the end date to the first Sunday in November.

Bok Cover Seize the Daylight by David PrerauI found out a lot I didn’t know for this post. Sometimes what starts out as an easy idea opens up a rabbit hole I am compelled to enter, like Alice following the March hare with his pocket watch. Some is just trivia, like the fact William Willett is the great-great grandfather of Chris Martin of Coldplay. Interesting to me as a Coldplay fan but not so useful. Finding a book for my reading list is useful and I discovered David Prerau’s, Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving TimeThere were some good reviews and I always enjoy learning what motivates people and why we change or don’t change things in society. Of course, I may find myself running out of time for anything else if I start a lot of reading. It’s not just changing clocks that gets you falling behind.

 

 

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On Being Prepared

Horizontal log slice showing hollow coreYesterday in late afternoon a heard a tremendous racket at the back of the house. On investigating  saw a really big Asplundh bucket truck with an attached industrial sized wood chipper. The power company was cutting down a big chunk of the tree that grows at the back corner of my lot. It’s actually outside the fence and I suspect in the utility right of way. The trees in the neighborhood are very old and there is plenty of evidence if you know what to look for, that people here really don’t know how to care for them. So I am perfectly fine with the fact they took out that section. Even from the house you could see it was almost completely hollow and not healthy. I am glad they are getting a head start in preparing for winter. After all, if the dead branch came down, it’s me who would be without heat and electricity.

I had already pulled my space heaters from the storage and that morning got the big living room rug out, The floors get very cold because they are over a crawlspace which is not well sealed, damp and without the proper vapor barrier. I also pulled out my step ladder so I could do some trimming myself of bushes which got very overgrown this summer. Now they say we are in drought but earlier it rained so much we had twice the normal growth. Today a technician is coming to give me an estimate on the work that would be required for the plumbing and heating system, should I decide to buy the house. I plan to ask what they would charge to replace the thermostat. Given the quality of the work done by the people the landlord sends (abysmal) I’d rather take care of it myself and know it’s done right.

Thermostat on wallI missed the call from the technician so had to reschedule for later in the day. Still, since I had my first of the month checklist to work through, it was not that much of a problem. I’m really trying to have everything mundane organized so I don’t waste time or resources. Things are always coming up that suck up your time and having the things you know you need to do organized is the best you can do. When the tech finally came it was very satisfactory. I’ll have to pay more than I planned but I know it will be done correctly. In reviewing the work done by the landlord’s handyman there was a lot of head shaking and “that’s not right” sort of thing. I’ll also have a negotiating tool for getting a lower price on the house when the time comes.

In spite of a long to do list, today was a quiet and satisfying day. Tonight I’ll start my first batch of dried cinnamon apples, once I’ve fed the cats and myself. I wanted to start sooner but there were other errands and I thought it would be good to heat the oven at night to offset the cool of another evening with no heat. The house will smell wonderfully I’m sure.

 

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Samhain

Almost full moon backlighting cloudsAfter a month of ghost stories, harvest foods, spooky movies and other topics building the mood for Halloween I am ready for my own celebration. Some day I’ll have the time and materials to build and ofrenda, but not this year. Even my regular decorations may not be up, the are back in the storage behind all the other things I had to add. I may not even get to use the fireplace this year, it needs re-pointing and of course it’s not something the landlord wants to fix.  But I will play my long set of mood music, with A Night on Bald Mountain, Danse Macabre, Carmina Burana, Bach’s Cantata and Fugue in D minor and some really nice work by composers putting up their pieces on YouTube.

I will also have my silent supper. These meals used to be called “dumb supper” in the days when dumb meant unable to speak, not stupid. I like the alliteration of silent supper and want no misunderstanding so that’s what I use. I have hordes of Celtic ancestors and this is my way to honor and remember them. They believed that he veil was thin on the eve of Samhain and the dead could return to visit the living.

Seceral tall white tapers lit in the darkTraditionally, doors and windows are left unlocked to let the spirits in and places are set for the expected ghostly guests. Electric lights should be out and the meal should be by candle or lamplight which is how I have it. In the Ozarks and rural Appalachia you may often find a  variation says that the meal must be eaten backward, with dessert first and place settings switched but I was not taught that version and serve the meal in the normal order. These areas also held a tradition of girls having a dumb supper to see future husbands and there are many variants in how the rituals are performed. The age and origin of the silent supper is uncertain, although in the United States it is most often a custom where Scots and Irish immigrants settled, so that is certainly a clue.

Bowl of raw yellow thin skinned potatoes.People have all kinds of meals for the supper by I follow the menu items my grandmother taught me, with slight modifications. Colcannon is the Irish version of the mashed potato and cabbage dish that’s traditional but my grandmother, in spite of being 100% Irish, made the English version, bubble and squeak, which is pan fried. I too, make this version, remembering her telling me the vaporous squeakings marked the escape of ghosts drawn to the food the could no longer enjoy.

Bowl of cooked musselsMy menu is about the same every year. I start with Leek and Mussel Soup, then the Bubble and Squeak and Boxty, an Irish potato pancake, soda bread and butter, assorted cheeses and apples and pomegranates. I have beer and cider with the meal and afterward. On occasion I’ve had a fish course as well, when good fish were available. It’s pretty basic but it is both physically filling and emotionally satisfying, bring me close to those who have gone on.

Three lit pillar candles and an empty wine bottle in the dark

The food and the place settings stay out in the darkened room until past midnight. I listen to music and sit with the cats and meditate and remember. Then I extinguish all but one candle in a holder while burns safely all night in the fireplace after the fire is banked for the night. I may not have the fire this year, but at least I’ll have the candle. It’s never been a big party type holiday for me, it’s quiet and solemn but far from sad. he next day I always sleep a long and deep sleep and wake up renewed and ready for all the work needed to get ready for winter. And this years I’ll really need that renewal.

I have enjoyed sharing my October favorites and would like to share more. I wish I had known I could do this sooner but here it is. I am doing a random giveaway of a ghost story book. If any of my recommendations appealed to you check it out. I wanted it to go a little longer but for some reason it limited me. Still, I think this will be a recurring thing in various forms (perhaps Blu Rays or DVDs) if it appeals to people. Enjoy.

 

 

 

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Dia de Muertos

Painting The Kid by Diego Rivera of Day of the Dead marchers and skeleton costumed marcher

Photo of painting By momo from Hong Kong (The Kid – Diego Rivera) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

This year the celebration of Dia de Muertos starts on the evening of October 31 and continues to November 2. I find this Mexican holiday of honoring the dead one of my favorite expressions of this desire. It’s about family and remembrance and it deals with death and the departed with art, food, ritual and togetherness.  There is no gloominess or avoidance, just a way of dealing with the fact that death is a part of life in a most positive way.  People gather to honor the memory of friends and family who have died and to pray for them. In 2008, the tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. In Mexico it is a public holiday.

Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. Originally it took place at the beginning of summer. After the Spanish conquest in the 16th century it gradually became associated with October 31, November 1 and November 2 to coincide with the Roman Catholic triduum of Allhallowtide: All Saints Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Originally, it was not observed in northern Mexico which had a different indigenous tradition. the Day of the Dead as such was not celebrated in northern Mexico, where it was unknown until the 20th century because its indigenous people had different traditions. The Mexican government made it a national holiday as a unifying tradition based on indigenous custom.

Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using calaveras, Mexican marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the deceased. Grave are also visited, tidied up and arranged with these foods and personal items of the person. 

Mexican tamales in a tamalera cookerDuring Day of the Dead festivities, food is both eaten by living people and given to the spirits of their departed ancestors as ofrendas (“offerings”). Tamales are one of the most common dishes prepared for this day for both purposes. Then there is pan de muerto, a type of sweet roll or bread, topped with sugar, and often decorated with bone-shaped phalanges pieces. It is typically round but has variations in different locales.

Store display of traditional sugar and chocolate skulls for Dia de Muertos

By Guillerminargp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

No discussion of Dia de Muertos can ignore the calaveras or sugar skulls. The skulls, display colorful designs to represent the vitality and individual personality of the departed. Now they are also made in chocolate as well. Put on the ofrendas or grave sites, small ones are eaten as candy. They have also inspired inedible artistic versions.

In addition to food, drink is also important to the tradition of Day of the Dead. Historically, the main alcoholic drink was pulque while today families will commonly drink the favorite beverage of their deceased ancestors. Other drinks associated with the holiday are atole and champurrado, warm, thick, non-alcoholic masa drinks. 

The ofrendas can be simple or elaborate or and include many elements beyong the skull decorations, including candles, and photographs of the deceased and personal items for them, bright orange marigolds, food offerings and incense, especially copal.

I have enjoyed sharing my October favorites and would like to share more. I wish I had known I could do this sooner but here it is. I am doing a random giveaway of a ghost story book. If any of my recommendations appealed to you check it out. I wanted it to go a little longer but for some reason it limited me. Still, I think this will be a recurring thing in various forms (perhaps Blu Rays or DVDs) if it appeals to people. Enjoy.

Elaborate ofrenda for a man in Milpa Alta Mexico coverd in an oranges clotht with offerings of bamaas, apples and other fruit

By Eneas de Troya (http://www.flickr.com/photos/eneas/4072192627/) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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