Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Things To Do

Here are some things I'd like to learn how to do. Okay, maybe I'm being generous when I say, "I'd like to learn how," because that implies that I'll take active steps in doing them. But the ARE things that when I see other people do, I think, "That'd be cool."

In no particular order:
  • Crack an egg one-handed.
  • Do a headstand.
  • Do a handstand.
  • Play the banjo.
  • Sing in public. Sing WELL in public, that is. Actually, I suppose it's inferred that all of these things be done well. But singing in public - I've done that. Just not for an audience. And certainly not WELL.
  • Do a back flip.
  • Do a cartwheel.
  • Memorize "Maple Leaf Rag" on the piano.
  • Speak Armenian and/or Arabic.
  • Run a marathon.
  • Ride a BMX bike. You know - with all the stunts and tricks and flips and stuff. 
  • Parkour running.
  • French braid.
Hmm...what else? I'm sure there are other things, but this will do for now.

These aren't things to be confused with an actual bucket list. I'm not sure I "believe" in the idea of bucket lists, but if I did, I definitely have a list of things I want to do. That's another post.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jiggy Encore

Any good concert has an encore, and Natalie MacMaster is no exception. This isn't the actual encore she performed, just a special treat for you. And for me, but I've already seen it.

She has five children - the eldest is six years old. She said that she gets asked a lot if her children play the violin and she said that not only are they teaching them to play, but that the next number was going to feature Mary Francis, the six-year old.

This video is courtesy of cimblog(tm). Watch all the way to the end. You will be delighted.

You're welcome.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Getting Jiggy in October

Once upon a boring Saturday afternoon when I was doing some housecleaning, I had the TV on just to have some background noise. Suddenly, I was aware that there was something fantastic on that I was missing. There was a violinist playing the fiddle and dancing. Yes, simultaneously. I stopped in my tracks (I was cleaning the house - I didn't need a lot of motivation) and pressed record on the VCR. Yes, it really was that long ago - before TiVo and DVRs.

The violinist was called Natalie MacMaster. She's from Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and has been playing the fiddle in traditional Scottish/Cape Breton style since she was a child. She released her first album at the age of 16 and has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards. She has played with notable artists such as Yoyo Ma, Bela Fleck, Alison Krauss, The Chieftains and many others.

It's a niche kind of music and I love it. I don't know if it's because I have some Scottish/Gaelic/Celtic blood running through my veins or what, but I can always appreciate amazing talent, and she has that in spades.

I never really held out much hope for being able to see her perform live unless I was willing to travel to Nova Scotia (bucket list!), until several years ago I saw on her website that she would be performing in Pasadena - just down the road from me. We went and had a delightful time.

A few weeks ago I decided to check again and see if she would be touring anytime soon, and she was! The downside was that the nearest place to me she'd be was in Poway, California. I know - I'd never heard of it, either. It's in San Diego county, about a 2 1/2 hour drive. We've gone to concerts down there before when the artist has been too sold out in Los Angeles to get decent seats. And Natalie is worth the drive.

Here's a sample of her playing the fiddle. One of  things I love most about live music is seeing/hearing/experiencing what excellent musicians can do together. It was so very cool to see how only five musicians can make such a rich sound.

Here she is jigging:

And here she is doing both at the same time. It's a short clip because I was so enchanted I forgot to record it sooner, but you get the idea:

She also came out after the show to do a little meet-n-greet. She signed a CD for me and I got a picture with her.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Amazing Women: Runners

Before the 1980s, there were no women's distance races in the Olympics. In the Moscow Games, the longest race for women was the 1,500 meters, which had been instituted in 1972. Women had been excluded from track and field competition altogether until 1928, when the longest race was the 800 meters. Despite a world record by winner Lina Radke of Germany, many of the competitors had not properly prepared for the race and several collapsed in exhaustion. This led Olympic organizers to consider the race too strenuous for women.

This is not to say there was no tradition of women's long-distance running. Women had been forbidden from participating in the ancient Olympics. A woman who was caught even as a spectator at the Games could face execution. But women in ancient Greece held their own festival to honor the goddess Hera every five years. Only one athletic event was held-a short footrace.

When the Olympics were revived in 1896, women were again excluded. But, in April of 1896, a woman named Melpomene presented herself as an entrant in the Olympic Marathon. Race organizers denied her the opportunity to compete. Undeterred, Melpomene warmed up for the race out of sight. When the starter's gun sounded, she began to run along the side of the course. Eventually she fell behind the men, but as she continued on, stopping at Pikermi for a glass of water, she passed runners who dropped out of the race in exhaustion. She arrived at the stadium about an hour and a half after Spiridon Louis won the race. Barred from entry into the now empty stadium, she ran her final lap around the outside of the building, finishing in approximately four and a half hours.

The first Boston marathon was run on April 14, 1897 by 15 people - a distance then of 24.5 miles. In 1927 the distance was lengthened to 26 miles, 385 yards - to match the Olympic marathon distance.

In 1966 Roberta Gibb was the first woman to run the Boston marathon. She hid in the bushes at the start line because she knew she wouldn't be accepted, simply because she was a woman. She did that for three years.

In 1967 Katherine Switzer was the first woman to be issued a bib, simply because the entrance application didn't specifically ask for gender, so she didn't provide them with one. At that time, the Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) hadn't yet "accepted" participation of women in long-distance running.

In 1971 the AAU allowed its sanctioned marathons (including Boston) to allow women entry, and in the 1972 Boston Marathon, Nina Kuscsick won the women's division. Eight women entered, and all eight finished the race.

Not good enough? Not strong enough? Thank you to every woman who has ever determined to prove an oppressive man wrong. I don't say that because I'm some sort of femi-Nazi man-hater. No, I say it because I am a woman. I can't pee standing up, but I can do math, I can balance my checkbook, I know about biology, and yes, I run. I do those things because I can, because I want to, because I am a woman.

Katherine Switzer, 1967 Boston Marathon. Once men figured out a WOMAN was running the race, they tried to physically escort her off the course. The man right behind her with the dark hair was her running buddy, Thomas Miller, who was actually protecting her from the older man directly behind her. Miller threw a shoulder into the older man to protect Katherine from him. Who was the person trying to throw her out of the race? Jock Sample, one of the race's organizers. "Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers," she says he told her.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Amazing Women and Today's Stereotypes

Have assumptions of women's and womanly capacity and ability changed any in 400 years? Yesterday we learned about Jean/Jeanne Baret who disguised herself as a man because what she was capable of doing and desired to do could not be done as a woman. Not because she wasn't able or capable, but because she wasn't allowed. 

I found this article on Buzzfeed a couple of days ago and was blown away. Yes, women have the vote now, but we still face a myriad of stereotypes and prejudices. 

Sociologist Elaine Ecklund and her coauthors surveyed 3,455 physicists at various levels of their professions, from graduate student to tenured professor, asking them to select which of the following reasons explained the difference: “Women seem to have more natural ability in biology than in physics;” “Women seem to prefer biology more than physics;” “There is a lot more funding support for women in biology than in physics;” “Women are discriminated against more in physics than in biology;” “There are fewer mentors for women in physics than in biology;” or “There is some other reason." Then they conducted followup interviews with 216 of the scientists, asking them to talk in greater depth about why they thought there were more women in biology than in physics. A sampling of what they said:
“morphological differences and biological differences [make men better at] hardcore math and physics.” — male assistant professor, genetics
"[There are] some brain differences between men and women that explain it." — male grad student, biology
“On balance [women are] just less interested in math.” — male professor, biology
“Physics is more difficult for girls and you need a lot of thinking, and the calculation, and the logic. So that’s maybe hard for girls.” — male grad student, physics
“Science has been a male-dominated field for a substantially long period of time, and it’s going to take a while for that shift to change.” — male grad student, biology
"Women have to make a choice [because] the woman ends up being the primary caregiver if they have children.” — male postdoctoral fellow, biology
“I think women ... want to have more of a sense that what they are doing is helping somebody. ... Maybe there are more women in ... biology [because] you can be like ‘Oh, I am going to go cure cancer.’” — postdoctoral fellow, biology
"Physics is more abstract and biology is more concrete. Women are less likely to like abstract things.” — female associate professor, physics
“[A friend of mine] was always told, ‘Oh, you’re not good at math,’ until she found herself getting As in a multivariable calculus class. You know, she was scared of math all through high school.” — female grad student, physics
“Male-dominated departments are really unpleasant for women. [...] Men can be huge jerks in those situations.” — female associate professor, biology
“I know a lot of women who are in chemistry and physics who are excellent at what they’re doing, but are often sidelined or ignored by their colleagues because there’s just not very many of them.” — female assistant professor, biology
“It’s not going to be solved until we figure out how to help mothers figure out how to do the career and the kid thing.” — female associate professor, physics

Astounding that men - supposed scientists who should be able to think and reason in a rational way - assume that just because there are some anatomical and physiological differences means that the mental capacity and function is somehow simultaneously diminished. To them I say, "Pfffft." And I add, "Idiots."

Tomorrow: Another amazing woman who refused to be held back just because some men told her so. 

Exhausted Wind

The arrival of fall in southern California comes in like a lion. Whoever said that March comes in like a lion had it all wrong or never lived here. It generally announces itself with two or more consecutive extremely windy days. Coming from the east or inland as they do, they're called Santa Ana winds. In the summer they're unbearably hot and dry, making one feel as though the whole land is one huge oven and you're the roast. In fall, they're still dry, bring an unseasonable warmth to the air and generally make me feel unsettled.

In fact, the phrase "ill wind" comes to mind when these winds blow. There have even been studies about how the ions in wind affect people's moods. In a 1974 study conducted by the Swiss Meteorological Institute have shown that these ill winds cause physical problems such as headaches, dizziness, eye twitching, nausea, fatigue, saline disorders, water retention, respiratory problems, asthma, slower reaction time and host of other even more serious problems. Mental disorders caused by the increase in positive ions are nervousness, emotional unbalance, easily irritated, apathy, listlessness, insecurity, anxious and depression. 

For my part, I always feel a little unsettled and uneasy. It doesn't always help that it's hard to sleep at night as trash cans are getting knocked over, the neighbor's roof-top air conditioning thingy squeaks as it gets blown around and dry leaves skitter down the sidewalk outside my window.  

In other words, I didn't sleep very well the other night. My alarm went off and I couldn't ignore it. It was a running day. I sleepily, tiredly, exhaustedly pulled myself out of bed and looked, mystified, at the running clothes I had laid out the night before. My bright yellow shirt was there, which I couldn't understand, since I only wear it on days I'm going running by myself. Today was a day I'd be running with my friend Amy, right? And since there's two of us, wouldn't need the neon day-glo shirt. Right? RIGHT? My brain was trying to tell me something, but completely befuddled, it took awhile to process. No, this wasn't an Amy day; it was a Laura day and there was a good reason the obnoxious shirt was waiting for me.

I fumbled through getting dressed with fingers made fat from sleep. I brushed my teeth, checked email while eating some raspberries, then got my music ready. I found my favorite playlist and put it on random - I like being surprised when I'm running so I don't get too settled into a musical routine.

I stumbled out the door and started walking for a warm-up, and as the first song came on, I knew my day was going to be okay.

I’ve tried to cut these corners
Try to take the easy way out
I kept on falling short of something

I coulda gave up then but

Then again I couldn’t have ’cause
I’ve traveled all this way for something

Now take it in but don’t look down

‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay

I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay
Take it with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I’m on top of the world.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Awesome Women: Explorers

In the late 1700s, an explorer named Jean Baret circumnavigated the globe and served as an assistant to naturalist Philibert Commerçon. As is often the case, much of Baret's work was overlooked in favor of Philibert's, but scientists today have concluded that Baret made many important discoveries of his own.“Baret collected thousands of plant specimens from exotic locales around the globe, and, according to Ridley, likely collected the first specimen of one of the world’s most beloved flowering plants—bougainvillea,” wrote biologist Eric Tepe. The discovery was previously attributed to Commerçon. 

(Parenthetically, I happen to be smitten by bougainvillea, and have been frustrated for years that I can't get my little shrub of the stuff to be anything larger than shrub-sized.)

Here's the really cool part, bougainvillea notwithstanding - Jean Baret was actually Jeanne Baret. As was also typical back then, a woman would have been prohibited from doing the type of exploring that JEAN did, so she was forced to disguise herself as a man. As such, JEANNE was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. 

In honor of the amazing explorer, Tepe is now naming one of his newly discovered flower species after her: Solanum baretiae is a distant relative of the potato and tomato. He says, “I don’t think she ever expected recognition in her own lifetime, just because women who were involved in science were thought of, at best, as something of an oddity, and, at worst, they were thought of as an abomination.”

In tomorrow's edition of amazing women, I'll share an article with you that is particularly eye-opening and shows that in some circles, not a lot has changed in 400 years. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Lofty Hills of Autumn

Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them —
The summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.

How there you sat in summer-time,
May yet be in your mind;
And how you heard the green woods sing
Beneath the freshening wind.
Though the same wind now blows around,
You would its blast recall;
For every breath that stirs the trees,
Doth cause a leaf to fall.

-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1833

I love autumn. I love it when shadows lengthen early in the day. I love it when I go running in the morning, and even knowing that it will be a warm day, there's a hint of cool in the air indicating the season has subtly shifted from the warm embrace of summer to the cooler whisper of fall. I love watching yellowed leaves gently twist in the air to the ground. 

I love the prospect of hot cocoa, spiced cider, sweaters, more blankets at night (or ANY blankets at night, really), and cooler weather. 

I love it so much, I wish it would hurry and get here! I wore a sweater to work today, justified in the knowledge that it was 55* this morning when i went running and the high was expected to only be 74*. When I left work at 5:00, I was definitely overdressed since the temperature was overachieving at 78*. 

But the potential is there. 


Monday, October 22, 2012

'Tis the Gift to Be Simple

One of the most beautiful things I saw on our photo/adventure trip was quietly majestic and graceful. In the midst of buskers, beggars and barkers was a little group of Mennonites standing in front of an abandoned, barred theater peacefully singing. They refused to let the noisy distractions of the world deter them from delivering their message of peace. Two at a time would take a break from singing to hand out CDs of hymns to passersby.

I asked a boy where they were from and he said some came from Colorado, some from Washington and some from Pennsylvania.

I think it takes a great deal of courage to be so different and boldly STAND for what you believe in. Not in a noisy way, just quietly standing out.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Olvera Street

Olvera Street is home to the oldest neighborhood in Los Angeles. Or at least, the oldest house. I know, cuz I saw it and a sign told me so. It's a short half-block walk from the Union Station train stop. It's filled with kiosks selling over-priced "authentic" souvenirs and over-priced restaurants. Though I don't doubt for one moment that the food is delicious, we didn't stop to eat there. We just wandered down the sidewalk and took in the sights and sounds. And oh yes, the smells.

Two musicians warming up for a performance later.

The view of the cathedral from under some kiosks.

The walkway to get into the oldest house.

The view through a grape arbor.

More grapes.

The flourishing bougainvillea mocks me.

Beautiful tree. 

Speaking of trees, how many children had to die to make this one?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Red-throated Bird of Paradise

cimblog(tm) took a fun little excursion last weekend. We bought some Metro tickets and took the train downtown. Our goal was to do a little exploring and take some pictures. There's always adventure just around the next corner - you just have to be willing to go TO the corner to find it. It's easy to forget, living in the suburbs, how much is at the corner and beyond. It's easy to sit and feel safe where you are, wanting for nothing.

One of the pictures I snapped that I'm so very pleased with was right outside Union Station train station. There was a little hummingbird flitting and zipping in and out of the plants and  flowers. He stopped twice - once to allow me to see where he was and notice that he was of the red-throated variety, and the second time long enough for me to capture him. I love how he is mirroring the plant.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Memory Lane

A Facebook friend of mine posted about a location in my hometown that she was visiting. It sounded familiar, but I couldn't immediately place where it was. I looked on Google Maps, and then got lost. In my very hometown. Not lost like, "I don't know where I am and can't navigate my way out of a wet paper bag!" but lost like, "Wow. I wonder what THAT looks like now? I wonder if I can find my friend's house now?"

It was a virtual reality adventure. I found my first elementary school, but not the second - it's been torn down and/or repurposed. I found my house and neighborhood (not a lot has changed); I found the ward building; a park where I spent a lot of time playing; friends' houses; and even the lake. Yes, my home town has a lake. It's probably more of a pond, but we called it a lake, so a lake it shall be. The road leading to it is even called "Lakeside Drive," so it must be a lake. Otherwise it would be called "Pondside Drive."

Wandering my little virtual Jane avatar on those hilly streets, I found the house where I spent quite a bit of time in my childhood. Two of my older sisters did some babysitting for a family that had four boys - the oldest two were twins and just two days younger than me. I frequently accompanied my sisters on those gigs. (I hope it was easy for them to have someone there to play with the boys.) They lived in what I thought of as a magical house at the top of a hill with a steep driveway. There were toys that I didn't have and for a tomboy, it was paradise to have access to all those boys' toys - Legos, Lincoln Logs, toy guns...and I don't know what all else. The back of the house jutted up against a hill, providing an endless playground for children with active imaginations. We dug tunnels, played cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers - whatever struck us on any given day.

The twins got 10-speed bicycles for Christmas one year. The boys were down the street (down the driveway, and DOWN the hilly street) playing with some other friends one day when my sisters were babysitting. It was time for lunch, and I was sent to fetch them. I figured it would be quicker to ride than walk, so I hopped on one of those bikes and took off.

The twins were identical, and the bicycles nearly were as well. There were a few minor differences though, that I didn't find out until halfway down the very steep driveway. I had unwittingly chosen the bike that didn't have working brakes. I was going too fast to be able to hop off without causing damage to both of us, so I held on, steering the best I could and tried to avoid hitting any parked cars. At the bottom of the driveway the street flattened out to the right, or continued downhill to the house where the twins were playing. I hung on and kept going down the street.

In another several yards there was a cul-de-sac, or a one-way roundabout/circle. The middle of it was grassy with a huge tree in it, with houses ringing the outside of it. I saw this as my best chance for stopping. I was also probably going too fast to really have any other choice.

I started into the circle, and then just...laid down the bike. It went skidding under a parked car, and I splatted and fell the other way. This all happened right in front of the house that was my original destination, so it worked perfectly. The twins and their friend came running out to see what the racket was, immediately sussed what had happened and said, "You brought Richard's bike, huh? The brakes don't work."

I was a bit scratched and bruised, but those were easily forgotten as my coolness level had just risen substantially in the boys' eyes. We all walked back up the hill chatting excitedly about what I had just accomplished. I like to think they were actually a bit jealous. Here are the pictures I found on Google maps. I'm pleased to say that it really is still just as steep as I remember.

The driveway. See how steep it is? 

This is at the bottom of the driveway looking down the street.

More hilly street.

The choice - turn right into no-man's land, or keep going straight into the circle.

The cul-de-sac.

The house with the picket fence is the one I crashed in front of. The bike and I were ultimately both okay.

Looking back up the street towards where it all started.