The season of rituals

Ritual has an interesting place in the culture I find myself living in. Rituals, especially shared rituals, are falling aside in this era of individualism. What are our remaining shared rituals? I find myself thinking “Well, there’s Sweet Caroline in the 8th inning…” Many of our oldest, time honored rituals seem to be evolving past recognition (weddings used to be a religious service) or falling away altogether. I myself didn’t watch fireworks this 4th of July, and have eaten Thanksgiving dinner at a Denny’s.

When starting a family, especially when far from your own family, one is confronted with the question of what rituals you’ll create. Will you open presents on Christmas Eve? When do you put up the tree? There are other rituals which simply arise through repetition – like when you realize you’ve thrown a last-minute New Year’s Eve party every year for the last three years. And then there are the rituals that are some sort of strange hybrid, like making up your own holidays and investing them with energy, love and meaning until they become as rich and real to you as any holiday that lives on a pre-printed calendar. (Also, it turns out you can now print your own calendars…)

One tradition that I loved from my family of birth, which I had trouble carrying over to my family in Massachusetts, was the Christmas Tree. Living in the land where Christmas trees grow, we’d always go to Jim Hale’s and tromp around the fields getting increasingly cranky and objecting to each other’s selections of tree. (The fight was actually an acknowledged part of the ritual.) Then we’d get a tree that was too tall and struggle to get it home and into the house. Mom would hide in the kitchen “making cookies” while we wrestled the lights onto the timber, cut about two feet off the bottom with a chainsaw, and argue about the best order of cutting the bindings. Then we’d all gather together and hang the ornaments while listening to Roger Whittaker’s iconic Christmas album. It was always a stressful day, but somehow what began in tumult – with broken icy ground underfoot – ended peacefully, eating warm cookies and debating whether Darcy the Dragon was an ironic anti-capitalist morality play in the warm light of our own Christmas tree. (Assuming no one was still on the roof putting the cut-off top of the tree on top of the ridgeline to at least make it look right from the outside.)

I tried to pull as much of this as possible into my home, but my husband does not love hanging lights (so I can’t disappear to make cookies). There are no cantankerous octagenarians selling Christmas trees around here. And our ceiling is now and always has been a mere 8 feet tall. So over time I’ve learned to change the tradition to match our reality. This year, I decided also to give up my hope of recreating what I thought it should be, and lean into what it was at that moment. So maybe I didn’t have all four of us hanging ornaments and talking about their history and what they meant to us. Maybe I wasn’t making cookies (but Grey was). Maybe I would just do the parts that were important to me, and my family would join me if it was also important to them.

The tree got up in record time, and it was much less stressful than usual. But my husband commented afterwards that although he’d never really loved the ritual of adorning the tree, somehow not being in the scrum of snowflake hanging had hollowed out a little bit of the festive feeling he got looking at the tree. As he and I tread through our fifth decade (and third decade together), we begin to understand more about ourselves. A ritual may not need to be fun or enjoyable to be meaningful.

On the flip side, the last year or two I’ve really wanted to pull the Advent Wreath into our own practice of the holiday. I find it hilarious that in a society so willing to create any Christmas crap you can think of (Santa toilet paper? Zombie gingerbread men ornaments?), it’s actually hard to find something that’s a huge part of the religious practice of Christmas. I looked for years for a home advent wreath that would accept thick pillar candles that could burn the season through. I finally found a five-stand candle holder, and discovered Ikea sells advent candles. Woooo!

But you can’t just go light an advent calendar, willy nilly. It needs, well, a ritual. So over the last year or two a small family ritual has quietly evolved. This year, I’ve been particularly enjoying it. We gather as a family in front of the tree, and we talk a little about the theme of this particular week in Advent. Last week was hope. This week was peace. We dwell a brief moment on those, and what they mean in our lives. Then there’s a small reading. Last weekend was the Magnificat. Today, I asked Grey to read The Peace of Wild Things. We light the candle. (Thane likes that part.) We sing a hymn. (I like that part best.) Last week was “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” (traditional for Advent communion Sunday). This week, I chose “O Come Emmanuel”. And then we are done and return to our evening, the growing line of light fighting against the waning of the sun. It is brief and beautiful.

What are some of your precious rituals? Have you successfully ported rituals from one generation to another? Which ones did you create with intent? Which ones evolved from repetition? Which have you lost forever, and how do you mourn them? What do you wish you had a ritual for – to make deeper and richer?

The children love the angel

The Peace of Wild Things
Wendell Barry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Hobbies we have had before

Once upon a time, before I had children, I thought I was busy. I barely had time to watch every baseball game, garden, read books, play video games and do my hobbies. Horrifying! One of my favorite hobbies was making cards.

I’ve always loved writing letters. My correspondence in high school especially was diverse and frequent. I went through stationery at a bulk rate – or would have if it wasn’t my favorite indulgence. I still know where and when and why I got nearly every single piece of stationery in my rather considerable stationery box. After I graduated college and had room and money, I got started in on rubber stamping, which was a thing in the oughts. My expanded resources vastly expanded my rubber stamp (and ink and paper) collection and my skills went from rudimentary to nearly mediocre – where they topped out and remained.

Same desk, pre babies. Where did that awesome Tolkien poster go?

Then I had kids and got a harder job and went onto the session of my church and… well, I think practically every post for the last several months has whined about how busy I am. I got really busy, and rarely had time to stamp anything. Then when my beloved, cold attic retreat was transformed into my glorious, warm and amazing bathroom I packed up all my stamps for the duration of the project into our storage facility and had to content myself with purchased stationery. (Not that I even used that much of that!)

But oh glory! Today we actually cleared out from and vacated our storage unit (I think it may be a first: someone claiming a storage unit would only be temporary and having it only be temporary.) And I got my stamps back. I spent a happy afternoon reintroducing myself to my rather vast collection and setting up my favorite desk and getting ready. And now – bliss! – I have time to spend doing something I feel like doing, and I have my stamps which are exactly what I feel like doing.

Being me, I thought it would be fun to do this together, you and I. OK, basically I narrate a lot of stuff in my head to you, especially when I’m alone. This is how extroverts end up with quiet hobbies.

Step 1: Who should I make a card for?
My grandmother is dead. She was always my best correspondent. I’ve thought a lot of her this week with the fires and unbreathable air in California. I keep forgetting that she’s now beyond all worry. She’s also beyond any card I might send her. I’d be nervous about doing a birthday card for someone because there’s like no way in God’s green earth I’d ever remember to do it again, so I’m careful of the precendents I am setting. So that leaves special events. Two come to mind: a neighbor just had a baby. (OK, like a month ago, but they’ll understand). And I’ll be a guest at Thanksgiving at the excellent table of a fellow stamp-lover. My stamp collections are particularly strong in the “Fall/Thanksgiving/Turkey” and “baby” genres. I’ve always loved the iconography of the former, and I bought many of my stamps while I myself was pregnant. Let’s start with the baby and see how far we get.

Some of my better baby stamps

Step 2: Selecting a stamp
This takes a while. My stamps are tightly stored, which means not amazingly organized. And sometimes you find a stamp in one set that works perfectly for what you want – even if you wouldn’t have thought of it. I usually go through every single stamp I own, finally settling on the one I was thinking of in the first place. This particular baby is little and sweet, and his parents are understandably ga-ga for them. It’s a first. And I wanted something that showed both parents, not just the mom. Finally, the father of this family loves puns. That settles me on the stamp set that concludes with “Congratulations to you and your Somebunny new!”

Step 3: Paper and ink colors
For reasons that totally escape me, this baby doesn’t seem like a pastel-y baby. Looking at the stamp, I’m inspired by the thought of browns and tans. I might do a little watercolor pencil – my absolute favorite stamping technique – on this stamp. Now to look through every piece of paper in my vast collection to likely discover I do not actually own the color I’m envisioning.

Paper and stamps

I have a strong tendency towards bold, bright colors. Some of my favorite cards have ended up in a panoply of color. I remember one year where a friend’s parents invited us to their (DELICIOUS) Thanksgiving table two years in a row. I stamped a card both times as a hostess appreciation. When I gave her the card on the second year she opened it, her face lit up, and she ran away. She returned a few minutes later with the card I’d given her the prior year which she had still pinned up. It was totally different, but used the same stamp. I was caught between mortification (is that like wearing the same dress both times?) and pleasure that she’d enjoyed the card! Both of those cards were *bright*. But happily, it turns out I do have a good number of earth toned papers in the reams I have. I’m going to go with a light tan for the actual card, then use darker brown and patterned paper to make a lighter section with the stamp in in really pop. Time to cut some paper!

Step 4: Cutting

Oh no! My handy dandy trusty rotary cutter isn’t cutting! I wonder if the blades need to be replaced every 20 years or something. Fortunately, I have n+1 paper cutters. This one isn’t nearly as good, but it’ll do.

N+1 Cutters – Leroy was here courtesy of Grey, who probably learned it from Fallout

Drat! The patterned paper doesn’t look like with my first brown. So I try a different brown and it still looks wrong. Gah! So now I have two identically sized pieces of different brown papers. I experiment with layouts and decide I actually like the two browns slightly tiled and will ditch the patterned one altogether. This is a normal part of the process. I admire people who can do this by planning instead of trial, error and the massacre of forests. Still, lesson #1 of this kind of thing is don’t make any permanent decisions until you have all your parts ready. A reject now might actually still end up in the final project.

Nice try. Didn’t work.

I have a large scrap drawer, in which is some nice cream watercolor paper. I cut a piece of that for the actual bunny stamp.

Step 5: Inking

I wonder if I have a brown ink that will match. Hmmmm. If I want to watercolor the stamp, it must be a dye ink (not pigment) too. I have one that I think will do, but all my stamp pads are old and it’s possible they’ve dried out. Guess I’ll find out… but probably starting on my blotter.

Original stamp in the middle

Well, they both ink. But the top color, which I like better, looks pretty dry. Contemplating this conundrum I give it a spritz with my stamp cleaner to hydrate. Great news! It works! I carefully position the stamp over the watercolor paper and get the impression decently centered the first time. Winning! At this stage, we enter the “how much is too much” phase. I like the simplicity of the card so far, but I do really like watercolor paints. What about just a little blue on the edge of the blanket and pink in the ears? Because I’m thinking “out loud” I make an unusually sage decision to try it out on the version on my blotter before the version on the watercolor paper.

Many baby bunnies

I like it pretty well on the blotter. Let’s see how it does on the actual stock.

Great. It looks good. Now I’ll do the inside and back of the card while the water dries.

Step 6: Inside & back – aka where you mess up because you think you’ve finished the hard part
I have a “Created by Brenda” stamp I almost always use, because it’s annoying when you spend an hour on a card and have people think that due to the craftsmanship you bought it in the discount bin at an elementary school craft fair. Unfortunately, this stamp is slightly off center, so I have trouble getting it aligned perfectly. That’s why I start with it. I have two pieces of card stock the right shape for this card. I’d rather find out now that I’ll need to use the other one! I’ll use the same color ink throughout the card.

Somebunny new

Woo! Both internal stamps came out just fine. I notice that the ink I used is bleeding a little on the stamp – that’s not supposed to happen with the dye inks. It’s probably due to my “refreshment” of the pad. I decide to pretend I think it looks artistic.

Step 7: Sticking it all together
I was mystified for a long time about how this all was supposed to stick together. I used glue sticks or spray adhesive, which were messy, smelly and didn’t actually work. What does work? Double sided tape. When I’m stamping I go through yards of this stuff. Time to start making things permanent.

All done!

There! It’s done! It looks almost as nice as a card you could get in 20 seconds in a drug store! Victory is mine!

Now that’s all to be done is to write a nice note and strategically with-hold publication of this blog until after I deliver it.

Oh, and clean up this mess. Oh, and where are my invitation sized envelopes… and what color pen do I have that will go with this card…

PS – one particularly insane year, I hand stamped all my Christmas cards. That would be lunatic enough – but I made each on *unique* which is a degree of lunacy even I have never reattempted. But I do have a lot of Christmas stamps….

Stiff

This weekend we hosted a very successful Mocksgiving. I’ve hosted a “practice” (or mock) Thanksgiving for 19 straight years now, although I’ve truthfully never actually hosted Thanksgiving. Mocksgiving was the last big thing I needed to get through before life slowed down. A brief litany: camping on Labor Day, two 5ks on back to back weekends, my 40th birthday party, Otherworld (which was amazing – highly recommend), Grey’s birthday, my nephew’s death (weighs greatly on my heart through all of this), apple picking, King Richard’s Faire, finishing and furnishing the attic (huge effort – much Ikea), Adam’s birthday, week long trip to Singapore (plus off timezone prep before and follow up afterwards), Thane’s birthday, Halloween, Carnage gaming convention (full weekend Adam), Mocksgiving. All this while working full time (both of us) and raising two kids. Some of these were logistically challenging. Some of these were emotionally very deep and hard. Some of these were physically exhausting. I’m so grateful to be done, and for a coming few weeks that are massively less scheduled.

We’re also getting to the time of year where I can’t run. I’ve been running for three or so years now. I’m very slow – it’s *great* when I beat an 11 minute mile. I’ve switched up my default course, so now I run about 4 miles on a given run (a bit over a 5k) – I don’t want to go longer. My surgically repaired left knee was telling me at the end of the season that pavement isn’t it’s favorite, but this is the only exercise I’ve been able to stick with and be consistent about. But in winter I can’t really run on weekdays when it gets dark out so early, and pretty soon there will be ice and treacherous footing ahead.

But my body just hurts lately. I’m sore and stiff. I’ve been having constant headaches which, yes, are tension headaches in part. But they’re mostly muscular-skeletal. My C1 and C2 like to go in opposite directions and this gives me headaches. I go to my chiropractor, it gets better for about 2 days and then I move wrong and the headaches come back until my next appointment. UGH. I mean granted I’m over 40, but I don’t approve of constant headaches.

So I decided with the upcoming massive free time (are you skeptical that will happen? It won’t be so much, but it will be better.) to spend a few weeks stretching. The best my troublesome back has ever been (I have a really consistent regimen of massage and chiropractic which is extremely effective which is why you’ve never heard me complain of it) has been when I was doing yoga regularly. That was like for 2 months 10 years ago. We’re talking about getting a treadmill in the basement with our massive game of redo-every-room, but that’s still a while a way. So I’m going to give it a shot – 30 minutes a day of yoga. I’m very curious to see if it helps with the headaches and the back issues and the feeling that if I drop I’ll shatter instead of bounce.

We’ll find out!

And heck, maybe with all this free time I’ll also update the ol’ blog more, and finish my novel, and cook more meals from scratch, and catch up on all my church commitments, and do more local history research, and spend more time with my husband, and finally clean out my junk drawer and ….

Yeah. Let’s stick with the yoga.

Like a memory it falls

I woke this morning at about 6 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. For those of you who know me, that’s a statement bordering on absurd. I do not awaken at 6, unless there’s a plane to catch, and when I do happen to stir I turn over and quickly fall back asleep. But this is not a normal morning. The time before last that I laid my head upon a pillow, it was in Singapore. I am profoundly jetlagged – enough to wake me for the day at 6 am.

This early November has introduced itself warm and wet to New England. Last night as I readied for bed the temperatures were clement and the rain tapped beguilingly on the roof and windows. I was alone in the bright, clean bedroom we’ve created – my husband being up in Vermont for a gaming convention. I cracked a window open and felt a familiar, forgotten sense of peace steal over me. You’ve heard so much about the attic project – the bathtub, the flooring, the way the house looks when it’s nothing but bones. But we all have secret agendas, and for me one of the great hopes was for the rain. You cannot hear the rain on the roof from the 2nd floor. But here in the eves of the attic, I hoped it would sound like when I was a girl. The very best sound of rain at night had come when we lived in a trailer in Mineral (you know, the trailer park type – but it was a double wide!). We spent only about a year there – a cold and snowy year. It was actually the manse for the church (housing provided to the pastor) – but the church was without a pastor and we were without a house, so it worked out for a bit. That was my 5th grade year, when I got chicken pox and had run-ins with my reading teacher. I walked across an abandoned baseball diamond to school through vast, spectacular forests of frost that rose 2 inches tall. The ice rose in columns of crystal, elevating clots of dirt skyward. I always felt bad stepping on them, even knowing they’d be entirely destroyed by mid morning and rise again the next day. I was young enough then to hear the rain and not the overwhelming thoughts of a busy mind.

There was a day, as spring edged into summer, when there was a knock at our trailer door. A lady we did not know stood there. She had heard we were looking for a house, and they were planning on selling theirs. Did we want it? That is, no joke, how my parents ended up in the house they live in to this day.

That house is a vast frankensteinian construction. It began life as a company house, alike in size to its neighbors. Those houses are very small. But over time new additions had mushroomed on various sides without any sort of plan or cohesion. A dining room popped out the front. Two bedrooms off the side. An inconvenient solarium off the back that was always too cold or too hot, depending on season. And most spectacularly a two story garage-and-cathedral-ceiling-living-room. The living room is made up entirely of window and is truly vast. My parent’s church easily all fits inside for worship service when the furnace fails to start at the church down the street (a more frequent occurrence than you might guess). But those vast windows overlook on the dark, ominous, steep sides of Stormking on the sunset side. To the North you overlook the town of Mineral up to the waters of Mineral lake, which would curl with fog in the mornings as the waters bequethed their warmth to the air. On the sunrise side of the house, if you can look past the wires and abandoned cars and abandoned houses, Mt. Rainier rises in all her glory above Round Top. I loved both of them with all the passion of my young heart.

Mt. Rainier is unbearably splendid in all seasons (when she can be seen through clouds). I loved the alpenglow of her pink shoulders when the sun had slipped behind Stormking. I loved her pale shadow against the rising sun – one cloud among many on the horizon. I loved her white and blue and green – like the wedding quilt my sister made me – in the bright days. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life, which struck my heart to its very core, was one quiet morning in high school when I arose while it was still dark and saw Mt. Rainier glowing with new snow in the predawn, a crescent moon rising above her and hanging brightly off the tail of that moon was the brightest gem of the night sky – Venus. Such loveliness can never be forgotten.

Mt Rainier in the middle and Roundtop to the right. Not the view from our house – and when I was a girl the shoulders of Roundtop were still covered.

But for all my passion for Mt. Rainier, I loved Roundtop too. When the rains came, as they so often did, Mt. Rainier would vanish, but Roundtop would remain. The Northwest is an interesting place for a history lover. Gazing at the cliffs – golden or hoary depending on the light – you could sense the vast and boundless weight of history. But Washington does not know her history. The town was founded at the turn of the 20th century as a logging town (still is) and a stop on the railroad. My mother has mentioned with shock that she is the longest serving pastor in the history of our small white church. My parents have lived in Mineral, which seemed old before we came, for nearly a third of all the time it has existed. Before that, the lands had been the home of native peoples – likely nomadic in that region. I once found a hand adze in a stream, and I know that there was history in those mountains. Stories. Names. Legends perhaps. But I did not know them. It is possible that no one does – that they were forever lost.

When I went from girl to teen, I loved those quiet rainy days. I discovered an LP, and on those days where Mt. Rainier was hidden and Roundtop shrouded mysteriously with scraps of fog, I would put that record on the record player (entirely anachronistic – I also had the CD of the same album) and listen to the scratch and warmth of the vinyl. I would gaze at the mountains and wonder what their unknowable history was. My gaze would linger over the cliffs that had bested my attempts to climb them (honestly I’m lucky I didn’t die…). And my heart was filled with such unquenchable yearning and joy and longing and perfectness. The album was “Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. And when “Kathy’s Song” came on, “I hear the drizzle of the rain, like a memory it falls…” I was in unrequited love with the whole world and there was nothing short of poetry, song and mountains vast enough to contain it. It’s still one of my favorite songs. Better yet, it’s Grey’s favorite too.

Such passion is harder to come by for an ancient person like me. Forty knows much more than fourteen ever did. I probably have the tools now, if I so chose, to find out what legends are actually known about those views. My days are full of Things To Be Done. My heart, in these days of fear, is so full of anxiety and guilt and horror that there is little room to be slain by beauty.

But this morning, in the dark before the sun rose, I heard the rain on my roof like I did when I was a girl. There was no Roundtop waiting for me at the top of the stairs, but when I cast my eyes out the window they land on the 150 year old slate-roofed Hawkins mansion. The golden-glowing fountain of leaves falling like snowflakes from a gray sky lands on soil whose history half a millennium back is known to me. On the headboard of the bed above me, wrapped in a brown cloth backing with gilt letters, is the “History of Stoneham Mass” by William Stevens – a gift that made me feel profoundly known. (If anyone lands their hands on Silas Dean’s history I will very gladly pay for whatever it takes to obtain a copy!)

And for just a moment I can reach back through the veil of time and burdens, through the sludge of fears and sorrows, and touch the same inarticulate, joyful yearning in the rain.


Kathy’s Song
I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls.

And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England where my heart lies.

My mind’s distracted and diffused
My thoughts are many miles away
They lie with you when you’re asleep
And kiss you when you start your day.

And a song I was writing is left undone
I don’t know why I spend my time
Writing songs I can’t believe
With words that tear and strain to rhyme.

And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you.

And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for grace and you go I.

Singapore: City of Selfies

I won an all expenses paid trip to Singapore. That’s how I’ve been positioning it to myself when it became clear a few weeks ago that I would definitely need to fly out to Singapore for a big presentation I’d been working on. It’s really hard to figure out how long is the right amount of time to go for a work trip like this. On the one hand, it’s 50 hours of travel (a full work week’s worth!) to get here! On the other hand, I only have like a day or two of stuff I need to do here. I settled on pretty much a week – landing in the weekend to get acclimated.

So far I’ve had that weekend part, wandering the city and trying taking a million pictures. I’ve come up with a few observations.

If you’re unfamiliar with Singapore, a quick background might be useful. It’s a former British colony that gained independence in the 60s. It’s a city state – only a few square miles – at the tip of Malaysia. It’s home to about 6 million people, roughly 3 million of whom were born elsewhere. It’s extremely diverse, with key populations coming from China, Malaysia, India & England.

Working on my selfie game

1) The entire city was built for selfies
You know the Sydney Opera House? The Singapore equivalent was built to look like Durian fruit. You can see it across the man-made bay, right next to the iconic Mer-lion. And floating soccer field. But right before the 40 story, three pillared ship-building that hosts the casino. Everywhere you look has beautifully composed views of the city with fascinating architecture. And people have definitely gotten the message, also everywhere you look are hordes of people all taking pictures – mostly selfies. I saw probably 20 people today who’d even hired professional photographers (or had friends with fancy cameras) to follow them through their touristy stuff and take pictures of it. It’s wild.

You know you’re really short on space when…

2) Singapore is basically a spaceship
Imagine if you have a ton of people in a very small, closed environment from many backgrounds. You need to keep them healthy, clothed, fed, exercised and doing the work you need them to do. You also need to give them that human psychological need for greenery, space and outdoors. Well, Singapore is already working under many of those constraints.

World of cacti?

They call it the City in a Garden, and they’re not wrong. Every space that can have greenery crammed in has greenery crammed in. There are trees, vines and flowers at every single opportunity. I spend my day at the Gardens By the Bay which are so clearly nature for people who haven’t ever actually seen nature. As I went from “The world of palms” to the desert cactus exhibit it dawned on me that one of the many kids growing up entirely in Singapore… well, this is what they’d know of nature. All prettiness and near infinite variety, carefully planned and executed. No randomness. No repetition. Entirely unnatural.

They also use every inch. On my drive from the airport my exceptionally informative taxi driver told me that there was a defense troop nearby and that they could clear every single plant off the road in less than 45 minutes to convert it to an emergency runway. Here in Singapore space needs to have one or two or three uses – just like it would on a colony ship. This also might explain why the rules and regulations here are so strict. If you’re going to cram this many people into this little space you need very clear rules governing behavior and interactions, or pandemonium might ensue!

These women in yellow are clearly together

3) People dress to match each other
They’ll all wear the same color (like 6 people!) or the same dress (2 or 3 people). Some of them wear the same dress in complimentary colors (black and white). And it’s not just like bridal parties or something – it was all sorts of people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. I was talking to a native Singaporean colleague about it (she’s spent several years in the US) and she had no idea what I was talking about until we started walking around and she saw it for herself.

4) Jaywalking rules explained
So the typical statement about law abidingness in Singapore is that they’ll ticket you for jaywalking, which sounds ridiculous. In reality, the way the streets are set up it’s both very tempting to jaywalk and rather dangerous to do so. That’s because pedestrians really navigate the city in a series of subterranean mall-tunnel (and sky bridges). So you’ll be on a major thoroughfare with a broad sidewalk that just …. stops right when you get to a big road. If you know what you’re doing, the underground entrance is right behind you, but that’s not intuitive. So you jaywalk, which is bad and unexpected.

You rake your yard, but do you rake your rivers?

Not that the rules aren’t actually pretty strict! I had a “Singapore Moment” shopping in a gift store at a museum. They had tshirts and I wanted to get one for my kids so I picked one up and shook it out to look at it. It wasn’t the right size so I carefully refolded it (the display was extremely neat) and picked up another one. A tap on my shoulder “there are sample t-shirts you can view on that rack”. No picking up tshirts. Got it. This is why the very cute adorable outfit I bought for myself does not fit. Siiiiigh. In the same gift shop I’d gathered a number of things and was clearly making the staff uncomfortable. I thought they were too large to fit into the teeny tiny shopping baskets they had – which was true. But they squirmed and finally came up to me and “offered” a basket and crammed all the stuff in somehow. There is definitely a right way to do things, and woe betide the ignorant!

7-11 has dim sum but zero gum

I’ve put together an album of my hijinks so far here. Tomorrow I have to “go to work” or something, so that’s probably the bulk of my touristing on this trip! The folks in the photos with me are coworkers.

Lovecraftian October

I really, really love Fall in New England. Of course, everyone loves Fall in New England. It’s the reason we haven’t all moved to Southern California. I lament that fall is my busiest season, in which I have the least leisure time to devote to Really Enjoying Fall. I’ve taken far too few Fells hikes, shuffled insufficient leaves and there’s been inadequate pumpkin spice. OK, I don’t really do pumpkin spice, but I like the concept. The one place where I’ve been able to sufficiently celebrate autumn is in the ghost stories.

According to the traditions of Brenda, I start reading ghost stories on the last camping trip of the year, on Labor Day. This particular time, I read a book loaned by a friend “Shadows Over Innsmouth” was a very fun riff, starting with HP Lovecraft’s original tale and then going through several author’s worth of short stories. They were all very well done, and a great bite-sized set of horror snacks. Then I happened to stumble across a book written by an author I’d enjoyed earlier this summer, Sarah Monette. This time, mostly in the tub, I read through “The Bone Key“, and it was a great horrifying lark – a perfect read on a night when the moon rose over my en-tubbed feet and was lost into the great tumult of rain lashing leaf and window alike.

Having finished them, and wishing to honor this old harvest time further (ok, really been enjoying them), I’ve moved on to New Cthulu: The Recent Weird. It’s showing me that I need to revisit some of the classic works – I don’t remember all the originals referenced. I’ve been trying to step away from my phone, as it were. So I’ve been reading them in the morning (when Adam brings me breakfast in bed). You know things aren’t going well in the world when Cthulu-esque horror is far better for your mental health than what’s actually going on in the world. And yes, even on the occasion of his birthday Adam still brought *me* breakfast in bed. That’s a loving, devoted man there, folks.

It maybe isn’t my best move to be reading that stuff before church. Just not quite the right worshipful spirit.

Last night was even more Cthulu. What Adam *really* wanted for his birthday was uninterrupted gaming time. While my plans didn’t quite coalesce to Plan A, Plan B had me joining the table for the game. He ran this amazing spooky, creepy, horrifying game set in 3rd century BCE China. By my estimate, he’s done well over 100 hours of research for this game, and read at least 8 books. The man is a purist. The game was about 6 hours (punctuated by dinner and periodic parenting). We lit all the candles and pursued the path of immortality with insufficiently wary feet. It was great.

In a few weeks I’ll set down the horror. Maybe I’ll find some fiction. Maybe I’ll take bite sized bits of the Muir that felt this summer like the revelation of a sacred text. Maybe it’s Pratchett time, or Wodehouse.

Until then, it turns out there are a ton of great stories “inspired by” that weird guy from Providence!