As Saturday was the winter solstice, the days have started getting longer again. Because the earth’s axis is tilted 23.5° out of the perpendicular relative to the plane of it’s orbit, the path of the sun across the sky varies in height according to the seasons. Consequently, the amount of daylight varies according to the seasons as well. The solstices mark the extremes of this variation. The summer solstice (midsummer’s day) marks the day of the year with the most amount of daylight and least amount of darkness. This is the point at which the angle of the sun’s transit across the sky is highest. Following that point the amount of daylight in a day steadily declines, while the amount of darkness increases until the winter solstice, the day with the least amount of daylight and the most amount of darkness.
The further north or south one is from the equator, the more noticeable these seasonal variations are. I don’t notice the changes in daylight as much where I live here in Texas (Latitude 33.5667° N), as I did when I lived in Berlin, Germany (52.5167° N), which is considerably farther north. Here, the winter solstice has 9:55 hours of daylight (sunrise 7:48 a.m., sunset 5:44 p.m.), versus the summer solstice’s 14.24 hours (sunrise 6:38 a.m., sunset 9:01 p.m.). However, in Berlin, the winter solstice has only 7:39 hours of daylight (sunrise 8:15 a.m., sunset 3:54 p.m.), versus 16:50 hours of daylight on the summer solstice (sunrise 4:45 a.m.!, sunset 9:33 p.m.). In the depths of winter in Berlin, no matter what shift we were working (7 a.m. to 4 p.m., 4 p.m. to midnight, or midnight to 7 a.m.), we would go to and from work in darkness. As we worked in a building without windows, those who were on day shift (7 a.m.- 4 p.m.) didn’t see the sun until their days off.
On the other hand, the vernal and autumnal equinoxes are the two days of the year (in spring and fall, respectively), when day and night are of equal (equi-) length. The solstices divide the year into the dark half and the light half, and the equinoxes mark the midpoint of each half.
Only lately, with the invention and proliferation of the electric light, have these astronomical phenomena become of little importance to us. But for thousands of years, they would have played an important role in daily life. With the development of farming and the transition from the wandering hunter-gatherer way of life, to the settled agricultural way of life, it became of paramount importance to know when spring was on the way and it was time to prepare the soil and plant the crops. The astronomical milestones (the crosses) are Yule (winter solstice) and Litha (summer solstice), Ostara (spring equinox) and Mabon (autumnal equinox).
Prehistoric European peoples saw these seasonal variations as a contest between Light, personified as the Oak King, and Darkness, personified as the Holly King. At Ostara (the vernal equinox), the Oak King triumphs over the Holly King and light reigns until Mabon (the autumnal equinox), when the Holly King gets the upper hand, and darkness reigns. The Oak King reaches the height of his power on the longest day of the year, Litha (the summer solstice), following which his power (and the daylight) begins to wane. The Holly King is at the height of his power on the shortest day of the year, Yule (the winter solstice), following which his power (and the darkness) begins to wane.
Midway between the astronomical points are “the quarters”– Imbolc, which is the midpoint between Yule and Ostara; Beltane, which is the midpoint between Ostara and Litha; Lughnassah, which is the midpoint between Litha and Mabon; and Samhain, which is the midpoint between Mabon and Yule.
This procession of crosses and quarter days is known as the wheel of the year. Yule marked the beginning of winter, the leanest time of the year, when food stores are beginning to run low. Imbolc is the time of lambing, and the time when farm implements are readied and plowing is begun. Ostara marks the coming of spring, when planting starts. Beltane marks the time to breed horses and cattle, and the time when one can begin harvesting produce from the gardens. Litha marks the beginning of summer, the height of the growing season. Next comes the three harvest times: Lughnasa (the Feast of Bread) when grain is harvested, Mabon (the Feast of Apples) when the fruit is harvested from the trees, and Samhain, when those animals to be kept for breeding are chosen and the rest of the animals are slaughtered, because there is no more grazing to be had until spring and not enough silage to feed them until then. During the harvest time, the produce that can be preserved is put by for winter and meat is salted and smoked. The food that cannot be preserved is eaten at the harvest feasts.
Humankind has followed the wheel of the year for thousands of years. It has been so important for so long that when the Christian Church “triumphed over paganism,” rather than attempt to do away with the old pagan festivals, they took the more pragmatic approach of “rebranding” them. Although textual evidence suggests that Jesus was born in the spring during lambing time (when shepherds were out in the fields, keeping watch over the flock by night), we celebrate his birth at the time of year when Romans celebrated Saturnalia (December 17-23), and other prechristian pagans celebrated Yule, the winter solstice (December 21st), the victory of Light over Darkness. We celebrate his resurrection near Ostara (from whence the word “easter” is derived) which is the vernal equinox (March 22), the return of spring. Halloween (October 31st), which for the Celts was the beginning of their year, was rebranded by the Christian Church as the eve of “All Hallows(Saints) Day” (November 1st). Even though we are largely an urban population now, there seems to be a deep-seated need to celebrate the harvest, to the point of institutionalizing it in the form of Thanksgiving which both the US (4th Thursday in November)and Canada (2nd Monday in October) have made a legal holiday. We don’t celebrate Litha (midsummer’s day, June 21st), but July 4th and July 14th (Bastille Day) are pretty thoroughly (and patriotically) celebrated. We no longer celebrate Imbolc, but we’ve replaced it with the merchandising holiday Valentine’s day (February 14th), and the legal holiday “President’s Day” (3rd Monday in February) which is a compromise date between Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s birthday.
Now that the solstice is past, the days are lengthening, and the Holly King’s reign is waning, I thought I’d share one of the things I like best about this season, which is the music long associated with Christmas. I ran across this delightful rendition of an old Medieval Latin text, “Gaudete, Christos est natus.” As I have mentioned before, I love voices singing in harmony.
And here’s a version of the “Salve Regina” from a manuscript found in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was used by the Order of the Temple of Solomon (Knights Templar). The video is of Canterbury Cathedral in England. The bronze effigy is the tomb of Edward, The Black Prince (1330-1376).
And this one is “Благослови, душе моя” (Praise the Lord) with music by Sergei Rachmaninov performed by the USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir (obviously an old recording). Typical of a lot of the Russian Orthodox choral music, and unlike the western tradition, the individual singers stagger their breathing so as to maintain one continuous unbroken sound — sometimes from the beginning to the end of the song! In my junior and senior years in high school (11th and 12th grade) I was in the varsity choir (first soprano), and we sang some of this magnificent music in the Russian Orthodox style. It requires a great deal of breath control. Needless to say, none of our high school basses could manage to do the low octaves like those unbelievable Russian basses. And that tenor soloist is to die for. Good tenors and basses are hard to come by in this country. I think the Russians have cornered the market.
Or something like that. The interwebs. Except instead of physical objects, it’s sights, sounds, thoughts, ideas. You might rummage about through some miscellaneous babble and turn up something profound, something beautiful, something strange. You never know. Amid the vacation snaps, the videos of the baby, the kitty, the dog, and people doing stupid stuff, you could find something amazing, beautiful, moving. You just never know. In terms of content, the internet has the same fascination as a yard sale, a flea market, the roadside stand. You have to go look because you just never know what you might find.
The case in point du jour. One of the feeds I follow on my feed reader along with the blogs, Tumblr blogs, cartoons, and webcomics I follow is the Astronomy Picture of the Day, a NASA website which describes itself thusly: “Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.” Today, the Picture of the Day was this:
The reason for this particular picture appearing in APOD is the atmospheric phenomenon called a light pillar, an effect produced by ice crystals in the atmosphere. What struck me about the picture actually, had nothing to do with the atmospheric effects. The picture was taken in a town in Finland named Oulu, which has the distinction of being the fifth largest city in Finland and has an average annual temperature of 2 °C (36 °F). What captured my attention was how disconcertingly similar these houses, which are located a stone’s throw away from the Arctic Circle, are to the houses in my hometown in Texas, which is at the same latitude as Casablanca, Morocco. In fact, this picture (except for the birch trees) could have been taken on the street my parents live on. The guy who took the picture had gone to the grocery store to get cat food. In -18 C/-0.4 F degree weather. Going outside. To the store.
Now, I’m an inveterate link follower*, so naturally I follow the link to the Wikipedia article on Oulu and learn that it hosts a number of music festivals, including an Irish Festival, and that its two major claims to fame are also (somewhat) musically related: The Air Guitar World Championships and Mieskuoro Huutajat, which is an internationally famous shouting choir. Of men. Shouting. There’s been a film made about them. (This is the trailer for the film. Watch the whole thing. It’s only 1:38 minutes long. Mind blowing.)
The world is a strange and wondrous place.
*Not surprising, really. When I was in elementary school, the lady who kept my brother and me after school and during the summer had just got a brand new set of World Book Encyclopedia. They were, apart from her daughters’ schoolbooks, the only books in the house as far as I knew. Many days, I would go and get a volume and just leaf through it, reading what caught my eye. As the twig is bent . . .
Apparently, I am now on the radar of les spammeurs française. WordPress sieved out no less than 13 today offering me boites of one kind or another. I seem to go through phases. I’ll get nothing for a while, and then, seemingly out of the blue, I’ll get pelted with a barrage of it. The bombardment lasts anywhere from a day or two to weeks, and then stops. There for a while I got 中国的垃圾邮件 almost exclusively, and the 中国的垃圾邮件发送者 continue to lob a couple in from time to time, just to show they still care. Then I went through a period where all I got was спам России. I still pick up the odd el spam español from time to time, but nothing like their previous efforts, and there were a couple of weeks there when 한국어 스패머 seemed bound and determined to sell me purses. However, I’ve been mercifully free of البريد لمزعجالعربية to date, and no स्पैमर्स हिन्दी so far, either.
The English speaking spammers are pretty equally divided between those who have the idée fixe that I suffer from kidney disease and/or have a malady that, in my case, is anatomically impossible, or else they are convinced that they have just the software, tips and strategies I need to launch my blog into the stratosphere of popularity and they thoughtfully check back with me on a regular basis to see if I’m ready yet to take them up on their generous offers.
I hear other bloggers speak of torrents of spam, but I don’t get all that much, really (touch wood!). Either the Akismet antispam measures WordPress provides are very effective or else my my profile is not high enough to draw much fire. I suspect it is primarily due to the latter.
* Obliquely related in an off-the-wall kind of way.
My mom had several events she wanted to attend Wednesday and I went over and stayed with my 91-year-old dad while she was out. As I have mentioned previously, he is a very marginal ambulator and is very unsteady on his feet even though he uses a walker. He has become disoriented several times, taken wrong turns, and because he has severe macular degeneration, he can’t see where he is, never mind figure out how to get back to where he wants to be. He has fallen several times now, and the intervals between falls has been steadily shrinking. Frail though he is, at 6 feet plus tall, he is simply too much for any one person, never mind my 89-year-old mother, to lift up off the floor. Several times in the past, when he has fallen, Mom called the neighbors across the street, J and C, and she and her husband have come across to help get my dad sorted. (They are wonderful people. They’ve adopted my mom and dad, and they are always coming over to help them out. Every morning for years now, J comes over and finds the newspaper and puts it on the porch for my mom so she doesn’t have to get out in the yard and hunt it. They have put up the Christmas lights for mom for several years now. C has fixed several things around the house that needed fixing. The world needs several billion more people like them.)
I knew that sooner or later the law of averages was going to catch up to me, and Wednesday it did. My dad got up to go to the bathroom and tottered off in that direction. I’ve taken to following at a discrete distance and a good thing. I heard a terrific whump!. He’d lost his balance trying to get back out of the bathroom and fell against the bathroom door — mercifully without injuring himself — but he was lying in front of the door, which opens inward, and it was a tight squeeze to get to him. I was able to help him get back out into the bedroom. I knew mom would have their phone number entered in the phone book on their cordless phone. Sure enough, I found J and C’s number and thankfully they were home. (They are such lovely people!) They rushed right over. We were able to get him up into a chair, and from there back on his feet. We got him back to his recliner in the den without incident. Had they not been home, I would have had to either leave him there on the bedroom floor (sitting with him, of course) until my mom got home, or called for paramedics to come out.
My mom has bought a collapsible wheelchair that fits in the trunk of her car, which is a great help in getting him in and out of places like the doctor’s office, and the barber’s, but like almost all houses built at that time (1962), the bathroom doorways are even narrower than the regular doorways — too narrow to get even this smaller wheelchair through. But, even if my mom were to go to the expense of having the doorways widened, there’s still the fact that again, typical of houses built at that time, the bathrooms are almost claustrophobically small. As his strength and mobility continue to decline, the time is fast approaching when some tough decisions are going to have to be made.
Needless to say, I’ve always been daddy’s girl, and it’s been particularly hard for me to deal with the situation. Still, I can’t deny that we have been very, very lucky to have had him this long. Right now, I just keep thinking, “Please, let us make it through the holidays without a crisis.” — Not that a crisis will be any easier to cope with then than now. It’s just that if anything does happen during a major holiday, it will forever after leave its taint on that time. It will be hard enough to face a holiday without him, without that holiday also being the anniversary of some dreadful event. This has been brought home to me in a particularly poignant way this year. A lady I’ve known since 1999, a colleague I met through work*, has just learned that those abdominal pains her grandmother thought might be her gallbladder acting up were, in fact, due to stage 4 (terminal) metastatic pancreatic cancer and that her grandmother has only weeks left. She and I have both been medical transcriptionists for many years and we know what such a diagnosis portends. But for it to happen now, during the Christmas season, is like kicking them when they’re down. From now on, for them, every subsequent Christmas, they will not only be missing her presence in the family circle, but having to be reminded of the events of her final days overshadows and spoils the good memories of Christmases past and the family traditions she was a part of.
In other news, I dodged a dental bullet. My induction physical into the Air Force (1972) turned up a cavity in the incisor next to my right upper canine, and I was told to have it fixed before I was due to report for basic training. “Fixing the cavity” unfortunately involved a root canal procedure and because that incisor is so slender, the only way it could be done was for my then dentist (who has since retired) to replace the visible tooth with a post and crown. Lately, that tooth had become noticeably wiggly and my current dentist was concerned that this was because there was decay around the base of what was left of the tooth root and that the stage was being set for catastrophic failure. Last Thursday, I went in so that he could assess the situation and we were going to consider options. Turned out the tooth was wiggly because the crown was loose. When he removed the crown to reglue it, he assessed the situation and discovered that what he thought was decay was simply the dark amalgam used to anchor the post. He reglued the crown. Problem solved.
However, as long as I was there, he started me on a course of dental scaling and deep cleaning which entailed numbing the whole right side of my jaw, upper and lower. The dental hygienist did the procedures (the pain I can take, but the scraping affects me like the sound of fingernails on a chalk board — Gack!) and I went home with the whole side of my face thoroughly numb from the bridge of my nose down to the underside of my jaw.
Today, I had to get up at Oh-God-thirty to be at the dentist’s at 8 a.m. to get the left side done. (The cats are all comfortably ensconced on the bed, the alarm goes off, and they’re like, Srsly?) I get home with the whole left side of my face numb, thinking I will boot up my computer, read my feeds, and wait for my face to thaw out. Guess again.
Let me set the scene for you. For over two months now, my internet service provider, ATT, has been been sending out humpty gazillion emails saying they’re monkeying with how their email service is going to work and you need to run this updater program before December 11, because if you don’t, on December 11th your email will quit working. Every time I’d get a rash of emails, I would dutifully go to the website and run the updater program. On all five email accounts. This morning, I sit down, drooling because half my face is shot full of anesthetic and won’t move, not having eaten since yesterday, boot up my computer and try I try to download my email. All five accounts error out.
Was ist denn schon wieder los?! I call ATT. About halfway through their speech wreck call steering system, I get disconnected. I call back, wade through the whole speech wreck song and dance again and finally get an actual live person, an email techistani*. “Oh, we changed things again yesterday and you need to run the email updater program again.” So I run it again. On all five accounts. No soap. I go to the ATT website and double check that all my settings are what they say they’re supposed to be. On all five accounts. Still no joy.
I call back, wade through the whole speech wreck call steering thing again and get another techistani who tells me that because I want to use Windows Live Mail (WLM) so I can download and keep My emails on MY computer instead of having to manage my email through their servers using a web browser — which won’t work with MailWasher, BTW,— I’ll have to call Microsoft for assistance, because ATT does not support WLM. “Oh, and they charge by the hour to help you fix stuff. I’ll give you the number.”
I hit the roof. I informed said techistani that I pay an arm and two legs for their service and I’m not going to pay Microsoft for tech support because ATT’s email client won’t play nice with WLM. I want to speak with your supervisor. Now. When the supervisor finally came on the phone, it took her another half an hour to get things working, and she had to remotely connect to my computer to do it. Oddly enough, it took me less than five minutes to make the needed adjustments to MailWasher for all five accounts. (Mail Washer is a great antispam program that has cut my spam down from a gush to a mere trickle.)
This is the same internet service provider who after three phone calls to finally convince somebody that my internet was going in and out, two more phone calls in an attempt to get my WIFI to work, and after sending two service technicians to my house to try to get a replacement box to work told me that because their brand new box put out such an anemic and crappy WIFI signal that it dropped out five feet from the box, (the malfunctioning box they were replacing put out a WIFI signal I could pick up anywhere in the house), I would have to BUY A ROUTER TO BOOST THEIR BOX’S PUNY SIGNAL AND MAKE THEIR EQUIPMENT WORK! The third tech, who actually had more sense than God gave a doorknob, figured out that the problem was that a neighbor’s WIFI was on a competing frequency and was canceling mine out, determined what signal the neighbor was using and installed a box that used a frequency it wouldn’t compete with. I won’t even go into what it took to set my mom’s new modem up, starting with charging her $99 for a modem that was defective.
Today’s travail brings up another point. There appears to be a move by internet service providers to fix it so their email clients won’t work with Microsoft’s, so that their subscribers will have to use a web browser to access their proprietary email servers directly, and use their client, — which means all your stored emails are on their server — or else you have to completely bypass them and use something like Gmail that will play nice with Windows. I’ll tell you right now. I absolutely refuse to use a browser to access my email (or use Gmail, come to that) and have my stored emails sitting on somebody else’s equipment. In the first place, having to use a web browser to access my email is a pain in the butt. I don’t need or want all their little news services and shopping services, and happy little bells, lights, whistles and whatnot, all of which are designed to track where I go and what I do on the internet so they can sell the data to marketing firms, and I’m not happy with storing my emails where the National Furtive Agency can hack through their server security like it doesn’t exist, and browse through all my emails at their leisure. I want MY emails on MY computer. (If the National Furtive Agency thinks it has to know my business, the more hoops they have to jump through to access it, the better.)
*Since the advent of computers and computer modems, a sizeable percentage of medical transcription has been done by transcription services that employ people who work from home. While she and I have been friends and colleagues for a long time, she lives two states away, and we have never actually met face to face.
Still pretty dang cold here at 21 F/-6.1 C. Supposed to get down to 12 F/-11.1 C tonight. At least it’s not snowing. My gas bill is going to be higher than giraffes’ ears. I don’t even want to think about it. I remind you that the city I live in is at the same latitude as Casablanca, Morocco, although I suppose having the Gulf Stream in their front yard and the Sahara Desert in their back yard does have some influence on their climate. . .
There’s a new cable channel I’ve been getting, RFD-TV. It’s supposed to be a network devoted to the “rural lifestyle” i.e., farming and ranching. Rural TV has one show I like, Gentle Giants, which is about the draft breeds of horses. The two presenters go places and interview people to do with the raising, training and showing of the draft breeds in America. I happened across one of their other shows, Trains and Locomotives, the other night. An hour’s worth of videos of actual freight trains passing through this one grade crossing at some place in Illinois. (Armchair trainspotting?) Some guy went to this particular train crossing and took videos of every freight train that passed that crossing on that particular day. From two different angles. And talked about them. Simply riveting. (Not.)
I’ve decided to knit some heavy socks for my dad, not a small undertaking as he wears US size 13 (UK 12-1/2, Euro 47-1/2) shoes. For a size 10 (6 mm, UK size 4) needle and the yarn I plan to use, that’s a stitch gage of 4 stitches to the inch, and for two at a time socks, that’s a cast on of 52 stitches with 26 on each needle.
It’s 18 F/-7.7 C at the moment, heading for a low of 6 F/-14.4 C and was snowing kinda sorta when I looked out an hour ago.
Finished pair of socks for my BFF who is incredibly cold natured. She wears socks, heavy pajamas and sleeps under blankets in the dead of summer. To be fair, between hemochromatosis, hypothyroidism, and all the anxiolytics and antidepressants she’s taking, her metabolism is pretty messed up.
Yesterday, I pulled out one of my penannular brooches to keep my shawl closed over my chest. It’s one of the ones I got here. The guy who runs the site does SCA and re-enactor stuff from a number of historical periods. His work is of good quality and quite reasonably priced. The one I’m wearing is the fourth up from the bottom. Works great. Don’t know why I didn’t think of using it weeks ago. The ring part is 2-1/4 inches across. I have some bigger ones, but they’re too heavy,weight-wise, to use with a knitted shawl. This is the 9-blade pinwheel shawl I made.
I wear my hair in a pony tail most of the time, right at the top of the back of my head, and I use a flat barrette rather than an elastic so that my pony tail will lie flat against my head when I rest my head on the back of the chair. Yesterday, when I got dressed, I had to pull my pony tail out from under my bra band in the back. That makes it officially the longest my hair’s ever been in my entire life. It’s almost to my waist when it’s down. The last time my hair was cut was just before I had rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder in October of 2008 and I got it cut very short, because I knew my left arm was going to be out of commission for at least a month after the surgery and I couldn’t even comb my hair with one hand, let alone wash it one-handed. I had ten inches cut off and donated it to Locks of Love — which I would have done anyway even if I hadn’t gotten a free haircut for doing it. This is how long it was in February of this year, which was 4+ years’ growth. When I wash my hair and let it air-dry (which I do habitually — my hair’s too fine and fly-away as it is), I get corkscrew curls. Alas, they don’t survive the first time I comb it.
The grey kitty has been acting in a supervisory role as of late (speak of the devil) and seems to think she needs to walk on my chest. Of course, when she does that, it’s a good thing I’m a touch typist . . .
*The phrase is currently used for almost all the many meanings of the word “cold”: e.g. chilly, unfeeling, unconscious, dead.