Dobrodošli u Veljaču

Sometimes, I recall that many people live their whole lives without seeing snow. And while at this point in this Michigan winter, I’m a little bit over it, I still see incredible beauty in it that isn’t comparable to anything else. An untouched field of newly fallen snow is a wonder. A drift with little bird tracks crossing it is a wonder. A green bough weighed down by a blanketing, yet unbroken, is a wonder. Ponderous, aimless flakes falling from a dark sky are wonders.

These are just some snow thoughts to start us out this week because we remain deeply in winter here. And back home, they’re getting a little taste as well. I don’t want to be one of those people who shames them for how little snow it really is, and how warm the weather relatively is, but the facts remain–it isn’t that much snow and it’s relatively warm compared to our winter so far. Though, I will say, the humidity factor definitely contributes to a cold feeling there even when temperatures indicate otherwise. That lesson was definitely driven home when I lived in Dublin and it was just a cold, cold time while rarely ever touching freezing.

Fact time (you’ll recall that a ‘factoid’ is actually something that is false). Language statistics are particularly difficult to obtain because the numbers are constantly changing and there’s not even a solid definition of what counts as a language. However. Of the ten largest languages by native speakers (generally), seven of them do not use the Latin alphabet: Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Japanese, and Punjabi. Some of those don’t use an alphabet at all. The three exceptions are Spanish, English, and Portuguese.

As an American and native English speaker, how odd. I am not shocked by this, but it is still sometimes startling to rest upon that little tidbit.

In a similar vein, Croatian does not take its names for months from Latin. Instead, they derive from older Slavic roots correlated to the Gregorian calendar. So February (in German, Februar; in Russian февраль–fevral’) is Veljača–VEL-yah-chah, which likely means ‘the month when the days get longer.’

ANYWAY

There’s your language facts for the week. You know I love stuff like that and I can’t not share. Plus, any excuse to bring up Croatia. Sometimes, I just really get carried away by the amount of trivia in my brain.

I don’t have a whole lot else going on. We have this coming week off, a little intermission between the school’s January term and the start of spring semester. No plans, just some cozy relaxing times, I hope. I may make split pea soup because I accidentally bough split peas instead of lentils back in September and haven’t done anything with them yet (because I don’t really like split pea soup). Maybe I’ll try to bake something a little more exciting than banana bread (though there were claims my most recent batch was the most delicious yet).

It has been a wonder to be able to check in on Lake Michigan through this season of Very Cold Weather. Watching a skin of ice become feet of ice shelf compounded by floating frozen spheres and icy spray. Little ice-lands (you like my island pun?). Strange and foreign and beautiful and mysterious. I’d give you more pictures but none I’ve taken do the least to elucidate the phenomenon.

Instead, I’ll gift you some cats. Because that is a gift for every season.

We did have a sec where everything warmed up pretty thoroughly but then we went right back to the teens and got a little more snow so now everything is just super icy. Which isn’t ideal. But we survive and that’s all there is to it. The days, as the Croatians know, are getting longer.

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У природы нет плохой погоды

There is a saying I’ve heard along the lines of “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” This is reflected in the text of a Russian song I had to memorize in Russian class. I now scarcely remember it save the title which translates to ‘nature has no bad weather’ and that it asks us just to be grateful.

Let me tell you. I will not say it is bad, because that is not my place, but it is tough when it is 0°F, fairly windy, and snowing pretty hard. Because that’s where we’ve been for the past week. To be fair, the temperature was only that low yesterday but we’ve been pretty consistently around 8-12° which still isn’t great. And just so much snow.

So much.

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It doesn’t look like much here but that’s just because the beach is super windy

I mean, I say that knowing that there are plenty of places with plenty more snow. Fun fact, the world record for most snow accumulation in a season is Mt Baker in Washington with something in excess of 90′. So our two-ish feet isn’t wild but still, not ideal. And, obviously, Yakutsk exists so we’re never winning any cold contests. But sometimes comparing hardships doesn’t actually make you feel better. You can still get frostbite even when you’re not in the coldest place in the world.

Anyway. That’s about all I want to say about that. Pictures really can’t do the scene or the weather justice. I included the above mostly so I could tell you that there’s a lot of frozen Lake Michigan on my doorstep. Such ice, so freeze, wow.

In other news, there is not a great deal of other news. School was delayed on Friday and canceled twice this week (I know it’s a boarding school but faculty still need to be able to drive in). Which meant a lot of stir-crazy high schoolers on top of the weather, not super awesome but survivable.

I have a couple thoughts for this week. Not philosophical kind of thoughts, just Keegan’s-life kind. But I’ll share them with you.

As today is the last day of January, 2019, I realize how quickly I’m approaching one year from Korea. In fact, when I first thought of it, I was like, it’s been a year since I went to Korea…no wait, two years…whoa. I arrived in Korea on 19 February, 2017. That is almost two years ago. Where did the time go?!?! I still feel like I’ve just gotten back, when in fact I left Korea almost precisely one year and one week from that day.

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Kitty intermission

I’ve talked a little about it before. It’s hard to be moving all the time. It’s hard to set yourself up, learn where to go and how to do and who to see, then leave. And while part of it has been circumstances, of course, it’s always been my choice to leave. To not try to stay, even. I’ve done this to myself. And I will probably do it again and again.

I have found it difficult to get a grip on my life (no wait, that’s not what I meant) when, for example, I can’t even remember which country I lived in for most of 2018. I’m not the most traveled person in the world but I’ve done a fair bit. The people I’ve met and who have been generous of themselves enough to befriend me have been some truly excellent people. But it’s hard when you’re together for a year and then very, very apart. Even with the internet, even when both of you really want to stay in touch, even when you do actually stay in touch. It’s not the same.

Friends are hard. Moving is hard. Not that I’m feeling particularly bad about it at this moment. It was just startling to reflect that it’s been almost a year since my last Paris Baguette, since the last time I heard the Farmer in the Dell-esque metro song, since my last hike to the Kelseys’ apartment to watch a movie. And I still have no idea where I may be a year from now, and no idea what things will strike me as suddenly missing when, a year after deprivation, I finally realize that it’s been a year.

Another odd time-warp: this week marked five years since I took the banner photo of this blog, on a rainy, cold walk along the Jurassic Coast at Exmouth, in the UK. I first went to England five years ago. Huh.

Well. I don’t know that that quite accurately discusses my feelings on the subject but it’s what I’ve got at this juncture. Nature has no bad weather, I’ve heard. Дождь ли снег — любое время года/ Надо благодарно принимать. My time in Korea was some weather. Here in Michigan, we’ve gotten something different. In between and before and beyond, we must receive it gratefully.

The Oozy Emerald Frog

One of the things that I can see as publisher of this blog is how many people click the links that I include. Typically, I will get 0-1 clicks any given week that I include one. This week’s title is such a lovely phrase and most of you will just go into the rest of your day never knowing where, exactly, it comes from. Just saying.

Surprise, I don’t have a whole lot to share this week. No trips to Chicago, hardly any trips at all. Because of the snow. Not feet upon feet but enough to make me increasingly wary of driving. And though for the moment, temperatures are maybe around the mid-twenties, there were a few days where the high barely made it into double digits, if at all. And there will be more such days shortly forthcoming.

And, as I wake up this morning, apparently we have a winter storm warning in the area. Several inches of snow to come this afternoon. Not quite a blizzard but very wintry and snowy and Narnia-y (pre-Pevensie, of course).

Quite cold, no matter how you slice it. Some small comfort, however, that I do not live in Yakutsk. I implore you, look up Yakutsk weather if you’re reading this in the northern hemisphere’s winter. In fact, I’ll include it for you here. (Though if you have a lot of money and are willing, I would gratefully accept a trip to visit Yakutsk because how interesting).

Anyway. I’ve not been up to much this week. Reading, of course. I was reading a book and it got to an emotional moment that was not a good kind and I needed to not continue for a while, so I started another book that I had just gotten off hold from the library–and that book very quickly gave me an emotional moment of a gross kind so that I needed a break from that one too. Frustrating. Not even the good, heartstrings bits that thrill me even as they tear me up inside. Just gross, hurtful, sad times that weren’t even morosely fulfilling. Ugh.

So I didn’t do a whole lot of reading yesterday, maybe today I’ll be in a place to pick them up again. We’ll see. If they were cooler emotional moments, I might tell you about them but mostly they’re just lame. Alas.

The plus side of all of the weather, if I may backtrack for a sec, is that I’ve seen some lovely winter sights. Snow-laced trees and ice-crusted stream and whatnot. This campus does have its moments.

I have spent a great deal of time inside, as one might imagine, but rest assured that I have enjoyed the snow in person as well. It is very beautiful, even if the very cold weather is not my strong suit. The snow lends an element of happiness/peace/something good that the bitter cold I had in Seoul last winter lacked most of the time.

Just a quick thought for you here at the end. Kind of totally unrelated but also kind of very relevant.

You may know, in a three way tie for my favorite poet is Edna St. Vincent Millay. She wrote a poem, [Still will I harvest beauty where it grows], that I’ve been thinking about this week. The thrust is mainly, I think, that beauty can come from anywhere–including places others may find gross. Very Ratatouille; not everyone can be a great chef but a great chef can come from anywhere kind of vibe. But tonight, writing this, I find myself thinking about the first word, primarily.

Still. In the midst of all that is going on. Though there is so much ugliness in the world. Despite the general state of things, as I see it. Even so. Still will I harvest beauty. Nothing will dissuade me from finding what is beautiful, even when others tell me there is no beauty to be found. The world may be hurting but it is still beautiful.

My Cup with Blessings Overflows

Attitude of gratitude is a very annoying and trite hinkety-pinkety and even so, I have started this post with it. Because it matters, though saying it aloud makes me want to cringe into nothingness.

My last couple posts haven’t been particularly uplifting. And that’s okay, it’s not my job to be uplifting. But it is tiresome to be always serious and sad. This post will be neither serious nor sad. To prove it, I will share this with you:

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Such cuties.

Anyway. Winter is well under way here in chilly Michigan. We received around six inches of snow early Sunday morning which would have had me prancing with glee had I not had to drive to Traverse City–the first one off campus, little Pádraig doing his best to get us through and over and around. He performed admirably, no major mishaps  though the roads, even where I wasn’t the first driver on them, were having a tough time.

Putting the couple touchy moments aside, the snow has been lovely. No falls for me thus far, no spills, no outtakes of any kind. I’ve got my equipment and I’m ready to take it all on.

And I’ve got to tell you that, while Michigan nature isn’t my usual, it can still really do it for me.

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Cozy inside, snowy outside, contented all around. Or at least doing alright.

Tonight is The Feast, which I expect will be nice. Everyone at school wears their fancy dress, we have a meal together, and then there’s an cooperative arts performance. Should be good fun, hopefully.

And then, get this: I have a week off! I just had a week off in October! And I’ll have more in December and January! So much vacation! I don’t want to rub it in anyone’s face but after Korea, it feels so nice to have actual, for real time off!

I think I might take a day trip to Cheboygan because a) it’s very fun to say b) it’s on Lake Huron which I haven’t seen yet and c) variety is the spice of life. If you are a Michigan person, feel free to advise me on other places to visit. At some point, I’ll go up the the Upper Peninsula again so I can see Lake Superior. Not sure where else in Michigan I’ll end up seeing.

All this to say, as appropriate for this time of year: things are nice and I’m feeling very blessed just in my general existence. Not sure exactly what Thanksgiving plans will be but there have been rumors of a few other house parents sticking around and we might do something all together. I’d be all about that. Making friends and stuff, I guess.

Also. I’ve found a super-simple recipe for pumpkin pie (yes, even more simple than usual) and I’m excited to give it a go. Frozen pie crusts because let’s not get carried away (and also I don’t have a counter to roll out dough) but the filling will be all me. There’s maple syrup in it, so that’s fun. Yay baking!

Whether or not it’s Thanksgiving time for you, whether or not you’re feeling happy and blessed, I’m wishing you all sorts of good things because things just seem to be pretty alright for me.

Michigan is Happening

So maybe it’s me, but 20 October seems pretty early to have your first snowfall. Driving a van full of students back from the mall, in the dark, in the snow-then hail-then snow is not ideal, I’ll tell you. Doing it in October is just that much more disheartening. Well, maybe that’s not it exactly. Because I am, obviously, excited about the snow. Snow. What’s not to love. But I’ve been warned so many times about the kind of winter that I’m likely to have here in northern Michigan than I’m leery of it starting so early.

The next morning, driving to church in Traverse City, I saw areas of nothing, areas of dusted shoulders and fence posts, and areas of true coatings of snow. It’s all gone now, we had temperatures in the mid-fifties this week. But we also had days with highs right about 40°. Seems a little bit like that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they skip a season. Spring turned to summer, summer gave autumn a miss and went straight on to winter. Something like that.

Though, in Michigan’s defense, there have been some tremendous fall colors. It’s a genre of natural beauty that doesn’t typically hold much sway with me but I’m just as able as the next guy to acknowledge the magic of a tree lifting its unburning fire toward a chill, sere blue sky.

In any case, time marches forward and the seasons continue on their imperturbable rounds. Nothing else much to report on the life front. We’re up to five students (five!) in our house, so that’s been a development. Manageable and that’s pretty much all I have to say about it.

Another side to this job, the side that sort of compensates for what I expect could well be a disastrous winter, is the sunsets. Part of my job involves walking around campus in the evenings and that includes checking the beach on Lake Michigan. I often go after dinner. I often see spectacular sunsets. Case in point, earlier this week (though well after the snow experience in Traverse City):

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It did also start to sprinkle right as I went down the boardwalk and, just behind me taking that picture, was a lovely and pretty clear rainbow catching the last rays of the day. Just incredible.

Michigan nature, as I’ve said, isn’t quite my usual but it is very good nonetheless.

 

Winter; Discontent

Hi.

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The most precious

She is the most recent unintentional adoptee of my sister’s time in Arizona. I call her Lucy and she is my heart. I mean, look at her.

Monday marked, hopefully forever, the end of the colder-than-cold weather. It was also the start of level up testing so it was simultaneously stressful and relaxing. We had some big classes to get through and we’re only provided with the materials moments before testing starts so it’s a little rough. Sort of like five minutes of furious activity followed by eighty minutes of reading the news, looking at Facebook, and making sure no one’s cheating. We finished off a long day by watching The Incredibles which was, of course, a delight.

It snowed on Tuesday night, lots. And by lots, I mean maybe two inches. It was absolutely gorgeous in a way that made me want to cry a little, which is perhaps more reflective of me than the landscape but what can I say. Small beauties should be felt deeply just as much as obvious ones. Though it was extraordinarily beautiful, particularly that frozen waterfall near the grocery store, I haven’t been 100% rosy in my attitude.

The incredibly cold weather, in combination with a number of other factors, has provided me with ample opportunity to brood in a dark, wintry mood over the last few weeks. Or months, really. Not continuously, but enough. So here are a few things I’ve been turning over in my head a bit.

This blog has often seen me write of the power of stories. Sometimes, I weigh myself against the adventures enumerated therein and I find myself wanting. I judge that I would not live up to the challenges of living the life of–or even in the same story as– a hero. But also that my life, this real life, is a poor substitute for the seemingly flesh-and-blood trueness I find in books.

Then I berate myself for my ingratitude and blindness. By any account, my life has held plenty of adventures. No dragons have been slain, no deep magics harnessed, no destinies foretold and averted, changed, or fulfilled. Yet I have seen far horizons, I have heard a dozen tongues, I have stepped on the soil of many countries.

Have you ever read that poem by William Carlos Williams about the Brueghel painting? Landscape with the Fall of Icarus? It’s kind of terrible in a blunt, realistic way. But what if Icarus lived? What if he crashed into the sea, swam to shore, and lived the rest of his life in ashamed obscurity? I think another poet actually wrote that counterfactual. Several poets, probably.

Sometimes the winter gets to me a little so I’m sorry for being a bit of a downer this week. Of course, the moment the idea came into my head, I spent a good while imagining alternate adult lives for Icarus and that was thoroughly distracting. By the time I came around, the oppressive wintry mood had vanished entirely. Anyway, there are some thoughts from my brain to yours.

There’s a tricky balance between contentment and complacency; maybe a little discontent every once in a while is healthy. Who knows. Whatever. Anyway. It’s February and that’s… a relief? Terrifying? It’s something. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Side by Side

This week has been pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of intensives, it doesn’t give a lot of room for variation. As I noted last week, I did get off at 4 on Wednesday and I absolutely loved getting home before sunset and just doing nothing at home (as per usual). That evening also featured disk one of The Return of the King so the week couldn’t have been all that bad.

As a follow-up to my description of last week’s weather, here’s a glimpse of the ‘urban nature park’ on my way to the grocery store last Saturday. The waterfall has been frozen for a while, but it snowed that morning and it looked incredible. The stream was partially frozen as well.

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In addition to watching The Lord of the Rings over the past few weeks with friends (“…side by side with a friend…”), I’ve watched all the Harry Potter movies again. Four movies two weekends ago and the other four this past weekend. I just quickly wanted to say a moment–the only moment–that made me tear up for a sec.

Unpopular opinions: I don’t care that much for Dobby or Hedwig or George, not really bothered by the deaths of Remus or Tonks or Dumbledore, don’t think Snape is a good person and am not moved by his story. Harry Potter is of course fabulous and I love it, so don’t take those as criticisms. However, there was one part that got me, if just for a moment, this time around.

At the end of the end, when Harry is about to go to Voldemort in the forest, he just sort of vaguely hints that he’s a horcrux (spoiler) and only Hermione understands. Then she says, “I’ll go with you.” And that is one of the most beautiful of the many statements that the series makes about death. A friend who will fight beside you, even to death.

So there’s that.

Anyway, here’s our choral music selection. Latin music holds a very special place in both historical and contemporary Western choral musical traditions so I thought it an appropriate category. Some of these songs are quite old, some medium old, and some are much more recent but all of them come from a musical and theological tradition spanning thousands of years. It’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve given the English for the titles but if you’re really curious it just takes a quick Google or Wikipedia search to get the full text translated.

Latin Sacred Texts

  1. O Mangum Mysterium – Francis Poulenc (O Great Mystery)
  2. Ave Maria – Javier Busto (Hail Mary)
  3. Ubi Caritas et Amor – Ivo Antognini (Where Charity and Love)
  4. Absalon, Fili Mi – Josquin des Prez (Absalom, My Son)
  5. Angus Dei from Mass in C minor op. 147 – Robert Schumann (Lamb of God)
  6. Si Iniquitates Observaveris – Samuel Wesley (If You Mark Our Iniquities)
  7. Magnificat – László Halmos ([My Soul] Magnifies [the Lord])
  8. O Sacrum Convivium – Olivier Messiaen (O Sacred Banquet)
  9. Adoramus Te, Christe – Claudio Monteverdi (We Adore You, Christ)
  10. Amen – Henryk Górecki (not really Latin but I’m over it)

Then the Traveller in the Dark

I woke up early on Tuesday morning absolutely convinced that it was Saturday. The week continued downhill from there. Things haven’t been that bad, I’m managing just fine. It’s more the idea, the concept, of doing work that has become so dreadful. In the event, it doesn’t bother me as much, but the anticipation (and everything else around it) is draining.

It snowed (yay!) on Tuesday afternoon but while the forecast predicted one to two inches, it ended up being the faintest dusting. I was, however, braced for that disappointment because life is disappointing. I was hoping to have a somewhat lighter schedule on Wednesday but instead my three hour intensive was immediately followed by four hours of phone classes. Not the worst–and, importantly, it’s balanced by only having my intensive next Wednesday–but a bit disappointing all the same.

In other news, it’s also very cold. You may have heard about the super freezing weather in the US and we’re apparently getting some of that too. I woke up this morning and it was 6 F and the low tonight is forecast to be 3. Which is very cold. There are no blizzard force winds but it is a step or two above breezy which isn’t helping either. I enjoy the cold in terms of staying in and doing nothing but being warm. However, when I do have to go someplace, for example, work, it makes my fairly short walk pretty unpleasant.

We also got together to finish the second half of Two Towers on Wednesday night, having watched disk one last Saturday. Absolutely tremendous, as always. And some of us painted our nails, I was going for ‘something dark and wintry but that could not be mistaken for black’ and we ended up with this gorgeous color between forest green and mint that is exactly right. Of course, I did a terrible job actually painting them (this being my third time) but it still looks okay. Though it’s already chipping.

I was going to title this post something about being unfortunate, or disappointing, or just generally meh. But I went with a line from the lesser-known third verse of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (there are five). Because it doesn’t take much to keep hope alive and, though there are no stars in Seoul, sometimes a single snowflake on the tongue is all the sustenance that it requires.

Then the traveller in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark;
He could not see where to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

Celestial Songs

  1. The Spheres from the Sunrise Mass – Ola Gjeilo
  2. Young Galileo – Mark Gresham
  3. Astronaut Anthem – Meredith Monk
  4. Underneath the Stars – Kate Rusby, arr. Jim Clements
  5. Stars – Ēriks Ešenvalds
  6. A Breathing Peace – Daniel Elder
  7. Northern Lights – Ola Gjeilo
  8. Madrigals for the Space Age – Lalo Schifrin
  9. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – Daniel Elder
  10. Choose Something Like a Star – Randall Thompson