Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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MPMF16: Bob Mould

I found Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade in the late 80’s and thought what the f*ck is this? Like most moody teens I was listening to The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, and The Pixies with a little splash of what was happening on pop radio. “Never Gonna Give You Up” was in the top ten for 1998. That should tell you all you need to know. In this context, I ran across this.

Because it sounded like little else at the time Hüsker Dü stuck with me. I followed Bob Mould when he formed Sugar in the early 90’s. FUEL became one of my most listed to cassette tapes. It dropped the year I graduated high school and carried me into my first couple years of college. Listening to it now still gives me the nostalgia warm fuzzies.

And this is mostly why I will be watching Bob Mould at MPMF. The first listens I have given his new stuff have been good. But my inner eighteen year old wants to see the shows I didn’t make more than twenty years ago.


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Ever Smaller Circles

It is as though he has split into two different people now. There’s the person that I remember as my father, and now there’s a person who I visit in a rehab facility. The weeks that he was intubated forever changed his voice and rendered him bed bound.

Since he cannot attend to his own personal needs the aftershave I have associated with him my whole life is noticeably absent. Someone else is cutting and combing his hair. Although his clothes are his own, since he can’t adjust them, they rest at awkward places. The sweatshirt rides up in the back. The waist of the pants floats to where ever the friction might take them, most often too high or too low.

The disassociation happened in full on Father’s Day. I found him sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of the hall. His eyes lit on me for a moment before moving on without recognition, and a thought flickered just outside my consciousness that preconceived what the next few minutes would hold.

I walked up and greeted him. The searching look was only there a moment before he gamely greeted me in a bright but unmistakably generic way. The nurse asked him if he knew me, and he boomed, “Sure I do! I worked with this guy!” He continued rambling about how many years it had been while the nurse said he has been very confused. She said it’s not like him. That was piercingly clear to me.

And that’s just how it happens. One day your parent doesn’t know you… And you don’t really know them.

Buddhist wisdom says there is no good or bad. There just is. The good and bad are judgements we lay on things that just are. My meditation and mindfulness practice made me pause at this, where as I would have just barreled forward on impulse just months earlier. Although I am unfazed by strangers failing to determine my gender, it certainly gave me pause coming from my father.

I quieted my mind and scrutinized him. He was completely untroubled. He was delighted to see me, whoever I was to him. Instantly realization spread over me with certainty, I would be whomever he wanted. No matter how painful this was for me, I would get to go home after this. I would get up and walk out of here on my legs. I would sink into the arms of someone I love very much later that evening and cry. And he would still be here.

He had fallen twice that day. His arms were bruised, and there seemed to be a seeping wound on his arm. I stalled for a few moments to process my feelings by asking some questions about these things.

I found my resolve to be present and open to what these next few hours would bring. He was pleased to have someone to talk to, so I just let him talk. Through the afternoon he moved across time, and I shifted from being someone that worked at the pharmacy with him to someone that he served in the Navy with.

He gave me things. He gave me the experience of interacting with him as a peer and not his daughter. He became the irreverent Navy officer joking about his girls and how he never thought he would get someone else to wipe his ass. He spoke cryptically about all the temptations in the Navy, and I judiciously directed the conversation elsewhere. Some things are best left unknown. He talked to me conspiratorially about his pending nuptials, to whom was not clear. Mary? My mom?

He told me about his last conversation with Peg before Wendell, his work partner for decades, died. She was weighing taking the long drive to see her husband. He had already been put in a facility months prior because his Alzheimer’s had advanced to the point that he was difficult for her to manage. He spoke of the death as though it was yesterday, but Wendell had been dead for years.

We passed the hours with me constantly working to understand what time he was in, and who I was. He was content. We were talking about Formula One racing when he told me about me. I braced unsure if these were words I should hear. Although he mistakenly had me as an officer in the Navy, he proceeded to talk about my recent career moves with surprising clarity. He was proud of the career I’ve made for myself. He gave me that.

He gave me some emotional freedom too. In his words I heard how one dimensional I am to him. I heard how distant we really were emotionally. And I saw how this distance isn’t my fault. And I saw the distance clearly rather than feeling it as a dull ache. There are some truths that, although painful, are more soothing when they are looked directly. I could see that although I have grown to have a vast emotional vocabulary, he has few words. And his limits hold both of us back. I can release myself from feeling responsible and accept what is.

After some hours, I needed to start the long drive home. When I got up to leave he asked me where mom went. Reality came into focus. I admitted she hadn’t been there that day. And he clouded over. I told him I was headed home, and he looked crestfallen that I wouldn’t be staying in Canton that night. When I held his hand and told him I loved him, I wrestled back tears. Not because he knew me, but because as he said he loved me too he tried to get out of bed. He discovered afresh his condition and his face contorted with confusion, fear, and crushing depression.

I left gutted, and also so sure I had made the right decision when I arrived. My dad didn’t know me, and that wasn’t the worst. The worst is that my dad has never known me and he never will.

I asked him a couple of years ago if he would come live with me. He refused. I supposed he was afraid of change. He said he thought mom couldn’t make it without him. Now when I consider that alternate reality, one in which I could advocate effectively for his care and see him more frequently if not arrange for him to have home care, I think this too was a thing that just wasn’t in his vocabulary.

Yet I would have been limited in my own emotional vocabulary without that six months in Seattle. I needed that time to reset myself after a very difficult year. I would have never made the move if he had been with me. His lack of words gave me more. Perhaps this was always his intention. And maybe these few words are really the only ones I need to know.


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MPMF16: Frank Turner

My last sixteen months resemble these songs.

I love some music because of how it sounds. I love some music because of what it says. Frank Turner belongs to the latter group. In fact, this rousing anthems aren’t typically my bag.

But words that say something to me can redeem much, and these words describe some tough steps I took with the support of some amazing people. It’s not to say that things are perfect now. But, wow, are they better. I am gonna see this show just to see the guy that wrote my reality for the last several months.

Costa Rican country side.


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Motorbikes and Volcanos

The black asphalt became more rugged with every hairpin turn until it was no more. Compacted gray gravel loose in places supplanted it. The gray was devoid of any tint. It looked as if an algorithm had been used to neutralize all of the hues.

My motorcycle, a Suzuki 250 V-Star, wasn’t the ideal vehicle for off road mountain climbs, but the bike’s light weight made it easier to deftly weave my way up the volcano. A larger bike would have been a burden to balance at slow speeds and a struggle to reign in to the required slow pace. Although I missed the familiarity of my 750 Shadow, I was relieved that I wasn’t riding it.

Towns had given way to rural farms, and passing vehicles disappears as we approached Turrialba. The volcano was belching sulfuric air and ash the day prior, so we took remote roads toward the summit to see how close we could get. The volcano, although fierce and scorching, left behind top soil rich with minerals; the grasses, trees, and crops were impossibly verdant against the desaturated gray ash on the road.

Dirty roads around the top of Turrialba.

Dirty roads around the top of Turrialba.

We road past fields artfully hand-planted on inclines in defiance of the impossible topography impervious to all mechanical aids. Because of the peculiar environment the area is known for a specialty cheese, named in honor of the volcano. The producers of this cheese were lumbering, gentle giants. We saw many of them, some so well behaved as to be roaming free.

Costa Rican country side.

Costa Rican country side.

Costa Rican farms

Costa Rican farms

There was a small shrine to Mary here that was perfectly maintained.

There was a small shrine to Mary here that was perfectly maintained.

The herd of cows we shared the rode with for a few moments were docile but curious of the rumble of our motorcycles. Their tawny brown fur laid close to their skin taught over the powerful muscles propelling their massive bodies forward. Each cow passed instinctively to one side or the other methodically clearing a path for us. Their brown eyes level with our own regarded us with slight curiosity.

Later we shared the road with a family of horses. Mom and dad stood just off the path nibbling some grasses, while their foals rested, legs folded under, in the tall roadside shrubs. Like some of the cows, they were free to roam to the grasses that pleased them most. Their coats were glossy and groomed, two of them chestnut and the others sleek obsidian. The chestnut beauties had their noses dabbed with a splash of white, reminding me of one of the horses I rode as a child.

It struck me as I rode away from the horses, that this is the bucolic fiction we are sold in the US. This is were our meat and dairy comes from. Except of course it isn’t. For most of us, our meat and dairy comes from factory farms where the animals never experience the outdoors let along feast on the grasses they are meant to. The animals were healthy, well groomed, and well fed, and I felt joy to know that this exists somewhere.

We climbed until we reached a sign. The sign marked the way toward the acme of the belching beast. The air was heavy with sulfur and mixtures of low-lying clouds and smoke blew at intervals around us obscuring the beast and the path forward.

The ascent to the peak was encircled by scorched earth. Echos of trees and underbrush stood as ghostly reminders of the power of the volcano. In a perfect line the verdant green abruptly transitioned to blackened charred tree trunks and smoking ash. The line between life and death was drawn with tree by tree precision. This one to the ash this one pugnacious life.

It was just shy of this line that the sign told us to go no further. We took this sage advice and pulled off to the side to watch. The grasses and leaves freshly washed of ash by the rain contrasted so completely with the stark gray of the ash still clinging to the dead under brush.

We were hoping for Turrialba to give us a show. Adriana wisely had us on the side of the mountain that doesn’t get falling debris. This allowed us to be reasonably sure we weren’t in real danger should Turrialba erupt.

That's Turrialba behind me. We were hoping to see it erupt as it had several times the day before and after we were there.

That’s Turrialba behind me. We were hoping to see it erupt as it had several times the day before and after we were there.

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The path leading away from Turrialba.

The path leading away from Turrialba.

She was quiet for us, so we headed to Irazu. Irazu is less active than Turrialba, and has completely dormant craters that we could walk through. Our ride started at seventy-eight degrees, but ended at the top of Irazu at forty-six degrees. My whole body was quaking with cold and my hands were numb by the time we arrived.

The crater was a massive circular depression of flat gray dust. It was so barren and colorless that my mind felt on the verge of rejecting it as a possible reality. I felt an instinctive discomfort like looking at an altered image that intends to fool the eye. This color, it doesn’t exist in nature. Not a trace of brown or red, the blank hole felt extra terrestrial. I was walking on the moon.

Even here, small tufts of grass were creeping. They were very sparse, but inconspicuous. Life, even here on this early moon, was finding a way.

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Those are mostly clouds with a little bit of some. If I could have approached that edge, I could have seen a lake below in the center of the crater completely devoid of life. This is the active crater at Irazu.

Those are mostly clouds with a little bit of some. If I could have approached that edge, I could have seen a lake below in the center of the crater completely devoid of life. This is the active crater at Irazu.

The rains found us on the ride back. The last thirty minutes of our ride was spent in one of the most severe rains I saw on my trip. Lightening streaked across the sky. In an unfortunate turn of events, a stalled car caused a 45 minute delay.

The three lanes of the highway were choked with parked cars, moving only a few feet every several minutes. Our hands, now tired and aching from seven hours of riding, were losing feeling. We weaved between the lanes of traffic at a crawl carefully avoiding side mirrors, knowing that our time being physically capable of operating the motorcycles was fading.

My belly clenched in fear. I was not afraid of the volcano or the remote mountain paths. But I was terrified of being inches away from cars in blinding rain.

Once past the traffic jam, the highway opened and we went as fast as we dared. Although the speed limit was 80 kilometers per hour, we kept close to 60 knowing the water on the roads and on our break pads would make stopping short impossible. Even so the rain stung my lips and chin like pebbles, the speed making it feel less like a liquid and more like a solid. Water was washing over my legs and running into my shoes filling them faster than they could empty.

When we pulled into her drive way and stripped off our dripping clothes, I felt my jaw loosen. I stretched my aching hands, my fingertips tingled with fresh sensation. That night I slept better than I had in days.

That ride through the rain was the most dangerous thing I have ever done on a motorcycle. And I felt it. But I would do it again to ride up those volcanoes. My many thanks to Adriana for making it happen.

Flourishing life does does not happen in spite of the volcano, but because of it. Life is stubborn in the face of death. Those trees, horses, cows, and even the people are in danger of the monster that so lavishly feeds them.

Death and danger are always there, but we have seat belts and safety features that obscure it. That each day is not a promise but a gift is close for people living in the path of lava, and yet they are not afraid. If they can live to the fullest with out fear we all can.


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MPMF16: Future Islands

It’s a day at the beach. An industrial waste land of a beach in Baltimore. And all I want to know is Omar coming with them?

“Come at the king, you best not miss.” – Omar Little, The Wire

Just disregard all of that except the beach part. Baltimore is lovely dynamic city, and there’s no way we will get to see Omar Little at MPMF. But the synth-pop sounds of Future Islands will.

But more than the sounds there’s this performance. I am curious to see how Harrington delivers in person. If this is any indicator this might be my first cannot miss band.


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The Jams

I’ve had little to write about cooking. I didn’t can last summer because of the move I was planning for the beginning of August. Because all of my early belongings needed to fit in my hatchback car, I didn’t make any elaborate recipes in Seattle. I had only rudimentary kitchen gear. I roasted lots of meats and veggies with some fresh herbs and spices, as the only equipment required for that is a pan.

The jams I made this summer were in small enough quantities, that I didn’t need to water seal them. I wanted to experiment with some different flavors. No one needs six or seven jars of a failed experiment.

I picked blueberries and black raspberries the same morning. I knew I wanted to use honey and lavender with the blueberries. For the black raspberries, I was thinking vanilla and lemon.

But I thought another woody spice would add some depth. Although I love cinnamon, I wanted something that would be less recognizable. I ended up with some peppery dry allspice.

First, the bad news, I didn’t measure anything. I just added ingredients to the pot until it tasted good. But I will tell you the process I followed for both of the jams and what I will do differently next time.

I washed the blueberries and tossed them into pot whole with a little water. I squeezed out a very generous amount of honey, by the looks of it about a half cup to around 6 cups of berries. I made a tea out of the lavender and strained out the blossoms.

After the berries cooked on medium heat for a while the berries started to break down and burst open and take on the consistency of a very runny jam. Then I adjusted all the flavors. I added more honey and sugar, the lavender tea, and the allspice until Jeannine and I thought it delicious.

Jeannine in a flash of inspiration pulled off a portion of the blueberry preserves and added some vanilla spiked bourbon. Both of the varieties of jam cooked until they thickened. Then we put them in jars for storage in the refrigerator.

I followed a similar process for the black raspberry preserves, only we strained out the black raspberry seeds. There I cooked the berries in water for some minutes to leech out as much of the flavor from the pulp and seeds as possible. Then we added the lemon, allspice, and vanilla, bean husk and seeds to taste.

Picture of black raspberry jam on the stove

All the lovely flavors! All of them!

I didn’t use pectin. This posed the biggest challenge for the seedless black raspberry jam. All the natural pectin in that fruit is in the pulp and seeds. Without them I was worried that it would never set.

That fear proved unfounded. In fact, the only thing I would do differently on all of the jams is cook them less, so that they would have set a little less tightly. In the case of the blueberry preserves, those were just a little more set than I would like for mixing into yogurt or spreading on waffles (my primary use of jams).

The black raspberry preserves were so set as to approach hard tack candy once refrigerated. In my concerns about the lack of pectin I significantly over cooked it. In both cases, there’s a moment were the liquid shifts from behaving like water to behaving like syrup. I think I should have pulled both of the jams off as soon as this transition happened. It’s that moment when abrupt stirring stops splashing up in tiny droplets.

Side note, we made these popsicles with the black raspberries. They were delicious. I will try making this with peaches soon. Partially because they will be good but also to ensure I use those stupid popsicle molds at least one more time. I hate buying kitchen goods that only do one thing. HATE IT.

The black raspberry vanilla popsicle

There were delicious. I am ruined for popsicles now.

Now that I have executed my experiments, I am ready to make larger batches next year and put some jams on the shelf for winter. I also anticipate canning more black raspberry pie filling next year. That process is a massive pain in the ass, but it’s a lovely thing to have black raspberry pie in December.

black raspberry and blueberry jams

Eating the jams on waffles is the best part.


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MPMF16 Get on with it

I have been debating on blogging about my MPMF band research this year. Despite my disappointment with the new format, I am willing to give the new festival a try. I’ve been debating these weeks on whether or not I would attend. There are other good music options that weekend, with Wussy at The Woodward Friday and Saturday and Young The Giant and Ra Ra Riot at The Madison on Saturday.

But the line-up for MPMF is quite good even if I am anticipating the long hours in parking lots to be less than pleasant. I also live a block away from the fest. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

You know the attractive line-up? Yeah, Band of Horses, you guys. I found them on their 2010 Infinite Arms release. Their dreamy rock seeped into me until it it because a part of me. Now on gray winter days I find this a comforting sound track with my warm tea and thick blankets; it’s a comfort. It has the same warm, soft edges of as Belle and Sebastian.

I’ve never seen them live. They just haven’t come near this area in recent memory. I would go to the fest just to see them. They just dropped a new album Why Are You Ok? in June this year. I haven’t listened yet, but based on my love of Infinite Arms, Cease To Begin, and Mirage Rock I am confident I will not be disappointed.

Side note, had I known Bank of Horses was on Sub Pop I would have looked for their swag at the Sub Pop store when I was in Seattle. There will be more trip out there, I am sure.

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