Monday, October 31, 2011

Am I Crazy?

Here I am at the end of my second highest billable month ever, which itself comes at the end of a sustained period (since early August) of intense work.  Just a few days ago I wrote about how frazzled I felt and how much I needed a break. 

Well, I've had a break:  Since last Wednesday, I've only worked between 8-9 hours per day, and I had a wonderful, completely work-free weekend.  I slept in, cleaned, cooked, went shopping, saw a movie, read a book.  It's as if I were a normal person. 

But now I'm bored.  SO BORED!  And feeling like I'm wasting my life as a lazy bum.  Work either needs to pick up or I'm going to have to go sign up for something (which I will ultimately regret, since work will pick up sooner or later).  Where's a mountain when I need one?

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Since it's a competition, I just want to point out that Colorado wasn't the only place to have it's first big winter storm this week.  Today, right in the middle of my planting, we were clobbered with SNOWTOBER 2011!!!

See that?  Wintry mix all over my arm.  This is precisely the extreme weather that the weather people have been warning us about for the past three days.  Or maybe I should say END OF DAYS.  Because to read it on the Weather Channel, that's what you'd this was.

Fortunately, being the prepared Mormon and former Boy Scout that I am, my kitchen is already stocked with a generous emergency supply of Perrier and Lindt dark chocolate.  Bring it on, weatherman!

Fall Planting

My summer pots were wonderful, but now that the subtropical heat and humidity of the DC summer had ceded to the chilly fall, they were looking a little tired.  So guess what?  Today was fall planting day!

I headed out early to the Merrifield Garden Center and, when I got there, discoverd I had the place to myself.  That's because it was freezing cold and pouring rain.  Delighted, I pulled up the hood on my raincoat, grabbed a cart, and went to work.  (The one outdoor employee in sight was huddled in a shed, wearing snowpants and a parka -- he clearly thought I was nuts.  I just waved.)

About an hour and a half later, I emerged from the nursery with numb fingers, pants soaked from the knee down, and enough plants to fill my pots with an interesting fall/winter/spring arrangement.

Decorative cabbage with
Delta Pure Rose pansies and Penny Red Blotch pansies

Rainbow's End dwarf Alberta spruce with
wintergreen, Delta Premium Pure White pansies
and Penny Red Blotch pansies

Clockwise from left:  Evergold striped weeping sedge,
Plum Pudding coral bells, decorative cabbage,
Delta Pure Rose pansies
(The pumpkin isn't really part of the floral arrangement -- it's just sitting there until I figure out how to eat it.  Probably in a soup.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Tonight was the first concert in my subscription to the Kennedy Center's contemporary dance season.  The Beijing Dance Theatre performed HazeHere's a snippet from a performance earlier this summer:

Tonight's performance, overall, was very beautiful, and there were some striking moments.  The themes of alienation and falling, however, became tiresome after a while -- by the end I longed for more lyricism and stability.  The springy floor contributed to the message, but it also seemed to undermine the dancers' ability to stay together -- which may also have been part of the message, but sometimes it just came off as sloppy.

(When I failed to give a standing ovation, the woman next to me -- who was clearly in raptures -- asked me what I thought of the piece.  I told her I thought there was too much falling down.  She asked if I was a dancer and, when I said no, told me in a voice full of judgement just how difficult all that falling was to perform.  Pearls before swine, etc.)

I'm really excited about the rest of the contemporary dance season.  I had season's tickets last year and saw some really beautiful performances (also some really strange ones).  This season promises to be even more fun, since this time a friend of mine from law school has gotten tickets with me, so I have someone to go with.  Plus, there are some new restaurants in the neighborhood that will make pre-theatre dinners much more enjoyable!  (Tonight we had some tasty kebabs, hummus and couscous at Roti.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Hermit's Soup

Fall is in full swing here.  The leaves are changing beautifully, the air is chilly, and I got in the mood for a good hearty soup.  With the amount of hours I've been putting in at work lately, I've been eating out a lot (not only do I not have time to cook, I also get dinner reimbursed by the firm if I work more than 10 hours on a week-day and 4.5 hours on a weekend -- so I haven't paid for dinner in weeks).

While I was in the grocery store yesterday, I started loading up on soup ingredients, and this morning I pulled out my trusty book of recipes:

Toward the back (in December), I found a recipe that matched most of my ingredients:  A Hermit's Soup.

The recipe calls for cabbage, potatoes, turnips, carrots, onions and rice; I threw in celery, chicken broth and garlic.  It was fresh, hearty and delicious, and I'll have leftovers to hold me through the week.  Best of all, chopping all those vegetables gave me a long time to talk to Ashley on the phone.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Klingon Fifth

I sing with a group called Collegium Cantorum, a small, eclectic group of singers led by a man with a Tolkien-esque beard and a remarkable passion for Renaissance polyphonie (i.e., sacred music from 12th through 15th centuries).  The music is beautiful and, like yoga, deceptively difficult -- it requires enormous concentration and control to do well. 

But in addition to the music, the people are a hoot.  Here's a typical exchange during rehearsal:

[Timothy, the director, stops the chorus after a particularly rough passage.  He points out an interval that the tenors missed.]

Charlie (a tenor):  Oh, that's the Klingon fifth!

Timothy:  That's right.  As some composer said, "If it worked once, why not use it again?"

Mike (a bass):  Hey, it worked for Thomas Hardy.

Tonya (an alto):  And Dickens, too!

How many groups of people do you know of who can go from a 15th century Latin mass to Charles Dickens, passing through Star Trek, in five moves?

The Bow Tie

I don't think of myself as a wearer of bow ties.  And yet, when I think about it, bow ties have marked some important stages in my life.  First, I was a cute little kid, wearing a McKay plaid clip-on number with blue and white seersucker shorts.  Then I was a penguin with a red-and-yellow polka-dotted bow tie, which Lady had tied around my neck before taking me out to trick-or-treat.  Finally, I was a musician, playing the bassoon and singing in the classic black cummerbund and bow tie of the high school tuxedo.

I never grew out of that last stage.  High school ended a long time ago, but the tuxedoed concerts did not.  Which means that every few months I put on a bow tie and go out in public.  And until recently, I'd been wearing the very same pre-tied bow tie I'd gotten all those years ago for the high school choir.

A few months ago, as I was reading my copy of Gentleman, the sartorial bible of the classicly well-dressed gentleman, I decided that it was time to upgrade to a real silk bow tie that I actually had to tie. 

Getting the bow tie was easy enough (I just called my man, Robert, at Nordstrom), but tying the damn thing was a different story.  I spent a several hours that first day poring over the cryptic in Gentleman and googling various websites. 

I eventually managed a passable approximation of a bow tie and, given the effort it had taken, contemplated leaving it tied permanently so that it would be ready every time I needed to wear it.  That, however, would have defeated the purpose of becoming a grown-up tier of bow-ties.  So I untied it and trusted that the next time would be easier.

It was!  Witness my preparations for the concert a couple of weeks ago at the Masonic temple:

For those of you wondering why I'm wearing a spread collar instead of a wing collar:  I discovered that wing collars really are supposed to be worn only with white-tie, not black tie.  (I have no idea if that's the actual rule, but it was declared with such knowing authority by the salesman in the men's furnishing department that I have taken it as gospel truth.)  So, after fifteen years of wearing the wrong collar, I have mended my ways. 

The next step will be to get a good set of onyx studs.

Careful what you ask for

When first started at the law firm, I was asked to fill out a form indicating the type of work I wanted to do.  I checked a few of the boxes and, in the "comments" area, wrote that I wanted to do the media-related transactional work that two of the partners (I'll call them EDG and CEE) specialized in.  The prospect of being able to work with them was one of my primary reasons for going to this firm, and this office of this firm, over the other firms that I looked at. 

Over the years since then, I essentially succeeded in doing what I set out to do.  I worked a lot with EDG and CEE, and I enjoyed the work and became one of the few associates at the firm who do that sort of work.  In the last few months, however, both EDG and CEE left the firm.  EDG left first and asked me to go with him to his new firm.  CEE just left last week, and I inherited quite a bit of her work. 

All of which leaves me in a strange place.  I'm doing the work that I came to the firm to do, but I'm doing it without any partners who really specialize in it supervising me.  It's both an opportunity (because I've created a niche for myself in a certain practice area) and a risk (because without any partners, this area likely won't be a growth focus for the firm).  It's also a primary driver of my intense workload:  I've had a lot of work dumped on my as CEE left the firm, at the same time as I've been trying to move into slightly different practice areas with partners who are still at the firm. 

All things considered, I'm still happy with where I am and what I'm doing (the workload will subside, and in the meantime, I'm learning a lot).  But I suspect that the next year or so will bring some changes for me at the firm (or outside, if I choose to leave).  It'll be interesting to see where things go.

Life as a two year old

Whenever I visit my sisters, with their kids, there's usually a time of day when the kids fall apart and become complete basket cases.  More often than not, the problem requires nothing more than a little food and, if it's really bad, some sleep.

Funny how life as an adult really is no different.  For as much as I like to think of myself as an under-control, intellectual grown-up, I am just as subject to the rules of this body as any two-year-old.  Only I don't have a mother on hand to monitor and tell me when to eat and go to bed.  So I have to do it myself:  When things fall apart, instead of trying to analyze the problem and work through it (which is my natural response), the best solution is usually to eat something.  If that doesn't work, then I should get some sleep. 

Easier said than done, of course, but there you have it.

Two Weeks

I can sustain a hard-driving pace for a long time and perform really well.  I actually kind of thrive on it.  In part, I think it's because the push to get something done under pressure -- and then getting it done well -- is enormously satisfying to me (even more so if I happen to get praise from the right people).  It's also, in part, due to a knack I have for maintaining intense focus for prolonged periods, requiring relatively little to keep up my stamina:  As long as I can keep my apartment clean and my refrigerator stocked, and take enough time now and then to go running or see a play, I can go for as long and as hard as you want.

But, take away those basic requirements and I last for about two weeks.  After that, things start to fall apart.  I learned that the hard way in law school, when I would try to go all-out during the last four or five weeks before finals.  And I re-learned it (again, the hard way) after joining the law firm -- because this job has a way of demanding everything I can give it and squeezing everything else out of my life.

I mentioned before that the week before last was an 80-hour workweek.  The hours this past week were in the mid-70s.  And the intervening weekend, which I had really needed to spend getting ahead on work and putting my personal life in order, was instead spent hosting a surprise houseguest:  a friend from Switzerland who decided last minute to invite himself over during his vacation to the U.S.  (Normally I don't mind houseguests, but a surprise visit on a weekend when I really had no time to give was not appreciated.)

All of which meant that by this weekend I had reached my two-week limit.  My apartment was dirty, my fridge was empty, I couldn't remember the last time I'd gone running, I was exhausted, and -- worst of all -- I was starting to fray emotionally.  (I mean, really, when I start bawling in the middle of "Glee" I know I'm on shaky ground.)

So, rather than pushing through another weekend of work, I paid attention to the warning signs and took a break.  Today needed to be my catch-up day.  I slept until 10:30, cleaned my apartment, and then went out and stimulated the economy.  I now have a new Bose sound system (which is wonderful), a new iPod (for playing over said sound system), a new collection of pansies and cabbagesfor the pots on my balcony (the "fall" collection), and a white rhinoceros head for the bathroom wall (because, really, who doesn't want a white rhinoceros head on the bathroom wall?).

I did not make it to the grocery store, go running, practice my choral music, plan my vacation to Paris, or figure out my hometeaching -- all of which is nagging at the back of my mind, making me feel inadequate and like I've wasted the day.  But I've decided to ignore that (I still have tomorrow!) and, instead, focus on the good.  For the next little while, I'm just going to sit here listening to Beethoven's piano sonatas and write about some of the things that I thought about during the past two weeks but didn't have time to write.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Not Dead

Just working.  A lot.  (Topped 80 hours last week; am on track to do it again this week.)  Which means I'm in survival mode, cutting out everything optional in the interest of sleep.

But don't worry, I'm taking notes on things to write about when my life goes back to normal and I have all that free time again.  (Yes, I just used the word "normal" aspirationally...)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dress Rehearsal

The George Washington Masonic Memorial is an impressive landmark that's hard to miss -- it towers over the city of Alexandria, Virginia, on a hill at the edge of Old Town. The main entrance leads into a hall heavy with the sense of its own monumentalness, full of columns and too much black marble. If you step through the velvet ropes between the columns, pass a small back door marked "Private" and descend a winding staircase to the lower level, you get to a small round theatre. Tomorrow I'll be singing Rossini's Stabat Mater there as part of a joint concert with the Met Singers and The Singers' Project. This morning was our dress rehearsal.

The theatre is small and full of plush red seats and heavy draperies that have the unfortunate effect of soaking up the sound, making it difficult to hear the soloists, orchestra and other members of the choir. The stage lighting is also puzzlingly fixed in a single spot directly in front of the stage. The light beams down at an angle that casts the music in shadow and makes it hard to read. The result is that you feel like you're singing blind inside a pillowcase. It doesn't help that I haven't had time to learn the music as well as I should.

Even so, it's fun to sing and to listen to the soloists. The tenor, in particular, is very good. Sitting behind the orchestra, watching the bassoons, sometimes I think it would be fun to take up playing again.

George Washington Masonic Memorial

View over Alexandria

Here's a clip of Juan Diego Florez singing my favorite aria from the Stabat Mater.  I could listen to him all day long.