Ten books of summer: update books 1 and 2

I’m currently through the first four books of my Ten Books of Summer challenge (my personal list is in the previous post), but it’s slow moving, because I seem to have picked some titles for my list that just can’t be hurried. That’s because the content requires attention, not because they’re boring! And because these are worth my attention, I choose to savour the ideas they develop; I’m not in a hurry to get through them. Let’s kick off my mini-reviews!

Cover of the book “This Is Marketing” by Seth Godin

The first of these “slow books” was Seth Godin’s This Is Marketing: You can’t be seen until you learn to see. If you know me, the last thing that comes to mind is marketing, and I am not looking into a Sales and Marketing role. (“Influencer” is about as low as a theme can go on my Clifton Strengths list, FYI). But Seth is different, of course, and he clarifies that everyone is in the business of marketing something to someone, trying to convince someone somewhere of something: to hire you (oh hi, that would be me!), to check out your art, to attend a concert (whether with you, or to hear you perform), to spend some time with you, to listen to your cool idea to improve the team or save the world or just to get a raise, or even how to make better coffee. This is marketing that makes me able to live with myself: it’s not about selling your soul to the devil and then living on the proceeds, but about how to make your work align with your values. It’s about how to create something that you can be proud of, so you can share and –where appropriate– sell in a way that makes you proud to make the world a better and more beautiful place. “Who’s it for?” is the central question the book keeps returning to, because what you make can’t be for everybody if it’s actually a worthwhile thing. And that’s what I need to learn. That some of the things I create are not for you, but for somebody else. And that it’s ok when I need to say that. There’s a whole lot more in this short book, and I urge you to give it a look and spend some time with these ideas, and the many others from Seth Godin, because he has a lot of interesting and thought-provoking ideas. Not all of his ideas may be for you, but some of them will be.

Cover for the book “Our dreams make different shapes”

A second book I worked my way through quietly and slowly was Dan Holloway’s Our Dreams Make Different Shapes. The subtitle sounds ominous: How your creativity can make the world a better place (ok, not that part) and why the world will try to stop you. Why would the world try to stop you from making it a better place? Hmmmm… You should really read the book! But let me say this: this is a master course in writing a book with excellent “shadow objectives”: I know Dan a bit from our shared time in Oxford, and have admired him for his endurance feats in the mental and physical world. As a creativity champion and –among many other things!– an eloquent advocate for disability rights,  I’m ready to listen to what he has to say, because thanks to him I already learned a lot on how to make the world a better place for my fellow human beings (and I have a lot to learn yet). We start off with memory palaces, and how to deploy them for increasing our creativity, for creativity is putting things together in ways people haven’t done before, and you should have a healthy stack of nuggets of info on hand for that. It’s also about pushing boundaries in unexpected directions. It’s very practical “here are exercises you can do to make you a more creative person. Try it!”

But Dan has also carefully observed that we’re pushing against boundaries that even creative people cannot move leave behind entirely if they want their creativity to have an effect on the world. Those people who were “ahead of their time”? They went too far out of the box, and the world just was unable to see their vision, for instance. Problem is, we’re now in a world where we need creativity more than ever to solve those “wicked problems” and our society is not encouraging the maximum number of creative people to take part in solving them. Or society is not listening to them.

Once you reach that section, the book quietly slips for all the right reasons into a well-reasoned and clear manifesto for diversity. A truly creative society needs the diverse perspectives “non-normative” people bring (but what is normal but a small sliver of society, of those people that just happen to have power and money), and this slim volume deftly combines those tricks you crave to boost your creativity with a call to action that, if we choose to listen, will leave the world a better place for more creatures –including humans.

I did not intend for my first two books to be such nice complements to each other, but it turns out these are a nice set if you’re in need of inspiration and encouragement to act.

The next two mini reviews will follow shortly. Until then, connect with me on Bookwyrm or leave a comment and share what you’re reading this summer!

10 Books of Summer

A friendly Mastonaut tagged me for a reading challenge “20 books of summer”, from the 746books blog.

It’s a friendly challenge, with no strict rules, other than just reading books during the summer: “Set a list in advance. Make it twenty. Or ten if that feels better. Swap out books if that feels good.” I mean… the more I look at that list, the more I see a host for this challenge who is indeed “bend[ing] the rules to help anyone reach their goal.”

That suits me, because my tangible books will be on the move and physically unavailable to me from late June until they show up sometime in August I guess. But I do have plenty of books on my iPad and some stashed away in Libby, the library app, on my tsundoku pile.

Also, I LOVE that this is a blog where the comments are how you participate in the challenge. I feel like I’m back in 2009. Blogosphere was good. We still have blogs and RSS – that’s a rant for another day. Here is my list for the summer of 2023 reading:

  1. Indiana Jones in History: From Pompei to the Moon – Justin Jacobs
  2. Our Dreams Make Different Shapes: How Your Creativity Could Make the World a Better Place and Why the World Will Try to Stop You – Dan Holloway
  3. The Confession of Brother Haluin (Cadfael series) – Ellis Peters
  4. Dead Famous – Greg Jenner
  5. The Memory of Love– Aminatta Forna
  6. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
  7. The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
  8. The Sinister Way: The Divine and the Demonic in Chinese Religious Culture – Richard von Glahn
  9. This Is Marketing – Seth Godin
  10. Ilias: Wrok in Troje – vertaling Patrick Lateur

That’s a couple of books I already started, a few I heard the name of but don’t really know what to expect at all, a few that have been on my “really should read this” list, one that slipped through the Africana Book Club so I’m reading it now myself. Some fiction, some non-fiction, some translation, some China, some history, some world literature. A nice variety. Now… I need to pin this list up so I don’t lose sight of my goal!

Goal Setting
Goal Setting” by angietorres is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Keeping it clean

I haven’t really had a problem going out for a run the entire past year (viz. my previous post). I still wanted to try something a bit different this year and dug around in all the different games available on Fetcheveryone – that wonderful site that keeps a nice log if you link it to your GPS watch, and where for many a year before I had such a thing, I added my runs manually without any trouble. Data: beloved by runners.

It seems runners also like games! You can opt into a couple of games that use GPS coordinates (you can manually plot your route and take part if you’re not there with the tech), encouraging you to explore the wider world. Conquercise is all about grabbing and keeping squares from your opponents but as the only Fetchie around these parts, I’m quite happily owning my “lawn” and retain the right to rename my little squares I visited as I see fit. So I am not yet entirely sure how it works but that’s ok.

Photo of a typical Flemish rural landscape in winter, with trees lining the meadows, some distant buildings dotted near the horizon, and in the foreground green poking through the ploughed field. The sky, taking up about 3/4 of the image, shows sunny blue behind large dramatic clouds that threaten rain.
Flanders is rather flat, in case you didn’t know.

The game I am enjoying most is Fetchpoint. I think it’s a bit similar to Pokémon, but without the need to stop and battle things. You just run past and as you import your run later, behind the scenes things get figured out and you get your points awarded or deducted. The set-up is simple: you set a home circle with a 1 mile radius, and stuff to collect or get rid off appears. You can compete over ownership of some items with other Fetchies. Again… Unless my cousin in the next village starts to take part, not much of that will happen.

In my two runs since I joined I have already made a detour to squish a bug (run past, and then carry it out of your circle), and tried a completely different route from my regular two or three to get rid of some bugs, because they cost you daily points until you get them squished. I planted a few flowers by running outside my home circle. And this afternoon on a walk with mom I also collected some additional gems and a nuclear point. Fortunately this one was worth eight points – it may do something devastating but you just don’t know until you have collected it and it’s too late.

Above all, I want to keep my circle squeaky clean, without bugs. It’s ok if it sparkles with gems for me to pick up as I move around but I enjoy not having anything dragging my score down!

So if you’re looking for a fun game that gets you moving – and all movement counts: cycling, swimming, walking, hopscotching all are fine – this might be just the ticket. It’s definitely doing it for me. What’s got you moving in 2023?

That’s a lot of miles!

I’ve completed the challenge I set for myself about a year ago: run, however slow, and by whatever means possible, 1000 miles during the 2022 calendar year.

Screenshot of website that shows training target
Target Completed! Yay!

A lot of this was run-walk-run, because if I spend a lot of my time on my feet in too high a heart rate zone I invite migraines in, and they’re no fun. (I have meds that work, so I’m lucky, but my doctor and I still prefer prevention.) Run-walk-run counted with regular runs and intervals as running. On average, it took me 14:03 minutes to complete a mile this year, and that is faster than I walk a mile. I’ll take it.

What have I learned from this experiment?

  1. It looks daunting but it comes down to 2.75M per day, or 19.2M per week and some people run that weekly mileage for fun on a Saturday morning. (Looking at you, ultrarunners.)
  2. It breaks down to a tiny bit every day, but it’s easy to get behind if you let it slip for a week or two, as I did with lower mileage in February-March (reentry into the US from Belgium) and no mileage in June (conference+holiday in Ireland, I could have run but chose not to)
  3. You can claw back from a deficit but it takes dedication and planning, including getting up early in the hot months to beat the heat, sneaking in 2 miles when you don’t have time for 3 but can’t do 5 the next day, or going late at night after work and meetings because otherwise you don’t meet the (new, higher) target for the week and you can already see in July or September how you won’t make it to 1000M by December.
  4. There are days when you don’t want to run but you do it anyway because the spreadsheet tells you. The run is actually perfectly fine.
  5. There are days you want to run but your legs and body scream no and you need a rest day or two.
  6. You get to know your neighbourhood and local trails really really well. As in: where specific patches in the pavement are, what weeds grow where, who is the great and the lousy gardener on the block, and where you’re likely to encounter a fox or a deer at what time of day.
  7. Stretch and foam roll your way to an injury-free year. I also kept up my regular visits to the chiropractor as part of my regular maintenance.
  8. New orthotics help: my previous ones were seven years old and my feet had changed a bit. If you’ve got old ones and niggles start to appear, maybe it’s time for a visit to the orthopedic clinic.
  9. There is no shame in going slow or run-walk-run if that is what your body tells you. I still got faster as the temperatures dropped, and as I built up a bit of endurance: my 4M runs going “slow and running through molasses” are now faster than harder efforts over the same distance at the start of the year. I guess I have improved!
  10. It helps to have buddies who believe in you, even if they don’t have the same goal. Just sharing my updates and getting a thumbs-up from them, and thinking how I did not want to share “I abandoned my target” when they knew I could do it if just got off the couch, that helped me to get out on those days I didn’t want to.
  11. I definitely couldn’t have done it without the motivation of the numbers adding up, and The Line on Fetcheveryone. Thank you, Ian, for building a website that works for runners, plain and simple. You have my eternal gratitude. (And my annual contribution. Reader, please note the site is free to use, but I love it so much I chip in to help.)
Screenshot of the target line and the actual completed runs plotted against it
Wobbly completion but I got there!

What’s next?
I guess… Another year with 1000 miles? But going a bit faster would be nice. Not much, just a bit. It still has to be fun, after all.

Tomorrow (31 Dec) is a rest day, I think I’ve earned it. On 1 Jan I’ll go for an easy 3 miler with my little loop along the river, because I try every year to set off the new year like I mean to go on. And I’ll be 0.25 of a mile up on my target, of course.

Photo taken during a November 2021 run
One of my favourite routes in Belgium (photo from ‘21 but still hoping the catch a rainbow whenever I run there!)

Crickets 🦗

I know it’s been awfully quiet on the blog but could Backyard Wildlife College PLEASE STOP SENDING literal crickets into my flat on a near-daily basis? Thank you!

Also, if you could not send singing crickets that chirp in the middle of the night, that would be grand.

I’d like to use the Westmalle beer glass for its intended purpose, not as a rescue dome for crickets and their massive antennae (not fully visible on this image). Maybe when I get a chance to finally have that beer, it will indicate I have time, and inspiration to write something here. I’ve been busy with work, putting a tenure file together, and just hiding from the world for a bit. No need to send in the crickets!

Mrs. Cricket waiting to be released outside. You can tell it’s a Mrs. because of the ovipositor, the long end that sticks out at the back.

Sixth flutiversary

If you find today a bit heavy, courtesy of the one year anniversary of a certain event, you can instead join me in celebrating my sixth flutiversary!

I wrote about my lustrum last year during my lunch break, and published it right as history was unfolding, and I can’t blame my readers for paying more attention at that point to US politics than my blog for once. I hope this year there are no such distractions.

I already wrote elsewhere about how learning to play the flute has made me a better teacher.

This year, I am proud to announce I am finally closing in on 700 hours of personal practice time. That’s not counting regular lessons, 45 mins a piece, which puts me well over that threshold of combined fluting time. I also had 5 months time off after shoulder surgery in 2021, my longest hiatus – turns out you hold flutes at a very awkward angle and they are heavy instruments so recovery is a bear. And my flute is extra heavy: nice silver and heavy walled, for that deep sound. Nearly a year after surgery I can still get fatigued during a session, although I regularly practice for up to an hour and it doesn’t hurt, unlike before the surgery. Progress!

Scale exercises
Scales in thirds

So what does (almost) 700 hours get you? I’m afraid I’m not ready to give any recitals yet. Maybe if I had started aged 12 we’d be there, but for adult learners, development is at a snail’s speed. According to my teacher, though, adults have the advantage of having a more developed sense of music, and I have to admit that usually I am most frustrated because I know what the music is supposed to sound like, I just can’t get my fingers and breath to cooperate and play it like I hear it my mind’s ear.

I am currently working my way through the final parts of Bloch’s Suite Modale, and have made a gentle dent in the first movement of Hindemith’s Sonata for Flute, but I am unable to play them as a single flowing set of movements that connect neatly. For the time being, Telemann’s Fantasias are in the background but I have played through a couple of them (they’re fun but hard, like all the rest), and I’ve played a couple movements of his . Currently I have my eyes on the Mozart prize (either of the two flute concertos will do). But really, the ultimate goal is just all of CPE Bach’s flute repertoire. I am not sure if I want to perform or play with other people, I am just having fun as is right now and still practicing without further incentive so we’ll see. If I get round to performing, you’ll hear about it here!

Out with the old, in with the new!

Squirrel jumps away from the camera with an elegant leap, on a green patch of grass.
Woohoo! Leaping into a new year!

I know there are a ton of new year’s resolutions being made, and about to be broken. I have a few aspirations and goals myself, but above all, I am just happy to be done with 2021. It wasn’t a great year in many ways, although I did manage to achieve some things. But rather than a retrospective of all that, I thought I’d share what I did today to help celebrate the arrival of a new, fresh start tomorrow. (To be honest, I’m pretty good at treating any day of the year as a fresh start.)

There was baking from me, and a small ton of cooking lovely food (incl. for tomorrow) from mom, with me as sous-chef providing dish-washing support. Nomnomnom!

Woman with a tie-die T-shirt placing biscuits on a baking sheet
Shortbread biscuits! (Cookies if you’re in the US)

I have a long way to go before I will take part in the Great Whatever Bakeoff:

Sheet of biscuits with white sugar piping glaze
My first attempt ever at decorating with sugar glaze/piping

Dinner was our traditional new year’s eve dinner: homemade pizza. When I am home, it’s mom’s pizza on this night or it’s not 31 December 😆

Pizza with courgette slices, capers, anchovies, and sliced red pepper and cheese on a baking sheet with a pizza wheel in the background
Homemade pizza is the best

There was knitting on the gansey, under supervision of Hippomiena, the grandmother of all toy hippos:

A grey toy hippo perched on the top of the sofa appears to look pleased at the light purple knitting in progress, with a complex textured pattern, on the seat of the sofa.
Gansey in progress in foreground, hippo looking contentedly at the progress

And there was a little beer to lubricate final proceedings (writing this blog post and some more knitting, before diving into my jimjams)

Grey toy hippo next to a glass of amber-coloured beer, in a glass with a label named "Palm"
Hippomiena checks out one of the local(-ish) brews

Miracles still exist

End-to-end rainbow from one river bank to the other, against a dramatic sky threatening with rain. A long tow-path runs along the river.
Along the river Dender

This image does not look anything like Pennsylvania, and that’s because it’s taken along the Dender near where my mom lives. Just under four weeks ago I finally managed to make my escape from the US, and touch Belgian soil – first time back since 7 Jan. 2020. Miracles still exist, because the very next day after I got home, the news of Omikron (Omicron) broke. We all realised how just one small thing can throw off the plans that were in the works since mid-October, when the US government first gave a firm date for reopening its borders, allowing me to return after a potential visit to Belgium. The borders have remained open, but I feel the need to add “so far!”

I’ll need a few more miracles: as a Belgian citizen registered with the New York consulate, a Kafka-esque situation has developed around my e-ID. I was extremely lucky a friend extracted the piece of paper from my flat in the US with the PUK code. The alternative was to send the codes to… the US consulate where my ID is issued. But (see final paragraph below) I won’t be in the US for months and as a Belgian citizen I need the e-ID: to have my test results delivered before I can board a plane! Fortunately, that circular nightmare was avoided and after a trip to a nearby town hall the chip is activated. Now I need to find out where to correct my birth date for the Covid-safe ticket, because there’s no online option to do that. At least I’m not in a hurry to go out dining and wining. It’s also still a mystery to me how I can register in Belgium for my booster jab: the online registration sites don’t even allow me to register, because my domicile is not in Belgium.

Cockroach in bed meme, text "Another day of sorting out covid-related paperwork in Belgium"
Not feeling like a full Belgian citizen when confronted with bureaucracy…

But for now, I can enjoy a well-deserved break on home soil. After our fourth pandemic semester I can feel my batteries recharging, courtesy of the exquisite care from “the mothership”.

simple drawing of a person sleeping on a couch with above them a battery loading to full.
Recharging ☺️

I don’t quite know when I’ll be back in the US, thanks to a borked immigration system that takes ages to deal with my visa, something that used to be a 2-week process. But mom and I are enjoying our time together, and for once it’s ok to have bureaucracy grinding to a halt.

Press release: Dining Facilities reopen at Backyard Wildlife College

Backyard Wildlife College catering and housing services is pleased to announce we have the green light from the state Game Commission to reopen our all our dining and bathing facilities for feathered creatures! On Friday, August 13, restrictions on bird feeders and bird baths were lifted in Pennsylvania, where our small but cute campus is located.

We are excited to bring all feathered creatures our usual weekend spread of Supreme seeds, in the tube feeder by the backdoor and at the window feeders, as of this morning.

male House Finch and female American Goldfinch at a tube feeder
Mr. House Finch and Lady Goldfinch at the feeder, in the Birds’ before Times (April 2021), sharing sunflower hearts and saffron seeds.

We are trying out a new location for the bird bath, closer to the human property but more sheltered from view than the parking lot. We know they will visit when the humans are not present. It will also prepare them for the winter set-up, when the heating goes on and the bath needs to be near an electric outlet.

We congratulate all birds on successfully navigating through these difficult weeks, a big feather in their cap! In early July, health and safety concerns for feathered faculty and students at the college forced our hand, with compulsory social distancing measures leading to the closure of the dining and bathing facilities for all feathered friends in multiple states. Although the exact cause of the mystery disease has not yet been identified, the R-number has decreased sufficiently, and it appears that feeders and baths play no role in transmission. We are grateful to all affected birds for their patience and cooperation during this unprecedented health emergency. We remain, of course, saddened by the loss of so many birds, and hope that scientists may soon find an answer to the questions that remain.

We also note that the press release from the Game Commission points to the good work done by the local communities of humans in responding to emergency and health situations among wildlife, and we couldn’t agree more. From contributing to pollinator pathways and providing service stops for migrating hummingbirds, to being peanut purveyors for squirrels and now responding to the mystery disease, many humans help the wildlife in their immediate environment. Now make sure to tell the humans to get their feeders and birdbath up and running again, because the birds are back!

For the eagle-eyed among you (though no eagles attend our college at the moment), we reassure you we are observing the recommended hygiene rules and cleaning tips for our facilities.

Stay alert, save lives:

All feathered creatures should remain on guard for the feral cat prowling the campus grounds, because it is a known bird hunter. Our groundskeeper/campus safety officer tries to keep it off campus, but unfortunately the open nature of our grounds makes that very difficult. Please use your alert calls to attract attention; campus safety will respond if on the premises. (Look, it’s a one-human part-time job, we do the best we can with the funds we have!)