I did it!

Today is my 59th birthday, and I really did a blog post every
day since my 58th birthday a year ago. You can read them all at the fifty
ninth year

I count 3 days that I really cheated. 2 of them I was sick in
bed. I posted “I’m sick in bed so I’m not going to post today,”
posts not so much because I couldn’t have stayed out of bed long
enough to do a post, but because even the low-grade fever I was
running seemed to be affecting my concentration enough to make
it hard to frame sentences and paragraphs.

The other was a newbie mistake. I started a post that took
longer than I had, and instead of figuring out how to split it
into two, I just posted that you’d get it later or tomorrow, and
it was tomorrow.

There have been a couple that were embarassing, and a lot more
that were “What can I write about that will be easy?” and were
mostly other people’s work. You’ll get fewer of those now that
I’m not going to make myself post every day whether I want to or

But I do find that I like blogging, and will probably want to
continue. I don’t think I’ve turned into a great reviewer, but
I feel less lonely now that when I read a book or see a movie I
like I can post about it and several dozen (at least) people
read it. And I find my posts about recipes I’ve enjoyed cooking
are useful to me when I’m thinking about doing a similar thing
again. The same is true of some of my posts about how I cope
with the technology of my new toys.

Some of what I wanted to accomplish was to improve my writing
skills. I don’t think what I write when I take a lot of time to
polish and rewrite it is a lot better than it was a year or even
10 years ago, but I have learned a lot about how to prune an
idea so that I can do a comprehensible piece of writing about it in half
an hour.

I heard a writer interviewed on the radio who had
gotten started because his AA sponsor wanted him to write about
his life for an hour a day. After a few months of doing that,
he realized that if he could write a couple of pages a day, he
could have a novel in 6 months. I don’t think this is true for
me — even if I’ve written a book’s worth of pages about, say,
Bonnie’s death and what I did and how I felt, it’s still quite a
lot of work between that and a real book.

Although I have some good posts on the spindle, I will probably
take a couple of days off before posting again, so have a good
weekend. I won’t be forcing myself to post when I have lots of
other things that have to get done that day, so posts on Tuesday
and even Wednesday may get fairly rare, because that’s when I do
the work of running the band and publishing the music for it.
But this is definitely au revoir, not adieu.

Snow Dog at the Dog Park

[Snow Dog]

Snow Dog

We had a good snow sculpture snow last week, and someone made
this dog at the dog park.

I’ve been researching cell phones with better cameras, and
cameras that fit better in a pocket, and haven’t found anything
for less than $80, which seems frivolous. But I might get
annoyed enough at the great pictures I’m missing that I’ll just
get myself a birthday present.

Beer for the dying

At the beginning of Victoria’s
memorial service,
George, her husband, gave a welcome speech.
The first memory he told us about was of the last few
weeks or months of her life, when every morning she would wake up
and they would share a beer. Even on her last day, he wet her lips
with some beer, and he thought he could see a smile.

This reminded me of the story my uncle told after my Grandmother’s
funeral. He
had visited her the weekend before she died. He’d
asked her if there was anything he could get her or do for her to
make her more comfortable, and she asked him to bring her a beer.
I didn’t think of her as a beer-drinker at all — she drank wine
with dinner, and sometimes a brandy before bed. But apparently
one of the things that shuts down when you’re dying is your
ability to swallow, and beer was what she believed would go down
the easiest.

This makes me sad that I
didn’t work harder to bring Bonnie (who was a beer drinker) beer
when she was dying. I just assumed that it would conflict with
all the other drugs she was taking, and be a problem for all the
tubes. At the period when I was spending a lot of my visiting time giving
her sponges to wet her mouth with, I did bring some coffee, and it
turned out to be a mistake — the diuretic effect of even less than an
ounce of decaf coffee was too much for the tubes she was on.

This is only two anecdotes, but until recently I didn’t really
hear that many anecdotes about the care of the dying, so the
fact that there are two suggests that there might be lots more.
So maybe the institutions and people who deal with the dying all
the time should try to figure out how they could provide the benefits of
beer to all their patients.

Polish Pastries

I’ve been struggling with Windows all morning, so instead of
telling you about yesterday’s
, I’ll just show you the pictures I took of the
pastry. I mostly got the homemade ones; there were also some
good ones ordered from the internet.



The way my family makes them, mazurki are a cookie base
with chocolate, nuts, and fruit on top. When I went to Poland
at Easter, we spent the whole of Holy Week making several dozen

[jelly roll]

[poppy seed roll]

[small lemon pastries]


Victoria Bolles, RIP

[Victoria from obituary]

Victoria from her obituary at the
local paper.

I mentioned a few
days ago
that I had two Memorial Services I wanted to go
to yesterday afternoon. The one I actually went to was for
Victoria Bolles, a friend from the West Gallery

[Victoria from facebook]

Victoria from her Facebook Page

I didn’t know Victoria that well until I started sending anyone
who wanted to read them long emails about Bonnie’s condition. She
was an enthusiastic member of the West Gallery Quire — I may have
first noticed her when she turned out to know how to pronounce
Welsh. She and her husband George were the first people who
started bringing food to share at the breaks, which is now an
established custom. There was a Shape Note Singing that would
normally have been small, but robust, but for some reason the day
I showed up there was only me, Bonnie, Victoria and George for
quite a while at the
beginning. This meant that I had to sing the lead without any
assistance, and they were all quite helpful about finding songs
that were suitable for that.

When I set up the bonnienews mailing list, Victoria subscribed
even though I don’t think she knew Bonnie any better than she knew
me. At one point she sent me a very supportive email:

I wish I could say how my heart goes out to you as you keep your
steadfast watch by Bonnie’s side. You are wise and strong, and Bonnie
could not be more blessed. I’m not sure what to do about visiting
Bonnie, as she does not know George or me well and might find our
presence unsettling. But I have a card I picked out for her recently,
so I’ll send that, and keep sending cards as I find them.

And I’ll think of her, and hold her in my heart, and be grateful for
the time I’ve known her, and send her love. I guess that’s the best
anyone who’s not close can do. Love is all we have.

That mail was sent on March 12, 2008, and the correspondence it
led to ended up with Victoria organizing a group of shape note
singers to go to Bonnie in the hospice and sing in her room for
over an hour. Unfortunately this didn’t happen until early May,
which was about two weeks before she died. A week or two earlier
she would have been able to show more signs of appreciation.

After that, there was a correspondence about what kind of
support she could give me with all the work I would have to do
about arranging the funeral. She was so sympathetic I complained
about all the phone calls that were involved, and she offered to
just do some for me. This is what I told her I appreciated most
when I saw her after she got sick, and what I told George I
remembered most fondly about her at the Memorial Service
yesterday. Everybody who wants to be sympathetic says, “Let me
know if there’s anything I can do,” but Victoria did enough
sympathetic listening to actually come up with a good plan for
something she could do that was helpful. Here’s how some of that
email went:

Victoria: Peace and strength to you,

Laura Thanks. So far, the strength has mainly been
necessary for yelling at Pioneer Investments customer support people, who don’t seem to know
anything about what they’re supposed to do with a Power of Attorney,
and they change their story if you yell at them hard enough. But I
will need strength to deal with undertakers, funerals, and real estate
agents in the future.

Victoria: I will be happy to do anything to help you deal with “undertakers,
funerals and real estate agents” when the time comes. Because I will
not have been subjected to the constant stress you’ve been handling it
might be a bit easier for me to take one some of that stuff. It’s up
to you; just remember that if you ask me, I’ll say yes. The one thing
you need to bear in mind is that I don’t drive, so anything that
requires getting someplace by car can become a problem. But a lot of
what you mention can be done via phone.

I had a close friend of Bonnie’s who was a member of the church
Bonnie wanted her funeral at helping me with those arrangements,
and undertakers turn out to be pretty good at not making
unreasonable demands on the recently bereaved. But Victoria did a
lot of research for me into how to go about donating Bonnie’s car
to WGBH, she ordered the floral arrangement for the funeral, and
found a name of a real estate agent.

I was glad to hear the remembrances of people who’d known her
in other contexts at the funeral. I’m sorry I didn’t get to hear
her Cemetery Tours of the Wyoming Cemetery in Malden where her
ashes are buried, or know more about the writing group she was a
founding member of. The biggest laugh of the afternoon (no, big
laughs aren’t what most people who give remembrances at Memorial
Services go for) was from someone she’d worked with at the
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. He said, “I was
Victoria’s boss — what a silly idea.” I was sitting where I
could see George, and he was laughing even harder than a lot of
other people.

People complained when I arranged Bonnie’s funeral that there
were seven hymns. They hadn’t been to a Sacred Harp Memorial Lesson,
which is what Victoria had. From the Interment of Ashes at 11:30 AM
until 4 PM, we were singing at least half the time, and we must
have sung 40 or so hymns. I headed this posting “RIP”, but the
Sacred Harp, “And I’ll sing ‘Hallelujah’, when I arrive at home,”
with which we ended the service,
seems more appropriate to how I imagine Victoria arriving in Heaven.

Sunny eats Pine Needles

My recorder teacher likes decorating his house for Christmas, and has been out of town for a large fraction of the time since then, so the pine garland he wound around his bannister is still there, or was until last night.

While I was putting on my coat to go home, Sunny suddenly started eating it.

I don’t know whether he was worried about the fire hazard to Uncle John’s house, or whether he decided it was the right way to put more fiber into his diet.

The video I took was with my phone in a poorly-lit hallway, so it isn’t going to win any awards for cinematography, but here it is anyway.

Reading PDF files on a portable device

This is a holy grail for people who want to carry their libraries in their pockets and read without glasses or special lighting. The problem is that a lot of the people who distribute ebooks seem to think that using a page-description language like PDF is a suitable distribution method. But actually reading something formatted for an 8″x6″ page on a 2″x3.5″ screen is difficult.

I have it figured out. I’m not sure if this is something that’s changed recently in the software, or if it was always like this and I was too stupid to figure it out.

I’ve asked on several mailing lists, and they seem to have been too stupid to figure it out, too. The best suggestion was from Peter
who posted a LaTeX file that resizes the PDF’s pages to be the size of your device, and trims the margins. But on my Nokia N810, I need reading glasses to read the resulting page. You can make a case that I should get better reading glasses, but I don’t think I’d enjoy even good ones.

My new method is as follows:

  • Run:
    pdftohtml -stdout pdf-filename > html-filename
  • open the html-filename in emacs.
  • There are two major problems you want to fix here:
    • Every line in the original ends with a break. The original line-length of the paper book is unlikely to be useful on your portable device, so what you need, and what I’ve always before failed to fine, is a way to distinguish the breaks that are actually new paragraphs from the ones that are just line breaks. For the PDF files I’ve looked at since yesterday, the ones that are just linebreaks end in &nbsp;<br>, and the ones that are new paragraphs end in <br>. So what I’m doing these days is replacing the &nbsp;<br> with just a space. I may decide at some point to replace the <br>‘s with <p>‘s, but so far what I’m doing now looks pretty good.
    • There is junk like page numbers between the pages. This varies by book, but for the book I’m reading at the moment, there was a file url at the bottom of every page and an anchor tag of a line like “dummy 2” at the top of every page. It would be real programming to write something that would continue a paragraph across a page break like this, so I’m putting up with new pages translating to new paragraphs even when they obviously shouldn’t. But I’m using emacs to remove anything that writes some distracting non-text. In this case, that’s removing the file url and the “dummy 2” text. Be careful about the file url — it might not be on a line by itself.

If you’re using FBReader on a device with a sizeable memory card, you’re done. Just put this html file on your device.

Otherwise, do whatever you normally do to sizeable html files (zipping is probably a good idea) and put that on your device.

Marty Sasaki, RIP

[marty from post to his high school facebook page]

Marty from post to his high school facebook page

Marty’s death apparently happened about six months ago.
He stopped posting to his blog
on August 13. His recorder teacher, who told me about it, had
seen him at her student recital (which may have been the one on
September 12) two days before he died.

[marty from fellow photographer's page]

Marty from fellow photographer’s tripod page

We shared a cubicle in 1981-2, when we were both programmers in
the Radiology Department of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Although it was at that point one of the better jobs I’ve ever had
in my life, we both found some of the political aspects of it
frustrating. We would occasionally both get into his car and go
to a hill in Brookline and fly kites.

[One of Marty's kites]

One of Marty’s kites

He was at that point not long out of MIT, and in much better
touch with the cutting edge of programming than I was, so I
learned a lot from him. He was the first person I ever saw using
emacs, and it was his copy of The TEXbook that
introduced me to Donald Knuth and TEX.

When he left that job for another job in the Harvard Medical
Area, he was the first person I ever kept in touch with by email
and a “talk” program that ran on the Vax.

We eventually fell out of touch, but then when I was just
starting to be the Administrator of the Boston Recorder
, I got an email from him (in my capacity as
administrator; we’d neither of us particularly identified as
recorder players when we knew each other). He was thinking about
picking up the recorder again, and wondered if what the BRS was
doing would help. He must have decided that it wouldn’t, because
I don’t think he ever came to one of our meetings, but he did get
involved in other recorder-related activities in the Boston area,
and I occasionally saw him there.

The most recent real conversation we had was when he came as
part of the group that spelled the Cantabile Band at the Walk for
Hunger last year. He was looking quite a bit thinner than when
I’d most recently seen him, and seeming more mobile. We talked
about how much more energy blogging takes than you would expect,
and about the process of winding up the affairs of a dead person.
He was talking to me instead of playing because he’d gotten
frustrated by the playing — most of the other players in the
group were a lot more experienced than he was. But I had a bit
the same sense of returning peace that I remembered from flying
kites on the hill in Brookline.

He will be remembered at a recital on Saturday.
I won’t be able to go, because there’s a memorial service for
another friend at the same time. Having conflicting memorial
services makes me feel old, but that’s another post.

Another Chopin Concert

Judith Conrad, Fortepiano

with the Delight Consort

Sunday, March 7, 2010, 3:00

The Loring Greenough House

Celebrating Fryderyk Chopin’s 200th Birthday

with parlor music by himself and his forbears

Frederic Chopin, whose 200th birthday is March 1st, 2010, played a
square piano in his youth in Poland, and continued to perform on them
in salons and even in concert halls into the 1840’s. And much of his
music was written to be played in parlors which often were equipped
with pianos much like the Loring-Greenough House fortepiano. Judith
Conrad will play a program of the sort that would have been played in
such a parlor on March 7 at 3:00pm, focusing on the smaller-scale
music of Chopin and including music for cello, flute, recorder and
fluegelhorn with Otto Guzman, Frank Fitzpatrick and Paul
Ukleja. Composers in addition to Chopin include Handel, Beethoven,
Marya Szymanowska, Prince Michal Cleofas Oginski and Princess Anna
Maria of Dresden.

The Loring-Greenough House, built in 1760, is located at 12 South
Street (at the Civil War Monument) in Jamaica Plain, MA. It is
wheelchair accessible. For more information on the Loring-Greenough
House, see www.loring-greenough.org.

Tickets are available at the door:
donation $17 ($12 seniors, students and JPTC members) which includes a
“preservation fee”. For further information call Judy Conrad at
508-674-6128 or e-mail judithconrad@mindspring.com.


First Half

Oginski Polonaise ‘Les Adieu a la Patrie’
Maria Szymanowska Piano Fantaisie
Polonaise Chopin wrote for his first piano teacher when he was 11
Chopin Mazurkas
Etude opus 10 no. 2, Cello and piano
Chopin Songs: Smutna Rzeka; Dumka
Song – Maiden’s Fancy, played by ensemble

Second Half

Handel Polonaise
Three Dances from the Polish Renaissance
Beethoven Variations on Hail the Conquering Hero – Piano and cello.
Piano music from the Archives in Dresden, Polonaises and Sonatinas by
and for Princess Anna Amalia c. 1770
Bellini Costa Diva – Paul on Fluegelhornby
Chopin Waltzes, nocturnesby
Martini Plaisir D’Amour – Sung by the audience

The Spare Room

is about aspects of taking care of a dying person
that I mostly didn’t do with Bonnie.

The main character (Helen) lives near Melbourne, and has a
close friend (Nicola)
with cancer
who lives in Sidney but has found a “clinic” in Melbourne that she
believes will cure her cancer. So she moves in with Helen for the
three weeks the treatment will take.

During those three weeks, Helen has to do a lot of physical
nursing, deal with Nicola’s denying that she is dying, and deal
with Nicola’s refusal to realize that this clinic treatment
she’s getting isn’t going to do any good and she has to go to
real doctors for real treatments.

The writing is good, and the discussion of the issues of how to
deal with a dying person is perceptive. But in the most amazing
paragraph, Helen describes how Nicola organizes her own home care after
Helen finally convinces her that she can’t do it all:

I didn’t know yet how many times I would fly to Sydney to
play my small part in the remains of her care, or how often,
when I buzzed at Iris’s apartment, the door would be opened by
Harriet from Yass, her round, weather-beaten face sweating and
wild with fatigue, or by Marion the Buddhist, white, composed,
and stoic after a five-day stint without relief. I had not
prepared myself to sleep on the floor beside Clare from Byron,
when Iris, half out of her mind, pulled on a backpack and
fled north, on foot, along the coast of New South Wales.

I coule not imagine the urge to start drinking that would
seize me every time I entered the high, airy rooms of the
apartment and found Nicola enthroned on the sofa where, propped
against its hard padded arm, she woke and slept and laughed and
coughed, commanding the stewing of Chinese herbs, planning brown
rice fasts and drastic alkaline diets, turning her face up each
morning to the sun that streamed in through the uncovered
windows. Nor could I foresee that one day, with her swollen
legs resting on a stack of cushions, she would announce
brightly, “I’ve suddenly realized why I feel so terrible — I
must be anemic.” Or how dull my life at home would seem between
my visits to Sydney, how I would write to her on a postcard: “I
miss you. I’m bored. I’d rather be scrubbing shit off Iris’s
bathroom tiles.” For this too would be required of me: like
otherw who served her, whom I came to love in the intimacy of
our labor. I would have to help carry her to the lavatory,
where I learned to wash her arse as gently as I had washed my
sister’s and my mother’s, and as someday someone will have to
wash mine.

I might have guessed that she would resist the hospice until
the contents of her lungs began to bubble up into her nose and
throat, until everyone around her was deranged with exhaustion,
fury, nad despair. She relented only when Marion said to her,
“Don’t regret the things you haven’t done. That’s the past.
Let it go. Rejoice: you’re our teacher now.”

None of Bonnie’s illness worked out much like that — Bonnie
went into the hospital as soon as it was clear that she couldn’t
take care of herself, and by the time she might have been
denying what was happening, she’d had the stroke that left her
unable to talk. But I do recognize both the urge to drink and
the love and closeness with the other people caring for

This is a short book. At the beginning I wondered if the
one-column review
in the New York Times had told me everything I was
interested in knowing about this book. But it really does get
even more interesting at the end.