House Concert – Heather Dale, June 24 2011

We’ve done this once before, and had a good time.  So we’ll try it again, and see if we can get a bigger audience than the first time!

Heather Dale is a Canadian recording artist who cheerfully side-steps the sterotypes for both folk singer-songwriters and Celtic balladeers. Heather fuses traditional stories with a healthy mix of Celtic folk, world music and rock influences, and she excels at finding modern themes within old material.  She performs with her partner Ben Deschamps, and together they explore a lively, diverse folksong repertoire… a mix of original songs with fresh twists on traditional Celtic & folk material. “Her music is powerful stuff, reminiscent of Loreena McKennitt and Sarah McLachlan but with a depth and resonance rooted in its mythic sources.” (Vancouver Sun)

Visit for sound clips and further details about Heather’s music.

As for our concert details:

  • $10 suggested donation
  • CDs will be available for purchase (and worthwhile!)
  • we’re a non-smoking house
  • we’ll have some soft drinks and snacks (and coffee) for intermission, feel free to bring some more and make it a pot-luck
  • we have a large friendly dog who likes music too

Reservations required!  House concerts have limited seating, we need to be sure we don’t overflow the living room!

Contact me to make a reservation – name, number of seats, and a way to contact you.  You can use this contact link, or any other way you know of to contact me.  I’ll get back to you with time and directions.  (We’re in West Rogers Park, near the intersection of Western and Touhy, easy on-street parking.)

UPDATE 2011-06-21: We now have enough reservations to fill the living room!  I will be happy to add your name to a waiting list, and if we have any cancellations by Thursday night, I’ll contact you.

Audiobook Complete: The Not Quite Reverend Cletus J. Diggs…

Title: The Not Quite Reverend Cletus J. Diggs & The Currently Accepted Habits of Nature
Author: David Niall Wilson
Source: SimplyAudioBooks

The title is quite a mouthful, but the book was entertaining.  Its classified as horror, which isn’t a genre I read much.  And it is current work, unlike much of the out-of-copyright material that I listen to.  It was (temporarily) available free at SimplyAudioBooks, and I’ll try just about anything for free.

I’m glad I downloaded it.  This story was full of entertaining characters and interesting plot, taking place in backwoods North Carolina.  The reader does very well with a variety of characters, voices and accents, and keeps it all moving along nicely.  There’s a surprise at the end, which reminded me a bit of some of Sharyn McCrumb’s “ballad” novels – and that’s almost enough of a hint to count as a spoiler, for those familiar with her work.

I’m likely to pull this one out again for a car trip.

Audiobook Complete: Librivox SF Collection 28

Title: Short Science Fiction Collection 28
Author: varied
Source: Librivox

This is a collection of ten short stories by various authors, and read by various readers.  This particular collection is of varying quality, centering right around mediocre.  There’s only one story, “The Servant Problem” by Robert J. Young, that is likely to stick in my memory for more than a week or so.  It was adequate listening for dog walking, but I might have switched to something else if I were driving cross country.

Audiobook Complete: A Double Barreled Detective Story

Title: A Double Barreled Detective Story
Author: Mark Twain
Source: Librivox

I don’t think this is one of Twain’s best – but as much as he wrote, you have to expect some mediocrity.  This is really two detective story plots spliced together, sort of, with an appearance by Sherlock Holmes, who isn’t such hot stuff in Twain’s portrayal.  It adds up to a long short story which is OK, but not great.

The reader is good, and gets as much as possible out of the story.

If you’re a fan of Mark Twain and want to read/listen to all of his work, well, here it is.  If you’re lukewarm on Twain, don’t bother, there are much better choices.

What a stupid system.

It’s time again in the US for the annual ritual of Open Benefits Enrollment, where employees register, pick, and choose from the benefits offered to them by their employer.  What a stupid system.

My preparation complaint – why does each company choose their own schedule for this activity?  Few households with 2 employed adults have the employers schedule at the same time, so every year it is a guess which employer will have the better option in every category.  (I’m not even going to go off on whether funding health care through employers is a good idea or not.  Different post, some other time.)  Overall, I favor less government involvement in everything – but this is a case where I think a regulation requiring all companies to make their benefits packages known to their employees within a small time window would be A Good Thing.   Hold the enrollment whenever, but you have to tell your employees what the options are between October 15 and 30 every year, for example.

My real complaint is the FSA boondoggle.  That’s Flexible Spending Account, for those not keeping score at home.  This is a plan where you can set aside money directly from your paycheck before taxes are calculated on your pay, into a special account that can be used only for certain health care expenses.  The theory is that it “saves you money” by reducing your income tax liability by letting you pay for some health care expenses with pre-tax dollars.  (Yes, another overall stupid idea, administration of these things is entirely waste in the overall cost of health care.)  But OK, its the game we have to play, so we do it.

The rules say that whatever you put in that isn’t spent by the end of the calendar year will be lost.  Lost?  Not exactly – its really profit for the plan administrator.  But you can’t have it back or roll it to the next year.

The rules also say that you can only spend what you put in on expenses incurred in that calendar year.   There is a grace period for most employers/plans, where you can submit receipts for payment until the end of the first quarter of the following year.

Fine, what happens when you incur an expense in November, for example, that the health care provider doesn’t get around to billing for 5 months? (That kind of delay is quite common, as the provider and insurance companies negotiate back and forth about who is going to pay what.)  The health care recipient doesn’t know what amount to pay until the insurance companies are done.  So the health care recipient gets a bill in April for service rendered in November.  But wait, that’s past the first quarter deadline for submitting receipts!

So sad, too bad, pay it out of pocket.  The funds left in the FSA for that expense are profit for the plan administrator, and the health care recipient essentially paid double – once into the FSA, and again out of pocket because the FSA funds were not available.

So the behavior the brilliant legislators and regulators that came up with this marvel of a plan want to encourage must be: don’t use the health care system  in the last quarter of the year for anything that will have a delayed billing.  Better to not need any services in the second half of the year, because you don’t know how long the health care providers will take to bill, and you need to leave a good cushion so you can submit the receipts on time.

What a stupid system.  And among the many broken parts of the US health care system that Obama’s health care reform didn’t come close to fixing, and that the incoming Congress doesn’t see a need to fix.

I repeat – what a stupid system.

Audiobook Complete: Three Men and A Maid

Title: Three Men and a Maid
Author: P. G. Wodehouse
Source: Librivox

Typical silly Wodehouse romantic comedy.  All three men are engaged to the maid at one point or another, until she finally figures out which one she really wants.  Not deep or meaningful, but quite entertaining.

The reader has done a number of other audiobooks I’ve listened to, and is quite good.  Recommended if you like Wodehouse’s style.

Audiobook Complete: The Magic Shop

Title: The Magic Shop
Author: H.G. Wells
Source: SimplyAudioBooks

This is an entertaining short story about a boy who visits a magic shop for his birthday.  But is it entertainment magic, or is it real magic?  His father can’t quite tell…  Fun read, the reader manages the difference between boy and father quite nicely.

This is a book I got via SimplyAudioBooks monthly free offer — every month, something in their catalog is available for free.

Audiobook Complete: King of the Khyber Rifles

Title: King of the Khyber Rifles
Author: Talbot Mundy
Source: LibriVox

The main character is a British secret agent named King.  He’s in India / Pakistan at the beginning of WWI, tasked with stopping a holy war.  As an adventure story, it is pretty good entertainment.  As political commentary, it is eerie how almost 100 years after the story was written, much of the situation in the hill country of Pakistan sounds current.  But don’t listen for the politics, listen for the adventure.

The reader is adequate to the task, managing a fairly large array of voices and accents reasonably well.

Oh, and yes, there have been movie versions of this story.

Bahamas Cruise 2010-10-22/25

We recently took a cruise vacation, trying hard to get away from all the projects that are looming at home and at work.  It was a very relaxing vacation, and we feel recharged and ready to attack some of those outstanding obligations.

The cruise we took was a 3 day cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines, from Miami to Nassau (Bahamas), to Great Stirrup Cay (a privately owned island in the Bahamas), and back to Miami.  In a slightly off-season and with an inside cabin, putting the dog in a kennel for 5 days cost more than the cruise did.    Airfare from Chicago to Miami was another story… twice the cost of the cruise tickets, and American Airlines wouldn’t let us select seats ahead of time.

Flights down and back were solidly booked, 100% filled as far as I could tell.  Even though we were taking only carry-on luggage, we ended up having to check bags in one direction because the cabin was so full.  At least American didn’t charge for gate-checked bags!

Transfer from airport to port and back again was in a charter bus, taking only about 15 minutes.  Checking in to the ship was pretty quick and easy with passports in hand, and it wasn’t long before we had our shoes off, flipflops on, and were lounging, Kindle e-book readers in hand.

Photos can be seen at

The ship had a capacity of about 2000 passengers, and was probably close to full, although it was hard to tell.  I kept being surprised I didn’t see the same people over and over again.  The food was terrific, with the cooks seeming to have a specialty in chilled soups: orange carrot, peach mint, and blackberry were especially good.  We found ourselves eating in the buffet service area most often, although we did go to a table service dining room for one dinner.

The cruise is timed to allow for a day as a tourist in Nassau, and a day on the beach on an island owned by the cruise line.  Our day in Nassau was probably not quite like anyone else’s – a little Google Maps action ahead of time found a full day’s worth of attractions to walk to from the port, and then some.  And since we were walking on our own, having escaped all the tour guides at the port, we managed to see some parts of Nassau that most tourists don’t!  In fact, a passerby was so concerned about seeing us in his neighborhood, walking past the burned out cars on blocks, that he took it on himself to lead us to our next sightseeing targets.

We saw the Queen’s Staircase, Fort Fincastle (great views from the top) and the water tower (unfortunately not open to climb), Government House, and the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas.  It was quite a disappointment to see how few people visited the art museum – it had quite an interesting themed exhibit, with current works dealing the topic “What is your Carbon Footprint”.  And then we went to the Pirates of Nassau exhibit.  Yes, its a tourist trap, but it was a pretty well done one, and informative about the pirates who inhabited the Caribbean in the early 18th century.

When we were ready for a late lunch, we returned to the ship, and then lounged (and napped) with our reading materials.

Sunday was a shore excursion to an island beach, after sailing overnight to get there.  The tender to get to shore was much like a prettied-up landing craft, even to having a ramp at the front of the boat.  There were lots of attractions available, parasailing, water slide, snorkling and scuba excursions, and so on.  We went swimming (water colder than expected!) and then hung out in beach chairs in the shade until it was time to return to the ship.

Lots of napping and relaxing time with (e-)books in hand, food available pretty much on demand with no dishes needing washing (by us)!  What a great vacation!

Again, photos are at

5 Completed Audiobooks

I’ve fallen way behind listing the audiobooks I’ve completed.  Its amazing how many I can get through while walking the dog every day.

Title: Allan’s Wife
Author: H. Rider Haggard
Source: Librivox

The story of Allan Quartermain’s wife, with some other adventures.  A perfectly good adventure story, although with a fairly predictable plot.  It may have been innovative when first published, but the plot elements have been repeated so often since that it is pretty clear the shape the story line will take early on.  The reader is good, although her voicing of native African characters sounds to my ear more like Indian than African.

Title: Anne of Green Gables
Author: L. M. Montgomery

SimplyAudioBooks makes something in their catalog free each month.  I’m willing to try almost anything for free…. and I’m glad I did.  I never read this classic at the “Young Adult” age, even though I did ready the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and such.  I don’t know why I skipped it, and I’m happy to have filled the gap.  This story is quite enjoyable, with interesting and realistic characters.  The reader does a great job of voicing the characters.   Highly recommended!

Title: The Stolen White Elephant
Author: Mark Twain

A Twain I haven’t run across before, this is a long short story, not a full novel.  It is full of absurdity as detectives struggle to find the stolen elephant.  I was not thrilled with the reader, who seemed to me to not understand where the deadpan humor is in Twain’s writing.  But if this comes up free again at SimplyAudioBooks, it’s well worth the price.

Title: Sketches Old And New
Author: Mark Twain
Source: Librivox

A collection of familiar and unfamiliar short stories and essays.   Some are better than others, of course, but its a nice collection.  The reader, John Greenman, has done a lot of Twain for Librivox, and he really understands how to deliver Twain’s humor.

Title: A Short History of England
Author: G.K. Chesterton
Source: Librivox

Chesterton’s view of history is that of the continuing advance of Civilization (spelled Christianity) over pagan barbarism.  That view lends a certain predictable perspective to his narrative, which can get annoying.  It is, however, interesting to listen to the arguments, and a good bit of his discussion of the events of the late 18th century (e.g. 1776) is from quite a different perspective than standard American history provides.  The reader is adequate, but would benefit from checking a dictionary for pronunciation of some less common words.