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19 October 2014 @ 09:13 am
When I woke up and looked out the window this morning at first I couldn't tell if there had been a heavy frost or a light snow, but then I saw that the snow was still falling from the sky (but couldn't have been doing so for long, given how little had landed--besides, the sky was clear and starry when we got home last night), so I got up and dressed and went out to enjoy it. Beautiful! It kept falling for the 30 minutes I was out enjoying the forest. By the time I got back there wasn't yet 1 full centimeter of accumulation, but it is still coming down, so am hopeful that it might amount to something and stick (it has been -3 to -9 C all week, with no snow yet (other than the brief dusting we got at the beginning of the month on a day it was +3, so didn't last at all), so the ground is cold enough to keep the snow from melting, if we don't get any more bad (read: above zero C) weather. (Ok, so after all of the warm spells of last weather, which meant we never got decent, fun to play in, snow, I am a little paranoid.)

Last night was a folk dance evening--one of those gatherings that are a huge part of the reason I live in Sweden. Picture if you will, an old fashioned one-room school house, filled on one end with musicians playing violin, nyckleharpa, bass, clarinet, and even tuba, and the rest of the hall filled with dancers. We actually had more musicians than dancers for most of the evening, so the sound was fabulous. The occasion this time was a folk music course that had happened during the day (we didn't attend--the course was full before we had time to even ask about it), so the evening dance was scheduled to give the musicians an opportunity to keep playing, and they seemed to really enjoy it. Unlike some of the big folk dances that happen during the summer Spelmannstämman gathering of musicians, this event attracted only people who either wanted to dance or wanted to play--there were no people just standing around watching. However, we had an odd number of dancers. I know this because there were a number of dances where I danced by myself, since everyone else was already dancing with someone or playing a musical instrument. Luckily, I also enjoy dancing by myself, so it was all good.

The fact that I have been getting up early so that I can do the 45 minute walk to work and still be there by 07:30 (and sometimes even earlier) means that I have also generally been going to sleep fairly early. This, not surprisingly caught up with me, and as the clock neared 22:00 last night I was getting pretty sleepy, though, of course, still dancing, if not with quite as much energy as when the night was young. I was contemplating if I should lord_kjar and our housemate, C, if we should call it a night and head home so I could get to sleep, but before I got around to asking the musicians did one final number and started packing up. I remember a time when I would have been disappointed to have the dancing end so early in the evening, but, on this occasion I was delighted, as I really was pretty sleepy, but I also didn't want to miss any dances. If they were done playing then I wouldn't miss any.
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17 October 2014 @ 11:59 am
There are no other hammer dulcimers anywhere in northern Sweden, so far as I have been able to discover, so I have been teaching myself how to play, which goes slower than I might have liked, since this is my first instrument. Even so, I have managed to learn to play the melodies of 7 songs reasonably well, and am working on a few more. But it takes time, sometimes a few weeks of effort, to memorize the notes I need to play to manage a melody. One of the guys in our band worked out the chords I could play instead for one of our songs, and it was simple enough that I was able to play along reasonably well on that first evening, even if I wasn't always hitting the string set I should have been.

Therefore I have had it in the back of my mind to learn the chords for more songs, in hopes that I could be playing along faster. Which is why, when I found out the new guy attending nyckleharpa nights is a guitar teacher for his day job, I asked if he would like an unusual student. He agreed that it sounded like a fun challenge, and last night was our first session.

Being the first attempt at teaching a dulcimer player who has only bits and drabs of self-taught music theory we only managed one song all evening, but we managed it. Part of the challenge is that since chords (often) contain notes, but I have two hammers I can use at a time, there are lots of possible options to play the chords.

For example, one of the chords we needed is the G chord, which contains the three notes G, B, and D. I could play that by hitting them one at a time, one after another as G-B-D or G-D-B (and we will forget about the other options that start with the B or the D, because he says that it is good to establish that it is a G chord by hitting that one first), or I can play two of them simultaneously and then the third promptly thereafter such as G+B, D or G+D, B (again, skipping the options where there is no G to start with, because of the value in having it at the beginning of the chord). Or I can play two at a time, followed promptly by another two, such as G+D, G+B. No doubt there are lots of other ways it could be done, but it was the last option that we settled upon.

The song we decided to work on last night is Lokomobilen, a popular local Swedish folk dance tune. Because he is a guitar teacher and chords are what he does he looked at the sheet music and instantly knew which chords go with it, and he wrote them down above the sheet music. And the sequence of letters looked confusing and hard to remember the pattern: GGDGGGDGCGDGCDGD. But then he pointed out that if you look at it in groups of 4 there is a very clear, easy to understand pattern:

GGDG x 2
CGDG x 2

Then he taught me which notes to play for those chords:

G = G4+D5, G4+B5
D = D5+F#4, D5+A5
C = C5+E5, C5+G4

And then he mentioned the D7 chord, which is nearly the same as the D, but has one extra note, a C, which, he says, note helps the listener better expect the transition to the following G chord. That bring the total number of notes for the chord to four, which means that instead of playing the base note twice, once with each of the other notes, I can play two of them and then the other two, like this: D7 = D5+F#4, A5+C5.

Note that the numbers next to the notes refer to which octave the notes are in, where C4 is the note that is called "middle C" on a piano, and C5 is the C one octave up from there.

These chords are all from the key of G, which is the key the song is in, so all of the notes used are notes from that key. The key of G contains the notes G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. If I understand it correctly, we generally want the lowest note in a given chord to be the base note for that chord. Since my hammer dulcimer has two full octaves (# 4 and 5) with all of the possible notes, and another two octaves for which some of the notes exist (#3 and 6), we decided to use the notes from octaves # 4 and 5. Since the octaves are grouped from C to C this means that the notes in the key of G will fall into two groups with different numbers. Given the instrument we choose the version of the key of G that includes the notes G4, A4, B4, C5, D5, E5, F#5, and G5.

However, when we tried various combinations, for this song it happened to sound better to play the F#4, instead of the F#5, for the D chord the lowest note is actually lower than the base note. He assures me that this is totally ok—that people playing the piano nearly always choose to play the combination of notes that is easiest to reach from where they are just now that make up that chord. However, in this case the choice was based on how it sounded, not which was easiest to play, since the F#5 happens to be equally easy to reach from the other notes in the chord as the F#4 is.

Here is a photo of which strings I hit for each of these chordsCollapse )
The only other complication I should record here is that since the sheet music is in 4/4 we decided to hit one pair of strings for each beat, which gives time to play each chord twice per measure. Therefore, even though the above pattern says play these four chords and then repeat the same four and then play the next four and repeat, what I really do is double up each of the individual chords, so the whole song winds up looking like this:


(keeping in mind that the D7 is what is played right before returning to the G, so for the pair of Ds in each section I play the first as a D chord, and the second as a D7 chord.

And, really, it all feels easier than this long-winded explanation makes it sound, but I think it is worthy my time typing it all up, so that I am certain that I not only remember, but actually understand.
16 October 2014 @ 04:52 pm
Back in April I posted the recipe for my adaptation of a Vintage coffee cake. Last week I needed to bake something gluten-free for our Friday band session, and I decided to see how that cake would turn out without using wheat flour. The answer is Yummy! I tried a slice soon after it came out of the oven, since I knew I wouldn't still be hungry when we took a break from playing for tea and cake. My reaction after taking the first bite was "I hope they don't like it, then there will be plenty left over for me to eat tomorrow..."

Gluten Free Vintage Coffee Cake

For the topping mix together:
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 heaping teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
plus the parts of the freshly ground almonds and walnuts (see below) that don't go through the flour sifter. Press the topping into the bottom of a large springform pan (mine is non-stick, so I didn't grease it).

Sift together:
1 cup freshly ground almonds
1/2 cup freshly ground walnuts
1.25 cups oat flour
3/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
3.5 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Cream together:
3/4 cup sugar
150 grams butter (~2/3 cup)

Beat in:
2 eggs

Stir in, a little at a time:
the flour mixture
2 heaping tablespoons of thick Turkish yoghurt
~3/4 cup of milk (put the yogurt into a one cup measure and add milk till it is full)

Pour the batter over the topping in the large springform pan and bake at 150 C (~300) for 35 minutes or until done.

Note that when I say "freshly ground", I actually mean grated, since we have a lovely hand-crank grater with fine holes that I like to use for nuts, but if you don't have one just tossing the nuts into a food processor or food grinder (or pay the extra to buy them pre-ground from the store would work, too).

As it turned out, everyone who tried it seemed to like, but they still left enough for me so that I have been happily having a small slice each day since. It is particularly nice crumbled and sprinkled onto my favourite snack, which is how I just ate some, and was reminded that I hadn't typed it up yet.
I have been interested in trying to make tights from sprang ever since I read the article on Tight-Fitting Clothes in Antiquity – Experimental Reconstruction by Dagmar Drinkler, which appeared in issue #49 of the Archaeological Textiles Newsletter, but, since I haven't been able to get a copy of Collingwood's book on sprang I haven't really made the time to experiment with it. However, today I saw a link to a blog of someone who does sprang, and she has two blog posts of serious interest. One onher first pair of sprang pants, and one on her second pair. How wonderful today's world is, where I can learn from the attempts others have made on projects I want to do for myself.

And she even links to a pdf by Dagmar Drinkler which has way more photos than the above mentioned article. Will need to make time for this interest...
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15 October 2014 @ 12:21 am
Came home from singing with the student choir Aurora tonight exactly on time to catch a beautiful display of the Aurora Lighting up the sky in wide arc stretching from the eastern horizon to where it disappeared behind clouds on the western horizon, and extending from straight over head to half way to the southern horizon. It was q lovely end to a fun evening, and worth turning internet on my phone to tell you about it now that yoga is done and I am ready for bed. Hope you all have had something equally bright in your day.
14 October 2014 @ 03:56 pm
Life has been delightfully pleasant--full but not hectic, with a bit of emphasis on music lately. I am now the person responsible for taking the photocopies of new sheet music for choir and typing the music into NoteworthyComposer to make midi files so that we can all listen to our parts and practice at home. I was really delighted when I found out that the midi files it exports come with text, and when one plays the midi there is a little blue box that highlights the syllable that goes with the note playing at the moment. This is fun, but a little challenging since I have no music training whatsoever, and my hearing is bad enough that I can't necessarily tell if it sounds wrong or not, so I need someone else to check my work before I can post the files to the choir web page. Since I am already doing this for choir I have also started doing this with things we want to do for our choir band, too.

I have also been making more time to practice playing my hammer dulcimer, and I bring it with us on alternate Monday evenings for the nyckleharpa night--then I play along for the few songs I know, and work on sewing projects while they are learning new stuff (since it takes the other 5 to 10 minutes to learn a new tune well enough to play along, and I can't play along till I have memorized every string I need to hit for that song, and that is a process that can take several weeks (though for one particularly easy song, which isn't done at the nyckleharpa nights, I managed it in only a couple of days). On Sunday we made it to the folk music session for the first time in ages, and I brought my Dulcimer there, too. It was fun. I still got in plenty of sewing time, but about every 20 minutes the circle came back around to my turn to pick, and I would suggest one of the few tunes I can play (I can play 8.5 songs now, 3.5 of which are Swedish Folk music and often come up on the Sunday sessions.)

My Swedish has been improving ever since C, our temporary housemate moved in. She is an SCA person from Goteborg who has a 2 month job in Luleå, so she asked on the Frostheim facebook page if anyone had a room available, and, since we got the guest room fixed up and usable this summer, we did. She is a delightful person to have around--she is a neat tidy person who cleans up after herself. She loves to cook, but the kitchen is always clean, just how I like it. She talks Swedish with me 98% of the time, which means that I am practicing lots more than I had been. The past few days I have been reading aloud to her and lord_kjar from the Swedish translation of Neil Gaiman's Odd och frostjättarna. The last time I attempted to read out loud from a Swedish book to lord_kjar he needed to correct my pronunciation at least once every sentence, and he only bothered to do so if I said a word so wrong it became another word or wasn't understandable at all. Now they are only correcting me once or twice a page, and then only for really hard words (go type "själ" into google translate and push the speaker symbol to hear what it sounds like).

This week the Uni had a free clinic for people with back or other pain could come in and be seen by a team of Master's students getting their degree in physiotherapy. Since I have been having an issue with some of the muscles in my back (along my spine, between the shoulder blade and my waist) knotting up while I sleep and hurting just enough to wake me, I made an appointment, and I am glad that I did. It hasn't been what one would call a problem (though I do miss being able to sleep deeply for a long time at a stretch) in that the pain would go away as soon as I woke up and started moving, but it was just annoying enough to make it worth replying to the email looking for people to come to the clinic.

It turns out that the muscles on the right side that are responsible for holding my scapula to my back are weak. I hadn't noticed the difference in strength from one side to the other, but when he had me hold my arm straight out in front of me and he pressed down on my arm I had no problems resisting with my left arm, but the right arm collapsed almost immediately. He has given me a few exercises to try to strengthen them and, with luck, the problem should go away. The pain area is the same spot that hurt when I hurt my back at fighter practice just over two years ago. I thought the problem had cleared up, but apparently I have been compensating with other muscles, and have done so for long enough that there are issues now. Oops. Makes me wonder why we don't go see a physiotherapist once every so often just for a check up--does anything need fine tuning? Imagine how bad off I would be with this issue if I didn't have the habit of daily yoga?
07 October 2014 @ 04:23 pm
Not too long back I baked a batch of cookies for our band. One of our members can't eat gluten, so I decided to adapt my favourite peanutbutter cookie recipe to one she could eat:

1/2 c butter
1/2 C + 1 T peanutbutter, the kind made from 100% peanuts, +/- a dash of salt, and nothing else (that is how much happened to be left in the jar--the original recipe only wanted the half cup, but the last spoonful didn't look worth saving)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 c brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/4 cup cornstartch
1/2 cup peanuts, lightly chopped

Cream together the butter and peanutbutter, mix in the sugar and then the honey, and then the egg. Add the dry ingredients, roll into balls and press with a fork. Bake at 175 C till just starting to turn golden.

This recipe makes a delightfully soft cookie. The original recipe, which I got from a friend in Alaska years ago) used 1/2 cup of white sugar instead of the 1/4 c brown I used. I like my version better, though, when I first tried hers I was delighted to taste one with so little sugar in it compared to what others had tried to feed me in the past. The only other differences with the original is that it was all wheat flour instead of oat/rice/corn, and didn't have extra peanuts added. However, the "chunky" peanutbutter I had didn't have enough chunks, so I added more.
06 October 2014 @ 05:22 pm
Wednesday was my first, official, day on the job, but, of course, I hadn't been able to resist sending work related emails before I started, so I was able to hit the ground running and made contact with all kinds of people who have information I need to get the lab set up and functioning.

Thursday I finished getting approval for the email address for the lab, so now people don't have to be able to spell Chmielowski if they want to book time with us, instead they just send a note to LaserICPMS (at) That evening was the business meeting for Luleåhembygsgille, the local folk music and dance group, so I made some progress while listening to the meeting on a sewing UFO--a cloak I started for clovis_t when we were living in Tasmania, but which didn't get finished before we moved away. I had shown him how to work on it (it is a simple tablet-woven edging onto wool that doesn't fray), but he never made time for it, and then he dropped out of the SCA after moving to Scotland, so I got it back from him a couple of years ago, when we visited Scotland, and, now years later, I am finally working on it again.

Friday was a day off, since my new job is 50% time, and I decided that my ideal schedule would be four five-hour days, working mornings Monday-Thursday. So, after taking a walk in the forest, where I found (and devoured) some yummy blueberries that survived the frost of last week, I enjoyed a lazy morning getting useful stuff done inside the house, then in the afternoon one of the guys from choir came over and we planted some garlic. By "we" I mean I choose the spot (next to the chives that were already growing here when we moved in), he dug up the soil a bit and broke up the clumps of grass, he broke apart the cloves of garlic and stuck them into the soil, and I raked up some leaves and pine needles from the yard to cover them. He said he appreciated the chance to do some gardening--he grew up on a farm, but is now living in an apartment while attending uni. Then I fed him some home-baked garlic bread (the kind with chunks of soft roasted garlic in the bread) and tea make from blackcurrant leaves we have dried.

He had to head home around the time that others from choir showed up for our weekly music session, and we had another delightful evening making music with our friends.

Saturday was "what else can we get accomplished before we return lord_kjar's father's tractor to him?" day. We added a few more tractor scoops of dirt to the space behind the earth cellar walls (and, of course, gravel right up next to the walls), so that it is now completely filled in as high as the walls are now (I really should take some progress photos, but haven't remembered to do that), which is to say shoulder height on the north (uphill) side and hip high on the south. We also packed dirt against the walls of the hole, so that there should be far less of a problem next spring with erosion.

Then we took a lunch break, and after lunch we went down to the small shed on the far side of the field to clean it out. This is the shed the previous owners had used as a shelter for their two horses, and it was still full of straw and manure. So he parked the tractor just outside the shed door, and we filled the scoop 6.5 times before we got it all cleaned out and down to bare dirt floor. Sometime soon we need to do some more work on this shed if it is going to last. The previous owners cut away a couple of timbers to make the door taller for the horses, and while the sort of nailed some boards around the larger opening, they didn't do so in such a way as to prevent that wall from starting to sag, so it has. They also set the shed upon the dirt/plants rather than putting it onto stone foundation, so the bottom most logs have started to rot and are not in good shape. They also put on a very good new roof, so if we get a decent snow year I am not certain the walls will be up to holding the weight. With luck this is one of the projects we will be able to do something about next weekend when lord_kjar's brother is here.

Saturday evening one of our friends had invited us over for a movie night, but, much to my delight, the small group of us just hung out and chatted and we never got around to turning on a movie, though I did get a leg massage, since my legs were protesting the fact that I had spent a couple hours shovelling dirt, followed by a couple of hours wielding a pitchfork full of straw etc.

Sunday we got up early and got ready to return the tractor. lord_kjargathered together the things that needed to go back with it, and I cleaned out a summer's worth of dirt/dust that had accumulated on all the surfaces inside the tractor. Then he started driving the tractor to his dad's property in Hemmingsmark (the village he grew up in--his parents sold the house and farm when they moved to Piteå, but they kept the forest). Since we knew it would take him three hours I went for a walk in the forest and accomplished a few things around the house before I took the car and followed him. It took me exactly one hour to get there, including stopping to fill up the gas tank--the trip is now slightly faster than it used to be, since the highway department has made a few improvements that mean that some stretches that used to be 90 kph are now 110 kph.

After dropping off the tractor we went to his parent's house, to help celebrate his dad's birthday. lord_kjar little brother, sister in law, and nephew also joined us for the occasion. Before we arrived he had mentioned that his mother promised us "cake", and I expected to see the normal Swedish birthday cake--a layer cake, with a filling of mashed berries (or jam) blended with whipped cream, and the cake covered with whipped cream and decorated with fruit slices. However, when we sat down to the table his mother put out two plates covered with cookies (two types), a plate covered with square slices of a thin cake with a thin chocolate-looking frosting, and a fourth plate full of home-baked cinnamon rolls. For only 7 people (including the toddler).

We sat and visited and made decent progress on making the cake, cookies, and rolls disappear (I had three of the rolls and one cookie myself). Then, when I was feeling proud of myself for not eating more than that, his mother brought out the birthday cake—a lovely whipped cream covered thing decorated with rings of green grapes and mandarin orange slices. Yum! After eating a slice of that, too, I started feeling sleepy, and noticed that lord_kjar's dad had gone to lay down on the couch for a nap. This sounded like a good idea, so I took the other part of the (huge L-shaped) couch for a short nap myself. I only slept for about 15 minutes, then returned to the table and conversation and working on a nålbindining project when dad got back up. But then lord_kjar started looking tired, as did his brother, so they took the couch for their nap, and slept a good 30 to 40 minutes, until his mother had dinner pretty much ready.

After dinner we hopped back into the car and made it back to Luleå exactly on time for our normal Sunday folk dance session.

Today I walked to work for the first time since the snow melted last spring. Sure, I could still cycle for another week or three, depending on when it starts snowing, but it is smarter to get back into the habit of walking now. (Sure lots of people bike year-round here, but my trike is low enough to the ground I wouldn't want to ride it in fresh snow, and one can't guarantee that it won't snow whilst one is in the office).

This afternoon lord_kjar brought home a useful item—a large cabinet that used to be used for sorting mail at one of the businesses he fixes computers at. This will be very useful for organizing stuff in the shop.