The Edwin Hawkins Singers: Oh Happy Day

•February 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Aside from the Norman Luboff Choir (and maybe the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?), the only choir I can think of who has had popular hits were the Edwin Hawkins Singers. Their biggest hit was a song I’ve loved since childhood, Oh Happy Day, which was played on the eclectic pop radio I listened to as a kid.

Still gives me chills. Even more so to hear the recording that made the song famous (if you don’t need to look at a video while you listen to this wonderful music).

It only made me happy to learn that the it was the Edwin Hawkins Singers who collaborated with my childhood idol Melanie on her hit Lay Down.

(If you like Melanie, I have posted several other Melanie songs on this blog in the past.)

Geiger Counter

•January 23, 2015 • 3 Comments

I bought a Geiger counter at an antique store in November. It was an impulse buy, but reasonably priced, and I thought it was perfect for the fallout shelter I’m putting together.  I’ll show you the fallout shelter some day, but in the meantime I have a Geiger counter story.

geiger 1

geiger 2

geiger 3

I replaced two 45-volt batteries & one 22.5-volt battery, and the thing clicks when turned on, as though registering background radiation. But I can’t be sure it really works without waving that wand over something radioactive, like an old watch, or an old smoke detector, both of which I have not got.  Enter United Nuclear Scientific.

I found United Nuclear Scientific on the internet. They sell radioactive samples specifically designed to test Geiger counters for $5.00 + shipping, courtesy of the U.S. postal service. Mine arrived the other day.

radioactive material

The Geiger counter doesn’t register anything when presented with this sample, meaning either it doesn’t work or the sample isn’t radioactive. So I looked at United Nuclear again, and found that it’s run by Bob Lazar.  I, of course, have heard of him.

Bob Lazar claims to be an M.I.T. physicist who worked at Area 51, tasked to reverse-engineer the flying saucer that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. He said the saucer was from Zeta Reticuli, home of the “Greys.” The ship ran on ununpentium, also known as element 115, an element that was first synthesized on earth in 2003. Lazar signed a non-disclosure agreement with the U.S. military and was warned that, should he reveal anything, his family would be executed. Bob runs United Nuclear with his wife, Joy White. M.I.T. says they never heard of Bob Lazar. Bob says his past has been deleted by the government in an attempt to discredit his claims. And so on, and so on, in the endless circle of conspiracy kookiness that I’ve grown to love & hate.

People have asked if it’s legal to send radioactive material through the mail. Also, didn’t I find it foolhardy to purchase uranium on the internet. These are good questions. I chose United Nuclear Scientific because they were cheaper. Lolarusa says, “Sounds like you were a smart shopper. If you’re buying radioactive material, there’s no need to get picky about where it’s coming from.”

So I still don’t know if my Geiger counter works, but I do have a souvenir from Bob Lazar, and Bob has my $5.00.


The Rabbit Back Literature Society’s U.S. Release

•January 20, 2015 • 2 Comments

The Rabbit Back Literature Society, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s brilliant, indescribable first novel, has its U.S. release today!

The Rabbit Back Literature Society U.S. cover

Here are some reviews of the English edition (translated by yours truly):

“It’s hard to convey the peculiar atmosphere of this novel – absurd but believable, sinister but enjoyable, beautiful but disquieting. ” – The Independent

The Rabbit Back Literature Society is a lobster-pot of a book… a unique vein of fantasy-realism unlike anything else you’ve ever read.”SFX Magazine

“Unexpected, thrilling and absurd, it is primarily an irreverent exploration of the art of writing itself” – Daily Telegraph

I also recommend it.

Available from Thomas Dunne Books or your favorite bookseller.

Tree Change Dolls

•January 19, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Some crafters in Tasmania called Tree Change Dolls are giving discarded Bratz dolls make-unders and creating some of the sweetest looking dollies ever.




Check out those awesome hand-knit sweaters!

More befores and afters on Tree Change Dolls.

Found on the always interesting Nag on the Lake.

When the Doves Disappeared

•January 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

When the Doves Disappeared cover image

Sofi Oksanen’s most recent novel, When the Doves Disappeared, comes out in English next month.

…The Wehrmacht with their helmets and bicycles filled the street like locusts, a multitude without number, gas mask canisters waving, the soldiers covered in a downpour of flowers. Juudit stretched her arm out. Smiles sparkled in the air like bubbles in fresh soda, arms waved and sent a breeze sweet with the scent of girls toward the liberators⎯girls with their hands fluttering like leaves on summer trees, shifting and shimmering….

Like Sofi Oksanen’s previous novel Purge, When the Doves Disappeared is about life in Estonia during the decades of war and occupation in the 20th century.

It’s a very good book. Did I mention that I translated it?

You can read a longer excerpt from the novel in the August issue of Words Without Borders.

And here is a sample from the upcoming audiobook, read by Enn Reitel:

What We did in 2014: Part 2 The Movies

•January 3, 2015 • 1 Comment

We saw a lot of good movies in 2014.  Here are our favorites. You can click the titles for info, the images for video clips.

do I have to do everything

On January 18th we went to the 2014 Nordic Lights Film Festival and saw four short Finnish films, including “Do I Have To Take Care of Everything?“, directed by Selma Vilhunen, which was very funny, and nominated for an Academy award.

the wind rises

February 22nd. “The Wind Rises,” a Japanese movie by Hayao Miyazaki. This was Miazaki’s last film before retiring. It was as beautiful and poetic as any Miyazaki film, and raised moral questions about the uses of technology. One of the most interesting aspects of the film was the sound design, which used human voices for non-human sounds, and gave the whole film an uncanny quality.


February 25th. “Like Father, Like Son,” a Japanese movie by Hirokazu Kore-eda. We love Kore-eda, and you should watch all his movies. They will break your heart. Kore-eda is an excellent writer and director. There is an interesting article and video essay on his work here.


May 27th. “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” an American movie by Wes Anderson.


May 30th. “A Patriotic Man,” a Finnish movie by Arto Halonen. It’s about the doping scandal of the 2001 Nordic Ski Championships, which I’ve heard is a source of national shame for Finland.


July 21st. “Life Itself,” an American documentary by Steve James. We miss Roger Ebert.


August 6th. “Boyhood,” an American movie by Richard Linklater.  It’s extremely interesting to watch the cast over the 12 years it took to make this movie.


September 28th. “The Trip to Italy,” a British movie by Michael Winterbottom. It’s sort of a food movie, with scene after scene of scrumptious cuisine in fancy Italian restaurants. After the movie we went to Olive Garden.


December 28th. “Birdman,” an American movie by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. I found myself wondering whether Inarritu was thinking of Michael Keaton while writing this. Except for a few seconds at the beginning and end, the entire film is shot to look like one continuous take. It’s not just a cool stunt, it also gives the story of a theater group preparing for opening night a very fitting hanging-by-your-fingernails tension.

I think 2014 was a very good year for us, film-wise.

Did you see any good movies this year?

The things we did in 2014

•January 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Whenever we go somewhere that involves buying a ticket we save the ticket stub, and every New Year’s Eve we look at them to reminisce and remember that we really do get out of the house occasionally. Here are some of the things we did in 2014.


January 4th. “Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon,” at the Seattle Art Museum. This exhibit had a lot of interesting historical information to accompany the objects on display, and visiting docents in Peruvian folk costumes.

Richard II

February 2nd. “Richard II,” at the Seattle Shakespeare Company. We were completely unfamiliar with this play, which made for more suspense than you usually experience watching Shakespeare. See how his crown doesn’t fit?


February 20th. “Miro: The Experience of Seeing,” at the Seattle Art Museum. Lots of women. And birds. And women with birds. This painting is titled Woman Bird Star.


May 10th. “Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture,” at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. A lot of beautiful and just plain old pretty objects, including ordinary objects like cigarette labels and advertising posters. Delightful.


May 29th. Northwest Folklife Festival, an event we try never to miss. This is Nae Regrets, via, and that guy can play the bagpipes!

dorothy lake

July 12th. A six mile hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (you wouldn’t think the wilderness would give us a ticket stub, but it did).

mariners vs orioles

July 27th. Baseball. This was our first major league baseball game. Seattle Mariners vs Baltimore Orioles. Orioles won.


September 10th. “Waiting for Godot,” at the Seattle Shakespeare Company. A play where nothing happens. Twice. Impossible to read, very possible to watch.

cape disappointment

September 12-14th. Camping at Cape Disappointment. Not as dissatisfying as I expected. We go there just about every September.


October 5-25th. Vacation in Germany, Finland, and Russia: Alte Pinakotek, Residenzmuseum, Ateneum, Hermitage, Russian Museum. View separate post here.


November 12th. “Twelfth Night,” by the Seattle Shakespeare Company. This is a play I’ve seen in several productions. Seattle Shakespeare’s version was strangely melancholy, with an excellent fool and remarkably twin-like twins.


December 4th. “Pop Departures,” at the Seattle Art Museum. Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and others. I grew up with pop art, and I think I understand it; it’s an ironic broadside on commercialism, and is burdensomely copyrighted to maximize profits.

It seems we didn’t get any ticket stubs in March, April, and June. We’ll have to work on that. But overall, I think we were rather spoiled for riches this past year, and this isn’t even counting the movies.

What fun things did you do in 2014?

Sweet Honey in the Rock: Ella’s Song

•November 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

We who believe in freedom cannot rest.

Thanks for the Memories

•November 27, 2014 • 2 Comments

A Thank You song for Thanksgiving.

Thanks to all my old and new friends.

Germany, Finland & Russia in pictures

•November 4, 2014 • 2 Comments

Lolarusa and I went to Europe in October with some friends. We visited the Rhine River & Bavaria, and finished our trip with a visit to Helsinki & St Petersburg. Here are some photos starting in Seattle, Washington.

1 Hammering Man Seattle

2 Hammering Man Frankfurt

2.5 Romerberg Square

4 Rhine River

5 Rhine River

6 Lorelei

7 Bacharach

8 Strasbourg

9 Bavaria

10 Hofbrauhaus

11 Residenz, Munich

11.5 Kaivopuisto

14 St Petersburg

Interview with Pasi Jääskeläinen in Quadrapheme

•September 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

If you’ve read The Rabbit Back Literature Society, you no doubt finished the book with many questions to think about. The author discusses some of the possible meanings of a few of the mysterious events in the novel in this interview for Quadrapheme. Fun.


Charles Wolford also reviewed the book in an earlier issue. But I can’t stress enough that I do not recommend reading these pieces until you’ve read the book itself.

Big Books

•August 15, 2014 • 5 Comments

I’ve always liked intimate novels, stories that penetrate deeper and deeper into the lives and hearts of one person or small group of people, the sort of books that are often written in the first person – coming of age stories, claustrophopic stories of obsession, even. Stories that feel as if the narrator is talking directly to you alone. Jane Eyre, Catcher in the Rye, Housekeeping

But more and more I find myself wanting to read big novels, stories that take place in a world that grows and grows as you read until the book seems to paint a portrait of an entire subculture, or city, or country. They aren’t always especially long books (though they usually are), they just feel expansive, they give your mind room to roam, they make you feel moved not just by the lives of the characters, but the life of the whole society that the characters inhabit. They make you feel bigger inside when you read them.

These are some of the great books that have satisfied my yearning for something big:

Then We Came to the EndThen We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris

Told in the first person plural, the world inside this funny and strangely moving book expands as you read to become a portrait of an entire corporation and the all-too-familiar world of commerce that surrounds it.




Vanity-FairVanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray

This biting satire follows the lives of two young women, the shrewd social climber Becky Sharp, one of the most memorable characters in any book I’ve ever read, and her conventional, complacent schoolmate Amelia Sedley, and a large cross-section of early 19th century British society.




A Fine BalanceA Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry

Twenty years of Indian history seen through the eyes of two struggling lower-caste men and the people they encounter. Like Middlemarch, this book teaches you something about history that a factual account can’t.




MiddlemarchMiddlemarch, by George Eliot

This book focuses on two characters, a young doctor and an intelligent young upper class woman, who are both seeking intellectual fulfillment and love during a time of great political change in England. Many people consider Middlemarch the best English novel ever written. I won’t argue with them.




Independent PeopleIndependent People by Halldor Laxness, translated by John A. Thompson

This story of the life of one Icelandic family over the course of the twentieth century seems to move from ancient to modern times in one generation. Thought I would read it to find out why Laxness won the Nobel Prize. Now I know. This book broke my heart, and made me feel as if I’d spent years in Iceland.

Do you have any big books to recommend?

Blackberry Jam

•August 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

picking berries 2berries in the wild

picking berriesberry bucketfour quartscolander of berries

boiling mash

masing berries

berries and sugar  cooking jam

two-drip stage

boiling jars

pouring jam

hot lids finished jam


New Finnish Writing in English

•August 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

WWB_Finland_Aug2014_550_393Words Without Borders, the online journal of literature in English translation, has published an issue devoted to contemporary Finnish literature, featuring interesting recent works by thirteen Finnish authors, including translations by myself and fellow FELT members Emily Jeremiah and Owen Witesman.

I have three pieces in the issue. One is an excerpt from my translation of Sofi Oksanen’s new novel When the Doves Disappeared, the third book in her planned Estonia-Finland quartet. When the Doves Disappeared is scheduled for publication in the US in 2015.

There is also a short story by one of my favorite Finnish authors, Daniel Katz, and one by the delightful Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, author of The Rabbit Back Literature Society.

I highly recommend them.

Abandoned Suitcase

•July 9, 2014 • 7 Comments

suitcase 1

I have a carpenter friend whose specialty is tearing down houses to make way for townhouses. Why have one house on a city lot when you can have three? During a recent job he found a locked suitcase under the rafters in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. His coworkers wanted to break it open, but he knew I liked stuff like this so he saved it, and two days ago he gave it to me.

I googled ‘how to pick a briefcase lock’ and was basically getting nowhere when lolarusa suggested I be methodical. Try 001, 002, 003, etc., until it opens.  I complained that there’s 1,000 possible combinations.  “Well,” she said, “you only knit one stitch at a time, but when you’re done you have a sock.”  Good point.

248. I went from 001 to 247, and when I hit 248 that lock popped open. This is what I found.


suitcase 3

suitcase 4

suitcase 4.1

suitcase 4.3

There were no clothes. It seemed to be a collection of precious possessions rather than a traveling bag. Dominating the contents was a locked wooden box.

Opening the lid section of the case revealed that the owner was a Freemason.

mason stuff

Tucked within the folds of the mason’s apron was the key I’d hoped for, the key to the wooden box. Within the box were old news clippings, a police report, biological specimens, an old journal, and a piece of unfired clay wrapped in coarse cloth.

open box






The mason’s apron was owned by someone named Serene. The journal is by someone named Angell. The journal is all about weird happenings in the ’20s and ’30s, things that allegedly happened in Greenland, and New England, and Louisiana, and seem to be directly related to the clay sculpture, which is less than an inch thick, and perhaps five or six inches square.



I find the whole thing intriguing and disturbing, and confess that I don’t know what to make of it.

postscript: I’ve done my best to transcribe the journal, which you can read here.


more Curiosities




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 197 other followers

%d bloggers like this: