Leaving the Homely House

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that as soon as you say “nothing much is going on here,” life happens:

The move you’d intended to make last year suddenly seems possible,

The weed that you meant to pull turns out to be four feet tall, and flowers,

And you find yourself held hostage by a very tiny, very loud white-crowned sparrows, who decided the perfect place to build a nest in a burner in the camp stove in the backyard that you were just getting ready to use to roast some peppers for salsa. The sparrows are not amused by your presumption.

Things happen on a very small scale these days, but things are happening nonetheless – mainly Spring, and its corresponding encouragements that the Earth endures, and that we will, too.

How do you find yourself, here in the year of our Lord 2022, Phase Four of the Endless Pandemic? We hope you are well. We are… still here. Still playing with metal, fumbling with embroidery, failing at gardening, and signing new contracts for work, thank God. Still managing school visits and business meetings in this strange, Zoom-centric existence. You?


Last summer when the State reopened for travel, many people eagerly grabbed suitcases and scheduled flights. We were still getting second shots in June, so were hesitant to take off – and were deeply disappointed when travel restrictions were reintroduced as Delta variant cases in California skyrocketed. We We’ll do something next summer, we comforted ourselves. Surely by next year we’ll find a little bit of time to go somewhere everything is safe.

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Nope. “Everything” is never safe. That’s probably the truth writ largest and most clearly: we never were safe before a pandemic, and now we’re reminded at every turn that nothing is permanent and nothing can be counted on. In 2019, we had two big trips planned with dear friends to celebrate an anniversary that we put off… and we’ve now had to put that trip off repeatedly. Nothing we planned looks the same anymore, and our friends have a new family member, and all the conferences we’d thought to go to have long since been moved to Zoom. As there are likely to be more challenges ahead, we finally went ahead and took one the trips we’d put off for so long. We went to Iceland.

We chose Iceland because of its convenient location (just a little longer than a flight to New York), low COVID numbers and their robust vaccination response. Nearly their entire population received the two-shot vaccination and they seem to be boosted in the 70% range, country-wide. They no longer require any Covid Information was splashed all over to tell us how frequently all of the air in the plane was sucked through the HEPA filters (every three minutes) and the statistical probability of getting COVID germs on a flight if you’re wearing a properly fitted mask (one in forty-three thousand) but it was still difficult. Due to T’s worsening autoimmune issues, we really have heeded medical advice to cut our risks and stay home. Getting on a plane when we rarely even get into the car seemed very odd, and wearing masks for eight hours straight was… not something to leave one in the frame of mind to whimsically enjoy air travel again. We were reminded that people are loud and generally chaotic, and the whole thing was a bit stressful. We were quite ready to deplane when the time came.

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Still, the inconveniences of the trip faded with the delight of meeting our friends at their air terminal and greeting our newest, drooliest member of the gang. (And then we spent forty-five minutes trying to figure out how to put his car seat into the rental car, which was a little reality check from all the rose-tinted happy of being together again.)

Traveling with a five month old and two women with autoimmune disorders meant we were neither going very far or very fast, but we so enjoyed every geyser, every glacier, every waterfall, lake, pond, and lichen-shrouded boulder that just riding in a minivan was a treat. It was wonderful to have a baby to squeeze, and he was every bit as charmed by us, as we were by him – it really does get boring drooling on all the same people all the time. It was delightful to engage in wide-ranging conversations that didn’t require a good Zoom connection, and cooking and eating together – even the simplest foods, because none of us were energetic enough for anything gourmet, was just a shared happiness. (The taste tests of Random Icelandic Flavors were amusing as well.) Iceland has a very, very low speed limit (90 kph – about 55 – on a two-lane highway 112 – 69 on a four-lane freeway) and permafrost, sand, -and-volcano ash roughened roads, so we drove slower than we wanted to, and more than we wanted to (which was a difficulty for our friends who drive on the other side of the road in the UK) and we were all tired, and it was windy and very cold sometimes and some of us were carsick, but we made it work. Traveling with people means you really love them – because honestly, traveling with another family shows ALL the cracks we normally like to hide, no? Five days was short for our usual length of trips – we prefer to go somewhere and sit for a minimum of fifteen days – but the five days seemed a reasonable amount of time for a first foray back into the world of Man.

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Had we realized the risk, we might not have done it. We hadn’t remembered that a new (since January) requirement for reentry to the U.S. is a clean COVID test. We then understood how risky it is to engage in any kind of traveling if you don’t work solely on your computer — we’ve had asymptomatic friends who tested positive wand were obliged to stay where they were overseas for an additional five days until they tested clear which seems to be …strange, since no one tests people on the way OUT of the U.S…? We were grateful not to miss our flight or be required to come up with a week’s worth of new lodgings. That’s an expensive new wrinkle in travel, isn’t it? At any rate – everyone arrived home Covid-free, exhausted, and grateful.

We took our trip just before the newest sub-variant of Omicron sent cases skyrocketing again, just like last summer. We’re probably not going anywhere for another six months at least (well, nowhere out of the country, anyway – we’re past time to move to a new town, since the landlord raised the rent so much last year, but stay tuned on that), but we cherish the memory of every waterfall, every giant, honking gull dragging something flopping from the surf, every sulfur-scented spring, and every puddle of drool.

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Hello, glad you’re still here, have some pictures

We looked up and realized that the world here is the same, while the world internationally (Russia, Ukraine) has gone insane. We’ve not pulled pictures from the phones for … months. And we’ve generally stopped blogging here.

In the spirit of at least saying “hello,” here are a handful of photos of a chime set going through the process. The final row is the finished chimes, held in different light.

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We hope you’re well. I hope to write more frequently, but … well, we’ll see.

-D

The World Has Stalled

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Life has been basically the same for several years now. Yesterday I pulled pictures off of the phones & had to decide if I wanted those year-old pictures of flowers, etc.

And then this holiday, where I basically stopped work at Thanksgiving & haven’t really resumed yet: before the year-end, corporate budgets either run out or don’t have time for services; beginning of the year, they may not have finalized budgets for the new year. So, I did a bunch of singing, some working on chimes, and that’s about it, really. Ordinary things: walks, going to eyeglasses appointments. Oh – and learning how to program in Unity, which doesn’t really feel like programming.

We keep saying we’re going to take off for Scotland & The Netherlands, or maybe Spain. We keep saying that, but then I guess it’s about risk & Covid & planes. It’s not about cost, really. I mean, if we go for a month, this is at most what we’re looking at:

Flights: $1,500
Max Accommodation: $4,000
Food: (cheaper than in the US)
Entertainment: $1,000
Total $6,500

It’s not a huge expense (and is inflated), but … I think that we just don’t feel safe, and are unwilling to risk. I think we need to get over that, though, because this is the new normal: hide, mask, test.

May you all find a way to add some passing of time to your lives. Some awareness that the world outside is indeed moving, that you’re part of that movement.

-D

More Chimes

So, back at you with more windchime things. These ones are about figuring out what to do with the anodizer vs with torch. It’s about figuring out when to use Rubylith vs polishing the oxide layer away vs grinding it away with a heavier grit.

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The image above has some pretty bare chimes. I got the gradient by running from about 85V up to 125V, spinning the dial as fast as I could & simultaneously withdrawing the chimes from the bath. I figure that gives me a gradient of probably 90V through 120V. It’s kind of … well, hit or miss.

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After I’ve played with them for a bit, they’re quite a bit different. I think this is maybe 6 different voltages added after the higher voltage dip, each one progressively lower voltage. Basically, the recipe for these was to give them a good, high-voltage dip, and then to come back and polish away rings & repeatedly put the chimes into a lower and lower voltage bath. So, a sequence would look like this:

  1. Degrease with acetone
  2. Wash in deionized water
  3. Etch using Multi-Etch (doesn’t contain hydrofluoric acid, yay!)
  4. Wash in deionized water
  5. Connect everything up
  6. Place in electrolytic solution (soapy water)
  7. Power up
  8. Dial in your voltage until you’re happy
  9. Power down
  10. Wash
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Another example above. I’m trying to figure out a more reliable method of polishing away the oxide, to make the rings. Not sure, but am trying out rotary tool sanding disks at the moment.

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One here, playing with a diagonal with the lithography masking tape. I think I like this, but the tape tends to drift – you end up with a progressively tighter spiral, or a looser, etc. Also, burnishing the edges of the tape is a lot harder, as when it’s in a circle you can easily run your fingernail over the edge of the tape.

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And above is a wee video, including some slow motion. I like it anyway.

I’d love to say I’ll post more … but it’s a bit of a hard thing. Once the engagement stops, there it went.

-D

Singing and Playing With Metal

I’ve been working on titanium, mostly in windchimes. Here’s a video of me talking (slowly, for some reason) about an experimental piece where I’m playing with flame anodization, electric anodization, sanding belt textures, etc.https://youtu.be/qdLQZWlx5tg

https://vimeo.com/628398537 has me doing a couple solos, a few weeks back. 5:20 and 27:00 are my pieces (the rest is a church service).

I just uploaded a recital from this past weekend https://youtu.be/VAiQViaru-k . I’m the first 3 pieces and the last piece (25:38). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAiQViaru-k&t=25m38s is a link to that last piece.

-D

Entertainment During Corona

It has been a very long time since I’ve written here. Some of that’s getting out of the habit. A larger part of that is that … well, there’s just nothing happening. I’ve been singing and working on windchimes, pretty much. But I realize that I’m not even sharing about the windchimes. So, here’s a story about windchimes and how I make them.

I’ve had a windchime calculator for quite some time, but just never really got to it. I found impetus to move to titanium from brass because of this video. His chopsticks look beautiful, and onlinemetals.com would ship me some titanium… and so we began. General process:

  1. Find yourself a decent chord at https://www.onemotion.com/chord-player/
  2. Look up the lengths (chime length & length of the hang point)
  3. Cut chimes to lengths
  4. Drill them
  5. Polish the bejeezus out of them
  6. Spin them up on a high-speed drill, while heating them with a torch
  7. Use a polishing belt to strategically remove stripes (yes, while everything’s still running)
  8. Hang them up (after they’ve cooled)

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Above is what one looks like while in progress. That silver titanium will quickly oxidize to a “gold straw” color, because the metal’s already hot.

The least fun in this hobby is the sheer number of drill bits I’ve broken. I bought a drill press, which should help a little bit at least, just by keeping the drill bit straight. We’ll see. It’s definitely the bottleneck in the process.

Next up as not fun is that I really ought to get a band saw. I’ve got a jigsaw (pro tip: a “fine metal” blade on the end-grain wood setting is what you want, for titanium – just chomps the metal out beautifully). It works well enough, actually. The band saw would be a luxury upgrade, when I still haven’t solved the drill issue.

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It’s the blowtorch stuff that’s the most fun, of course. Developing new techniques, seeing what works and doesn’t. Using a large torch to get a base color = a consistent heat platform to build on, whereas just hitting it with the small torch will give much more variation in color.

Making little decorations to go along with the chimes (I’ll work with brass when I’m frustrated with titanium – brass is like butter, in comparison) is also quite peaceful.

At some point I’m going to buy an SMT Micro Anodizer (have a look at some of the examples there), so I can lay down straight-lined patterns, one-color patterns, or can hook it to a paintbrush and paint with electrolyte.

That’s kinda what things have been like around here. Finish work, sing a while if it’s hot, make some chimes if it’s cool. Rinse and repeat.

-D

Once Upon A Time When We Were Social…

What? Needing to turn in a minimum thousand-word essay and opening the blog program instead instead isn’t normal? But, isn’t that the BEST TIME to blog???

How are you?

It’s been a minute, hasn’t it?

We had no idea that we had not, in fact, come through the initial impact of the pandemic with no consequences. (We don’t say “survived the pandemic” – it’s not over.) We are, in fact, natural-born Hobbits, and as such, we live like those mythical creatures. Hobbits are happiest at home. We potter around the garden. We fix enormous and impractical meals. We read a great many, many, many books, and do a great many crafts which include glitter, paint, a lot of muttering under our breath, the occasional swear, or a lot of cutting oil. Staying home 24/7? Avoiding people? That’s playing our song.

While one of us is merely introvert adjacent, the other of us is a full-time introvert who requires at least twenty-one business days to recover from any social outing. Pandemic isolation was supposed to be the crowning achievement of an introvert’s life.

It…was not.

Standing on the edges of a crowd, watching people enjoying themselves is filling the social well. Sitting at a table alone in a cafe, watching people enjoying themselves is filling the social well. Lurking in library stacks, watching mothers try to read while their offspring play around their feet is filling the social well. A meal at a restaurant, a concert, air travel, random conversations with strangers – all of these things with their attendant displeasures and delights give something to us. Normal life – with its reflected light from the sunshine of other people’s lives – fills the social well, and the lack of said all but drains us of our contentment, and worse, our creativity.

(Yeah. That essay. The coding. And the novel that’s due. The technical writing that has to be updated, the PR materials that need to be written. And… And… And…)

It was mostly unnoticeable – and overlapped with T’s autoimmune illness peaking, but the isolation was something which caused both of our brains to atrophy. We realized that we were… too quiet. We usually talk to each other constantly – interrupt each other, exchange ideas with the frenetic energy of sparks on electric wires. Some days we barely exchanged ten sentences between getting up and “pass the salt” at dinner. When we realized that “the worst” was over, and then… it wasn’t, the disappointment was more resignation – we knew this wouldn’t be tidy, but hope is a thing with invasive roots. Now that we know that we need… something to help fix our brains and fill our social wells, we’re in the process of rethinking how we can return to the world in a way that’s safe – considering our weekly outdoor church attendance (more for social interaction than spiritual edification just now) and a socially distanced return to our chamber group, and more activities outdoors, as T’s new meds seem to have pulled her back from brain fog and acute disability. As always, we’re a work in progress… And you?

How are you?


We used to throw tea parties, tasting plate parties and Wine & Cheese (or grape juice and cultured soy milk) parties with the Wees when they were quite small, as a means of introducing them to new foods or just hanging out with the good dishes, and our family in a meaningful way. The last one we had, Elf was eight. Since he’s just turned thirteen this year (!!!!), it’s been a minute. While we aren’t sure whether Elf and Little Man, who are far too cool for our company, would like to come, we’ve been planning a little Taste & See party for a while now. We thought we’d pre-taste one of the offerings, though, just to be on the safe side (and have since decided against having this as part of our taste test). It’s a product we’ve seen everywhere, even a smoked mushroom varietal at our local farmer’s market – vegan jerky.

Having not grown up gnawing on pieces of dried meat at all times, we didn’t at first see the point of this being veganized. But! People who hike and want to pack a quick source of energy swear by these, so we tried four easily available from the supermarket: Pleather in Black Pepper, Louisville Vegan Jerky in Maple Bacon, Gardein in Original, and Noble Jerky in Sweet BBQ.

Our first mistake was buying something called Pleather. Just… no. Both Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionary of Language defines Pleather as a plastic, faux leather substitute, not foodstuff. Our second mistake was getting black-pepper flavored anything: another no. We expected the Louisville to be better, but the maple was sickly sweet, and the bacon flavor was an overdose of liquid smoke. Of the four taste-tested, those two were utterly unspeakable, as in, We Spat Out And Would Not Share With Dogs. The Gardein we thought would be at least okay, because we’ve used Gardein products before, and it was… meh. It’s too moist and has an odd texture. The Noble Jerky is also sweet, but …we immediately wanted to upend the entire bag into a pot of white beans. It’s the exact taste of Boston Baked Beans somehow! Not something you’d want to eat in large amounts without the beans, but …workable. We’re going to cook with both the edible ones and see if they can be redeemed. (We’re not going to try for “elevated,” that’s just asking for the moon.)

So, no winners there, really, but it made us happy to think about doing something as normal as trying weird food and making fun of it.

Small steps, friends. Small steps.

Is this thing on?

It has been an eternity since I’ve blogged anything. Life just seems to roll on, no real change, and here we are with me not having even bothered to pull any pictures from the phones. And did I use a real camera during this time? Nope. Life is kind of narrow right now.

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Here’s what work looks like for me these days. Every client wants me to use their laptop, rather than giving me access through my own system. So, I’ve got a stack of laptops sitting here, which I shuffle around as needed. I’ve just purchased a keyboard/video/monitor switch, so once I go through the setup, I’ll at least have laptops with decent keyboard and monitor!

Do have a look at the latest batch of photos, on www.flickr.com/photos/wishiwerebaking . I’ve taken up a bit of metalworking, primarily making windchimes out of titanium, and there are a few chime photos up there. If you’re interested in something other than the most recent photos, www.flickr.com/photos/wishiwerebaking/collections organizes all of the albums into collections, so it’s possible to navigate. For example:

  • Europe
    • Netherlands (10 albums)
    • Castles (16 albums)
    • England (2 albums)
    • Italy (7 albums)
    • Scotland (2 collections)
      • Around and About (48 albums)
      • Glasgow (47 albums)
    • Traveling About

And on it goes from there, fairly organized. 39,153 photos.

I can’t tell you that I’ll be blogging more, especially now that email subscriptions are being disabled by FeedBurner. We’ll see how it goes.

-D

Calendula Gone Mad

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Well, friends. The calendula never died & we’ve had a huge culling of the most intrusive ones. The silver bushes are taking off, as are a few other things which languished all last year. Lack of gophers is surprisingly good for gardening. T has planted tomatoes and a wee herb garden. Spring has sprung?

-D

Desperately Seeking Springtime

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How are you, friends?

It’s been a minute…

So, 2021. So much has changed, but on a personal level, aside from losses of friends and acquaintances to aging and the robbery of this pandemic, change has largely been confined to the pictures on the calendar. The most surreal aspect of the last eleven months “Living La Vida Covid” has been the effect of days turning to amber, and we, like prehistoric insects, hang in suspended animation. What would we be doing, if we weren’t here? That question goes round and round. We certainly would resume plans for our trip to Europe, we’d certainly meet our friends in Victoria for that lovely Canadian getaway we were anticipating last March, we’d certainly go leaf-peeping, flower-appreciating, and to the beach, finding our way away from the crowds. As it stands, we’re really supposed to stay home, and barring that, only do “essential travel” within a hundred and twenty miles of our home address. It is been, for people who used to simply fill a picnic basket and get into the car for a good wander up the coat, a bit difficult. People talk about hitting a “Covid wall.” Yep, we’ve been close a couple of times…

T’s latest book in November was chosen to be a book club selection for Parnassus Books in Tennessee, a prominent independent bookstore which occasionally makes book presentations on Good Morning America, and PBS NewsHour. (After her book was discussed on NewsHour, T is much more fond of Tennessee now, despite never having been there.) Social distancing hasn’t stopped the juggernaut of publishing, however, so she signed a couple hundred book plates, affixed them to a couple hundred books, and turned right around to sign another contract. In December T was pleased to finally get an appointment with the ophthalmologist, and receive her contact lenses! She’d only been waiting since March…

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Himself has continued to work for an expanding and contracting list of clients, who do fun things like requiring separate laptops (3 so far) so he can work on an HR approved machine for each company, and putting meetings on his calendar five minutes before they start, but unlike others, he’s still working, so despite the annoyance factor, we call it another win. T&D have continued a loose relationship with our chamber group, doing a tiny concert to be released on Valentine’s Day, but have mostly shifted to other hobbies which don’t require Zoom. D has continued to do more with metal work, and has machined himself a few metal working tools to use on his small lathe. With a new drill and sander, he is turning out beautifully anodized wind chimes, just for fun, and the garage is full of sawdust as he begins experimenting with wood. T, meanwhile, is missing the feel of physical books from the public library, but is grateful for used bookstore sales, the Little Free Library down the block, and reading for yet more awards so she can share yet more books.

As usual, California has received insufficient rain, and we regret the brevity of the chilly season, even as we are astounded over the bird bath freezing and the myriad freezing mornings. Cold makes cycling and walking something of a chore, and it’s too easy to get lazy during these times and take up baking like it’s an Olympic sport. As much as we dread another year of fires and horrible heat waves, we’re more than ready to battle allergies (already there, actually), gophers and weeds to get back into the garden. T’s favorite gift of the season remains the beginning of her seed and the seed companies have very helpfully sent along the usual enticing full-color catalogs. The annual Going Over Of The Expenses occurs right around tax time, and as the day approaches, T is very reluctant to look at how much she actually spent on plants and flowers this past eleven months, especially considering how many of them the gopher outright ate… no matter if one faithfully grows one’s own carrots, greens, onions and tomatoes, gardening is never going to be one of those things which is actually cost effective, sadly, but it does make us happy, even as we are screeching at the weird beetles and things that eat the lettuce. (Also note: we found what appear to be EARTHWORMS in the fountain. Since most worms DROWN in the lawn in the rain, we’re pretty sure they’re not earthworms, but how bizarre is that!? You learn something new every season, apparently.)

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So, according to the Lunar Cycle, it’s the Year of the Ox… for whatever it’s worth. It’s never a bad time to celebrate stolid placidity, we suppose, especially not during a global pandemic when it takes stolid, placid stubbornness to carry on, so here’s to that – and here’s to you.