Echoes of Glasgow

Way back in 2008, we were dealing with a horrible neighbor in Glasgow who felt that he needed to bring the pub party back to his basement flat … beneath us. It was truly awful, and exhausting, dealing with police who wouldn’t take any action, and a pipsqueak of a neighbor who just couldn’t understand that we needed rest, even if he didn’t.

Fast forward to another flat, and 8 years later, when the neighbor upstairs (again in Glasgow) decided to put on an album … and promptly pass out, leaving us to endure horrible bass going all night long.

You can imagine our consternation when the bass started up last night, here in Newark. After a few hours of hoping and waiting, when 10 p.m. rolled around I phoned the police … who asked where we lived … and then told us they’d been getting calls since about 6 p.m. and there was nothing they could do about it.

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Above is a shot taken from our driveway, looking out towards the Dumbarton bridge. We’re perfectly situated for Shoreline Amphitheater to blast the bass all the way across the bay, directly towards us, and for us to have to endure some other city’s lack of noise ordinance. Grr.

-D

Midsummer

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And on the Fourth Day, there were Fireworks. And again on the Fifth Day. And also the Sixth. And then the Eighth. For behold, once begun, no one seemed to be able to figure out how to stop having Fireworks, but we’re about to hunt them down and help them


We are coming up on almost a year living in this little house. We arrived the last day of the month a year ago, to dirt and chaos. This month, we’re sorting closets as if we were moving again, winnowing all of our possessions in the yearly “why do we have so much STUFF!?” fit that T throws.

(But seriously: why do we have so much stuff??)

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Things are still lovely here in beautiful brown Newark. We still get weird bursts of humidity. The light is still way too bright. God’s AC still turns on faithfully at about half two in the afternoon, and the slough still provides us with an astonishing variety of weird smells and odd noises in the middle of the night. (It is disturbing to hear things swimming when one leaves the windows open.) The “bandit cats,” as D one day called raccoons when he couldn’t remember the name for them, continue to be huge and disturbing and stare fixedly at one from eerie, backlit eyes. The crow guard continues to be… nosy, and have taken to moving the patriotic pinwheel some realtor left in our yard from whichever planter we put it in. At least they’ve mostly been leaving the fountain alone…

The newest Wild Kingdom entertainment is that we have ground squirrels undermining the bank in the back of the house and watching hawks pounce and strike at them… and being startled and horrified watching an egret do the same thing. It is NOT nice to watch something with that long of a neck attempt to swallow… Ugh, never mind.
Nature, y’all.

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As delightful as all of that has been, we’ve been a bit restless. Several news agencies reported on the research behind a story run in the Guardian about how $117 thousand a year is “low income” in some places in California, and how ridiculous it all is to struggle so hard to make ends meet. We had hoped to stay in this area long enough to retire, but after our trip to the Netherlands and visiting with friends from other states, we are at long last taking a serious look at other options for a slower life. This doesn’t mean we’re giving up on our various projects. We’re working on media for next year’s season of our chamber group already, finding ourselves somehow involved in helping with graphic and website design. We’re still doing fermentation projects (Fermented green plum pickles = amazing), and not yet giving up our summertime joys of cycling and putzing around the Farmer’s Markets or wherever. We’re giving ourselves ’til August to get serious about thinking, but… the thoughts are already sneaking in.

For so long, we thought we should stay in California because there were more ethnically mixed families here, and some of the more painful, oblivious, and/or overtly malicious interactions one can experience being part of a mixed family were at a minimum here. But, as the world so handily proves these days, racists are everywhere. We may as well just say “forget it,” and take our chances elsewhere.

For a long time, we felt like we couldn’t leave our church community. That’s …changed, and not in a wholly negative way, but we’re in a weird middle ground where we don’t have kids, and find a lot of things are very families-with-kids oriented. We’re in that same weird liminal space that probably a lot of single people get lost in, the This Is Not About You But You’re Welcome To Sit Here Anyway place, which can feel a bit alienating.

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The thing about communities is that they aren’t static, and neither are we, and sometimes, what was a good fit doesn’t remain so. Currently the not-good-fit that many churchy people are experiencing is the cognitive dissonance of religious communities who remain utterly silent in the face of atrocious goings on in the nation. One can grow up on tales of bold apostles and a social justice God, yet see nothing of this echoed in the behaviors of modern day saints. What does one do, when one believes that truth doesn’t just set us free, but speaking our truth can set others free to articulate theirs? There has to be a way to …speak out to lift the burdens of injustice while also respecting a distinct separation of church and state. And so, we join many others who are now wandering to find that new middle ground. It’s something which feels a little risky, but things have already been lost in a very amicable way – so being intentional is probably the best way to go about things. Perhaps one should just take a plunge and let go.

This all feels very adolescent, this itch for risk and change and new challenges. Probably this is the point at which most people would have a baby or something – but we’re late bloomers on every level, as usual. Instead we’ll probably just get matching nose rings and take off for South America or something.

Or, you know, just donate a lot of our stuff and move. Again.

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At D’s office… put up anonymously.

Same Story, Different Day: A Sermonette

This is taken from Rabbi Ruttenberg’s Twitter feed. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg is a writer and thinker T follows on Twitter.

We’ve seen this story before.
We seen this story before, when Pharaoh looked at the Israelite people and saw that they were “too numerous,” that they posed a demographic problem for his power, and decided that the solution was to oppress them.

We’ve seen this story before.

And, when even oppression didn’t work and he realized that the real way to terrorize a population was to go after their children. Yocheved hid the baby Moses from Pharoah’s army just as Jewish parents hid their children from the Gestapo, just as parents right now are hiding their children from ICE.

We’ve seen this story before.

We’ve seen this story before in this week’s Torah portion, when the Moabite king Balak saw the Israelites running fleeing persecution, saw them in the midbar–the wilderness, the liminal place–between danger and safety and he said, “they will lick us clean.” When he used dehumanizing language–they are so numerous that they “hide the earth from view” in order to justify what he was going to do next.

We’ve seen this story before.

So Balak goes to the seer, the prophet Balaam and demand that he curse the people. Balak doesn’t care what happens to them, he just wants them cursed, gone, no mater how they suffer. But after a series of surprising events, Balaam doesn’t curse the people Israel–he blesses them. And there’s this moment in the middle of all this blessing when he turns to face the wilderness, this limbo, this howling void between danger and safety.

He sees them camped in their tents. He probably sees families together, children and parents, maybe children playing, maybe groups of friends, maybe couples in love. He sees a people, vulnerable and frightened, yearning to breathe free. He sees them. The seeing and the blessing are intertwined. When he opens his eyes & heart to behold the Israelites’ beautiful, holy selves, created in the image of God, he is able to bless them. When we open our eyes to see the full humanity of others, we are able to bless them. And when we bless–when we give over of ourselves to others, when we offer something holy and true to another–we also expand our capacity to see them. When we look to see, we can bless. When we bless, we can better see.

This fight is going to be long.

We’ve seen this story before.

And we know that the Bible–regardless of what Jeff Sessions says–stands on the side of liberation. We know that the Bible stands on the side of the oppressed. We know that the Bible stands for safety and hope for all. And we know that the Bible demands that we take risks in the pursuit of justice.

This fight will demand a lot of different tactics.

The midwives–Shifrah & Puah–in Egypt engaged in strategic civil disobedience in order to protect oppressed human beings.

Pharaoh’s daughter leveraged her privilege & access in order to protect oppressed human beings.
God used God’s power and might in order to get the Israelites out of Egypt, in order to protect oppressed human beings.

And Balaam looked.

Balaam turned to see. He opened his eyes and his heart, accessed empathy, caring, concern in order to protect oppressed human beings.

We need to do all of these things.
The hour is upon us.
We need to be brave in our resistance.
We need to use all of our privilege and access.
We need to use all of our power and might.
And we need to open our eyes and hearts.

As we fight to create a world that is equitable and just, we must also create a world of caring and connection, of empathy and love. We must never forget to look, and to see.

We’ve seen the story of oppression before, but we’ve also seen the story of liberation before.

We’ve seen this story before.

And we know that we can create a world based on justice, and caring, and empathy, and liberation, and love.

Overcome evil with good… don’t let it drown you. You’ve seen this story before, and every time, good wins.

Plums Galore!

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Plums. They are … determined? Obstinate? Persistent? Annoying?

Yes.

We have several quarts of unripe plum paste. We have several gallons of unripe plum pickles. We have several more gallons of ripe plum paste. We. Are. Tired. Of. Plums.

We will, however, be making some plum pickles, and some plum jam, and maybe some other things. Made of plums. Lots and lots of Santa Rosa plums. Which keep falling off of the tree, and demanding to be picked up so as not to have wasps, etc.

Plums.

Pineapple

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I like to take some awfully strange photos, but this one… is sort of a photo of a strange photo. What’s puzzling is the absolute prominence of the pineapple. Why should there be a pineapple there, in the bottom left, and were pineapples even grown in Brazil, etc.?

“As the Enlightenment period made the rich richer, the landed aristocracy began to engage in a frenzy of new hobbies, including gambling, boozing, and time-consuming, expensive pineapple cultivation. Pineries needed care around the clock, custom-built greenhouses, and mountains of coal to keep the temperatures high. The fruit took three to four years to bloom. The cost of rearing each one was equivalent to eight thousand dollars in today’s money.”

The Strange History of the “King-Pine” hints as to the answers to those questions… while bringing up innumerable more questions. Definitely worth reading the article for the strange history.

– D

Oh, WoW … or, Why We Pack Snacks

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The return journey from The Netherlands was a truly epic trip, and not by design. The initial flight from Amsterdam to Keflavic was delayed arriving, so we spent an extra 2 hours sitting around Schiphol Airport (which … is not a great airport, frankly, and the cheap flight terminal is positively horrible). That flight was then delayed further because they’d mis-loaded a bag and had to remove it before we could take off. All of that meant that the flight was around 3 hours delayed arriving into Keflavic and most people weren’t staying there but were traveling onwards. So, the airline bumped the two flights most people were trying to catch (to LAX and SFO). That meant that the connecting flight had to find a new slot into SFO, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Netherlands 2018 1239 This meant we ended up sitting around Keflavic for 8 hours instead of 1.5. Then, as we were ready to leave Keflavic, 6 people had given up and booked alternate flights, but left their luggage, so THAT luggage had to be dug out from where it had been loaded. Then, finally, we had the 8.5 hour flight from Keflavic to SFO. By this time our booked shuttle had canceled on us, so we caught a 40 minute Lyft ride home. All told, we left our rented flat in Amsterdam something like 27 hours before we arrived home, having planned for something like half that.

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We did end up purchasing food in Keflavic (which … is horribly expensive, and we’ll be putting in a claim for reimbursement, because spending nearly $100 on a couple sandwiches, some yogurt, and some drinks … is rather obscene). But, mostly, we ate our own sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, and choices from an assortment of weird Dutch candy (mostly minty, some fruity, and included the random salty licorice). We also packed sliced apples (packed with sliced oranges, so the juice would keep them from going brown) and fresh cherries, knowing that wet and crunchy things are really what’s needed while in the air. Of course, we also packed our 1.5 liter water bottles & filled them at every opportunity.

Traveling like this (with our own food) may have begun as an effort to save money, traveling on budget airlines. Now, though, it’s just how we do things, and something we’ll keep on doing when we switch back to more mainstream air carriers. Which … we’ll be doing.

This is likely the last time we’ll fly with WoW, simply because it was so clumsily handled, and there were so many small problems along the way. WoW scores the worst in service, as well, which … yeah, we can see it. At times, sitting in Keflavic, we asked ourselves whether we were seeing the collapse of an airline, and whether we’d end up trapped in Iceland, having to book last minute tickets out on another carrier. That isn’t a feeling we’d like to repeat any time soon, and the extra $1,000 to fly with a reputable carrier would probably have saved us 15 hours of stressful sitting around.

We will leave you with this, from the Delft organ guy: yes, that is Despacito, played organ-grinder style.

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-D & T

Exit Signs

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You know you’ve been on vacation just that little bit too long when you’re contemplating rearranging the furniture in your rental. When you’ve been there long enough to be grumpy that there aren’t pans for baking, and you begin to start to examine real estate. Usually, one feels like vacations don’t last long enough, and that there’s not enough time to see friends and see the countryside, but this one was just long enough to see both, and wish to either stay forever, or go home.

We got to go out to Gemert to see friends one last time. T. has been challenged by a six year old to say her alphabet and count to an hundred in Dutch, so that’s her new life goal, so she can win a contest she had no idea she was entering (it is already uneven, since this child has Dutch in school, and has a more elastic brain. This is not going to go well). Mr. S. offered to introduce D. to his bosses, should he ever want a job here, and he will hold that lovely thought in stupid meetings where he’s annoyed with his current position. We will both hold the memory of the beautifully green countryside close, as we return home and summer bleaches the hills golden blonde.

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Our last full day was an Event, as the Market was in full swing again, and the organ grinder, of course, was back, playing TV theme songs and Beatles tunes. We ate at a bagel restaurant that had vegetarian options on the menu… as well as… bugs. No, really. For a bagel topping, you can get mealworms and crickets with your cream cheese instead of …jam? It was startling, to say the least… maybe next time. (Or, maybe never?)

After taking a gander at all of the things on offer, we visited an old-fashioned apothecary (for mosquito cures again) and met a New Zealander who has lived in Delft for twenty years – and her accent hasn’t budged a bit. We also met a woman from Edinburgh… who chased us down in the middle of the market because she was nosy enough to want to know why T was carrying a Macsween’s Haggis bag (which we got it in Scotland for groceries). We ran into a group of school kids on a huge scavenger hunt, and snagged our first cherries of the season! All in all, a good ending to a memorable trip.

And, then, of course, our exit flight was delayed, and our connecting hour and a half layover in Keflavik was delayed FIVE EIGHT HOURS. Apparently hurricane season, or something, has thrown storms along the path, and every single flight in this airport is delayed. The people trying to get to Texas have been here for EIGHT TWELVE HOURS, so we can’t complain. Much. Isn’t that always the way it goes? Here’s hoping they’ll announce our gate shortly.

… Happy Travels,

D&T

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Blocking Website Stupidity

If you’re someone who cleans up after your mess (i.e., you clear your browser cookies) then you’ll run into these irritating messages every time you visit a site and they’ve forgotten that they nagged you (because they don’t actually remember anything – they make your browser remember things for them, in cookies, and you can remove those memories any time you choose … like, when you shut down your browser). These messages would look like the huge waste of space banner, shown here taking up most of the page:

I hate these. They do not add anything, and they make you decide something you’d rather not decide. When I visit a page, I’m trying to read something, and I do not expect to be challenged to evaluate their privacy policy. Sites bank on this – they’re betting that you’ll just say OK and move on, without really considering what you’re agreeing to. Well, there’s a way around it (and it’s good to do anyway, honestly): install uBlock Origin and learn to use the wee eyedropper tool to select the garbage you never want to see again. I click the little shield in the top right of the window, then click the eyedropper, then click on the offensive piece of the page. I then work my way down the list of elements until I get the container that’s holding the garbage (in this case it’s a site-message container) and then simply tell it to go away.

It’s easy to do, takes fewer mental resources than looking at whatever idiotic policy they’re trying to get you to agree to, and it will persist even after you clear your cookies.

You do clear your cookies, right?

-D

“There Are More Important Concerns.”

“Travel makes one modest – you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world” – Gustave Flaubert

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Well, it was bound to happen. The first text message a week ago was just a little crack in the wall, as some eager beaver just had to tell D of exciting news from the office… and now today D has had to take a teleconference so that he can give his two cents on some whatever vendor tool for blah, blah, blah. The seal is broken, and the wall is crumbling. T is tallying the number of times D’s work mates have no boundaries and interrupt his well-earned and desperately needed vacation. She imagines kicking them smartly in the shins for each infraction.

(D worries when she gets on this topic, because he knows T, despite appearances to the contrary, is still somewhat feral and might actually tell them she’s imagined kicking them… while shifting her weight to one foot… But, we digress.)

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Now that the vultures are circling and we can see the end of our trip just a few days down the pike, T has put on her junior sociologist’s hat and continued to process some of the things we’ve observed throughout our travels in this intriguing country (and from living in Scotland).

Twenty days in a country doesn’t exactly give scope for a deep dive into its society, but because we’ve lived abroad before, it’s easier to have a basis for comparison. Now, we’re fond of our home state and the benefits it has given us – and we love air conditioning, garbage disposals, public libraries and window screens — all things Europe commonly does not have. — BUT sometimes, American attitudes and ways of looking at things leave something to be desired.

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The interesting differences in attitude we’ve observed between countries is this idea of being The Best. The Netherlands is an amazing, brilliant country… and they don’t go on about it. In Scandinavia, there are national social mores about humility and modesty. The “best” is something perhaps children strive for; while adults, in contrast, just seem content to get on with things. Maybe it’s just that lately the national conversation has become steeped in empty superlatives – “greatest” “most” “best” – maybe it just seems like this blabbing about how awesome we are is new, but it’s not, really. To a certain extent, there’s always been an attitude of competitive striving – that “pursuit of happiness” which came from an adolescent nation determined to prove to a parental kingdom that it wasn’t just some rebellious kid going off on their own. We never intended to come crawling back to Mama England, and that bullheaded stubbornness has informed a lot of the flavor of our country. Ironically, those with the most privilege in this nation still struggle to recognize it because there’s a sense of deserving more, which causes so many a deep unhappiness — even as indigenous, Black, and people of color still haven’t yet achieved equality — but that’s clearly a topic for another blog post.

Netherlands 2018 163“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things — air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky — all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

In contrast, in the Netherlands, there’s less an attitude of competition here than there is of normalcy. There is a phrase here about “just do the normal,” thus the word that crops up a lot in conversation is “typical Dutch x,” or “typical Dutch Y.” People believe that they are basically all about the same, and that “normal” is basically weird enough, and there’s no need to be seriously eccentric or try to stand out from the crowd… which flows right into another Netherlands phrase we’ve heard often on this trip, when the conversation has turned to deeper matters in terms of industry, religion, and politics: “There are more important concerns.”

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There are bigger stories; more important fish to fry. DB’s mother said it frequently, when speaking of religions reacting to gendering (churches are sluggish about inclusivity), or issues surrounding healthcare (she’s a physician). SC’s neighbor said it in passing when speaking of how the children in her daughter’s elementary school interacted. In almost every situation where our societal inclination would be to harp on a point or insist on clarification, explanation, or agreement, the reaction we’ve observed is for people to sit back and remark that there are more important things to worry about. Normal, after all, is weird enough.

This idea is kind of fascinating.

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We thought we understood about people kind of having a live-and-let-live attitude from living in the UK, but honestly, Scots are rather opinionated and are quite free with their opinions. (Just get into a cab once and have the driver tell you that you’re wasting his time and could have walked where you needed to go. THAT’s always fun when you’re lost.) We’re told that the Dutch are, too, but rather than air that opinion in an insistent way, apparently once they get to know you, they’ll simply put it out there and go on. If there’s disagreement, the opposing opinion is just put out there, and people go on. It’s not as if people don’t argue – but there has just seemed to be less of a competition for who has the last word. It’s interesting.

Maybe it’s that we’re still guests in all of the places we’ve been, and they’re just listening to us go on. Maybe they’re all secretly laughing at us. Who knows? Maybe there really are more important concerns, and they’re away getting on with them. And, so we will, too.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

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