Hunebedden & Goat Horns

Netherlands 2018 954

It’s funny how easy it is to slip into being “one of the kids” in a big family. After church and lunch with DB’s folks, we all crammed into her Dad’s big van and went on the traditional after-church hike. They drove us out to Megalithic era burial mounds called ‘dolmens,’ or, in Dutch, hunebedden (they’re literally translated as “giant beds,” as the old Dutch word for ‘giant’ is ‘huyne’). These artifacts at Hunebedcentrum are a lot like a shorter Stonehenge, and were dug up/placed between 3400-2850 BC, making them older than the pyramids in Egypt. Probably because no one went haring off to The Netherlands to dig up antiquities (and basically enslave the people), they’ve been largely left alone (there are something like fifty-four of them in the whole country), except by the Germans during WWII – they wanted an airfield, so they dug them up and moved them, displacing the sand and artifacts inside of them…

Netherlands 2018 957

Aaaand, shortly afterward, the Dutch moved them back.

Anyway. The sign said that archaeologists call the people who built them the Funnel Beaker culture, because they left funnel-shaped beakers and pitchers in the grave below, but obviously you don’t get to see all of that.

It was an interesting trek to the dolmen – through a rather dry type of woods and kind of dune-land outside of a farmland (there were roaming bands of sheep, dogs, and an actual shepherd). Netherlands 2018 980 We noticed that the ground underfoot was wet, because it had rained, but it wasn’t horribly sticky, because it was…sandy. And yet again we were reminded that The Netherlands has an awful lot of low-lying land that is near or below sea level. There was a lot of interesting wildlife to see on the trail – aside from the 900 varieties of birds and the gigantinormous mosquitoes and dragonflies, there were a lot of beetles that at first appeared black, but turned out to be a sort of iridescent blue. Netherlands 2018 975 There were numerous tangles of blackberry brambles along the trail, bushes full of what our hosts called “red berries” (red currants) and honeysuckle vines. The trees and bushes were totally different from the types of vegetation we’d gotten used to just a couple of hours away in Delft. And yes, this concludes the Pathfinder/Scout badge portion of this trip… if you end up hiking in another country, you’ll get excited about the flowers/trees/bugs too. (Have we mentioned that this country has storks? Giant, long-legged storks in huge nests up on poles in the middle of the towns… and really long-eared bunnies…? Okay, okay, fine. Enough with the wildlife.)


Netherlands 2018 1058

It’s hard to know what to say about Giethoorn. It was settled by a bunch of peat farmers and fisherman. A 10th century flood revealed a great many goat horns (gietehorens) in the area, thus its goat-y name. It’s basically an old settlement in the middle of peat islands, and the only solid land is where the houses are… the rest is all floating reeds, bridges (about 170 of them in a tiny village with less than three thousand people) and …water. So much water.

Netherlands 2018 1122

It’s beautiful and quaint, and still. That peat is protected land now and the reeds used to thatch the roofs is also grown in the area, and there’s a certain kind of boat called a Giethoorn punter that is made specifically for that area (punters are poled through the canals by a person standing up and in the back, someone has another pole going in circles as the rudder. Local kids are able to do the whole thing BY THEMSELVES; you can tell the tourists because it takes three people to make the boat move). It’s a cozy and gorgeous place… if you get there early enough. If you don’t, you’re at the mercy of tour boats with loudspeakers, hordes of visiting families who are quite sure they can drive an electric boat (only residents are allowed access to the speed provided by gas engines), badly paddled canoes, hordes of cyclists, people shoving cameras into every open doorway, and residents just trying to get on with their daily lives. Oh, and also, a lot of ducks.

Netherlands 2018 1089

It’s a tiny place, but also huge, in a way. There are something like ninety kilometers – or about fifty-five miles – worth of roads in this small village, and they’re all water roads… so there’s plenty of place to take a boat… and run it into the shore, or up onto the reeds, or tip it over… yeah, you get the idea. It must be such a lovely place to live outside of tourist season… but much of time time, “tourist season” only stops for rain and snow. Fortunately, it rains a lot… we couldn’t imagine living with that level of scrutiny. It was like Disneyland, only the homes of the people were what everyone gawked at constantly. We were lucky, because DB has both worked for a boat tour company and her brother attended primary school in the village, so they know tons of people there, and could skillfully slide us through behind the scenes. Netherlands 2018 1022 We visited a mineral museum called De Oude Aarth (The Old Earth) and were surprised to find they had small crocodiles (!) and a ton of really great rocks – huge pieces of amethyst and petrified wood sourced from all over the world. There was a museum shop which had many pieces used as furniture – how’d you like a twenty-three thousand Euro table made of a gorgeous slab of petrified wood? Or an end table made up entirely of amethyst? (Someone wanted it; it was marked as sold.) For all the misery of having so many tourists dropping by, clogging up the waterway every weekend, at least businesses seem to be doing well!

Netherlands 2018 1118

But the most fun thing for us was traveling back to DB’s house, up the quiet canal and pulling up to the back of her house again. Her little brother explained to us that kids in the Netherlands get boat licenses at the age of 12, and are expected to not exceed certain speeds until they’re eighteen and have a full license to move through the waterways. The level of freedom and responsibility is really different – we observed families with a high level of communication between old and young and a lot of respect and compromise on both sides. It was really interesting to compare and contrast it to American families.

Netherlands 2018 1086

We have a lot of preconceptions about how things are “supposed” to go, how people are “supposed” to act. As Americans, it’s important to remember that we come from a judgmental Puritan past, and that it is where we get a lot of the ideas about society. We have a lot of “shoulds” we tend to put on other people, and it’s not good. This trip has been a reminder about not judging other culture and people, and instead observing and keeping our mouths closed. The quality of life in Europe is one of the most highly regarded in the world… and the people we’ve seen seem happy and content, even though they’re not the richest or the most successful in some ways. We’ve closely observed two host families and done a lot of thinking… and there’s something to be said sometimes for doing things NOT the American way. It’s something to think about.

-D & T

Living

Waterloopbos 1

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Thoreau

Thoreau was, of course, a Mama’s boy who “went to the woods” about as long as Christopher Robin did, with plenty of time to get back for tea, and sleeping each night beneath his parents’ roof. Still, it’s not his fault that a modern misunderstanding of 19th century English gentlemen and the weight of literary tradition made him out to be some über-naturalist; he went out into the wilds about as long as most of us would care to. There’s STUFF in the woods. Mainly stuff that bites; we saw a tick at the edge of the grass, and Himself had a gumball-sized knot on his side from what we think might have been a horsefly-ish kind of thing? Our personal collection of welts and weals from midges and mosquitoes weigh lightly against the liquid trill of starlings and thrushes, the soughing of the wind in the leaves, and the susurrus of water over rocks and reeds. Our weekend was filled to the brim with people – enough so that T’s introvert soul shuddered – but the myriad long walks were really restorative. (Click through this picture; it’s a video, but WordPress doesn’t play those in-browser anymore, so…)

Gemert – pronounce the ‘g’ as ‘h,’ s’il vous plait – is in an area of lovely, big trees, and about an hundred shades of green. The Netherlands don’t have a lot of hills, as it’s a lot of land reclaimed from the sea, but the forests are quite something, even though they’re mostly planted by hand, though the hundreds of years We really liked the Southeast of Holland, and since the rain and cooler weather returned, we liked it even better. Eindhoven, a tech-rich city which got a lot of German attention during the war, is fairly utilitarian (READ: ugly), but tidy brick villas of Gemert make for the quintessential storybook European village look. Lots to photograph, but the most fun was to step off of a bus and walk around a corner to see a friend opening her front door and waving wildly. We spent a lovely day with S. and her boys and will return Wednesday to have dinner with them (and to allow Mr. S to make another pitch to D about moving to Europe and working at his company ☺).

One of the other drawbacks of days with people is that we’ve fallen behind in our storytelling and in uploading photographs, but we’re taking today to just catch up and rest up. More to come!

A little National Poetry Month

You, neighbor god, if sometimes in the night

You, neighbor god, if sometimes in the night
I rouse you with loud knocking, I do so
only because I seldom hear you breathe
and know: you are alone.
And should you need a drink, no one is there
to reach it to you, groping in the dark.
Always I hearken. Give but a small sign.
I am quite near.

Between us there is but a narrow wall,
and by sheer chance; for it would take
merely a call from your lips or from mine
to break it down,
and that without a sound.

The wall is builded of your images.

They stand before you hiding you like names.
And when the light within me blazes high
that in my inmost soul I know you by,
the radiance is squandered on their frames.

And then my senses, which too soon grow lame,
exiled from you, must go their homeless ways.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Poems from the Book of Hours

Jazz Hands, Buttons & Irony

2013 Benicia 005

A chilly, damp, late winter morning, and already the doves are creating their mindless racket atop the neighbor’s house. The fake owls do absolutely nothing to convince the doves of their ferocity, so they’re nesting next to it. Doves in chorus sound a great deal like chickens volubly remarking upon the laying of an egg, so you know there’s all sorts of raucous nonsense going on. Whoever likened the cooing of doves to something pure and mild clearly never lived anywhere near them. Typical.

Fremont 98

Inasmuch as the time change has thrown us completely – when will someone take seriously the idea to do away with such indignities!! – it is, at least, a sign that this winter of diseases is crawling to a close. If you’ve been one of those who have ridden the coughing carousel, unable to dismount, you have our empathy. Fortunately, after the January/February illness phase, we’ve been healthier, if exhausted. Not so much from dreich, gray skies and the eternal fogbank in which our house sits, but because of … enforced levity. Who knew smiling could be so tiresome? Oh, yes – our comedy show is coming up this weekend, and in this household, we are heartily sick of a.) lines concluding with “fa-la-la-la,” b.) Gilbert and Sullivan, c.) songs ending with “jazz hands” d.) songs containing tubas, e.) kazoos. And did we mention fa-la-las?!

On one hand, we frequently remind ourselves that our director’s insistence that we MEMORIZE such gems is staving off the encroachments of Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, should one keep singing songs with fa-la-las, dementia is practically assured…

Pleasant Hill 170

All snark aside, T has had her six month meeting with her doctor regarding her autoimmune, and after numerous blood tests and kidney tests, appears to be as well as medical science can make her just now. Though the grinding grey exhaustion continues, and the medication only ameliorates some of the symptoms, because it is so toxic, we’ve decided to keep it as minimal of a dose as possible. This means that the excessive collagen buildups, which produce thick harpy fingernail/claws continues – but the autoimmune continues to attack the nailbeds, soooo… the nails fall off. Neat, huh? The breakdown of skin also affects hair follicles, so while hair grows quickly, it also fills the brush and dusts the shoulders in a continual silent fall.

…one never imagines oneself as particularly vain until one is female and facing massive hair loss. And then, one discovers, oh, suddenly, painfully, that one is VERY VAIN INDEED.

Life is just full of opportunities to learn one’s limits, is it not? Wouldn’t it have been fun to learn about this limit, oh, never?! But, alas.

Button Clips 1

One of T’s more random hobbies has been to take interesting old buttons and, adding them to various clips or jump beads or other findings, make some sort of hair jewelry or brooch or whatnot. It’s something mentally freeing to do whilst listening to podcasts, and has been a convenient means of creating small, handmade gifts for small people… and herself. Knowing T’s predilection for hair jewelry, for her birthday this year, her parents presented her with, among other things, a lovely set of bejeweled combs from Macy’s… the day after she’d hacked five inches from her hair and given up on doing more than wearing a headband.

O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” came to mind, both awful and amusing at the same time. T. quietly rewrapped the combs and returned them, not having the heart to mention it to her parents.

Hair comes, and hair goes, and seasons, ever-changing. Fa-la-la-la.

A Mostly Pictorial Panko Lemon Garlic Tofu Recipe

Okay, so some people just HATE tofu. T, who grew up with it from childhood, LOATHED it until at some point in her twenties when… she got over it. It’s … just like any other ingredient, in that it’s a Thing to which you add Other Things and then it has flavor. Of course, meat allegedly has its own flavors even without additions, but that’s the blood, and we’re ignoring that. Meat (sans sangre) is flavorless, just as tofu is flavorless. As an ingredient, tofu is fine, and, even better, is lacking weird stringy bits and wobbly things you don’t want to identify. It’s a perfectly reasonable food, you just have to season it.

Crispy Lemon Garlic Tofu 1

This recipe is adapted from Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken‘s.

We realized that, like most people, we’d fallen into a meal rut, with winter casseroles and heavy, savory things like beans. Our attempt at something piquant and unique was this dish, which is both crunchy and tangy. It turned out surprisingly well, it was (mostly) easy and quick to prepare, and a good use of odds and ends for side dishes and whatnot. And, if you love someone vegan or vegetarian? It’s well worth preparing during this ridiculous Hallmark holiday… celebrating the tang of lemon as an antidote to the saccharine of the holiday. *cough* Or something.

Crispy Lemon Garlic Tofu 2

The marinade calls for two lemons, zest and juice; three cloves of garlic, agave, water, salt, and pepper. T left out the agave, and added a tablespoon of tapenade leftover from something, far more garlic than called for, and then she microwaved the lemons, which made them delightfully juicy. (And messy.) (She also did a frankly terrible job of zesting the lemons, because though frozen lemons preserve their great skin, after defrosting, the lemons are too juicy to work with, and the skin on Meyers especially is too thin and delicate, so, a word to the wise: zest the frozen lemons before defrosting, or better yet, before you freeze them…) It’s said that the tofu can marinate for up to three days in this blend, but we find that if we remove the water its packed in, tofu doesn’t need more than a half hour to marinate. We laid out our tofu chunks on a cookie sheet, stacked the sheets, and weighed them down with a cast-iron skillet. After an hour, we poured off all the water, unstacked the pans, and poured on our marinade. After about twenty minutes, we put the tofu in a series of zip-top bags, all of which proceeded to leak. (ANNOYING.)

Crispy Lemon Garlic Tofu 3

We’d forgotten how much of a chore the multi-step dredging food in flour and panko can be… since we’d not made anything which required these steps in about a year and a half, the last time we made faux crab cakes (squeeze-dried shredded zucchini, panko, Old Bay – tasty). Fortunately, after all the plate-of-flour-and-seasonings, plate-of-wet-binding, messy-sticky-hands thing, we discovered that this tofu dish works nicely baked – and there’s less a chance that your chef will get bored and forget she has something on the stove. Ahem.

IMG_20180211_190549

It’s easy to leave dish as vegan, as is, or, if you’re feeling particularly beleaguered that you’re ACTUALLY EATING TOFU and it’s NOT EVEN IN AN ASIAN DISH, you can use an egg whipped with water to make the recipe safely animal-product-y. The flour dredging is a place to layer in the flavors, to give your tofu the taste you prefer. We entirely forgot the nutritional yeast in the breading, but added pretty much everything else, including random herbs not called for, old packets of Parmesan from pizzerias, a sprinkle of Old Bay, even more garlic (because since when is three cloves enough????), and ground cayenne (because: we add it to EVERYTHING). Each time we ran short of the dredging blend, we remade it differently, and T didn’t follow any measurements at all. (It’s a wonder anything she makes ever turns out.) We did a test run of this dish after making something else, just in case, but it’s good enough to serve as a main dish with a couple of sides. The lemon shines through, and the exterior crunch is a nice contrast to the soft tofu insides. (It’s not as soft as it would have been, as firm tofu gets even MORE firm when you’ve a.) frozen it and b.) pressed out all of the water. If you dislike tofu for texture reasons, you might try that.) The recipe inventor finishes this with parsley and sliced lemons, but tonight, we’re going to make a buttery lemon sauce, which will really bring out that lovely tang. Pair this with steamed veg like green beans or asparagus, a lemon-infused rice, or lemon pasta, or savory roasted sprouts.

This was a surprisingly delicious meal, and perfect for the suddenly chilly evening. Here’s to home cooking, and the attractive nuisance that is a bored person in a kitchen.

Signs

Newark 104

Years ago, when we lived in Santa Rosa, late January-February was when we cut back the rosemary to stumps, in preparation for it to begin to grow again in April and May. We usually cut the rose back then, too. It’s funny how we try and use one calendar anchor to apply to everywhere. Saturday was a balmy 70°F/21°C, while Sunday was a nippy 55°F/12°C. It’s hard to know when to prune anything anymore. With the weather all over the place, our internal calendars are a total mess.

Still, there are signs of the season – from the itching of our ears to the earlier rising of the sun. We watch the trees change like stop-motion photographs, each morning as we step out for our brief, brisk walk through the waking neighborhood. As the sun is normally barely an idea yet during our walks, we don’t often see the shift in full color, but we got a late start for our weekend walk, and enjoyed seeing the nests, buds, and blooms in full color.

Peachtree 87

It’s been an all over the place sort of weekend. Inasmuch as the weather appears unsure what time of year this is, we’re fairly confident that it’s Spring from the amount of dust that’s drifted in, and the way our houseplants have overgrown their pots. One of the nicer things about our little house is its big, deep tub in the master bath, and the the deep garden windows in the kitchen. Both of these things, however, are absolutely an annoyance to clean. The window, especially, into which we put new screens just last summer, is a single pane, and the window is made of unfinished marble. It tends to let in dust, immigrating spiders, and it collects water stains like a pro. After removing all the plant clutter, we washed all of the windows and tried to put a shine on the marble. T. is grateful to D for taking on the body origami which made this tidying up possible.

There are always some chores which seem to be reserved for “spring” cleaning. (Question: why do there seems to be no specified clean-outs for the other seasons? Perhaps in spring, there is the assumption that one has to clean out all the things it wasn’t possible to clean out or dispose of during winter – and so come Spring, detritus was burned, graves were dug, linens washed and houses were turned out, and those weren’t such issues during summer or autumn, maybe? Possibly? Sounds legit, no?) While we normally are annoyed with windows which are speckled and spotty when the sun shines, the heavy fog hasn’t allowed for much to look at before this past week, so we’ve let that chore slide. We caught up this weekend. Additionally, though we generally sharpen knives as needed, we discovered that in the last while, they all seem to have gone dull, so that was another chore for the morning. As always, when one begins thinking of specific things one ought to do, the list multiplies…! The bird bath! The hummingbird feeder! And on and on and on…

Peachtree 92

Few people have a specific time of year to re-pot plants, but with the way our Saintpaulia (the scientific name of what some people call “African” violets, though they’re more specifically Tanzanian violets, as they don’t grow all over Africa, but people are generally lazy or else don’t know Africa isn’t one country) has responded to being in the little garden window, it’s already been necessary once in the seven months since we’ve moved closer to the Bay. T is always gratified with how well her little violets grow, because she once thought they were the most finicky, easy to kill plant she’d ever had — and as they succumbed, D kept getting them for her (!!!). She realized why about two years ago during a rare trip to D’s parent’s house in Southern Cal, watching D’s mother prune her two dozen or so Saintpaulia plants. Now, we say “prune” but what we mean is “take a chef’s knife and violently cleave a plant in half while making desultory small talk.”

Chit-chat-chit-chat-chit-cha–SLAM!

It was some next-level, mafiosi-style intimidation, if that’s what his mother intended. As the cleaver came down T took a GIANT step back and asked weakly, “Um, what are you doing?” (“Um,” because, even after twenty-plus years of marriage, neither T nor D know have found comfortable names to call their inlaws. In the rare conversation, “Um” so far has worked.) “Oh, this is how you cut them back,” D’s mother said blithely. “You can start a whole new plant from a single leaf, just like this!”

Well, okay, then!

At our house, T prefers to hand D a TINY knife, because she’s still sure she’s going to kill the plants every time she has to divide them, but so far, so good… and so far, the mafiosi hasn’t dropped by, so that’s a plus as well.

Sing Out Niles 1

Sunday afternoon, we attended a community sing, sponsored by our chamber group, which was dedicated to love songs. It occurred to us that we hadn’t really done anything like this since we’d returned from Glasgow, where groups getting together for a “sing-song and a cuppa” is much more common. While there was no tea this time, there were quite a number of people out and about, in the historical tiny town-within-a-town of Niles. As this had been advertised throughout the community, we expected a lot of at least choir folk, but were amused to see one of D’s bosses there, as well.

The program was held in the historic Niles church, historic, because there has apparently been an operating church in that location since 1889, before Niles was incorporated as part of Fremont in 1956. For all its historical nature, the church is quite modern inside, a small, tidy space with soaring ceilings, which lent itself well to the music of the grand piano mid-stage.

The program was a combination of goofy and endearing, as the songs ranged from all the verses of “You Are My Sunshine” (none of which, regrettably, was the verse we learned at summer camp about the pig) to Neil Diamond’s “I’m A Believer” (or, as most people said, “No, that’s a Monkees song!” Yeah, yeah, but Neil wrote it), then to a melancholy Queen song which few people knew (and which no one could sing, because, it was pitched for tenors who never pitch things for the average person). In the single hour we we sang rounds, then two, and four-part rounds; ooold oldies from generations back (“Kisses Sweeter Than Wine) and even older ooold “olde” English folk songs (“I Gave My Love A Cherry”). We then ended with a newly composed, four part song from the Justice Choir Songbook called We Choose Love, written by a Colorado composer and musician who was inspired last summer by peaceful civic protests in her area. As the chamber will be performing in a May concert titled “And Justice for All,” we fully expect that song will be seen again.


Newark 103

After such a fun community-oriented afternoon, the wind came up and blew the temperature into the low forties, and we gladly bundled into a hot bath and into bed. We hope all of your planning this weekend – and your cleaning and organizing – lead to a fruitful and well-prepared you this week – or at least some semblance thereof of an organized, better you. Ciao!

Beyond ‘Bright-Side’

Peachtree 83

Sometimes, you’re just not ready for the holidays when everyone else is… if you hated Christmas last year, this might be for you.


A friend a few weeks ago was talking about how hard it had been for her to recover from the death of her father. She’d thrown herself into finishing graduate school and getting a good job, ignoring the loss of any real meaningfulness to these activities. “I was working as hard as I could to ‘make it,’ but it wasn’t making sense to me,” she said. “This ‘brightside’ culture we live in wouldn’t allow me to admit that I’d hit a downward spiral when my father died, and I’d never recovered.”

I’d never heard of the phrase, “bright-side culture,” but my friend was using it to describe not only American culture, but the faith community in which she grew up. Predicated on the idea that Christians are a joyful people, ‘bright-side culture’ exists to keep us on the sunny side. If you are not particularly sunny, worse, if you are actively unhappy, or in any way deviating from that joyful #blessed life, you are saying somehow that God is at fault, or not enough for you… and for Christians, that’s anathema. No one wants to admit that something within might be broken.

We might assume that only within Christian religious circles do people have this overwhelming pressure of happiness, but it’s rising all around us. Google hired a “Chief Happiness Officer.” Yep, seriously – and Google’s not the only one. Yale University’s ‘Psychology and the Good Life’ saw 1200 students enrolling this past autumn, because it’s billed as a twice weekly course on “how to be happy.” Gallup polls suggest that this is true not just of undergrads – but of most Americans. Though we have more than we’ve ever had before, the buoyant, ebullient, stereotypical American optimism is failing. We are – as a culture – not happy.

It’s a strange time in American history.

It might a good time in American history to stop avoiding our truths, however.

We were really thoughtful this past holiday, reading write-ups of area churches doing Blue Christmas services. Especially when there’s so much enforced cheer to go around during the holidays, which plunges so many into unanticipated depression, Blue Christmas services essentially provide a place to weep and be unapologetically morose without the pressure of being greeted with “Happy Holidays!” or the gaudy brightness of bows and colored lights. A choir-mate this year lost her husband after our second concert, and we thought of her on Christmas day, wretchedly trying to make the season bright for her children. Sometimes, it’s pointless to pretend. We need to identify and affirm that we are, at times, deeply unhappy.

The original Christmas story remembers darkness – the magi were watching dark skies for portents when they saw the natal star. “The people that walked in darkness” are the same people who eventually see “a great light,” but not everyone walks at the same pace. The light comes to everyone different times.

This doesn’t mean it isn’t there, however.

We have often found the light after the worst of times – when we really think, “Okay, this is some CRAP, and we’re done.” Sometimes we find that light simply by watching the skies, and waiting; breathing through the distress. Other times, we find that light by doing something for others which reignites our own flame. The writer Omid Safi suggests doing a good turn for someone, stating, “Even more, there is something about a righteous deed that is virtuous in itself: It is faith in the loveliness of a simple act of kindness — apart from whether it will be reciprocated, whether we will live long enough to see its fruits. Acts of beauty are redemptive in and of themselves. So let us, friends, keep planting.” (If you need a little brightening, read his whole brief essay on planting and the hope it genders on the days we’re sure the world won’t be around long enough for us to see a seed grow.)

As we’re dragging ourselves along – some newly ill, others rebounding through variation 430,959,806 of whatever this cough-fever-chills thing is; some slogging through work, others on the endless interview rotation, and fearing they’ll never find a job, remember that hope is not mere optimism. Optimism is based on …optics, how we see the world. In the words of Desmond Tutu, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Hope is a refusal to surrender, so keep walking, keep planting, and keep going.

Happy Monday.

Tastes Like Moral Superiority

Toldja not to drink that “raw” water.

You Are What You… Ah, Californians. We are known for our obsessive obeisance to our bodies. The derisive label of ‘fruits and nuts’ expanded to ‘crunchy granola’ as we became known for vegetarianism, macrobiotics, yoga, gluten-free everything, veganism… and alkaline, “live” and raw water, which appears to be the latest (completely made-up for marketing to the giardia unwary) thing. Our state has become synonymous with free range, grass-fed, organic everything, and the gospel of California Wellville dovetails beautifully with the pinched ideals of traditional American Puritanism, that of perfection, rigidity, guilt, and blame: if you’re sick, it’s really your own failings. You should have done better; you could have saved yourself. After all, I TOLD YOU HOW. Don’t you know, you are what you eat???

If you feel this is gross exaggeration, just talk to anyone who has had cancer, or has a child who struggles with attention deficits or hyperactivity or, worse, falls anywhere along the autism spectrum. Each of them will have a story of some earnest and well-meaning soul who suggested alfalfa pills, acupuncture, or Atkins, chided them for not adhering to a plant-based diet, or insisted that it was all of the dyes / carbs / caffeine/ vaccinations which was to blame. Those folk generally leave the people they mean to help feeling defensive, defeated, battered, and dismayed. Truth is, we all just want to feel better, to help each other feel better. Too often, though, we attach a moral price tag to our health choices, and we embrace our beliefs like they are a true religion.

Myokinetic soft tissue massage, Dr. Louie

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth… We’re less susceptible to the lure of the quick cure, as we do make a huge effort to read up on research and keep current with medical stuff, as we’re required to do by the doctor we’ve seen for the last five years. Since December, we’ve been seeing a myo-kinesthesiologist twice a month, and going through some (fairly brutal) body corrective exercises, stretches, and adjustments to help T deal with the diminished mobility due to her autoimmune disorder, and with issues surrounding D’s degenerated disc – two things which are annoying, but just a feature of our lives. In consequence, some months ago had a conversation with an acquaintance on topics of health wherein she insisted that diabetes could be cured with exercise and a vegan diet, and that we could be pharmaceutical-free if we’d only change our diet. When D pushed back, she reminded him that his body was a temple, that he was what he ate, and that, in essence, if he failed to follow her prescribed way of living, subsequent illness was his own fault. It’s always awkward when someone asking how you’re doing is a pit trap lined with sharpened sticks, isn’t it? Predictably (as those who know him will agree) the next day D said, “Let’s visit a cannabis dispensary!” This suggestion was also, equally predictably, followed by a “WHAT!?” and a very long wrangling discussion indeed.

Take It With A Pinch Of… Despite both of us having the knowledge that a prescription opiate drug user is morally no better than a cannabinoid user, and that both drugs have legal medical uses (though only one is quite as open to fatal abuse and overdose), the idea of cannabis was still hard for T. to get her head around. The moral price tag placed on drug use in this society is real, especially for those of us raised in conservative faiths, or in those faiths which observe dietary strictures. (It’s double-jeopardy for Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, and some Orthodox Christians.) Then, there remains the historic stigma surrounding people of color and cannabis use, to the extent that when T mentioned D’s desire to an acquaintance, their first response was to ask if she’d next be knitting Rastafarian caps… not moving to Haight Street with the hippies or attending the Coachella festival, both places typically known for their majority white cannabis users, but knitting Rastafarians caps, referencing black Jamaicans who use cannabis as part of a poorly regarded sociopolitical/religious movement. It wasn’t any wonder that once the decision was made, T. still elected to stay in the car.

For those now alarmed about our ethics, it may be important to note that first, the human body actually has an endocannabinoid system, through which it produces its own cannabinoids (which is responsible for chocolate euphoria, natch), and, second, that cannabis derived cannabidiol (CBD) is similar to the THC found in marijuana, except it’s non-psychoactive, and does not produce a euphoric high, containing, as it does, insufficient THC to do so. (Though cannabis is highly cultivated and hybridized, of the three main types, only one has that euphoric ingredient; the other is used to make industrial-use hemp rope and contains the pain-relieving CBD, while the third simply makes a mediocre ground cover, apparently.) Animal studies of cannabinoid topicals show reduced pain in animals with inflammation or neuropathic pain. Topical creams containing CBD have been proven effective pain-relievers in humans, too (though the joint 2017 study by The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine doesn’t have as much information on how and why and for how long as one might want). Finally, history reveals that the criminalization of cannabis use, and the sweeping generalizations about its effects on certain populations were purposeful — a targeted, deliberate second step extending the incarceral state of African Americans begun with the Atlantic slave trade… all this to say, some of our reflexive prejudices surrounding cannabis use have been highly manipulated, but for now, we’ll put our sociologist’s hats aside and get on with the story.

It’s a Piece of Cake…Despite the current legality of cannabis for medical and recreational use, and despite the hundreds of apparently legal products on the market for the last several years, it was clear that many of the people sidling up to the nondescript metal door just past the corner of Apple Street still also viewed their visit as a wildly transgressive act. T observed with wry amusement that there were quite a few car-sitters with her, with several other people standing across the street and surveying the other customers, or waiting outside for a friend to arrive before going in. Some scuttled in, guiltily, while the bros swaggered and wink-nudged one another like ninnies. The range of humanity from 21 – 80+ was vast, though the majority was older middle and college-aged. Affluently dressed, or in tracksuits, there was a steady stream of business. Inside, the set-up was like an old fashioned pharmacy, with a long, high counter from behind which the workers stood to help customers individually. Items pointed to and described were brought from behind the counter, while customers lingered to ask anxious questions (How much should I take? What will happen?); some eyeing the guards (who were checking ID at the door and loitering with intent, every five feet) nervously.

Tacos 1

As we pulled away with our purchase (a topical cream), T. read the ingredients, which proudly claimed to be “all natural.” (Yes, well.) With the exception of CBD, the ingredients could have been found in any high-end massage cream – sweet almond oil, plant and nut extracts, emu oil(!), menthol, Vitamin E, aloe, Shea butter, arnica, and essential oils were hardly surprising. The label listed the preparation as good for back pain, and so, after showering in preparation for bed, we applied the cream to a limited area on D’s back, and on T’s neck, with the expectation that we would wait an hour to try another spot, or see if we needed to reapply.

In A Nutshell… CBD works by increasing the body’s natural endocannabinoids, decreasing its inflammatory response, and desensitizing its pain receptors. We didn’t know what to expect, having read very mixed reviews for the myriad creams on the market (we used the Sacramento lab affiliated, and more expensive Carter’s Aromatherapy Cream). For D’s back, the pain relief was jaw-droppingly near-instantaneous. Because T had massaged it in, he hadn’t been sure (when you’re putting pressure on a painful area, it’s hard to notice when it quits hurting) of this, so he simply dabbed, then smoothed the cream into T’s neck. Within minutes, the pain there was also simply erased. We experimented on other areas, and found that for use in smaller joints (fingers, wrists) the topical cream was very responsive. For larger joints (hips) there was minimal pain interruption (we didn’t have knee pain, so depending on joint size and issue, that may vary). CBD only penetrates to work within the first centimeter of skin – if the inflicted area is close to surface, all well and good, but if it’s surrounded by bone or many ligaments, an Advil might better do the trick.

The faintest indication of pain returned almost five hours later in D’s back, and roughly about the same time for T’s neck, though both experienced a much more reduced intensity of pain, an effect which lasted over twelve hours before the pain ramped up to resume to its normal pitch.


So now for the first time since being born here, T feels very Californian, having used her first cannabis-derived, wholistic, all-natural, yadda, yadda, yadda. We entered into this… excursion, mainly as an exercise in opposition (not gonna lie, some of us are still defiant adolescents at heart sometimes), but were made hopeful for the applications of science to use these compounds to alleviate die-ease – not just in terms of neuromuscular pain, but there are applications for cystic acne and widespread eczema (apparently CBD is an antioxidant), chemotherapy-related nausea and digestive issues, as well as anxiety disorders, too. As our particular issues continue to be a part of our lives, we’re grateful for treatment that doesn’t unduly disrupt the body more than necessary. For now, “You are what you eat” is true enough that it can be extended to a necessary caution toward what we take, too. Right now, we’d rather throw in our hand with CBD than heavier painkillers, and avoid joining the statistics of those succumbing to opiate addiction.

Here’s to doing all we can, in the land of crunchy granola folk, to continue to be well.