Fiberglass Cows

Fiberglass cows. This one’s decorating the sign outside the race car track.

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They’re not as glamor-seeking as the Sonoma County, maybe. Or perhaps it’s just that this one was in Edinburgh and it tends to be a bit less cattle-friendly?

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The Netherlands, of course. There’s also a porcelain cow in the pictures of Delft, but … we’re sticking with the fiberglass ones. At least there’s some connection, with this one being in front of a cheese shop.

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This one … was simply in the awkward space down the central well of a building.

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Jazz Hands, Buttons & Irony

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

Choir Concerts

Fremont 73Rehearsal for December 2 and 3 performances.

It’s holiday performance season, so last weekend we had a concert on both Saturday and Sunday (which you can watch here and here). We had a brief performance yesterday, in Livermore, with the whole choir as a warm-up to the Nutcracker and the women as chorus during part of the ballet itself. We have a performance next Saturday with the Fremont Symphony and then D. has been roped into singing with a madrigal group on Sunday at the retirement home associated with the San Jose Mission. And then concert season is over until February!

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We are really looking forward towards the week of Christmas, just to do nothing. We’re tempted, of course, to go somewhere exotic … but then we remember that everybody really wants the week off, and services are really wonky during the holiday, and that we keep telling ourselves that it’s a bad idea to go anywhere over Christmas. But we’re tempted nonetheless.

D’s work has been rather chaotic, with multiple changes in management and with the company announcing all sorts of news. We need the break to just relax and do nothing, maybe ride the bicycles through the wilderness trail system, take some pictures.

And, of course, we need today to make more fruitcake, as most of the last batch has already been eaten!

-D & T


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I never learned to tell one from another—
swamp, field, song, vesper—all scraps
of drab: rust, dun, buff, tan. Some streaky-breasted,
some not. We hear the flutter of wings, look up,
then yawn, ho hum, a sparrow. No rush
for binoculars. Like the poor, they are always with us.
Look at them flick and flit in this dry meadow of foxtail,
switchgrass, goldenrod; every leaf, stem, and seedhead
burnished in the dying light. Maybe they are
the only angels we get in this life. But the very hairs
on our head are numbered, and the father knows them all
by name. Each sparrow, too, has a song—no flashy
cardinal selling cheer, no sky-blue jay’s ironic
squawk, no eponymous chicka-dee-dee-dee. Just us,
the unnoticed, gleaning what others have left behind,
and singing for all we’re worth, teetering on a bit
of bracken at the edge of a wild field.

~Barbara Crooker

Ambling into Autumn

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Unsettled weather, cooler nights, random thunderstorms and finally coaxing a few flowers out of the bedraggled looking nasturtiums in the backyard: this is how we know it’s autumn. Oh, and the calendar says so. Otherwise, it’s still bright, warm and sunny as ever. The leaves are coloring up and falling, and we see this as a hopeful sign.

Oh, and the turkeys are still wandering … this isn’t really a sign of autumn so much as a sign of them finding ripe olives, seed pods, and other things they can dig up, scratch out, leap up for, and otherwise desecrate everyone’s yards over. It’s a hard job, but someone has to be the high-pitched barking, early morning wandering, “threatening” car-chasing, feather-ruffling and intimidating neighborhood watch.

We’ve been quiet these last few weeks, but things are rolling along. D’s been THRILLED TO BITS to have secured a contract for Thing 1 at his company. This is a classic example of how we get our friends in Scotland to visit us: we get them contract work here so that they can fly out to their “overseas office” from time to time. (Regardless of the paintings the Cube Dwellers leave on their cubicle walls, they don’t program video games at D’s office. They’re just kind of …addicted to Mario. And Pokémon, apparently. And doodlings with Dry Erase markers when they should be working. This may have been the morning after they got the new espresso machine…) D will be glad with the legal paperwork is all figured out (grrr) and Thing 1 is looking forward to popping in when the weather is at its worst in Glasgow. We’re hoping to have some rain to offer him in California, but …well, it’ll be warmer rain, whatever the case.

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As you know T has been trying to beat a deadline all summer (she lost – the baby came early, so her editor went on maternity leave unexpectedly). She’s also been attempting to organize a conference on diversity in children’s literature, and has spent the last month twitching under increasingly rising levels of anxiety. She walks around muttering comments like “how do I get roped into these things?” and “I will NEVER do this again.” She harasses sub-committees and micro-manages, she has accumulated boxes upon boxes of swag from publishers in the entryway, she worries over gift baskets, keynote speakers and generally makes a pest of herself to all involved, but everyone WILL have a good conference, or someone will bleed. Fortunately, for all, the angst ends the second week of October, as T’s desk is metaphorically cleared again. For however long that lasts. (Until the January deadline for the next novel. Eek.)

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D., meanwhile, is a third of the way through teaching his class this semester, and he’s fortunately remarkably calm this time around (not team-teaching will do that for you). He coaxed T. out to paint some pottery in the relaxing quiet (once the hen party finished up) of a Benicia art center, and we’re now enjoying our little coffee pot and ginormous mug. Many more will come to join that one – there’s nothing like a full liter of tea all at once! He’s enjoying all the cookbooks and kitchen paraphernalia received for his birthday (and the lovely herb planter full of growing things), and the cooling temperatures are at last tempting us back into the kitchen.

Which leads to one of our most recent purchases (aside from the necessary purchase of The Fridge of Fabulousness which replaces the 1990’s second-hand fridge we had that gave up the ghost in a puddle of sticky oil and water last month): a doughnut pan.

(Point of interest: To us, doughnuts are the proper spelling, and donuts are …some self-stable, powdered sugar abomination on a grocery shelf. No one else says so, and it’s ridiculous, but why else are there two spellings except to allow us to mock one? That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.) The doughnut pan purchase is, like so many things, our friend Jac’s fault. She got a couple of pans last year, and we watched with interest as she tried vegan and non-vegan recipes in them, with varying success. And then, she went mad and pointed out a TON of recipes all over the web. And T. kept saying, “We do NOT need a doughnut pan. If we had one, then we’d eat doughnuts.

This observation seems to have some merit.

Baked Cinnamon Doughnuts

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  • 1¼ cups almond flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a doughnut pan (6 regular sized donuts) with cooking spray. In a food processor, pulse together almond flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, eggs, ¼ cup of melted butter, honey, and vanilla extract. You want all ingredients to be smoothly blended together – and prepare for them to be super, SUPER sticky. Divide batter into prepared doughnut pan (and smooth them out with wet fingers). Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let doughnuts cool in pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges and then remove gently from pan.

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NB: OBVIOUSLY, we diverted from this plan at the last minute because who would we be without totally skiving off and deciding to do our own thing? First, we used Truvia sweetener – and somehow T. only used a couple of tablespoons, thinking that it might be too sweet. It…wasn’t. Also, the recipe calls for honey for a reason. Two sugars help to keep a pastry moist and chewy because science. Next time, perhaps some of us might follow the recipe here. (*cough*)

Next deviation: we sliced a peeled apple into rings, filled each of the doughnut spaces halfway, pressed in an apple ring, and then filled in the rest of the batter. If you’re going to have cinnamon, you may as well have apples, no? Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji, and Pink Lady bake up nicely.

For the topping, pour melted butter butter into a flat bottomed bowl. Combine sugar and cinnamon in another flat-bottomed bowl. Dip your warm donuts in butter then in cinnamon/sugar mixture.

As you can see, we didn’t bother with the cinnamon-sugaring, either. Because we feared the thick batter would make a crumbly, dry doughnut, we whipped up a quick creamed-cheese-cinnamon frosting. The apple actually came to the rescue — adding sweetness, moisture, and overall tastiness to an experimental treat. A lot of baked doughnuts rely on the frosting – and neither T. nor D. are huge frosting people – so this was a gamble that paid off well with a mildly sweet, you-could-eat-it-for-breakfast doughnut. Further Fiddling (veganizing as well) with the basic recipe to follow!

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Happy October.

Something dreamed from Nothing

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Every once in awhile, one finds something good to do with bits and pieces. It happens more frequently for creative people — we like to make Something out of Nothing, and to that end we have a whole closet full of bits and pieces just for this purpose — construction paper, coils of copper wire, glitter glue, ribbon taken from Ann Taylor bags, shiny rocks. Shells. Of course, this means that creative types are as bad as the magpies — worse, probably, because we only hear rumors of the birds’ penchant for hoarding little bits of ephemera; we’ve never actually seen them take anything. But artists… well.

We have friends back home who are worse than creative people. They’re would-be creators. They know they could make something out of nothing, if they could just get around to stripping that great big badly stained dresser sitting in their front hallway. They know they would have a gorgeous sideboard if they could find the time to repair that crack in the mirror and the sagging shelf of the one in the garage… These people collect projects and the tools they need to remake their projects … and then, the projects sit. And sit. And then, we inherit the projects, as the hopeful would-be creators pass their need to create and their hope of creation along to …us.

We have dearly beloved family members who have given us towering stacks of Time Magazine from years ago… don’t know what they were going to do with them, but they felt guilty because they hadn’t read them. “You like to read,” we were informed. “Here. Take these.”

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We do like to read. If we wanted to read Time we would have subscribed. So, with love and affection — there’s no point in getting upset or frustrated, is there? — we promptly put them in the recycling bin. (Actually their recycling bin, as we left the house.) After years of inheriting other people’s magazines, upholstery projects, canning jars, cars, etc., we understand that sometimes, those sorts of things are hard to do yourself. It doesn’t feel good to give up on our dream of someday becoming someone who will do that one thing which we always thought we would. It never feels good to give up dreams.

We have a family friend on the south side of eighty and we sometimes take a bit of hoarding off of her hands — because she really would love to get organized, and may not have as much time left as some of the rest of us. Scratchy wool yarn from 1968 in the same horrible avocado and puce shades which dominated the whole of the 70’s? Sure, bring it on, we’ll take it. And cart it right off to The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse (a fab place for artists, teachers and early childhood folks to shop), or a local charity, or put it on Craigslist so that crafty people who want to knit it up, felt it, and make floor rugs with it (really all that puce and avocado woolen yarn is good for — after it’s been dyed) can find it. It’s just a small thing we can do for her, and it’s nice to be able to give people the feeling that they’re actually doing something — even if it’s not those projects they once were sure they would get to…

Of course, every once in awhile, we come across an actual creative person who simply gives us something lovely that is a part of one of their ongoing projects. We got that last January when our friend Bean gave us some snuggly fleece fabric remnants. Knowing that we often knit up hats for new babies, she thought we might be able to somehow incorporate them into gifts.

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It was a long rectangular piece of fabric — too odd a shape for our original intention, which was to make a little bathrobe. With a lining, and enough quilt batting, we could have made a changing pad, but we weren’t sure how tidy that was — we thought maybe changing pads had plastic covers (for obvious reasons)(If we could have found plastic back fabric — a flannel-backed oilcloth tablecloth? — we would have given it a shot). Finally we opted for a well-constructed baby bag — for the baby. After watching T’s Littles (sibs) and now The Wee Men Wondertwins (nephews) dump purses and drag she and her sisters’ possessions all over the house, we thought the babies might like a soft bag for their own books and toys.

Not that it’ll stop them from dumping purses, shredding tissues, dropping cellphones and losing everyone’s keys. But, it’s the thought, yes?

The bags are sturdily made, in case the mothers might like to use them. Apparently Cooper’s mother actually carries HIM in it. He is apparently amused by this. He is a very giggly little person, so this is all right and good. T. spent a lot of time reinforcing the handles by hand — the myriad folded layers of cloth required pliers to pull out the needle, but it was a fun dual project, and it was a good feeling to pull out T’s mother’s old sewing machine and use a few pretty bits and pieces of Nothing to make Something.

Meanwhile, those of you who have had to give up the dream of being the person who would do these fantastic projects — you do know it’s okay to keep dreaming, right? Set the old dream aside, and dream yourself again. And again. And again.

Hack Your Camera NOW!

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So, I finally took the time to figure out how to install the Canon Hack Development Kit onto T’s camera. I’ve tried it before a few times, but was always stymied by something along the way. Only this morning, though, after stumbling through the documentation and trying multiple options, I finally managed to work my way through all of the downloads, and all of the different options, to the only solution that worked for me. Because we have large memory-cards it was a bit more work, but well worth it.

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I know that most of you won’t go to the trouble, that you either don’t own a Canon point-and-shoot, or you’re quite happy with the way your camera works. For some of you, though, who perhaps use a full-sized camera, I strongly encourage you to take the time to figure this out. It lets you shoot raw images! It gives you AV-priority and TV-priority shooting, and bracketing! You can plug it into your computer via usb and remotely control the camera! It will let you run scripts! Want to shoot a picture once a minute, for an hour? You can program it to do that, and other things, like to take a picture when it sees motion! Those are only the features which leap out at me there are hundreds more, and I haven’t even begun to read the manual!

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Yes, there were a lot of exclamation marks in that past paragraph. I know it, and am sorry for it, but there was no way around it: this software turns your average camera into a truly useful device. How useful? Let me put it this way: your wee point-and-shoot camera has the same sensor used in the high-end digital camera that came out about the same time. So, the bit in there which records what came in through the lens? That’s professional-grade hardware. It’s saddled with software which makes it easy to use, though. So, your average photographer is walking around taking pictures with the most expensive part of any digital camera, only using about 1/10 of the capacity.

I could go on. I already have. I’ll stop now and just say: if you own a Canon point-and-shoot digital camera, you should figure out this software.

One final thing: THIS IS PERFECTLY LEGAL, AND EVEN ENCOURAGED BY CANON. Why? Well, think about it: if you get to liking your camera, you might buy another one. If you make good pictures, you’ll make even more pictures, and that’s you, using Canon stuff, making them look good.


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Happy Autumn!

Hard to believe that it is November already. Since it rained so much of August and September it seems to have made the summer shorter than it was. The last of the gorgeous autumn leaves are being shaken and dragged from the trees, and we’re making desperate treks into the park to see the last glimpses of color before it all ends in muddy streets and dimness.

Speaking of color: in the process of switching our blog server, we found a fragment of an old post from August, once again sitting around and waiting for T’s obsessive need to find the right pictures. Here it is:

The other day, one of D.’s friends brought us some armchairs he’d had sitting in the basement. We’re happy to say that we now have some furniture in the place – but with the plain white walls, the creaminess of the upholstery is just a bit too much vanilla plain. Our immediate plans are to dye the covers: one orange, one yellow, perhaps. We’ll see. Maybe one red and one orange.

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The shape of our lives, here, us such that we haven’t really worried about furniture. After all: nobody’s come to stay with us for over a year, and our local friends understand that we’re into sitting on the floor, on pillows. Well, that, plus we don’t really have people over that much. Which … is probably because we haven’t bothered to furnish the place.

By Christmas we plan to have everything settled, and to have the guest space (somewhat) cleared. Maybe we’ll get a couch or something. … because, really: we’ve been in this flat for 3 months, and it’s getting harder to pretend to still be “moving in.”

Fast Forward to Present Day: It’s been a lot longer than three months, there’s still no couch, but the guest room is mostly dug out. It’s hard to believe just how many things you can find to give away and Freecycle when you think you’ve given it all. Moving away from this auld Isle is going to be a snap, compared to how much freight and packing it took to get here. We a.) can’t take anything electrical (unless we’re moving someplace else in Europe, and that’s probably not happening) b.) aren’t taking our desks, c.) the Scottish Lemon’s already called dibs on our chairs, and d.) we can buy the exact same bookshelves at That Swedish Place in whatever state or country we’re in. We’ll roll up our rugs, fold our clothes, and that’ll be that.


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Meanwhile, it’s too soon to think about leaving, as D’s education isn’t officially over for another two years — though with his determination and endless tweaking of his PhD project, T. puts the time at more around eighteen months. Meanwhile, there’s a lot left to do with the bits of the house we have now. T’s compiling books and plants …and more dye.

It’s a lot harder to dye things than one might think. One one hand, our mini-hardware store down the street — almost the exact size and width of our upstairs hallway back in California — has everything, and dyes in all shades. On the other and, our knowledge of dyeing in a small, front-loading washer was not exactly, er, vast. We expected deep shades when we dyed these chairs — and kind of got pastels. The colors give them a kind of lived-in, shabby, loved look, but they’re not the electric shades T. had envisioned.

Part of the problem is that we probably should have used twice as much dye for each of the applications. But, in a small washer that recycles water efficiently, we weren’t sure just how much intensity the dye would have. This was only our first foray into the world of upholstery dyeing; we figure next time will be much, much more successful. (More excuses to find a couch?)

Now, if only we could get those drapes down and dye them

– D & T

Circles of Life and All of That

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Many girls had trousseaus and maplewood wedding chests, for which they had to cross-stitch horrible samplers and hem endless dishtowels. More modern couples have those heirloom things like banded sets of Limoges dinnerwear, great-grandma’s Oneida silver, and hand-pieced quilts with ring patterns which were pasted down sixteen generations and finally, finally bequeathed to them for their marriage bed … and then there’s us.

We have the ring patterned tie-dye duvet cover.

It just doesn’t seem like summer if you don’t have something dyed and hanging out on the line, which must be a California thing, since we’re the land of sunny skies and nice breezes, and some of us have never gotten over the whole hippie thing. No line here (well, we probably could have found one, but then our wash would have mildewed) but we tossed our newly dyed goods this summer over the bamboo laundry airer, and celebrated having been good friends and more since before one of us could legally drink with our own version of the double ring patterned quilt. Only ours is more than interlocked rings, and it’s just… not exactly like anything you’ll see anywhere else.

The circular pattern is thanks to the fact that one of us has geometry on the brain, and the other of us has a bunch of ponytail holders. Put the two together, and you’ve got the lovely concentric circles of a stone dropped into a pond, the underside of a pool after a dive, or a top view of a very see-through Moon jelly. One cheap duvet cover and four pillowslips + all the rubberbands you can scrounge + one cheap box of dye = tons of fun.

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As with all duvet covers, the opening is somehow five inches wide, and the comforters — American sized — didn’t really want to fit, or lie flat. There’s a bit of rumple, a bit of struggle, a fair-sized chunk of individuality fighting formality, structure and classification. Kind of like us. We shoved it in, beat it into submission, then gave up when it mostly looked right. It’ll do. Which is about the best thing you can say about most things.

The Jelly Cover: Aberrant, erratic, and eccentric — and still just might be worth making the bed with fifteen years from now. We should be so lucky about a little project like a relationship, huh?