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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-David

Heidelberg from the Castle

Looking through photos reminded me of what a different world we’re in, compared to just twenty years ago. In 1999 we went to the Netherlands, Germany, and France. We took a train from Amsterdam to Kaiserslautern but got turned around and missed a connection. So we found a payphone and called our friend, who was at home waiting to hear from us, and on we went. It was normal, before cell phones, to be completely at the mercy of whomever decides where payphones go and upon your friend being home, waiting.

Heidelberg

It was also normal to take maybe a hundred pictures on a week’s vacation. We may have taken perhaps 250, but would have been cautious, because every one cost money to develop. And so we have pictures like this one, where I dearly wish I had a few hundred more from which to choose. As photos go, meh. As a memory….

– D

Crannog Centre

When we returned to Scotland in 2015, we tried to return to the Crannog Centre (we first visited in 2007). It was raining horribly, the road was literally flooded out, and we gave it up. Next time, though, and we will have more than a film camera, shooting with expired film! (it was an artistic choice)

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I will perhaps give the pole lathe another try. I don’t remember it very well, looking back 13 years. I don’t believe I will require a new wallet next time, though.

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-D

Charing Cross

I’ve begun going through our massive photo collection & pulling things out of circulation. One can really only so many pictures of the same building, you know? So, how do you manage 39,000 photos?

In our case, it’s pretty simple, in a way. If it’s not a meaningful picture – doesn’t say something important, make us remember someone or something important – then it gets made private. That means, of course, that I’ve got to look at every single photo along the way.

So I downloaded them and am working my way through alphabetically. I’ve just made it through Charing Cross. Yes, the lighting all looks like this. Doesn’t mercury vapor provide a nice ambience? /sarcasm

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Charing Cross is basically where we spent most of our time in Glasgow, simply because it’s in the middle of everything. It’s also a sort of weird place where people would ask for me to take their picture. They didn’t really even want to see the picture. Just to be photographed was enough.

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Of course, for me it was also a great place for selfies, as there’s a building which spans the motorway there which has mirrored windows. I’d quite often end up stopped there & would say hello, as it were. Have a wee look around at the street view map.

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Not quite the standard mirror-selfies. I’m sure I’ll find more along the way.

-D

Revisiting Photography

We generally leave the TV on when we’re reading or cooking or what have you, with the TV playing … pictures from our Flickr. As a consequence, I end up examining photos and really really wishing I knew more, back then. For example, this photo. It’s a manually-done HDR, which means I mixed 3 images together to get it.

Edinburgh D 16 HDR

I looked at that going by and I thought, “I wonder what that would look like if I reworked it?” So I pulled the raw images, reset all of the settings in Canon, rendered out 3 tiffs, ran Photomatix, and here we go.

Edinburgh D 16 HDR redux

Now, is it better? In some ways, and in some ways not. I suspect that I don’t really know what I’m doing with Photomatix any more, and this is the version with all of the advanced features, so … we’ll see. On the other hand, the phone does a better job maybe. And on yet another hand, I now know how easy it is to go back and adjust, and I have all the raw materials, so … if they’re particularly egregious, maybe I’ll fix them.

Happy New Year!

-D

Mists & mellow fruit

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O World I Cannot Hold Thee Close Enough

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with color! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart, – Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me, – let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

~~~~~~

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The above image could be entitled, “Waiting”. D is out in the yard multiple times a day checking the color of the persimmons, probably speaking gently to the tree, caressing the leaves. T, whose affection for persimmons is tempered solely by their somewhat slimy texture (they’re excellent dried, and somewhat of a challenge fresh to those who hated bananas as children) is waiting instead for the pomegranates, which she plans to share with as few people as possible. D has reminded her that she was deeply annoyed with her own father who also hoardeds his poms (the man has TWO TREES, could he not just share??? SHEESH!!!), and that she will probably explode from eating them alone, but so far this has not dissuaded her. Much. She is, however, researching pom jelly recipes, and has been promised one for pom molasses (but what does one do with it? Waffles?)… Autumn is definitely hopping, so stay tuned…

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Meanwhile, the apples are down from the tree, there have been many, dried, sauced, and frozen, and the jujubes have been picked, dried, and candied, which has in itself been an education.

If you didn’t know, the jujbe, also known as the Chinese red date, was used in jujube candies back in Ye Olden Days. Much like horehounds, the old-fashioned hard candy that started life as a throat lozenge (or throat sweet, as the British call them), they contained the medicinal juice of the jujube, which apparently is still used in Eastern medicine for a congested chest. Though jujubes the candy are now made only of sugar and filling-extracting gelatin, back in the day, they were medicinal, so jujubes are apparently good for you. When fully brown and ripe, they are crisp and sweet-tart like tiny apples. When fully dried, they are, indeed, datelike. (Datesque?) We dried ours a bit more in a dehydrator and then boiled them in simple syrup for ten minutes to preserve them the Chinese way. Our landlord, Sheng, tells us they’re a hard-to-find delicacy. Jujubes, we discovered, have a secondary function… even when fresh, for some people, they’re a lot like prunes.

As to how we discovered this, there we will draw a veil… *cough*

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D’s birthday this year necessitated a trip to the North Bay and a visit to the far North Bay to find a spa we’d long heard of but had never visited. We had cedar baths at Osmosis Spa. Cedar baths are a therapeutic treatment consisting of twenty minutes of being buried from the chin down in gently steaming, heatedly fermenting cedar sawdust and rice hulls. It is… moist, steamy, weighty, and fragrant, and described to us like a “slightly damp weighted blanket. As the body absorbs the natural heat, it can be pretty darned claustrophobic for SOME, while others can get their Zen on pretty easily. We will leave you to image who in this family was flailing and trying to dig out their limbs and escape, and who was peacefully meditating and not flinching every time the nice lady laid icy cold cloths on their head. Ahem. We enjoyed walking the acreage surrounding the spa – it’s a beautiful, unexpected Japanese garden in the midst of redwoods and windy roads. We got a lovely massage afterwards – well, somewhat lovely, given that even after a shower we were discovering ground cedar in unexpected places – but the spa was one of those Experiences that you’re glad you’ve had, if only so that you can agree never to have them again… and that, in part, is one of the best things about celebrating another year. So, um, here’s to experiences…?! And another successful trip around the sun.

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Due to the wonderfully ripening fruit in the yard – poms next, and then one of the orange trees is ripening nicely – we have become somewhat of a visitor center for the avian population and it’s …literally wild. The birds are taking over. We have four doves who are regulars, a raft of what we think are Hutton’s Vireos – they’re slightly greenish – at least one regular phoebe, if not two, a robin with his harem, Hrafen, Bran, and Morrigan, of course (as well as a scruffy interloper who turns up occasionally just to start fights), and then this loud scrub jay who recently decided he’s boss of the fountain… not to mention the hummingbirds who are convinced they own both yards and the house. There’s all kinds of shrieking and upset if you go into the backyard – which we must daily. This house is old, with the old-school carriage house type of thing – a disconnected garage which provides extra storage, laundry, deep freeze, and, of course, the car. Every time we go anywhere, it’s full-on avian hysteria and flustered feathers. T has determined that all of this is D’s fault, as he feeds the darned things and encouraged them to think that he had nothing better to do than to sit very still and try to photograph them. We’re waiting for them to become accustomed to us living here, too. So far, we think winter will arrive first…

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The choir year is now in full swing, and we’re near to the halfway point of rehearsing for our first formal concert. We had the entertaining – and very early morning joy of singing outdoors for a HERS walk to kick off National Breast Cancer Month. (There is nothing like singing and hitting high notes at EIGHT A.M. – while next to a lake and hoping not to inhale the wildlife.) Our choir got an arts grant from the state of California for sponsoring a free choir for people who don’t think they can sing, and we were tickled to be with them for their debut – where they did, in fact, sing. The cancer walk folk had no idea they thought they were frauds. Currently in our chamber group, we’re wrestling with Spanish – well, one of us is – and syncopation for our holiday concert. We’re doing a 1964 cantata called Navidad Nuestra, and it’s a hoot – lots of guitars and flutes and drums and dance-y tunes. And alpaca, incidentally. Not often you run across those in music, but the piece is from Argentina, and our entire concert is in Spanish. It’s given T a good kick in the bum and really heightened her Spanish language lessons – it’s not doing anything for her Dutch, but she’s hanging in with both.

D started voice lessons last March in a desultory fashion, but has turned from a good singer into a great one, and has added more than an octave to his tenor range, much to his voice coach’s shock (and the continued bemusement of the choir director, who doesn’t worry so much about having only one first tenor now). D himself seems somewhat abashed, but T is amused, because she had been telling him to take voice for years, and her silent, “I told you so,” is frankly not all that silent. In an attempt to distract himself from illness last winter, D picked up the lessons just for fun, but now he calls them a “little puddle of happiness” he carries with him, and is often humming or singing under his breath, like the rest of us choir nerds.

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We’re grateful, as ever, for the things which make us happy — and while there’s a lot of ups and down, as there always are with mental challenges, and a lot of times we wish it was all done and wrapped up, life’s not like that, and… we’re okay. T is a bit cranky because she’s been off of her Prednisone for a whole four months, due to surgery… but symptoms are increasing and so playtime is over, and soon the return of The Devil’s Drug will make her even more of a mental case than usual. It’s a bit concerning when one spouse is on mood altering drugs and the other is bipolar, but at least we’ll be fun at parties! Hah, no, in all seriousness (despite fairly sporadic church attendance lately), we’re keeping the faith: nothing is insurmountable and all things are possible. As the days clip shorter and the blue skies grow more brilliant in the chilly breezes, we hope you and yours are well, and that you’re baking and cooking up a storm. Take the time to tell the people around you how much they mean to you — every day, with every crack in our social contract, we are reminded that things in this world change so fast, but you can live without regrets if those who matter know you love them.

Cheers

D & t

A Threshold in a Liminal-land

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It tells you a bit about the year you’re having if you’ve already run through your health insurance deductible by the second week in January. This won’t make much sense to NHS users overseas, but suffice it to say it’s the two-edged swords of American healthcare, and it means the last few weeks have been a bit pinching on the pocketbook…

So, now is the winter of our discontent… or something like that. It’s at the very least the winter when Himself is taking a break from work, to plumb the depths of his symptoms (chills and sweating, heart racing, fight/flight responses) and determine their cause (medication interaction, physiology, psychology), and straighten them out. In between, we are discovering and rediscovering things we like about where we live. Today, it was Quarry Lakes Park (which we keep calling Crater Lakes Park, which is… apparently elsewhere).

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Quarry Lakes (Regional Recreation Area – whatever) Park is essentially the correction of a mistake – as a quarry is manmade, while a crater is the result of a no-fault, act-of-God large-item-impact. Alameda Creek was the original boundary between Contra Costa and Santa Clara Counties, and in the mid-19th century transcontinental railroad race, railroad prospectors scooped the gravel from the banks of the creek to help form the western end of the line. By the time the railroad was built, there were just vast, unsightly holes in the middle of the countryside, collecting groundwater – which Alameda County (named and organized in 1853) used to top up local aquifers. In the 70’s when the big push came to celebrate the earth and stop making giant holes in things for not very good reasons, the city bought the property back from various business people, between 1975 – 1992.

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Quarry Lakes Park is 350 acres of lakes, and 121 of land and hills surrounding it. At the central lake, the city put in a gravel-and-sand beach, and buoys where in the summer it must be a hoppin’ place for swimmers who don’t mind swimming with geese and egrets and frogs. On other lakes, there are boat launch areas, they seed it with fish for the fishing fiends, and there are tables and shaded pavilions all over. There are several looping semi-paved biking/hiking trails surrounding the biggest of the lakes, and some of the biggest pelicans we’ve ever seen, gliding smug, fat and happy through the mirror-bright water. They leave wakes. Like boats. They land on the surface with the inelegant thump of a heavily loaded 747. (They have cartoonishly short legs, and look like they’re part of an anime from Studio Ghibli.) The ones we saw had bumps on their beaks – because it’s apparently breeding season, and those bumps are the equivalent of a peacock’s tail advertising virility or somesuch. In a few weeks the bumps will be gone, and in a few weeks more, we can look forward to their ugly adorable, spindly-legged offspring.

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Though there are apparently snakes and hares and foxes as well (though we saw no sign of them), this is one of the best areas for bird life that we’ve discovered. T’s remark years ago that photography was a gateway drug to birding has proven true. We saw that there are wood ducks, herons and egrets in the ponds with swallows and red-winged blackbirds in the hills surrounding. We were surprised by the aforementioned GINORMOUS water birds (American pelicans are between ten and seventeen pounds, which is not bad for a creature with hollow bones) and the expected seventeen hundred Canadian geese, Scrub Jays, grebes, and scaups, we chased a pair of Northern Flickers across the parking lot without getting a good picture. That’s definitely going to happen next time. What’s also going to happen is more photography – we realized that in the past eight months or so, we’ve not gotten out as we liked to record our experiences and see the world. Even if we don’t visit any of the other numerous parks in our area, Quarry Lakes is going to keep us happily occupied for some time.

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Half paved paths with manicured lawns, half scrub oaks and dirt-and-gravel trails, this place is so, so big, we almost missed a little corner of it which houses a Showcase Garden, a Master Gardener’s display piece to show off native species and plants which do well in our particular zone. There were herbs and succulents, cacti, roses, and fruit trees. On a cool morning in the spring and summer it will be delightful, but even on a cool and gray winter afternoon, it was gorgeous and smelled fresh and clean. The green was almost surreal, as the sun sliced a bit through a bank of clouds.

It’s hard to describe the effect of an unexpected garden when your hearts are already full from birds and water and a lot of sky. The tiny paths and bright colors were a treat that lifted us out of ourselves all over again.

When you’re feeling a little rattled by circumstances, a walk in the park (or, regional recreation area, fine, whatever) solves …basically nothing. No voice from above, no angel choirs, nothing miraculously solved. What it does do is suffuse blood into your prefrontal cortex (no, seriously). What that does is disrupt repetitive thoughts. What movement does is raise your endorphin level, lower your stress levels, and reduce anxiety. Sure, everything is still a mess – you’re still waiting in the liminal threshold of a change, trying to determine your direction, but for an hour or so, it certainly gets you out of your head. A brief sabbatical from indecision or angst is worth celebrating.

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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