The best thing about living close to the Bay is that we get egrets, cruising all over the place, sometimes between the houses or skimming along the canal behind the house.
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.
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.
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??)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.