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

Random Patterns

Going through the knitting stash, I discovered this pattern. No idea what it is for. Kind of feels like when you read those stories of the random adventurers discovering some magic spell and mistakenly reading it, performing the spell, and ending up with who knows what. That would be this, but performing the spell looks like it would take something like 30 or 40 hours and more than eye of newt.

– D

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

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

Midweek

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SPARROWS

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

Camera Roll

Dundee 245 Glasgow Botanic Gardens D 25
Glasgow Botanic Gardens D 54 Reche Canyon 94
Cranberry Apple Flower Tarte 1 Portland 134
Vacaville 105 Vacaville 148

As the heat wave continues, we find indoor things to play with… and we’ve started messing with this new feature Flickr has called Camera Roll. It basically shows you an organized view of your pictures, based upon some machine-vision thing they’ve got going on, that shows every shot with People in it, or Arches, or Trees, or Flowers, or any number of other odd ways they have of lumping things together. It’s quite fun, and if you’ve got a Flickr account, you can play along, but if not, it’s not publicly available for you to just go through anybody’s photostream and see what’s what, thus we’ve included a few of our grouped shots here. These to the left are a bunch of pictures that were lumped together under Style / Bright, I think. It really does provide a different way to look at your photos, and probably means you’ll look at more of them, and more frequently.

That’s actually one of the questions that we get frequently in the Hobbiton: “Do you guys actually look at all those pictures after you take them?” Short answer: yes. Longer answer, we have them on a slideshow on a screen playing in our living room whenever we have guests over, so if you’re lucky enough to be invited, you could look at them, too! We really do look at them a great deal, simply because they keep us connected to our travels and to our adventures, and reminds us that being home, plugging along through work and whatever other mundane thing is just what one does between trips…

For those of you who do the twitter thing, we’ve finally given in and joined — T, under deepest protest, because the entire thing makes her break out in hives. We’re at @david_t_macknet and @tanita_s_davis if you’re at all interested. Still not quite sure what the point of it is, and still find the limitation on length to be somewhat of an annoyance, but hey, when your agent throws you under the bus says it would be good marketing, you listen, and your spouse joins in sympathy for the pain you will suffer from being on social media again. True love, that.

-D