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

Upcycle & Gratitude

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Okay, seriously, placemats are… kind of a conspiracy. It’s apparently not enough that we moved from crouching over a fire and eating from a communal bowl with our fingers. Now we have a plate and a table — and utensils, progress indeed — but currently we apparently need a little square of …something on which to set said plate atop said table. It’s kind of crazy, and at the end of the day, placemats are completely ridiculous and unnecessary. (Please, please do not get T started on charger plates and table runners, either.) All that being said, we have twelve of them…because T has sisters, sisters who have Things and must give them. Sometimes T is happy to take Things, because free Things and paint and glue go well together. (And if she can use buttons or magnets or felt or glitter? Bonus.)

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Commonly accepted as ideal for children, in the vain hope of containing the messes they make, for preserving tables from water rings and heat marks, and for dressing up a casual-but-bare eating space but at D&T’s table, placemats are less for protecting the (Ikea, aka “seriously, does that plastic need protection?”) kitchen table and more for cramming more color into a 1970’s era very beige-and-white room. (We do love our bizarre faux marble counter, though. You just don’t see weird goldish-brown veins running through white Formica counter tops anymore. Probably a good thing.) We need the color. It’s gray here a lot lately. The gray foggy marine layer keeps things quite cool – and since we last month turned off the heat for the season, it is downright nippy in the morning – not that we’re going to complain about the muffling, insulating fog that keeps Spring sunshine from catapulting us straight into summer. (It was 80°F/26°C in parts of the East Bay this past weekend, but we drove the ten miles over the bridge to find it a balmy 70°F/21°C at home.) The fog rules here, with the sun emerging around lunchtime usually, so it’s hard to feel like leaping into the day when it’s chilly. Thus the placemats are really about making a bright start to the day.

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To get that “bright” start to the day, of course we could have used the original pictures printed on the placemats… but we felt the leering, winking scarecrow on its bright pink and yellow background would probably put us off eating entirely. Since these are cheaply made (Kmart) canvas rectangles, treated to be water resistant, it was simple enough to flip them to their neutral side, give them a quick sponge wash, and then apply masking tape in random patterns. We chose five colors from a box of textile paints we had on hand, colors that would contrast brightly with anything (and not clash with the red table – but not match it, either) and just went for it. This was entirely random in the maybe-this-will-work,-maybe-not sort of way that the best art projects have. And, it’s a little rough and messy, but really worked out. T. only did six, since the pattern on the others isn’t quite as egregious as the leering strawman, but she’s tempted to do a more autumnal palette for those.

So, yes, yes — placemats are a racket, a silly bourgeois affectation, an upper-middle class pretension to fancydom. But. Every meal can have moments of the sacred and beautiful. Every moment at table with family and loved ones or with an interesting book, eating nutritious and delicious food should be noted, elevated, celebrated. Life is precious. Light your candles, pull out your pretty tumblers. Throw down those bright squares of linen and bamboo — or those laminated plastic maps depicting the fifty states. Then, fold hands and breathe, close out the noise and the traffic, the speed and the blur of your days. Deliberately see those cherished faces, deliberately experience those scents and flavors, exhale and murmur, Thank you, thank you. I am still here. We are all still here.

New Photography Toys

So, our favorite camera store was having a sale the other day, and we picked up a new lens. It’s a ProOptic 500mm f/6.3 Manual Focus, T-Mount Mirror Lens, which … is essentially a telescope that mounts onto your camera. Because it’s a reflector lens, it’s actually fairly short, and not weighty at all, so the camera is fine mounted to a tripod (rather than having to mount the lens to the tripod). We’re still waiting on a Bower SLY2X 2x T-Mount Telephoto Extender for T-Mount Lenses (it was on back-order). With that 2x extender, we’ll have a 1,000mm lens!

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What does this mean for our photography? Well, first off, it means well be using the tripod a whole lot more frequently, as it’s nearly impossible to shoot a non-stabilized 500mm lens, never mind trying that with a 1,000mm lens. Second, it means we’ll be able to get a lot more detail out of our pictures of hummingbirds or the moon or anything else we can think of which would be better much closer in.

It’s quirky, and has a very narrow depth-of-field, but it’s also quite nice to sit here in bed with the camera set up next to the bed, focused upon the hummingbird feeder.

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Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

-D