Echoes of Glasgow

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.

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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.

-D

Midsummer

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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??)

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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.
Nature, y’all.

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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.

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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.

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At D’s office… put up anonymously.

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

Oh, WoW … or, Why We Pack Snacks

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The return journey from The Netherlands was a truly epic trip, and not by design. The initial flight from Amsterdam to Keflavic was delayed arriving, so we spent an extra 2 hours sitting around Schiphol Airport (which … is not a great airport, frankly, and the cheap flight terminal is positively horrible). That flight was then delayed further because they’d mis-loaded a bag and had to remove it before we could take off. All of that meant that the flight was around 3 hours delayed arriving into Keflavic and most people weren’t staying there but were traveling onwards. So, the airline bumped the two flights most people were trying to catch (to LAX and SFO). That meant that the connecting flight had to find a new slot into SFO, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Netherlands 2018 1239 This meant we ended up sitting around Keflavic for 8 hours instead of 1.5. Then, as we were ready to leave Keflavic, 6 people had given up and booked alternate flights, but left their luggage, so THAT luggage had to be dug out from where it had been loaded. Then, finally, we had the 8.5 hour flight from Keflavic to SFO. By this time our booked shuttle had canceled on us, so we caught a 40 minute Lyft ride home. All told, we left our rented flat in Amsterdam something like 27 hours before we arrived home, having planned for something like half that.

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We did end up purchasing food in Keflavic (which … is horribly expensive, and we’ll be putting in a claim for reimbursement, because spending nearly $100 on a couple sandwiches, some yogurt, and some drinks … is rather obscene). But, mostly, we ate our own sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, and choices from an assortment of weird Dutch candy (mostly minty, some fruity, and included the random salty licorice). We also packed sliced apples (packed with sliced oranges, so the juice would keep them from going brown) and fresh cherries, knowing that wet and crunchy things are really what’s needed while in the air. Of course, we also packed our 1.5 liter water bottles & filled them at every opportunity.

Traveling like this (with our own food) may have begun as an effort to save money, traveling on budget airlines. Now, though, it’s just how we do things, and something we’ll keep on doing when we switch back to more mainstream air carriers. Which … we’ll be doing.

This is likely the last time we’ll fly with WoW, simply because it was so clumsily handled, and there were so many small problems along the way. WoW scores the worst in service, as well, which … yeah, we can see it. At times, sitting in Keflavic, we asked ourselves whether we were seeing the collapse of an airline, and whether we’d end up trapped in Iceland, having to book last minute tickets out on another carrier. That isn’t a feeling we’d like to repeat any time soon, and the extra $1,000 to fly with a reputable carrier would probably have saved us 15 hours of stressful sitting around.

We will leave you with this, from the Delft organ guy: yes, that is Despacito, played organ-grinder style.

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-D & T

Exit Signs

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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.

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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,

D&T

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Blocking Website Stupidity

If you’re someone who cleans up after your mess (i.e., you clear your browser cookies) then you’ll run into these irritating messages every time you visit a site and they’ve forgotten that they nagged you (because they don’t actually remember anything – they make your browser remember things for them, in cookies, and you can remove those memories any time you choose … like, when you shut down your browser). These messages would look like the huge waste of space banner, shown here taking up most of the page:

I hate these. They do not add anything, and they make you decide something you’d rather not decide. When I visit a page, I’m trying to read something, and I do not expect to be challenged to evaluate their privacy policy. Sites bank on this – they’re betting that you’ll just say OK and move on, without really considering what you’re agreeing to. Well, there’s a way around it (and it’s good to do anyway, honestly): install uBlock Origin and learn to use the wee eyedropper tool to select the garbage you never want to see again. I click the little shield in the top right of the window, then click the eyedropper, then click on the offensive piece of the page. I then work my way down the list of elements until I get the container that’s holding the garbage (in this case it’s a site-message container) and then simply tell it to go away.

It’s easy to do, takes fewer mental resources than looking at whatever idiotic policy they’re trying to get you to agree to, and it will persist even after you clear your cookies.

You do clear your cookies, right?

-D

“There Are More Important Concerns.”

“Travel makes one modest – you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world” – Gustave Flaubert

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Well, it was bound to happen. The first text message a week ago was just a little crack in the wall, as some eager beaver just had to tell D of exciting news from the office… and now today D has had to take a teleconference so that he can give his two cents on some whatever vendor tool for blah, blah, blah. The seal is broken, and the wall is crumbling. T is tallying the number of times D’s work mates have no boundaries and interrupt his well-earned and desperately needed vacation. She imagines kicking them smartly in the shins for each infraction.

(D worries when she gets on this topic, because he knows T, despite appearances to the contrary, is still somewhat feral and might actually tell them she’s imagined kicking them… while shifting her weight to one foot… But, we digress.)

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Now that the vultures are circling and we can see the end of our trip just a few days down the pike, T has put on her junior sociologist’s hat and continued to process some of the things we’ve observed throughout our travels in this intriguing country (and from living in Scotland).

Twenty days in a country doesn’t exactly give scope for a deep dive into its society, but because we’ve lived abroad before, it’s easier to have a basis for comparison. Now, we’re fond of our home state and the benefits it has given us – and we love air conditioning, garbage disposals, public libraries and window screens — all things Europe commonly does not have. — BUT sometimes, American attitudes and ways of looking at things leave something to be desired.

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The interesting differences in attitude we’ve observed between countries is this idea of being The Best. The Netherlands is an amazing, brilliant country… and they don’t go on about it. In Scandinavia, there are national social mores about humility and modesty. The “best” is something perhaps children strive for; while adults, in contrast, just seem content to get on with things. Maybe it’s just that lately the national conversation has become steeped in empty superlatives – “greatest” “most” “best” – maybe it just seems like this blabbing about how awesome we are is new, but it’s not, really. To a certain extent, there’s always been an attitude of competitive striving – that “pursuit of happiness” which came from an adolescent nation determined to prove to a parental kingdom that it wasn’t just some rebellious kid going off on their own. We never intended to come crawling back to Mama England, and that bullheaded stubbornness has informed a lot of the flavor of our country. Ironically, those with the most privilege in this nation still struggle to recognize it because there’s a sense of deserving more, which causes so many a deep unhappiness — even as indigenous, Black, and people of color still haven’t yet achieved equality — but that’s clearly a topic for another blog post.

Netherlands 2018 163“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things — air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky — all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

In contrast, in the Netherlands, there’s less an attitude of competition here than there is of normalcy. There is a phrase here about “just do the normal,” thus the word that crops up a lot in conversation is “typical Dutch x,” or “typical Dutch Y.” People believe that they are basically all about the same, and that “normal” is basically weird enough, and there’s no need to be seriously eccentric or try to stand out from the crowd… which flows right into another Netherlands phrase we’ve heard often on this trip, when the conversation has turned to deeper matters in terms of industry, religion, and politics: “There are more important concerns.”

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There are bigger stories; more important fish to fry. DB’s mother said it frequently, when speaking of religions reacting to gendering (churches are sluggish about inclusivity), or issues surrounding healthcare (she’s a physician). SC’s neighbor said it in passing when speaking of how the children in her daughter’s elementary school interacted. In almost every situation where our societal inclination would be to harp on a point or insist on clarification, explanation, or agreement, the reaction we’ve observed is for people to sit back and remark that there are more important things to worry about. Normal, after all, is weird enough.

This idea is kind of fascinating.

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We thought we understood about people kind of having a live-and-let-live attitude from living in the UK, but honestly, Scots are rather opinionated and are quite free with their opinions. (Just get into a cab once and have the driver tell you that you’re wasting his time and could have walked where you needed to go. THAT’s always fun when you’re lost.) We’re told that the Dutch are, too, but rather than air that opinion in an insistent way, apparently once they get to know you, they’ll simply put it out there and go on. If there’s disagreement, the opposing opinion is just put out there, and people go on. It’s not as if people don’t argue – but there has just seemed to be less of a competition for who has the last word. It’s interesting.

Maybe it’s that we’re still guests in all of the places we’ve been, and they’re just listening to us go on. Maybe they’re all secretly laughing at us. Who knows? Maybe there really are more important concerns, and they’re away getting on with them. And, so we will, too.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

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A Walk Through the Clouds (of Mosquitoes)

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When we arrived in the Netherlands, it was vilely, disgustingly hot — far hotter here than it was at home, much to our horror, with ninety percent humidity. Ughhhhhhhhhh. We hadn’t packed any shorts and had instead come prepared for the ubiquitous liquid sunshine of Holland – with flannel and wool, long sleeves and trousers. Hats. Umbrellas. We were, after all, in the land of endless rain. Netherlands 2018 887 Holland, tricky beast that it is, completely changed the game on us, and the resulting heat wave awakened The Swarm. We are as covered with mosquito bites as if we’d gone to summer camp, and it’s kind of ridiculous. There’s not much air conditioning outside of the bigger cities, and there’s not much call for it (most people we spoke with would prefer something useful like, oh, disposals. Don’t get expatriates talking about what they miss from the U.S. – somehow a garbage disposal is always at the top of the list. Anyway). Worse, because many of the buildings are older, the windows are unusual sizes and it’s hard – and expensive – to have them fitted for screens.

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So, no AC, and no screens, and a heat wave. If we lived here, we’d get some duct tape and a roll of mosquito netting or something! Fortunately, our rented apartment came with a big fan and a portable AC, and we did the best we could to keep the air moving. We had a few bites in Delft, but the further out into the woods and countryside we got, the worse it got. T walked, um, briskly through the woods, in hopes of keeping them off, but D loves his photography, and standing stock still to get just the perfect shot drew them to him, poor thing. He had eighteen bites in one afternoon, and then, to save his sanity, stopped counting. Still – he believes it was really worth it for some of the gorgeous pictures he got. Mostly. Maybe.


After we spent time with DB’s parents, they got a feel for who we were – or, really, who D is – and so DB’s Dad took us on a spur-of-the-moment walk to a place called Waterloopbos Marknesse in Flevoland.

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D often enjoys taking visitors to the SF Bay Area to Sausalito, to see the Army Corps of Engineers hydraulic model of the SF Bay. This model was used to predict what would happen to the Bay lands if some bright soul did X to this channel or Y to this River, and in the early 1950’s, it actually saved people a lot of money and loss of income (and possibly life) before they had computers do hydrology studies of this kind. Well, in the Netherlands, a place with a LOT of water and a lot of folks relying on engineers to keep them on dry land, Dutch water engineers were asked to do these same types of studies, not just for their own country, but for other nations. (You’ll have to click through to our Flickr page to see more.) Netherlands 2018 1132 Instead of enclosing their tidal model in a building, however, in the 1950’s Dutch engineers simply took almost three hundred acres (120 hectares) of polder forest – land reclaimed from the sea, but, in this case, too wet to use for agriculture – and built a wave machine and various locks to raise and lower the level of the water… to create artificial harbors. According to a rough translation of one of the signs: “…the ports of Vlissingen, Ijmuiden, Scheveningen (in the Netherlands), and abroad those of Lagos (Nigeria), Beirut (then Syria) and Marsa-el-Bregha (Libya) were recreated in the polder. Over the years, scale models have been built on 36 construction sites in the forest. In total, some 200 assignments from the Netherlands and abroad have been carried out.”

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It’s amazing, and a ‘rijksmonument’ – a national monument – now. The whole two-and-a-half mile area where the models are is half-swallowed by the forest. It really looks like ruins – and it is dead quiet in there, though that may have been because there were no guides out on the late Sunday we were there, so there were fewer families out and about. We walked the (3.42 km) two mile loop, examining the signs (which are in Dutch, of course) which told us which harbor was being recreated to study what the wave machine or locks were meant to do with the water. It was kind of mind-blowing that all of this was put together before computers… and then, in 1970, as the digital age overcame it, was simply abandoned, as faster ways to study the world came along. The multiple, detailed models prove why the Netherlands mastered living in a watery land.

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We were a little disappointed that most of the locks were padlocked so that we couldn’t turn on the wave machine or raise/lower the water levels, but we did manage to clamber around and affect a few things. Mostly we were glad we didn’t fall in (it’s not too terribly deep, maybe, but some of it is rather still, and packed with …squiggling things), as it really was a “spur of the moment” two mile hike we took… on the way to the train station. After that, we had to hurry through heavy traffic and change trains three times to get back to Delft before it got too dark. Still – mosquito bites and all – it was worth it.