Crannog Centre

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

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

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-D

Charing Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

-D

Weird Job: Washing Dirt, Boiling Corpses

San Bernardino County Museum 1

I would like to reflect upon one of the weirder jobs I’ve had: San Bernardino County Museum … person. In around 1990. In this picture here, off to the distance, was where I mostly worked.

When the highway departments carve roads through mountains & do major excavations they’re required to have the area assessed for fossils & such (there’s a requirement, I don’t know). So, the San Bernardino County Museum sends somebody out there with a 50-gallon drum, or maybe a truck, to take samples. They bring them back to the museum & lay the soil out on tarps.

From there, a handful of guys (because of course) take shovelfuls of the soil & run it through two or three grades of screen. We’d wash them in half of a 50-gallon drum full of water, getting all of the silt* out. We’d then label the screens with a tag made from a piece of aluminum can, scribbled on with a ball-point to leave an indentation, and set them in the sun to dry.

* If it’s clay, it might be run through kerosene first. This was only done by a Mexican man who refused to wear gauntlets (there were dozens, for the purpose, we all used all the time). His arms were white to the elbow.


After this, depending on what the paleontologists find, the pebbles and fossils might be run through zinc bromide acid. Basically, the specific gravity of zinc bromide is higher than that of quartz and feldspar, so they float where the fossils sink. After a day standing over the zinc bromide bucket, ladling gravel in and out (and occasionally boiling the acid, to concentrate it a bit), there might be 1/2 a cup of fossil teeth and bones, from some small rodent or lizard.

San Bernardino County Museum 2

The museum has a comparative collection. That means they have a mass of varying species of lizards & rodents, from fossils through to present day specimens. Some of the modern ones are “collected.” This meant that the resident “Dr. Death” would take his slingshot on expeditions to collect some hapless lizard from a corner of Joshua Tree or what have you. And bring them back to be “rotted off.”

You see, the museum had at one time had dermestid beetles. They gave them food that was too wet, which gave them some sort of fungal disease, and now they no longer have dermestid beetles. So, to clean bones without damaging them and without beetles, they’re boiled and rotted. If you’re very unlucky, there might be a few cycles of boiling and rotting, as with the python.

After the animal is sufficiently rotty, you pour it through a screen, hose it off, and perhaps put it back in its bucket or jar for another go-round. (Don’t put it on the roof of the museum, in the sun to make it rot faster, with the lids on tight. Word to the wise. Was not me.)

It took me maybe 20 years to be able to consume a breakfast burrito, after the desert tortoise. I started pouring off that tortoise juice and instantaneously projectile-vomited the breakfast burrito I’d just had. I have never seen such a pure expression of vomit. No sound, no wasted motion, just efficient removal of anything that might at all be causing the horror.

I do wonder if they remember where they buried the camel, donated from the camel racing people down there somewhere. They determined that it just was a bit too much to deal with locally, so they buried it to let it rot more gently.

-D

Virtual Vacation

I wish we’d done more of these photospheres. Please click through to this one & get a feel for what they’re like viewed where you can scroll around and really look at things.

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When we’re traveling, I like to use the big cameras, because the results are just so much better than the phones. Making these things, though, is something I intend to do more frequently.

A church in Taxco, Mexico. Just one of the several, as I recall.

-D

Nostalgia in a time of covid

We miss travel. No, that’s not right. We miss our friends. David is one of our David’s best friends & is in Glasgow. We last got to see David when we visited The Netherlands in 2018. We got to see both David and Laura & spend a few days with each.

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We left Glasgow in June of 2012. We’ve been back a few times, but not since 2016. We desparately want to go back, to feel at home again in the filthy city, and see friends.

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This is hardest simply because we cannot visit. It is not the travel. It’s the people.

Video conferencing just isn’t the same.

-D

The Confinement Chronicles, con’t

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398th July, Year Of Our Lord, 2097, in the Year of the Plague

How are you?

Are you well?

It’s still feeling strangely like a cross between the longest weekend ever… and childhood summer “vacations” (where we still had daily calisthenics, times-tables, chores, and encyclopedia “research” papers to write for our parents), but here we are. Still social. Still distant. Still friends. We hope you’re finding space for silence, time for talking, and the ways and means to do that which you must. We wish you peace.


Another Monday morning… Lather, rinse, repeat. We work, we cook, we read, we sort our far-too-numerous possessions (ETA: some people rearrange furniture. Constantly), and then we work some more. We sleep, we wake, watch some sort of entertainment and wander around our small corner of paradise. We are grateful that we have a roof over our heads, but …well, most of us are very sick indeed of the shape of said roof, and the color of the shingles…


Ah, confinement. It would be easy to say that it’s making people crazy, but it’s not… it’s privileged people encountering the word “no,” some of them for the very first time, apparently. This is less “going crazy” than poorly handled rage. If it were actual “stir-craziness,” wouldn’t all of us confined be infected with it? So far, you’ve limited your toileting to actual toilets, haven’t you? Yep, we figured. In this society, we constantly blame on mental illness people wholly unable to deal with the reality of no: “No, I don’t want to date you. No, I don’t need to hear from you. No, I don’t owe you time, money, or attention. No, you can’t come in here without a mask.” Hearing “no” is hard – but most of us learned to deal with that around the two-year mark without shooting anyone, road-raging with our shopping carts, or widdling on the floor in public. It’s an annoying part of life when kids tantrum, but it’s …unnerving to discover that so many of our fellow humans are only masquerading as adults, and are really ginormous, ill-tempered children. With apologies to actual children.


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Owing to the fact that we know we won’t be hosting guests here for the foreseeable future, we’ve dismantled our cozy little guestroom. We even gave away the bed to a family who needed one, and have repurposed the larger room as our new office. Extra benefits include it being both larger and cooler than our previous office, both absolutely necessary as we continue to share office space during what is obviously the longest summer in recorded history. Work has taken off. T has been privileged to be a part of the reading jury for the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature – an international children’s literary award which was going to necessitate a trip to Nebraska – and is finishing the novel which is going to come out next fall (the one out THIS November is also done, yay!). D has been juggling clients – one of them having delayed their project by over a year – and trying to wrap up myriad small contracts so that he has time for a larger one, where he’s the primary technical architect for the installation of a manufacturing execution system. That project may take several years, if it gets approval, so fingers remain crossed.


Plum Jam 4

We had so many plums on our plum tree that it broke two branches, necessitating a lot of running around and propping things up – and rapidly trying to deal with a good eighty pounds of plums. Next year we’re going to thin it a bit better – the poor tree just can’t handle that kind of weight. The garden as a whole has been both a joy and an annoyance… well, rather, the gopher has been an annoyance. It has eaten, by today’s count, two whole tomato plants, two cucumber plants, and three flowering bushes. We’ll draw a veil over the holes in the lawn… people rhapsodize about how lovely it is to see more turkey, coyote, and mountain lions about, and how with the decline of human traffic we see the return of nature, but this is one return we could have done without. Nonetheless, we are butterfly, bee, and bird central with our various flowers, and we’re growing tons of herbs and root veg.

A lot of the hotter weather crops are REALLY slow this year, as nighttime temperatures were really variable through May and June. While elsewhere it’s been sweltering, in our little pocket of micro-climate, we are having foggy mornings and sometimes days that don’t heat up until about 4pm. – which means we still have verrrry hard peaches, though they look beautifully ripe. It’s quite a bit more humid than we remember from previous years as well! Unfortunately, none of that makes our melons and squash grow faster. Oh, well.

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We’re still singing – D has continued his Zoom voice lessons (probably serenading everyone in the neighborhood, because summertime = open windows), and T occasionally threatens to join in. Our community choir here continues to figure out how to maintain a choral presence in the communities and navigate social distancing at the same time. The last week in May, we concluded recording for a virtual choir concert – and while it’s been a steep learning curve becoming accustomed to the technology involved, we’re hopeful it will release soon. It’s hard to imagine the winter season without music, so we… don’t. That’s seemed to be working for us so far. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and all of that.

This week someone commented that life is a series of things falling apart, and coming together. That seems… accurate. Regardless of the many things we have believed that we can count on, there has always been an element of risk, and the opportunity for abrupt failures. Many people just now are discovering this – and some feel that they’ll never survive this falling apart. But here’s a secret: we already have. It’s done. The past is gone. The sinkhole has opened and we are at the bottom, and now… now we are going to sit in the ashes of the disaster for a bit (until people properly begin to understand the whole mask thing, perhaps?) and know that we cannot fix it. At all.

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And then…? Then, things will come together.

This isn’t meant to be magical thinking, or some kind of faith-in-magic trick. Obviously, there’s no timetable on this, no way to pinpoint the date when we stop thrashing against this frustrating reality, and re-emerge into “regular” life. This is the reality: ambiguity. There’s no cure, no fix, no answer, so the disaster sits here, and we sit, being reminded that wholeness and safety has less to do with us than we previously believed. So, the exercise becomes thinking about how we’ll remember these moments five or ten years from now. “Remember when we set up the tent in the backyard? Remember when you painted the rocks with positive words and left them by people’s mailboxes on your walks?” Remember how we learned to sew a lot better, sewing masks for strangers?

Remember how we all kept going?

-t

This, too, shall pass.


‘Tis the Fifty-Seventh of May in the Year of Our Lord 2020, in this, our Plague Year.

How are you?

Are you well?

T was pleased to be reminded of this wonderful quote. By this far into the plague, all of us are showing cracks, occasionally verbally giving way to fear or anger or hiding in the bathtub for extended periods. We’re seeing our older generation slip away, and too much is changing, too fast. If you’ve been veering down into the dumps and back up again, we hope you can get outside – over and over, that’s what’s been a saving grace for us. Even though we’re forecast rain for the next few days, we’re grateful that it’ll be warm-ish and we can still put on a hat and breathe in the air.

How have you been holding up this week? We’ve been introduced to the wonderful world of Odd Products; this week we have toilet cleaner subbed from our grocery order that is… minty. Er… mint feels deeply anti-bathroom for us, but y’know what? Whatever. We make do. We also make do with entertainingly named brands of toilet rolls we’ve never even heard of… Forest Green? Well, it does come from trees which might have been green once…

We remain grateful that things, while occasionally frustrating or challenging, aren’t at all bad at our house. We’re healthy. We are working (occasionally losing what day it is, but remembering when we’re pinged and running late to yet another Zoom meeting). We can pay the rent. Sure, the goods are odd, but the odds are good that we’re going to be okay. Yet, it’s disconcerting when people invite us over or beg to come over, or even just show up to drop things off – and it’s hard to gently say, “Yeah, well… we’d better not come out for a walk,” when we’d love to, but it’s all a process — of acknowledging this unavoidable change, grieving the loss of the “regular” we knew, and trying to get with the program of figuring out how we live now.

We hope you are able to read – some friends aren’t – and some of us can only read nonfiction as we assemble facts into our brains to help us stay centered. We discovered the free Hoopla app with free audio, ebooks, magazines, and apparently films and video games. Along with our Overdrive account – both apps work with our local library – we’ve got plenty of electronic books, anyway.

We hope you’re able to both work, and rest. Fact: the more normalized this current state of living becomes, the more we as human beings tend to expect from ourselves. As a society, we’re so obsessed with (capitalism) output and production that we rarely realize that we can choose rest. Some of us have been working all along, and some of us are being recalled to work in the next few weeks, but as you can, for as long as you can, don’t neglect sitting outside on a blanket, doing nothing. Even if your entire family relies on you, don’t neglect lying down for twenty minutes – you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you help another. Prioritize joy, peace, and rest. Set boundaries. Say no. Remember to watch for your body’s stress signals, drink more water, and rest. If your breath is rank and your children are wilding and the house is a disaster and your hair’s on end, breathe and remind yourself that everyone is alive, the house is standing, thus, you are safe. You are a roaring success.

Cut yourself some slack. Breathe.

You are loved; you are so truly loved.

Forty days and nights…

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How are you?

Are you well?

Do you, like we do, sometimes run out of words? Even in silence, we’re here – we’re doing fine. May we hope that you are, too?


*SIGH*

Wow, it was forty-one days, actually – and no, this is not how long it rained this Spring, but how long it had been since T had left the house/neighborhood/been in a car. The evidence of this was spate of endless cleaning, wherein the car was wiped down in the garage, and apparently the baseboards needed sanitizing. Once it was determined that the paint was coming off, it seemed expedient for one to leave the house, lest individual hairs also come under this extreme scrutiny. (This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last that some of us have removed paint. It is what it is, the house is CLEAN, all right?) (Send help.)

Still, there comes a time when even those of us being ├╝ber-careful with germ avoidance must leave the house, and where better than to the neighborhood year-round Farmer’s Market? God bless those people who drove the three or four hours up from Santa Cruz, Fresno, Watsonville or environs to provide strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, and more. Just behind the Post Office – a mere four blocks from us – we found bakers and bee-keepers – and a woman with terrifyingly sized quail and goose eggs – fresh oranges, onions and greens of all kinds. We were out of the house for all of about twenty-five minutes, but it still just enlivened a gorgeous, sunny day. If you can, please support your local farmer’s market. The food they’re producing, especially if we can put some of it up and preserve it, will serve us in good stead come the end of the summer.


Back home, the weekend’s fun task was to muck out the fountain. Hrafen, Morrigan, and Bran have, somewhere, come across a large store of baguettes and stale white bread. We’re thinking that the big park across the street, which hosts a great many large Canada geese in the fall, has a dedicated few folk who think bread is good for gulls, and the crows, being considerate neighbors, bully the gulls, swoop in and steal it… and then, because it is stale, they dunk it in the fountain, and hold it there until it softens enough to eat. Granted, they also dunk in the odd lizard, vole, or other rodent, then proceed to tear out their entrails, but the bread, believe it or not, is the worst culprit for clogging up the fountain, because the crows have the attention span of toddlers and occasionally just abandon the bread and wander away, thus making our arrival at the fountain to turn it on for our enjoyment… disturbing. The peanut shells, odd almonds, and bits of ephemera (buttons?) aren’t so bad, it’s the decomposing, over which we’ll draw a veil… After a lot of work the bottom of the fountain is visible and the water is clear, and the crows are… nonplussed. We’re hoping they give carbs a break for a month or so.

As happens every year when the weather warms, our interest in cooked food wanes, and we simply want salad and fruit. Of course, these days our food choices are… definitely weirder than normal. We couldn’t find lettuce until we went to the farmer’s market – while other areas are unable to find rice or pasta, produce here has been wiped out pretty quickly. D’s had enough trouble getting dairy milk that he’s started experimenting – though T has very decided opinions on hemp milk, and is crossing that off of the family list of Adventurous Plantmilks To Try In Tea. Bleh. Since we’ve made our own soymilk in the past, we decided to just get a soymilk maker and just make it official. (Happily, it can make oatmilk as well, or nutmilks, or whatnot, if the proper ingredients can be found.) This is a less expensive and easier option for us. Now, if only we could somehow make our four strawberry plants and apricot tree go faster! (And before you ask, yes, we’re rooting the bottom of the lettuce that we finally did find, to plant in the garden. And celery too, which is growing nicely.)

We hope you have a tiny garden – ours, and our wee strawberries, continue to be a joy. The row-marker radishes are all standing tall, the melons and cukes are starting to think about reaching their nearest plant neighbor and strangling them (yard bullies: they’re kind of a theme), and the kale is a sturdy half inch high. The rest of our very slow flower order has arrived as well, and we are loving the newly growing dianthus (think carnations), and more California natives that look like scrubby wildflowers one sees at the beach, varieties of poppies, and other tough, ground-covering flowers that are good for low water gardens and don’t mind getting stepped on occasionally. And they will be stepped on – if it’s not the crows, it’s the other wildlife which has decided it needs to stay in our garden. We haven’t yet seen the skunk this year, but we suspect we’ll play host to even more raccoons and other night wanderers as they revel in our quieter world.


Some of you who don’t like to comment publicly on posts email and say that we sound happy and cheerful. We’re glad that comes through – the garden and the crows do make us happy, as well as spending time in the same space – but as with everyone, there are moments of struggle as well. It’s been difficult to figure out how to “do” death, when the normal gears cannot mesh and drag us through the familiar, with family, church, casseroles and caskets. It’s hard to figure out how much solitude is too much (watch for paint removal; that’s a clue), and how to reverse the inevitable slide into “meh” moods. Many of us are far too busy, and are finding that working from home means overwork, and not giving ourselves or our children enough breaks and away-from-screens time. This is undeniably tough – so, give yourself the gift of a break, a walk, a water fight, a puddle stomp. Give yourself the gift of downloading a birding app, and trying to identify the songs, and do something to lift up someone else. Cards and letters and painting rocks or drawing the day of the week on the driveway with chalk – whatever will bring a smile to a wider, equally glum and conflicted world. The heart you cheer may just be your own.

Be well. Remember what is yours and cannot be taken. Remember to open your hands and share (from an acceptable distance) what you can.

Remember you are loved.