Oakland Museum of California

Once again we went to the Oakland Museum of California … and failed to make it through the whole thing. This isn’t even because they keep changing out the exhibits, either – this is because there’s just so much there, and it’s all so fascinating!

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We met up with one of D’s former coworkers there, had a good wander, and D and J had a good chat about all of the craziness that working in biotech seems to entail. For example, D has now had 2 layers of management removed from above him (in less than 3 months) so he currently reports directly to a VP. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, but both D and J have job options and good names in the business, so they’re not worried exactly … but the chaos has both of them wondering whether they want to stay in this industry much longer.

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On the other hand, with Halloween coming up there will be a pumpkin carving competition at D’s work and he’s going to see what kind of pictures he can get. Hopefully people will dress for the occasion.

Have a good week!

-D & T

Christmas Choir Concert

Our choir is having a Christmas concert, December 2nd and 3rd. We are (as always) required to sell tickets. Please let us know if you’d like to come and we’ll be happy to have you along! (You can buy tickets through us, or online, but if you buy from us then we’ll get rid of the 20 we’re required to sell.)

We’re told that the Sunday concert is always more full than the Saturday one, by the way. We hope to see you there!

-D & T

Gum Wrappers & Silver Linings

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There are banks of giant Maxfield Parrish clouds blowing up just now, while we have a pause in the rain. Like most Californians, we are doubly grateful for the precipitation which clear away the last of the smoke. The fires were ghastly and not just for those who lost loved ones and property. For those of us breathing the smoke hours away, it produced some of the same anxious restlessness as the oppressive heat wave; trapped indoors, we checked the news upon waking each morning, hoping for some change, and for news from dear friends in the North Bay. (Everyone is well – even those for whom the fire damage stopped seventy-five feet away from their front door, which is miraculous when so many lost so much.)

To make an anxious situation more fraught, T was diagnosed that week with multiple overlapping autoimmune disorders. What was thought to be a wildly early onset of osteoarthritis turned out to be something we’d never even heard of – too many consonants, most of them with the same -myositis suffixes. The symptoms list was long and horrible. For a while, the smoke in the sky seemed to match the smoke in our minds, as we struggled to see past the moment. But, smoke clears, as it always does.

The premise of the fairly stupid but beautifully named Silver Linings Playbook (it was a novel, and then a film, and apologies if it’s your adored favorite) was that a man who had come away from a stint in a mental institution was going to focus himself on the positives in the world, in order to avoid a relapse. Adjacent to the secondary and tertiary plotline nonsense, this seems like a reasonable goal – to accentuate the positive. It actually becomes easier when one does this on purpose. T remembers working as program co-director for a Youth Director at summer camp, and always having on hand during campfire programs wads of the horrible Bazooka Joe bubble gum, so she could handily unwrap a piece and insert the cement-hard, sugary sweetness between his teeth, to remind him inaudibly to keep his jaws clenched if he couldn’t say anything nice. The bad jokes and cartoons in the wrappers are still a favorite of hers to this day.

Deliberate, mindful silver-lining seeking.

The stairs in this new house are a bit steep, with risers a crucial three-quarters-inch higher than the US standard 7 inches vertical. Both T and D remarked on how dire that extra lift could be, when one is tired or in a hurry, but both quickly became accustomed to the extra lift, and even fond of the clatter of uncarpeted stairs. While racing isn’t possible every day, it is now an automatic mindfulness to be thankful on the trips when it doesn’t hurt.

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Sometimes it takes a lot to remember to be grateful for everything.

While there is nothing to cure autoimmune disorders, there is management. Several of the drugs under consideration are immune suppressants – possibly some of the same ones T’s sister is on after her kidney transplant at eighteen. Some of the drugs have mind-boggling side effects, and we are struck with extra compassion for our little sister, who is making the best of a bad lot of medications. We have more options than she does – including the option to delay medication altogether until there’s proof of irreparable harm – and so see our increased empathy as a silver lining, too. The girl is a trooper.

And finally, probably the funniest silver lining is that with these various autoimmune diseases, the body produces copious amounts of …collagen, that building-block protein of connective tissue which is prominent in skin and bones. It’s also what gives us hair and nails… and right now, T, whose horrible nails have always split and peeled, and which she has kept short her entire life – right now, she has the longest, hardest nails she’s ever had. Mind you, she can’t pick things up reliably – she’s as graceful with them as an 8th grader wearing ’80’s era Lee Press-On nails, but she’s delighting in buying ridiculous nail polish and tarting herself up each week like a dance hall floozy. Polka dots! Stripes! Questionable color combinations! She’s looking forward to amazing hair next – of course, Prednisone, one of the drug options, also makes it fall out… but we’ll enjoy it while we can.

Silver linings, friends. Silver linings edging the clouds in these dark days. Diwali, the South Asian festival of lights, was timely this week. May we all remember light triumphs over darkness, every time.

Happy Weekend!

New Website Hosting

For all of you out there who read this in a feed reader, apologies if you’ve just seen a whole bunch of our posts reappear: we’ve changed our hosting provider and gotten a new URL ( hobbitsabroad.com ). For everybody else, you’ll likely not notice any change, as all of the content that was hosted on Sonic is now hosted on LaughingSquid, at the new URL (well – you’ll notice that the site loads a million times faster than the old one, which is why we switched).

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Enjoy these boats, for your troubles.

-D

Olive Tomato Garlic Bread

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THIS BREAD. THIS. BREAD. OH MY.

OK, we’ve found something wonderful in including sundried tomatoes in our olive bread. And, no, there’s not a recipe – go play with bread, that’s what it’s for.

This bread includes garlic-stuffed green olives, olive oil, Kalamata olives, minced garlic, a bit of crushed red pepper (what else do you do with leftover pizza toppings?), and a couple of handfulls of sundried tomatoes chopped coarsely. It’s primarily white whole wheat (in case you didn’t know: there’s a mutant strain of wheat which has a white hull, so you can have whole wheat that looks like white flour) but also includes about a cup of actual all-purpose flour (the end of the bag, from making carrot cake).

The fantastic rise on this isn’t from anything special – I think it’s because I didn’t weigh this down with flaxseeds and rye berries. It’s also because I decided that 4 cups of water gives 4 rather meager loaves, so I went with 3 loaves instead. It also might be because I left them sitting on top of the oven while the carrot cake was baking, so they were kept nicely warm throughout the rise.

The tomatoes add a wee pop of sweetness, offsetting the saltiness of the olives. This is awesomely tender (due to the olive oil) and makes fabulous toast. Next time I’ll opt to add the olives and tomatoes by hand, rather than throwing them into the stand mixer, because they’re a bit broken up from having been kneaded in with the dough hook. On the other hand, this is just so tasty that maybe it doesn’t matter that the olives are broken.

It may be time for lunch, now, and some sandwiches made on this bread. Or maybe just some cheese, so as not to obscure the flavor of the bread itself.

-D

Carrot Cake

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Of all the cakes I bake to take to my coworkers, the King Arthur Flour, Everything But the Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake has to be the one that disappears the fastest. I used dried pineapple this time, instead of using canned and crushed … and I think I prefer the canned, believe it or not. Yes, the bursts of sweetness from the dried fruit are nice, but I think that I prefer the slightly tart bursts of raisin (or currant, in this case) with the pineapple more evenly distributed throughout.

Since this one started out to be a double recipe but ended up being a quadruple recipe (I doubled the flour in my head … and then doubled it again), I decided to play a bit with the sugar and only include 3/4 the amount of sugar. I find that this actually worked out quite well – that the cake is not so over-the-top sweet this way. I adjusted the spices a wee bit, as well, with more nutmeg than called for, and less allspice.

I pre-sliced it before frosting it (it’s a 14″ x 14″ cake pan, so I went with a 6 x 6 slice). This is the first time I’ve tried this, and I think it’s something I’ll do again, particularly with such a large cake. This cake isn’t going anywhere, it’s so dense, and this will definitely make life easier when trying to serve pieces at work. I had initially thought to leave it in the cake pan, but that’s been problematic in getting pieces out, and this way I could put chopped nuts around the edges (to let people know, very clearly, that there are nuts in this cake).

We’ll see how long this lasts, tomorrow. With 36 pieces, I’m guessing it’s going to last until lunch … but I’ll make a point of emailing around to let people know that they can can come visit for cake.

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As always, when using this pan: this is a huge cake. It’s always rather surprising (although it shouldn’t be, when considering that the pan won’t even fit in any of our cabinets).

-D

Dickinson, 236

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Most of us studied, if only briefly, the poetry of Emily Dickinson of Amherst, Massachusetts. Born 1830, we know she wrote poetry in the imported-from-England-and-Isaac-Watts hymn meter; we know that any of her poems can be sung to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas or the theme to Gilligan’s Island, because hymn meter is a constant, rhythmic form. We know Emily Dickinson was sent to Mt. Holyoke Seminary, a very respectable, very religious ladies college. We know that Mt. Holyoke was all the organized education she ever received.

What we aren’t told in school is that, despite the Dickinson’s Puritan background and Emily’s lifelong habit of writing poetry that was spiritual in nature, her time at Mt. Holyoke didn’t “take.” She was categorized as a “no-hoper” at the school. At Mt. Holyoke, during the Second Great Awakening religious revival in American history, when Emily attended, the women were counseled,then categorized. They were divided up into three categories: those who were “established Christians,” those who “expressed hope,” of becoming so, and those who were “without hope.” They were met with continually for counsel, and Emily could find no objection — nor any interest, either, in joining a church. Emily Dickinson worried about this a great deal, but finished her first year in the “without hope” category, and never went back to school.

Our society is never very kind to those whose decisions take them out of step with the majority. Emily Dickinson chose not to marry, so she was isolated. She could not believe as others did, so chose not to join a church, limiting the already narrow circle of 19th century women’s interactions within her community to her parent’s home, where she helped her father after her mother’s nervous breakdown. And yet, she wrote:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (236)

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

There is a sort of ease to her words, even as she sat out Sunday mornings, alone in the woods, while miles away, her brothers, sister, and father sat in the family pew, seeing and being seen. She’s not in step with the world, but she’s finding what she needs where she is. Being raised in faith, and attending church frequently, and having our community be largely church-y, possibly as church-y as the Dickinson’s lives in the 19th century, I can imagine that taking a step… away from all of that made Emily a different, different person. And yet, she was no rogue godless rebel, but a person who found her spirit fed by other means.

Our poetry group played with hymn meter this past week, and I won’t bore everyone with iambic tetrameter discussions (if you’re actually interested, they’re on the project post), but just for fun, I’m sharing a tribute to Emily’s 236:

Keeping Emily’s Sabbath

cathedral light abounds
through old growth canopy
as crows produce a raucous sound, as fog’s damp surges all around
and we breathe Autumn’s ease, in redwood panoply.

(no sermon, no sexton. birdsong, from every direction
the quail’s quiet sageness is truth for the ages, and never is service too long)

leaf-fall means death. Rejoice
in every dying tree
for Autumn leads to Winter’s choice. Then, ending, Winter gives Spring voice
and brings the honeybee, renewal’s guarantee.

(no chalice, no cantor: listen to the blue jay’s banter
the woodpecker’s rapping, its beats overlapping, and never is service too long)

scythe down, like Autumn’s weeds
what binds you to the pew
no dome nor chorister a need, that “all are loved,” be that the creed
which Sabbath-hearts pursue; may Light be found in you.

No vestments, no hymn book. Take to the woods. Change your outlook.
Your body will thank you – the dogma will keep – and the sermon won’t put you to sleep.

Bonus fact: you can sing this to the tune of one of Isaac Watts’ (I shan’t tell you which – guess) hymns, too. Because it’s a modified short meter, however, with an added refrain, it doesn’t work with The Yellow Rose of Texas OR that other earworm song which shall not be mentioned.
This, I count a victory.

May you find yourself, if not in the woods, by an estuary, near a reservoir, around a stand of willows — somewhere that there’s no internet connection, you can turn off the news, and try to recenter. There is good in the world, kind hearts and truth… but you won’t find it via newscasters and talking heads on TV. Get out.

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Muir Woods, unidentified pink wildflower

tired

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.

– Langston Hughes

Ugly Food, Autumn Days, &tc.

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Oh, yes, turkeys. On a trip into town the other day, we saw these loudmouthed beasties. Along with the mobs of Canadian geese which are strutting through the elementary school field, we’re inundated with huge birds. We’re pretty sure they’re following us.

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“We miss your food blogging,” people say from time to time, and we give them that patient, blank smile that has beneath it Many Thoughts.

Thing is, one, our lives have refocused from food and our slower lifestyle, which gave us time to do more cooking, has changed. We do assembly line types of things on the weekends, like so many people do. We’re both trying to shove more work into the days — D is burning his candle possibly at three points, for three different companies, all while covering three positions in his main, non-consultant job, while T is trying to finish a novel in ten weeks (a self-determined deadline she might actually make), before the madness of another Cybils Book Award cycle begins. Life has gotten busy — and while it’s not that we’re not looking or photographing food – because somehow we have that ridiculous tendency, despite not being Actual Millenials (TM), sometimes, we don’t post those pictures anywhere in particular, or share the recipes… because the food is… ugly.

Yes, okay. We’re not supposed to say that, we’re told. If we didn’t point it out, no one would notice, we’re told. Um… yeah. Right.

Quinoa Lentil Salad

A couple weeks ago we made an amazing salad of quinoa, brown lentils, fresh-from-the-cob white corn and juicy cherry tomatoes. We added chopped cilanto and a dressing made of …leftover guacamole, blended together with a little oil and vinegar. It was delicious; unctuous and rich and spicy — and if you’re looking for a non-dairy base for a salad dressing, you won’t do worse than mashed ‘cado. That aside, comfort foods, such as brown lentils, and the little squiggly tails of quinoa do not photograph well. Add to that a dressing that oxidizes into the color of things one would rather not discuss when found on or near an infant? So not pretty. To the point: T took a picture of it, and D deleted it from Flickr, saying it looked “like ugly mush.” She was most amused. “But, I took it that way on purpose,” she protested. “That’s what it looks like.” He claimed he’d return the photograph to the line up. He finally did, but not without Much Furrowing Of Brows.

Ugly food. Ugly words. Ugly actions. Ugly world. Nothing that would make the Instagram cut. Life lately has more than its share of things which do not bear scrutiny, and we are, these days, scraped raw and bruised. The things we need to do – and to eat – to keep body and soul together, to keep spirits nourished – often don’t photograph attractively. But we do them anyway. We walk and rage and donate and weep. We try not to eat our feelings. To fail to do so is to fail to thrive in this love-grown-cold world, and we all need to do the best we can to be ready when it’s time for us to play the parts we’re called to play. And we do have a part to play. Walk together, children. Don’t you get weary.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

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Nighttime temps dropping abruptly into the forties after another bump into the nineties during the daytime has left our fig tree confused. It is still heavily laden with fruit, so much so that we have daily discussions with Sid, the 5 o’clock Squirrel and the sweet little black phoebe which has taken up residence nearby. Sid is not convinced that he should stay out of the figs, but he’s made it his life’s work lately to keep other squirrels out. And so The Wars Continue.

The geese continue to warn sharply of autumn’s arrival — sometimes it seems like they’re following us. The other night, on the way in to chamber rehearsal, a flight of them arrowed over our heads, flying low enough for us to see the sunset glinting off of belly feathers. We really are enjoying the variety of wildlife here; everyone has Canadian geese, but we never have lived in close enough proximity to egrets to know that they, too, make sounds… mainly a harsh croaking noise that just echoes up and down the tidal marsh corridor, when they’re het up about something (one wonders what — an especially good frog? An annoying egret landing nearby? A boyfriend? WE WILL NEVER KNOW). Sleeping with the windows open isn’t working out anymore, which has its good and bad points – we’re not being wakened at the crack-of-smack anymore by the avian world, and the wind isn’t rattling down the hallway, either — but the smell of green swamp is not nearly as much fun as the smell of closed up house. Ah, well.

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Another funny little autumn thing is happening — in our old house, we often noticed ladybugs in our bedroom throughout the fall and winter. We thought that was over, when we moved miles away… um, not so much. The Ashy Gray Lady Beetle – ladybug 2.0, in other words – has found us again, and is trying to overwinter in our master bedroom… again. The more things change, the more they remain the same, etc. etc.

With so much busyness taking over, we haven’t had time to do much roaming, but are batting around the idea of visiting the Dark Sky Park in Death Valley – when it gets a bit more bearable there, temperature-wise. We haven’t had much chance to photograph really good stars since Iceland, and Death Valley is much, much closer. We’re still hoping to make it to the UK again someday, but our trip to Oaxaca is going to be put on hold for a long while, we’re afraid. We are still very much enjoying our Chamber group — more information to come on that — and had forgotten the little ins-and-outs of belonging to an organization which requires evening wear and fundraising, on top of memorizing tricky German vowel sounds for the Abendlied, but we are keeping heads above water there (though it’s a challenge – a good one, but still!).

Life moves on, and it’s lovely to hear that you are living, surviving, thriving. It’s been nice to hear from many of you. And to the rest – Hello! Be well! We miss you.

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Really?

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The funny thing about living here is that we’re cooking … differently. We’re doing more prep ahead, making casseroles for the week (and freezing 3 when we make 4), we’re having protein smoothies in the morning, and we’re not really cooking as much. We know this not just because we see what we’re doing but because we encounter things like these onions. Left to their own devices, they decided it was time to sprout, even though they’re in a cool, dark cabinet.

-D