They’re baaaack….

Despite the perception of turkeys as Thanksgiving beasties, they’re really showing off those traditional tail-feathers in mid-to-late Spring. They’re noisy and twitchy and generally a mess, as most grooms are.

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Meanwhile, the intermittent rains keep are keeping things gorgeously, almost historically (hysterically?) green — and we find ourselves torn — wanting to go outside and revel in all the color, while knowing full well we’ll end up sneezing and wheezing and regretting the whole thing. Life with seasonal allergies; life in California. Life in the Spring.

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Carpe diem.

Posted in California, Life | 1 Comment

Landscape plotted and pieced-fold, fallow and plough…


                              

Pied Beauty

~ by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

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    Glory be to God for dappled things—

        For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

            For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

        Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

            And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spáre, strange;

        Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)

            With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;

    He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:

                                                Práise hím.

Walnut Creek 2

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First published in 1918, the above poem can be found in:

  • Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Gerard Manley Hopkins. Catherine Phillips, ed.
    New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
  • Harmon, William, ed. The Classic Hundred Poems (Second Edition).
    New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
  • Skyway Drive 367

    Happy National Poetry Month!

    Posted in California, Life | Leave a comment

    ‘I’ll to thee a Simnell bring,’ Part i

    A great deal can change in a short time. Contracts can be changed, lives or health can be lost, and vacation plans altered mid-stride. We’ve all lived it.

    What’s weird is how rarely that impacts our daily world. Most of the time, things change realllllly slowly. At the speed of glacial snails. We’re dying for Something To Happen, and …nothing much does. That, too, is life.

    Culinarily, change is never swift. A recipe from the 15th century still today can bear the echo of its roots. Take, for example, the Simnel cake. This is an old, old English Easter cake, mentioned in a 17th century Herrick (1591-1674) poem from 1648. ‘I’ll to thee a Simnell bring ‘Gainst thou go’st a mothering, So that, when she blesseth thee, Half thou’lt give to me.’ The narrator (we assume Robert Herrick) confides that he’ll bring his friend a Simnel cake, so that, on the festival day of Mothering Sunday, which is the fourth Sunday of Lent, he’ll receive half of her blessing. Interestingly, Mothering Sunday can allegedly be traced back to the Greeks celebrating a three-day festival of the goddess Cybele, mother of all gods. Rather than celebrating motherhood, the festival apparently celebrates the Mother Church. Used as part of Mothering Sunday celebrations through Britain and beyond, it’s a specialty because Mothering Sunday, or “Refreshment Sunday” as it’s also called, relaxes the strict fasting rules for Lent. Thus: cake!

    Simnel Cake 1

    Sounds good to us.

    More information we ferreted out: the word simnel is from Old French simenel, or spelled seminel, based on Latin simila, meaning fine flour. In Greek semidalis means finest wheaten flour, and an old Assyrian word, samīdu and the Syriac word sĕmīdā, mean fine meal. (Semolina, anyone? It’s the same root. Also semmel in German means a bread roll.) Thus, we know that this Simnel cake is made with finely milled flour, probably white, or as close to white as a household could get. It was studded with dried fruits – what was available at the beginning of Spring, leftover from winter – and heavily seasoned. Some recipes call for it being both boiled AND baked. Of course, boiling is traditional for many Scottish cakes, as boiling was all some households had. Few working people had ovens in the 18th-19th century, and cooked in a kettle over a fire, or on a hearth. However, there’s a goofy legend attached to this — a man called Simon and his wife Nell argued over whether the cake for Mothering Sunday should be baked or boiled. Too keep peace, they did both, so the cake was named after both of them: Sim-Nell. Aaand, we don’t believe that at all, but it’s convenient fiction to explain why some recipes call for both methods of cookery.

    Our first shot at this cake comes from England. We used the hand-written recipe recorded between 1705 and 1726 blogged at Cooking in the Archives. The recipe is held at the University of Pennsylvania library, and calls for ingredients like “a peck of flour” “a race of Ginger” “Balme,” which was the wild yeast found floating atop fermenting beer, and “sack,” which is kind of like sherry. We didn’t have spirits or fermenting anything in the house, so skipped that step. We noticed that this old recipe did not call for marzipan or peel or anything like more modern Simnel recipes call for, but we made sure to honor the “fine flour” aspect of it by using a strong white bread flour. We substituted the “boyl” – er, boiling for a long, slow rise in a slightly warmed oven. This was a necessity, as it’s still pretty cool here of an afternoon and evening, and the nights are crisp, and this bread just didn’t otherwise want to raise. This could also be blamed on the absolute stuffing of raisins and currants. This stuff is LOADED.

    Simnel Cake 3

    Posted in Baking | Leave a comment

    Rode hard, put up wet, still smiling

    Friends in the East are having very different weather than ours today. “Oh, spring has sprung,” one said Tuesday. “The rest is just details.” Another crowed on her blog the other day, “The air is glorious like wine! Saw my first tiger swallowtail, and all the frogs are singing!”

    Our friends are reveling in their gardens, sitting on front stoops with cider and books, and stretching their limbs in the sun. “Must be nice,” we sigh, as another gust of wiiiind slaps a handful of rain into our faces, but then we look over our shoulders nervously. We are NOT, repeat, NOT tired of the rain. No, no! Californians who whine are subject to lightning strikes about the head and shoulders, so we are NOT whining, not when we’ve finally seen a light at the end (well, the beginning of the end) of the nastiest drought tunnel in years. Even in the face of a potential Category 3 storm (the weather person who said this was met with bewildered, “What?” faces), we are sucking it up to relearn appropriate rain behavior. We first met this in Seattle, and really learned the ropes in Scotland. The Just Do It school of rainy weather behavior is “if you let the rain chase you indoors, you’ll never come out again ’til July,” so we’re managing the trick of being out/about anyway when we’d rather stay in and read and bake and schlepp around the house. One of the ways we keep moving, as Lake Shasta and the reservoirs, creeks and rivers are filling – or in poor Sebastopol/Guerneville/Monte Rio’s case, overfilling AGAIN – is to step outside and remember one of the ten thousand reasons to be happy right now.

    So, go outside. We’ll wait.

    You out there? Good. Listen.

    In the daytime, in between the soughing of the wind and the plink and prickle of raindrops against the earth (and the unfortunate wail of sirens, as people collide and slide across the road) you can hear something else. Birdsong. Millions of birds, tweeting and squeaking and singing. And, of an evening, you can hear this:

    Leoni Meadows 1

    Okay, this is two hours from our house, on the edge of a meadow facing a great thousand acre swath of woods, true, but the frogs are singing at our house, too- even in the damp and cold and wet (why would that make a difference to them??) – singing. Singing aloud – I’d say with joy, but no point in waxing ridiculous; they’re singing aloud with an “I’m an available mate” tune going on. 😈 It’s what Spring is all about.

    As the traffic snarls and you watch the eejits in front of you speed, then hydroplane and fishtail up the road (note to people who own pickups – in high wind and rain, put something in the truck bed; didn’t they tell you that in Driver’s Ed???), remember the birds. Remember the frogs. Drive carefully, stay out of the wind, if you can, and remember to take a little bit to listen – and be grateful.

    Happy storm weekend.

    Pleasant Hill466

    Posted in California, Life | 1 Comment

    Old Code Lives On

    Stirling 307Occasionally I remember how old I am. Thinking about how I got into computer programming, I usually tell the story about how I was working doing data entry and got tired of the repetitive nature of the job, so automated a piece of it and ended up drawing the attention of the IT department as a result. (I still keep in contact with that guy, 20 years later.) Thinking about it, though, I realized that my start was a lot earlier than that. I realized this when reading an article on The Law of Accelerating Returns. Something in there struck me as being … well, wrong.

    The movie Back to the Future came out in 1985, and “the past” took place in 1955. In the movie, when Michael J. Fox went back to 1955, he was caught off-guard by the newness of TVs, the prices of soda, the lack of love for shrill electric guitar, and the variation in slang. It was a different world, yes—but if the movie were made today and the past took place in 1985, the movie could have had much more fun with much bigger differences. The character would be in a time before personal computers, internet, or cell phones—today’s Marty McFly, a teenager born in the late 90s, would be much more out of place in 1985 than the movie’s Marty McFly was in 1955.

    Now, I don’t know about you, but my first DOS-based computer resembled something like the PC3 “LunchBox” Portable Computer, and came to me in something like 1984. Of course, somewhere around the same time we were playing with the Commodore Vic-20 (came out in 1981), Commodore 64 (1982), and the Commodore 128 (1985). So, no, going back to 1985 wouldn’t be all that shocking. Yes, it’d be annoying to have to use a card catalog in order to find something, rather than asking teh interwebs. It’d also be strange not to have call waiting, or cell phones, but I can’t say that it’d be particularly troublesome overall. Nor can I really say the world was all that much different.

    Stirling 308I got to thinking about how long I’ve been writing software (this time) because I’d been asked to pull together some screenshots and instructions for a database application I built back in 1998. This application is still running, 18 years later, and still the “system of record” for the company. This and a couple other systems I’ve written are still ticking over in some form or another (this one’s running on a virtual machine just to keep it alive, because nobody can get the software any more, and nobody really knows how to replace it – I had to install an older development tool just to convert it to what it would have been in 2003’s format so that I could convert it to the current format and have a look through things.).

    In any event, I think it’s important to point out that yes, the rate of technological change is ever-increasing. On the other hand, there are these bedrock systems which keep on running that nobody is willing to replace because they aren’t broken – they still do their job just fine, and there really is no need to change them. (Have a look at this PCWorld article, for instance.) In parallel with these systems, old code keeps on ticking over, and continues to work (e.g., just about the entire Banking sector of the UK runs on COBOL, or the VA Hospital’s Electronic Medical Records system is .NET wrapped around Java wrapped around Delphi wrapped around a file-based storage system – so, your medical record is just a text file somewhere, when all’s said and done). Other, operating-system type foundations have also not shifted – there really are only 2 operating systems in use today, *NIX and Windows NT – and those have been around for decades – everything added to them is just window-dressing.

    It’s only the surface of things which has really shifted – the core remains as it was 20 or even 40 years ago. Yes, computers are much faster. Yes, computers are way smaller, and in seemingly everything. But I just don’t see the level of technological change being all that huge even now, nor do I think it’s changing as rapidly as Kurzweil thinks. Or, rather, I don’t think that the entire ecosystem changes as rapidly as all that – it’s that the outliers are arriving faster, but their adoption depends upon their incorporation into the devices and technologies we already use, which is necessarily slowed by our very humanity.

    Dolomites D 300So. Take the time to look back at all the computing you’ve done, and realize how much things haven’t changed, despite the new names and different packages. Ignore the window-dressing and really think about the technology and you may be surprised at how, really, things haven’t changed. Sure, if they implanted teh interwebs into your head you’d be hugely changed – and, yes, they’re working on that somewhere – but do we really see it happening in our lifetimes? I really don’t think so, because I really think that the rate of change is not solely governed by tech, but by the economics of the matter, and by our ability to incorporate that change.

    -D

    Posted in Miscellany, Rant | 1 Comment

    Aside from reading for a book award, reviewing other books and pretending to be a competent writerly being…

    Skyway Drive 335

    I’m told the candy does NOT, in fact, taste like peas or carrots. Bummer.

    …I’m up to a few other things:

    February is not just when the groundhog emerges (albeit with a LOT of help from people pulling it) from its hole to find its shadow – it’s apparently the month when introverts Make An Effort (also with a LOT of help from people… pulling). I’ll be booktalking, and being visible this February here and there – first, I’m presenting a webinar February 2nd for The National WWII Museum on Mare’s War as part of their WWII emphasis this year. Teachers and families who do homeschooling, you’ll want to jump on this! The week following, I’ll be on the blog STACKED and then the tumblr Size Acceptance in YA; at BN Teen Blog’s Open Mic project sometime next month, and on John Scalzi’s WHATEVER blog’s Big Idea project on February 9th, which is the same day that PEAS AND CARROTS has its book birthday.

    I’m grateful to everyone who asked me to show up and hang out next month, and given me the opportunity to talk about what I do and how I do it.

    Skyway Drive 336

    X-posted from {fiction, instead of lies}

    – T

    Posted in California, Life, Literature Review, Scholarly Things | 2 Comments

    {the people that walked in darkness}

    Lynedoch Crescent D 242

    when you walk through the storm, keep your head up high,
    and don’t be afraid of the dark

    At the end of a storm is a golden sky, and the sweet silver song of the lark –

    …Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain
    though your dreams be tossed and blown –

    Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
    and you’ll never walk alone… you’ll never walk alone.

    Charing Cross 264

    To the people still walking in darkness, and waking in darkness, and whose spirits are flattened beneath the hideous orangish glow of sodium lights — hang in there.

    Lynedoch Crescent D 241

    And to those who are buckling down for wind, sleet, storm and blizzard this weekend — see you on the other side. Stay warm!

    Kelvingrove Park 213
    Posted in In Retrospect | 1 Comment

    Citrus Season

    Pleasant Hill 461

    ‘Tis the season for winter blahs, endless cups of tea, difficult awakenings, and increased indolence. January lies within that particular limbo of “nothing going on yet” and recovering from too much going on. We are grateful to be healthy and to have the wherewithal to be a little bored. Bored right now is good.

    2016 seems to be moving at a shocking clip — it seems inconceivable that we’re getting tax forms already, and looking at bills for car registration and insurance and all the other cyclical things that come round again and again. By this time of month, people have stopped going on about resolutions and have gone back to fearmongering about politics — what if my candidate doesn’t win? — fearmongering about the weather — what if after this El Nino, there’s another La Nina cycle with NO MORE RAIN?? — and in general bickering, unpleasant, cantankerous realities of American society. Definitely time to turn off the …everything, and go outside.

    Pleasant Hill 465

    It’s odd how to think how much we’ve forgotten about a rainy season. We’ve been wakened by wind and rain more than once these past few weeks, have watched the previously dead square of yard tentatively take on a furred green aspect as tiny seeds of …something germinate. (Oh, please God, may it not be the ivy again. It took us WEEKS to dig that out. It’s probably ivy. *sigh*) Between the wooden slats of our deck, beneath the bird feeder, eight sunflowers stretch bravely toward the leaden sky. They’re all about four inches tall, but distinctive. If we could transplant them, we would. The dying pine trees — still standing, because the owner can’t decide on a company to come and remove them — seem like they’re shedding pine needles in thick carpets in order to provide hiding places for the tiny, darting birds which have multiplied by the hundreds. Even the hummingbirds – suspiciously hovering and glowering at all comers – have slowed their usual frantic circling to simply sit in the yard and watch this season unfold.

    The Wees are selling oranges at their elementary school, and while our weekly farm box provides us with plenty of cabbage, root veg and citrus, we agreed to buy a bag. In the spirit of trying to use everything in the veg box that we can — we’re still making kimchi and pickling carrots and cauliflower — T. bodged a bunch of oranges in a pot the other afternoon and decided to make marmalade.

    We’ve been in the marmalade frame of mind before. It didn’t go well. D. worked so hard to thinly slice oranges and lemons and carefully weigh out all the ingredients… and it never set. Worse, it bubbled over and made a mess, and we ended up tossing a lot of it after we scraped it off of the stovetop. This time, T. sliced the oranges by hand instead of with a mandolin, added some cloves, just because, put in a random amount of sugar, and … mainly forgot about it. This we call “serendipitous cooking.” As in, it’s serendipity that it didn’t scorch, boil over, otherwise implode, and it’s actually good. It worries T. when she manages things that D. hasn’t managed… mainly because she can’t figure out how it happened.

    Marmalade 2

    Marmalade aficionados suggest softening rinds with a long, liquid reducing boil, not overstirring the marmalade after it’s reached a boil, potting the jam when it’s warm, and not piping hot, and making sure the thinly sliced citrus fruits are not too thin. British marmalade is made with the peel separated from the fruit, but T. didn’t bother zesting the oranges, and ended up turning them off midway through the cooking process for an appointment. Putting them back up to boil afterward may have done good things for the pectin formation. Some marmalade makers add the sugar near the end of the procedure, to keep the end product clear and brighter in color. Others add brown sugar, to create a deeper flavor. Since we have a whole haul of frozen and sliced oranges in the freezer, we look forward to trying out a few of these ideas.

    As it stands, this marmalade is quite good, reminiscent of the bittersweet and sticky Dundee marmalade we liked so well in Scotland. T promises next time to pot it in much smaller jars for sharing — until then, she encourages you to prep and freeze your own citrus glut; you never know what wonderful things marmalade can make better. D. likes it drizzled over pound cake or as a layer in a chocolate cake. Eventually, once we pull ourselves together to try angel food again, it will also go well with that…

    Pleasant Hill 462

    A hazy winter sun is emerging from behind a bank of gray-edged clouds. A piquant tanginess elevating winter’s earthy root offerings, the abundant orange is a little bit of sun to offset the tough darkness of what may turn out to be a pretty long winter. For that we can be nothing but grateful.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

    The More Things Change

    In the major house clean after the holidays, T. found a newsletter from 2005 which commented on the torrential, Ark-inducing rainfall. Those were the days, and the return of the rain to this rather dry state – this week’s “conga line of storms” as one forecaster deliriously burbled – is still too much of a novelty to provoke much complaint about the snarled traffic and the inconvenience of a sudden ploot, as the Scots call a downpour (though we WILL complain about the eejits who don’t understand that one cannot drive a wet road at the same speed as one dry). At work this week, D. discovered that his thick wool cardigan indeed smells quite like wet sheep when thoroughly drenched. Funny, that.

    Vacaville 1

    It’s always nice to do a bit of baking when being outdoors is not an option, and D. took the opportunity to use a recent gift of an Angel Food pan for the first time. Whether it was the lemon zest he added to the carefully folded froth or the fact that he – strictly following a recipe for once, since he’d not made an angel food cake for over 20 years – used Egg Beaters instead of cracking fresh eggs, or the Egg Beaters had frozen previously — something made this cake weirdly almost soggy, with huge bubbles, and an appalling…coarseness. Since an angel food cake is normally light, airy, firm, yet tender of crumb, this was a definite MAJOR fail – the first of the New Year, which amused us greatly. It was frustrating, but angel food is just such an easy cake that we were sort of gobsmacked that it had somehow not come out right. From Cook’s Illustrated we learned that Egg Beaters are twice pasteurized… of course, we checked with them AFTER we’d made our error. Well. Live and learn. We have some ideas for what to do next time, and will begin by using a different recipe, in-shell, non-carton egg whites… and going from there.

    Angel Food Cake 1

    As you can see, it looks more like bread than cake…

    Angel Food Cake 2

    At least our Lavender Lemon Shortbread turned out. Of course, D. doubled both the lemon and the lavender because he feared they’d simply taste like really rich sugar cookies if he didn’t. T. felt the spices fought each other, and would have preferred one merely complementing the other, OR, Lavender sugar cookies and Lemon shortbread, separately. D. found them reasonably tasty, and T. decided, as she often does, that they’d be improved with a tart lemon frosting glaze. Lemon juice, with a soupçon of icing sugar, covers a multitude of sins.

    Lemon Lavender Shortbread 1

    All that needs to be added is a cuppa and a fire, and all’s well that ends well. Well…mostly. Happily D. got a new EvenGrind – a hand-powered coffeebean grinder – and while he is quite pleased with it, he and a coworker have discussed making it work with an electric drill… so, once the whirring stops, and the cuppa’s brewed, THEN all is well. Apparently.

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    So. A fire, a cookie, a game, and thou. Looking back at every January, wet or dry, we’re pretty much the same as we always are. Cheers to that.

    Posted in California | 2 Comments

    Journey to the Center South of the Earth.

    Finding ourselves with a rare gift of a few days with no appointments or expectations, we decided to head down to Southern California to visit with D’s family. Rather than fly, we figured we’d just drive, as SoCal remains about 8 hours distant, barring traffic. Given the choice between being in airports on Christmas or sitting in our own vehicle? Not that difficult a decision, really. We caught up on chitchat and podcasts (NPR’s Latino USA has an amazing piece on Jewish Latino culture that was really worth hearing) and made surprisingly good time.

    SoCal Christmas 2015 25

    Our one concern was the roads – the changing season has brought oddly torrential rains and some floods to the lowlands, and freezing temps even to our little neck of the woods, which is at sea level, and we wondered how much it was going to snow, heading over the Grapevine. We found that for Southern California, it was snowy … meaning there were maybe 3 inches built up, in spots, and the road was a wee bit wet, in spots. (It was a bit odd finding ice on the top of the car in San Bernadino, though). It was gorgeous and we were grateful to arrive when it was already on the ground, with no issue of the road being closed.

    Our time was mostly spent watching D’s sibs and their various children (7 nieces and nephews!) enjoy their various aerial toys and putting together an evil trampoline that took far longer than it should have (never underestimate the power of people not reading directions). There was plenty of interesting food (potatoes, sliced thinly, on …pizza? Surprisingly tasty, with an Alfredo sauce), many, many, many citrus and palm trees, and a trip to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, to which we hadn’t gone since …2002 or so. An old photograph shows us there in high summer, shivering as we snap a photograph. We’d forgotten that it wasn’t just the cold that had chased us down last time… it was a few other details, like the fact that it’s very high!

    SoCal Christmas 2015 53

    The last time we were in one of the trams, they had much smaller cars (you can see one in the picture above). Nowadays, the cars are round, and the floor rotates around 360° over the course of moving up nearly a vertical mile, from 2,643 feet elevation at the embarkation station to 8,516 feet at debarkation. D. thought this would be fun (T was, as she always is in trams, dubious). We found that having the windows constantly sliding to the side, while trying to brace and take pictures, wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Though it did tend to distract from the disturbing bits (going over the pylons and swinging nauseatingly baaaack and forth), overall we think that it would have been nice, for the photographers, to be stable rather than slowly rotating about. Ah, well, the kids got a kick out of it.

    SoCal Christmas 2015 59

    Though some of our party were unprepared for the realities of snow (one child discovered that Crocs and bare feet do not make for enjoyable snow play) and certainly neither T. nor D. expected Southern Cal to be cold enough to have brought scarves or ear-covering hats (T. counted herself fortunate to find an extra pair of knit gloves in the car and D. was very grateful for his flannel-lined cardigan), it was a pleasant trip up, but one we won’t be taking again soon. While it’s quite a wonderful view from the top of Mt. San Jacinto, both T. and D. were struggling with the altitude more than they remembered (which is probably why we only made a brief visit the summer of 2002 – yeah, it was snowy up there and we were in shorts, but we couldn’t breathe), and T’s lungs didn’t really enjoy the hike from the parking lot in dry 29°F/-1°C air (her ten-minute coughing jag reminded her why she’d never choose to live in a high desert). We were a bit disappointed in our performance, but high altitude fans we are not. *waves to our friends in Denver*

    SoCal Christmas 2015 54

    The air was astoundingly clear for Southern California. We could see all the way to the Salton Sea (which was just cut out of the photograph on the far right in the shot below).

    SoCal Christmas 2015 69

    This trip also gave D the excuse to break in his new camera. It was a treat to hold onto something so much smaller and lighter, and get some truly detailed and clear pictures — but focus is tricky — as he realized when T. met a friend from Iowa for lunch (the joys of others traveling to see family nearby!) and he took a picture of them which left them both blurry, but the road behind in sharp focus. We also realize we need to get an additional battery pack for the new rig – at the top of the mountain, D. ran out of power, so spent some time hanging about in the lodge with the charger plugged into a free socket. Ah, well. We’ll be better prepared next time.

    And now we take stock of our lives, and tumble into the new year. Joy to you, friends — stay dry and WARM.

    -D & T

    Posted in California, Traveling | 2 Comments