The Drum Roll of Autumn

Peachtree 32Last Monday evening, we had a foretaste of autumn that whetted our appetites and encouraged us through the relentlessly sticky humidity here. Though it was nearly five, it was still 81°F with humidity in the 80% range, and the sky was all Heart of Darkness. We had to run errands after work hours, so dodged the odd sprinkle, and watched cloud-to-cloud lightning flashes on the way home. As we prepped dinner, the flurry of sprinkles turned on and off, and we heard grumbles of thunder that got closer and closer. Still didn’t think anything of it, though as a precaution brought our canvas chairs in from the yard. And then suddenly, while relaxing after supper – reading in front of a fan, with all the windows opened – we were blinded by a flash and the hair on our arms lifted. The supersonic BOOM chased a gust of cold wind through the house, and then the rain came just sluicing down. We stared at each other for a brief moment – T attempting to film the scene on her camera (which cheerfully began filming after she set it down) then said, “WINDOWS!” Yes. In a house without air conditioning, all of the windows in the house are generally open to catch any errant breeze… which wasn’t a problem on the front of the house, as the wind was coming form the other direction, but the back of the house gets the wind off the bay, and so we had water running through very dirty screens, bringing muddy spatters to light-colored wood flooring and white tile.

And may we just say that damp wool rugs smell a great deal like wet dog?

The rain, which lasted on and off for a couple of hours, with massive cloudbursts, finally broke the worst of the heat. Though the humidity lingered briefly, cooler winds prevailed, and ungainly egrets darted and flapped over the slough in seeming celebration (joining the REALLY LOUD GEESE, whose favorite time of day to practice flying in formation is the predawn hours, for some reason. The neighborhoods here are so, so quiet… and then there are the ducks. And the geese. And the rock doves. At least the egrets and herons, so far, are quiet. SO FAR). The National Weather Service reported Tuesday morning that 1,200 cloud-to-ground strikes and 5,800 in-cloud strikes hit the Bay Area Monday night, so that was a bit of excitement, as we got to see LOTS of them. We do wish our video had turned out, but T has since gotten a brief tutorial so subsequent videos should actually show scenes one wants to see, instead of a close-up of bedspreads and the floor. Le sigh.

Another harbinger of fall is the return of the chorale, and the vigorous humming of carols while showering, well before their time (but not, sadly, before some wrong-headed little drugstore has a Christmas tree display up in a back corner. People: can we get through school starting first? K, thanks). Last summer, T was invited to join a group of professional singers as their ringer soprano, but she declined – mostly because the chorus was made up of professionals – actors, singers, music professors, theater people – and she felt she’d be in over her head. After hearing of a chamber group holding auditions three miles from the house, she looked up the director… and discovered that he was one of the tenors in the group she’d been invited to join. She is much happier to meet him as an anonymous choir member, though the three-week audition period (!!!) is a bit nerve-wracking. Several chamber members sweetly refer to it as “letting us get comfortable before he turns the screws.”

Peachtree 33

As the summer wanes, things are still unsettled at D’s job, but as audits come and their reverberations trickle down through the company, he soldiers on, getting fingerprinted and checked out so the CDC can decide he’s an asset to lab/manufacturing areas, hiring contractors, and enjoying getting to know folks with the weekly free lunch-and-socialize times. T is past the halfway point on a summer book project that started out as “just an idea,” which took on a life of its own, and is bracing herself for the onslaught of reading to come as a book award judge. Things in the house are nearly settled now, with the screens finally in place, rugs and towels coordinating, and – soon! – the last pictures hung or stored. The challenge of living with constant humidity is reminding us, oddly, of Glasgow, where we required a dehumidifier for the closet. The linen closet has wire racks, so there’s sufficient air circulation; however, the clothes closet is its own little walk-in room, and depending on how the rains go this year, we may find we have a little problem. Still, it will never be as exciting as finding all of our clothes mildewed together in the closet like they did in Glasgow …At least we hope it’ll not get that exciting…!

Enjoy the last sweet summer fruit – the times, they are a-changing at long last, to the favorite season of all. Bring out those decorative gourds, people.

Autumn Day

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your long shadows on the sundials,
and on the meadows let the winds go free.

Command the last fruits to be full;
give them just two more southern days,
urge them on to completion and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who has no house now, will never build one.
Who is alone now, will long remain so,
will stay awake, read, write long letters
and will wander restlessly up and down
the tree-lines streets, when the leaves are drifting.

– Rainier Maria Rilke, translated by E. Snow,

Newark 77

Kimchi

We quite enjoy fermenting our own kimchi and D. has had a request from a coworker for some made particularly spicy. So, below is what we ended up with after visiting the farmers’ market to pick up daikon and Thai bird peppers.

Kimchi 1 Kimchi 2
Kimchi 3 Kimchi 4

The ingredients for this dish are:

  • 3 heads of Nappa / Chinese cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 1 red onion, halved, quartered, and sliced
  • 1 daikon radish, halved and sliced
  • 3 sheets of roasted nori (seaweed sheets), cut to strips
  • maybe 15 Thai bird peppers, split open
  • 3/4 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
  • 1 cup kosher salt (not shown)

And the preparation is:

  1. Salt the cabbage, massage a bit, and let it sit for an hour.
  2. Rinse the cabbage well, drain, and mix with everything else.
  3. Cram everything into your fermentation crock.
  4. Cover with the appropriate weights.
  5. Top up with filtered water (removing the chlorine here, really).
  6. Wait several weeks.

D’s coworker is off on holiday for several weeks, at which point this should be nice and fermented.

-D & T

Shortbread Shopping

Newark 69
Newark 72

As the world goes up in flames, we carry on. This week’s hyperfocus on minutiae had us contemplating the grocery store…

One of the joys (?) of moving is finding all new everything – dentist, chiropractor, doctor, community… and it’s never an easy transition. We’ve been flailing, trying to find a decent place for groceries. We love the Farmer’s Market, but skipped during last weekend’s Journey to the Center of the Volcano, in no mood to brave the bowels of hell just for fresh peaches. One good thing is that we have great options for produce here – those peaches are a regular feature this summer at the market, and there’s usually decent produce at most stores, including the big box like Costco. However, Costco here is ridiculous – we were spoiled, living where we had access to one in Vallejo, one in Vacaville, and one in Fairfield, within close proximity. Now, we’re down to one SUPER busy one, and unless you like to play Cart Derby, it’s a lot to ask. We had known the staff of our local Raley’s since before we moved to Scotland and had our house in Benicia, and knowing the staff by name (hello, Bernadette at the pharmacy) made everything easier. The Raley’s here, though is downtown, which means that it’s busier, has a city-type population, and our first day there including a clerk dragging a homeless man out of the store, castigating him loudly for shoplifting. Um. Maybe not.

With a much greater Asian and South Asian population, there are tons of Indian groceries in the area, as well as a Ranch 99, which was pretty neat but probably only for occasional shopping, as it was super crowded and full of what we term “field trip” food, as in we buy it just because we want to try it. This past weekend we tried Trader Joe’s which was kind of a relief, as it always seems to be the same store, no matter its location. We laughed that they both stocked Walkers Shortbread – both Ranch 99 and Trader Joe’s. Just in case, you know, you felt the need for imported Scottish Shortbread with your bitter melon or two-buck-chuck.

We’ve been bemused by Sprouts (with their “vegan sugar” and bizarre layout), amused by Whole Paycheck which, now that it’s owned by Amazon, we’re not sure it’s going to be any better than it’s always been, and spooked and stunned by the Safeway which is OK but came with an overly inquisitive checker who wanted to know a.)if we were married, b.)how long we’d been married, c.) if we lived at home (?!) and d.) to tell us that her son had married a colored girl… Y’know, if it wasn’t a total lazy cop-out and basically unnecessary, we’d get groceries delivered.

The world continues strange. How are you?

-D & T

Planning Ahead

When you have a deep-freeze, you can plan ahead. For us, that means we can make up four casseroles and about four loaves of bread (one pan is double-length and is really for making angel-food-cake, but who does that?).

Peachtree 26

Three of the casseroles went into the deep freeze, where they’ll stay until we’re not feeling like cooking dinner. The fourth was baked immediately after the bread came out of the oven. The bread will, likewise, mostly be put into the deep freeze, where it will stay until we’re in dire need of raisin bread

We’re really enjoying that there’s a tortilla factory about a mile down the road from us, and have been experimenting with making “enchilada casseroles.” This batch contains several layers of crookneck squash, as well as beans, cheese, TVP, corn tortillas, and green or red enchilada sauce.

The raisin bread contains a heap of raisins and currants, plus our spice blend, some whole rye-berries (steamed), and a few whole fennel seeds to add that random element of surprise to things.

Now that we’ve figured out that the oven needs to be preheated for about 30 minutes, we’re happy to be able to plan ahead for the week (and beyond).

-D & T

Living Life

Newark 48

We have survived the heat wave, despite not having air conditioning. We’ve been in this house now for six weeks or so and are feeling more settled. Tomorrow we audition for a local choir – the first choir we’ve thought would at all compare to the choir in Glasgow… which means that it’s been over five years since we’ve been on a regular rehearsal schedule!

Today is a day to relax before the week – to put together casseroles, to make a batch of raisin bread, to read. Now that the heat has gone, it’s a day to sit with the door open and listen to the hummingbirds complain about the world. In awhile we’ll maybe sit out in our lounge chairs and listen to the fountain splash.

Enjoy your week and find time to listen to the ducks, geese, and other wild things!

-D & T

Crown Shyness & Intersections

PUC Graduation 2012 053

So, there’s this thing, this inexplicable phenomenon in trees called ‘crown shyness.’ It’s where, for reasons of either reluctance to spread organisms or compete too much for light, trees grow up…and spread their canopy only so far, so that their leaves don’t overlap with the trees next door. Looking up at these canopies from below is striking; those trees really are like, nu-uh, no thank you, stay in your lane. The spaces between the leaves are small, but distinct, and the whole thing is a little mind-boggling.

This phenomenon put us in mind of a few things — mainly how weird it is sometimes when one’s cultures and communities overlap. Or don’t.

Over the past weeks, we’ve seen blogger friends grapple with many Big Questions on their blogging platforms. Some of the big questions have had to do with what they ate this week, or what to make for dinner; others have tackled current events.

There’s never any requirement, per se, from our blogging communities to Say Something About Things, but there’s a certain feeling of… expectation(?) that we will have an opinion, in other circles. That we are happy to speak, if asked. That we will Have Some Wisdom To Share. And then there are the friends who definitely, definitively do NOT want us to say anything. They arrive with a Statement: Everything is Awful Right Now, And We Hate It, and then, they hold their out a hand, a visual time-out; signaling Stop… as if they have the right to tone police, word police, corral or contravene what we might have had to say.

Treasure Island 28

So, all that is… interesting.

There are deeply complex and complicated feelings surrounding one’s right or responsibility to speak or not speak. Especially right now, when we are a biracial couple with acquaintances of various races, eager for our countersignature on their opinions.

And yet, what is there to say? That everything is awful, and we hate it? Noted.

It’s easy to gasp and clutch pearls, but this is history on repeat… You’ll pardon us if we seem cynical about the reactions of the eternally surprised, who say “this is not us, our country isn’t like this!” It is easy to be impatient with the lachrymose, and allow ourselves and our feelings about things to be centered in a narrative that is not entirely about us, and yet, this is about us, about too many things, past, present, and ongoing, to disentangle. Where we are living, truly, where we always live is in history, though capital ‘h’ History is something we don’t always recognize. Yet, here it is: a messy and painful and real time… but for many people, there have been many, many times which are painful, messy, and real. As mentioned: history, on repeat.

Because of that, maybe this is a time for reading, thinking, and listening… and for thoughtful conversation. Perhaps this is not a time to command performance; not from your friends of color, especially. Perhaps the time is less for performative reaction or virtue signaling, and more for quiet decisions about how one will act when those Certain Topics come up, when Certain Situations are witnessed. Maybe now is the time to decide how you will move forward. How each person does this, what words and actions feel right is …as personal as speaking about religion and/or politics used to be.

Meanwhile, History is a daily event, as your conversations and communities intersect, or don’t. Looking up through the canopy of your friendships, you may see spaces between your communities and cultures. As the wind blows, however, those crown shy trees may end up touching anyway. How we deal with that feels like something it’s important to think about before it happens.

L and A Wedding 10

Nearly Settled

Another week! Another pile of collapsed boxes! As of today, all we have left to unpack are the art supplies and to hang what mirrors and paintings are going to go up. Everything else is unpacked and has a permanent home and/or is sorted into donation boxes, awaiting pickup on Wednesday. Less clutter = more peace, and that’s really helpful to T getting creative work done. This is a very quiet neighborhood (except when someone gets the odd urge to mow something, or the train blows its whistle), even on the weekends, and the wind whistling through the house works as natural white noise. It makes for good napping conditions – and we are still exhausted enough to take advantage of them. Well, we think about it, anyway…

On D’s work front, his first week at the new job was immensely enjoyable – so much so that he neglected to come home until after seven, occasionally. There’s much to be done, and much chaos to organize, and he’s enjoying the challenge (or the chaos, one or the other. Not clear which just yet).

To those who’ve complained we’ve gone radio silent and feel as far away as we did when we lived in Scotland: apologies! You’ve asked what the house looks like. Here’s part of downstairs. A glimpse of upstairs to come next time.

Peachtree 3

Above is what we’ll call “the den,” simply because the living room / dining room is the next space over. As you can see, we’re still sorting a few things, organizing the kitchen space, using a folding table. That table will get tucked away until holidays or some other need, soon.

Peachtree 4

If you’re in the den, you’re looking into the kitchen. Yes, those are sticky notes on the cupboards – we had to decide what went where, and haven’t quite gotten it down to memory yet. Things are still shifting around (the flour moved all the way across the kitchen, just last night, to find a home in a cabinet next to the sink, rather than next to the fridge). We’re still trying to get the cupboard space to work well, which is odd, since they’re so narrow and some of them are so deep. As large as the ones next to the fridge are, they’re still too narrow for our largest mixing bowls, so those have had to relocate to the closet next to the garage door.

Whole Wheat Flax Bread 8

We have done our first proper baking here, though, 10 days after moving in (the quiche last weekend doesn’t count, really). A gas oven is miles off from an electric, and there’s an adjustment of all the senses, especially sound (that whoomp as the pilot lights), and smell (that little whiff of gas). Touch is the one sense that doesn’t fare quite as well here… because the oven thermostat is so far off, we had to order an external thermometer. It takes about 45 minutes to get up to close to full heat (set it at 390°F and it’ll get to 350°F in that time), and then gradually slides even hotter, so you have to adjust the temperature down when you put your baking in. We notified the invisible property management people, who report that the owner insists that this is what an oven is supposed to do, and we’re just going to live with it until it falls over.

We are not amused.

At least the bread turned out superbly.

Onward into the new week, with its goals of placing the last mirrors, rugs, and artwork, figuring out the irrigation system and finding a home for the last odds & ends. Until next time,

-D & T

Rivendell, Population 45,812

Newark 20

Described as “The Last Homely House, East of the Sea,” Rivendell in Tolkien’s Hobbit is our name for the East Bay city of Newark, where the wind turns on like AC every afternoon at 3, the salt smell of the marshes rides the wind, and the occasional giant heron flaps awkwardly by. After dashing to move last Tuesday, we worked straight through to do the remaining sorting on this end. Moving into a smaller place is a blessing, in a way, in that it reminds you to keep your hold on Things light. We did a Store, Toss, Keep, Donate version of unpacking that used up all six days we had to settle in, but here on the eve of D’s first day at the new job, we have actually made enough progress that we have nearly all the boxes flattened and in the garage to be Freecycled, and a date for a donation pickup, which makes T. very glad.

This move has been challenging, mainly because we had to hurry-hurry-hurry, but also because we had to fit into the near-Silicon-Valley culture here; we got this house with an app and signed electronically for it. We never did actually SEE any property managers or owners… they left a (fiiiiiiilthy) empty house and we moved in… unfortunately, the lack of human interaction has been incredibly frustrating, as we have basic questions about the HOA, irrigation system, etc., that have yet to be answered. And the things left behind – other than the 12-year-old whiskey (you’d think someone would miss that), boxes of CDs, and other bits of ephemera, the cooks in this place were frying enthusiasts who didn’t like cleaning, so T discovered that you can indeed spend six hours cleaning a range and still not like how it looks! Thankfully, Goo Gone has a product for cook tops. Who knew!? We’re still not happy with the state of things, but it’s a work in progress…

Meanwhile, we are feeling blessed: it’s a gorgeous house, even beneath the spatters and smudges, a quiet neighborhood, a tiny, sunny yard, a two-minute commute for D. and we have Bay trails less than a mile from our house. What with the scrubbing and sorting, we haven’t had much time to explore, except briefly on Saturday, but the air is heady and cold, even on these hot summer days, and the Bay sparkles. D might start cycling to work, though weighing the exercise against being more of a boss and needing to look a bit more coiffed when arriving may mean we just amble the neighborhood in the evenings and save real workouts for later.

Newark 10

Happy Week! Cheers as you find your feet and your organizational skills for the tasks ahead.

More On Tech Hiring

Technical interviews have fairly infinite ways of going wrong. The tweets above reminded me of a few interviews I’ve had over the past seven months of job search, looking for a position that will keep me busy and happy for the next several years. I’ve interviewed with some of the big guys, even going so far as to go up to Amazon in Seattle. I’ve interviewed with startups. I’ve interviewed with a variety of different industries, from retail data services to biotech, from health-care to nuclear cleanup. I’ve interviewed in rural Washington State, Seattle, San Francisco, and Reykjavik, Iceland.

Over the course of all of these interviews (and literally hundreds of phone interviews), I’ve seen the extremes, in terms of technical interviews. I’ve had companies try to rattle me into getting angry (the Santa Barbara company – if you’re interviewing for a database company in SB, hit me up for the name, ’cause you don’t wanna work there) and be unable to answer the question they asked me (some vague mumblings about there being a “math” answer doesn’t cut it). I’ve had companies not ask me a single tech question (Reykjavik: I think they’re so desperate for programmers that they’re willing to believe you have the skills you say you do). I’ve had hours of algorithm and data-structure questions (Amazon, and what a waste of all of our time that interview process was, when I told them up front that I basically do everything with a database if I can, and have no interest in the things they do there).

All of these companies did some things better than others, and none of them was what I would call perfect.

I think the thing they all missed out on, or could have emphasized more, was the human dimension. Would I be happy there? Would they have enough meaningful work for me to do? Were they interested in any of the same things in which I’m interested? Would I feel happy in a huge company, or in retail systems, or building parking solutions (cool company, that one – but they’re in down-town SF, and walking over human excrement on the way to work just doesn’t do it for me)? These are things which I had to know about myself, but which they didn’t seem to think were important.

If you’re going to sink $100K into a new hire (when you figure hiring bonus, travel, relocation, training, and the first however-many months it takes them to come up to speed, this is maybe even a low estimate), you should figure out whether that person is going to be happy. Yes, their technical skills matter somewhat, but they’re the least of the factors you should be examining. You should be looking at whether they can learn, and whether they want to learn. You should be getting a feel for them as a person, and what they’re looking for from the deal.

Tech companies tend to focus on either computer-science fundamentals, or they focus on their own narrow set of coding gewgaws. They don’t tend to get the actual human aspects in there except as an afterthought. The problem is, this just isn’t how you build good teams, it isn’t how you get happy employees, and it isn’t how you get people who will stick with you beyond the next project.

The people who form a meaningful connection during the interview process, who feel valued and as if they’d continue to be valued, those are the ones you want to keep. Sure, there may be some phenomenally bright programmer out there – so what? If they can’t be part of the team, contribute towards the team’s goals, support their other team members, then you’ve got nothing worth having. If you want good teams, you have to find good people whose goals align with those of your group. You won’t find out about those goals unless you know your own goals and ask about theirs.

-D

Reykjavik 69 HDR