January 31, In Retrospect

Watercress 1
Onion Caper Bread 6

January 31, 2008, we’d been in Scotland for about 5 months. We were getting a veggie box, which routinely came with odd things in it, such as watercress. We’d never really had any prior to this experience – maybe it was in a sandwich or a salad or something, but we’d never just had it. Cress is dead easy to grow, but you’ve got to be careful to keep the stuff it grows in just wet enough, but not oversaturated… it can smell, oddly, a great deal like wet dog if done wrong. (Bet you wonder how we know that, huh? Hydroponic gardening is kind of an exact science sometimes…)

We were still trying to keep our sourdough bread going, in 2008, with a crock of starter, so our baking was frequent and we’d end up with some interesting creations in an attempt to make use of the sourdough. Onion Caper bread: quite tasty!

Glass Painting 2

A year later, January 31 2009, was a day for T. to paint some glass. These are still with us, somewhere. Many of the painted glass jars ended up being given away in the form of gifts, as we tended to recycle jam jars for bath salts, cookie dough (layered attractively, just add eggs, oil and milk), cocoa mix, and the odd (sometimes VERY odd) experiments in jam making. (Rhubarb does not lend itself easily to much that isn’t strawberry. Unfortunately.) Sometimes we miss doing as many “home living” experiments. One of the nice thing about Scotland was uninterrupted stretches of time when no one wanted us or cared what we were doing (an entire city, largely, happily indifferent to us) and so we could get up to some interesting exploits, like…

Apron for Laura

Fast forward to 2012 and we’re making aprons for our friend Laura. Somehow or other, a group of us in Chorus bonded over being vegetarians, and got aprons or pins or shirts out of our mutual (to many of our Scottish friends) goofiness. This butternut squash is performing – a lovely alto like our friend Laura – and Veggie Girl is her name in lights on the stage. Don’t even know how we got to discussing, “What vegetable describes your personality?” but T is still bewildered that Margaret believes herself to be Bok Choy… Meanwhile, that same day we took this picture, we went out to Chorus rehearsal – but popped out for a cuppa tea in Merchant City and took what’s turned out to be one of our favorite pictures of a cold night in the Shopping District – the movement and busyness and vitality of Merchant City, captured for all time.

Glasgow Merchant City D 36 HDR

This January 31, we’re spending the day recovering from D’s nose surgery. You don’t want photographs…

-D & T

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D. made it through his surgery (septoplasty and turbinate reduction) just fine, with no complications, and is now home recovering. In 5 days they’ll remove the splints inside his nose (!!!) and he should be able to breathe better than he ever has in his life. Maybe he’ll even be able to sleep on his back without snoring. And certainly he’ll be glad not to have so many sinus infections.

So, for the next week or so, it’s bland, soft food, and sleeping mostly upright.

But all is well.

-D & T

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“How far that little candle throws its beams!”

Sometimes this place is surprisingly – gratifyingly – small-town.

The gas station down the hill and around the block had 9-Volt, Double A — everything but Triple A’s, which was annoying, since wireless keyboards abruptly stop working without them (and it’s always annoying to dig through the Drawer of Requirement in the kitchen and find watch batteries, tiny clock batteries, massive D batteries, and no Triple A’s either), and it was already 9 a.m. While there was a Grocery Outlet on the other side of the post office, it tends toward a random inventory and proves only intermittently useful, so other plans were made, though on the way out the door, there was a pause.

The postman in line ahead said, “You need Triple A’s? I have some out in the truck. Just give me a sec –“

Wouldn’t take paying for it, just waved his hand, slurped his incredibly bad gas station coffee, and got on with the business of delivering packages and post.

As always, the phrase, “so shines a good deed in a weary world,” comes to mind, but this is an inaccurate quote – (thanks, movie-version Willy Wonka). Portia, in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice Act IV, Scene I explains to Nerissa that her candle is the light she sees, and exclaims how far it throws its beams, then adds – “So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” (The exchange following isn’t as famous, but is still lovely.) After Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, the author’s effort at writing his own screenplay (a much more complicated thing than you might imagine) was “helped” along by professionals, who dropped in tons of literary references and changed lines to make Willy Wonka darker and edgier and not the merry little candyman he’d been in the book. Gene Wilder made it fit, too — the world in the film seemed less “naughty” than weary and dark; the same can be said sometimes today.

When was the last time you saw a slightly psychedelic movie with so many literary allusions? Yeah, it has been awhile, hasn’t it?

A weary world, yes. But, when you get free batteries, warm from someone’s mail truck, the weariness lifts, just a bit.

Happy Friday.


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Random Flowers

A few random flowers for you all, today, from our collection of Miscellaneous Flowers. T. happened upon this mug, which inspired D. to hunt down our own pictures of the flower, now that we have an identification for it.

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A Fritillary
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Another Fritillary
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A Foxglove
Highlands 2008 300
Another Foxglove

We hope you’re enjoying your Thursday!

-D & T

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A Goat-Headed Perspective

Leoni Meadows 5

2015 is meant to be the Year of the Goat, by Lunar zodiac reckoning. Some people want to soften that to a sheep or a ram, but we’re liking the idea of the year as a goat. Goats are allegedly perspicacious, curious, intelligent and stubborn, and 2015 started out with some of those characteristics. A curious leap, a reckless launch, but digging its heels in, things are stubbornly balancing. T’s little sister has been back at UCSF twice this year already, but despite all germs and infections (and despite the fact that UCSF should just give her an apartment in the post-renal transplant area, she’s there so often) she is holding strong and recovering from pneumonia much faster than anyone on immunosuppressant drugs has any right to expect. D’s having septoplasty surgery the 30th, after months of out-of-breath mouth-breathing and years of thrice yearly sinus infections – and we’re nervous, but it’s a solution at last. We’re leaping, all, into the dark, but landing, surefooted, clinging and stubborn and eager to see what’s next, we goats. The usual vexations, as always, but when looked at from another angle, the usual small miracles and eleventh-hour reversals that make up a life.

And, so far, life is good.

I had a conversation with a woman last week, who told me about taking her daughter, years ago, for a corrective spinal surgical procedure. They have you sign paperwork in surgical centers, Do you hereby swear to hold harmless this doctor, this entity, these people, if x, y, and z happen, and your child never walks, talks, stands, sees, hears, leaves again? Sign in blue or black ink, triplicate please. It’s disconcerting, my friend said, to say the least. The entire family was rattled, as they went up to the prep room, to get the child gowned and IV’d and ready to be surrendered to the physicians. The family crowded into the room, distracted, distressed — and saw her roommate, smiling from the other bed. Smiling, but armless and legless, in for a procedure to attach a prosthetic arm, after months of preparation to create a place for it on her body. The word of the day, my friend said, became perspective.

Our unexpected Staycation for two weeks at Christmas meant that we had a veritable feast of reading selections – which is immediately awesome. In this house, you are truly miserable and ill-beyond-bearing if you can’t read and distract yourself. Here D. was, covered full-body with blisters upon blisters of hives, but aside from the odd scratching, when he forgot he wasn’t supposed to, he was content – immersed in clay and oatmeal and boiling water, propped up with his Kindle. It was actually kind of a relaxing two weeks – overlooking the spiking fevers and sweats and shivers and hives. D. was much calmer than anyone could have expected… sometimes, it’s just a matter of perspective.

So, we read. As usual. We’re fairly eclectic readers, and T reads compulsively, so many books she doesn’t always remember what she’s just read, or how long ago she’s read it, or if she’s told you about the plotline (“Remember that one book?” Um… no…). We read all over the board, now, anyway; we once tried to read things which… we were supposed to read. You know, those books – like the ones the NY Times calls the “best books of all time,” or the inevitable “Best Books Of (Insert Year Here).” This Staycation involved reading widely from all kinds of genres. D. made his way through the complete Vonnegut and Bradbury – again – and then launched into a book called THE NAME OF THE WIND by Patrick Rothfuss… and hasn’t been seen since.

That happens, sometimes. Books, man. If you can’t go on vacation, you may as well disappear elsewhere.

T’s reading has historically been different through the October – December cycle of the year, as she’s been a panel judge on the Cybils – the Children and Young Adult BLogger Awards – and she usually has about three hundred and fifty books to read and review during that shockingly brief time period. This year she’s a final judge, which just means ten books in two months, and as her writing schedule is shifting, and she has more balls in the air at once, she’s going to have to retire – after seven years – to being only an occasional participant in the whole thing. On one hand, it’s a little tragic to miss the boxes and boxes of books from publishers arriving and the glee of new books to read and share and pass on. On the other, she is relieved to be free of some truly stupid novels (First Round judges are required to read a minimum of fifty pages before they can cry off of a given book), and has ventured into the previously unfamiliar territory of nonfiction.

If you’re a story addict, narrative non-fiction is probably something you can learn to enjoy. Narrative nonfiction is full of biographies and historical incidents (and those little nuggets of fact which readers who are writers encounter, and about which they occasionally imagine themselves writing fiction), and things which help them understand the world. Since 2014 was apparently The Year Of Egregiously Visible Racial Intolerance, as well as being the Year of the Horse or whatever, T read WHISTLING VIVALDI: How Stereotypes Affect Us, And What We Can Do, by Claude M. Steele, and she picked up Isabel Wilkerson’s THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS because it appears, after all, on one of those New York Times Best Books Of (Insert Year Here) lists. But her most unexpected pick was a novel about a group of nuns, a beleaguered priest, and a mining town on the Mexican-Arizona border in 1904.

Skyway Drive 160

THE GREAT ARIZONA ORPHAN ABDUCTION, by Linda Gordon is both backstory and saga, tracing the story of Arizona from the time of the Apache to the discovery of copper; from the first white settlers to the mass migration of upwardly mobile Mexicans from Sonora and Chihuahua, to the entrance of big mining companies towns which started out as mixed communities, and entrenched the roots of the Arizona we know today. Woven among the history is the narrative of a group of nuns bringing a crowed of inner city New York orphans out into the country to better lives. This was a pretty common idea for a lot of the early ladies societies in New York – that cities were where prosperity was, but the countryside was where health existed, and so orphans and the sick and those wealthy enough to do so were always “repairing to the countryside,” and right-thinking ladies were interested and eager to do benevolence to the poor, and get them out there, too. Well, the many Children’s Aid societies and Catholic Charities which held to this point of view were very active, and so in 1904 a group of Irish Catholic children repaired to the countryside, with nuns and a priest in tow. They were being adopted, since it was assumed that no one in New York particularly cared what happened to them, and the good Sisters of the Catholic mission felt it was their bound duty to get children off the street. The mission was stuffed to the gills with more children coming in every day, some of them not willingly, so the nuns and their very determined priest found a way to get them out of tie city. They carefully vetted good Catholic parents and packed up the children to new lives… in Arizona.

Arizona had mines which were worked in by Latino folk who lived on one side of town, and Anglo folk who lived on the other side. Arizona only became a settled territory in the 1860’s, and wasn’t a state until 1912, so things were pretty fluid. It was a melting pot of Mexican, Indian, and Angelo peoples, a place where there were a few Europeans who had staked land and were trying to fiefdoms of the past; it was the land of cowboys but moving toward the industrialized land of miners. As the Orphan Trains began rolling, the dynamics of these small towns changed again.

In the border town of Clifton-Morenci, Mexican families were on hand to pick up their children. Of course, so many visitors to a tiny town attracted attention, and the Anglo folk – not necessarily Catholics, not adopting children, and not all that interested in the doings of Mexicans on any other day – saw Latino folk walking away with little blonde and light-skinned children, and they asked what the heck was going on. The women who spoke to the nuns were immediately up in arms and pressured their spouses to do something. It was, obviously A Fate Worse Than Death for a non-Hispanic child to live with Mexican parents. The resulting mess — with these breathless small-town newspaper headlines that refer to a “rescue” and abhorred a “kidnapping” is both slightly comedic, slightly horrifying, and very much all-American.

The author seems to be making a carefully illuminated point about race relations in the United States, how much of it we make up — and how much of race only matters when we say it matters. The idea of having “moral authority,” which is what the Angelo ladies thought they had, to see white children “raised right” comes smack up against what the nuns felt was their moral authority, to make sure that the children were raised as good Catholics, regardless of with whom – to a certain extent. (There’s a tiny question of whether or not the children were orphans to begin with… many of the nuns simply felt some of the Irish Catholic moms were not taking care of their children properly, so they were simply… moved on to better Mexican Catholic homes. Racism upon racism.) As with any racial conflagration, there are so many ways the story could have gone, so many “if onlys” that we as modern readers and thinkers can see, looking back. What stands out, however, is the idea that each one of us is a participant, in some way, in the racial system we inhabit. An unwitting participant? A deliberate “keep-the-status-quo” participant? What difference can it make if we’re an informed participant? Is there still space to change an ongoing narrative?

Curiosity. Perspicacity. Sheer goat-headed stubbornness. Perspective.

Not bad things with which to start a year.

Clifton, Arizona in 1903. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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On Academia

Glasgow Uni D 601

Happy 2015, friends. Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated… not by much, but exaggerated. Meanwhile, as I ponder the mysteries of coughs, sinus infections, hives masquerading as chicken pox, and other randomly striking disorders, some thoughts:

When I first considered doing a PhD, I believed that I’d find a place in academia somewhere, either supervising or conducting research, with maybe a little teaching thrown in. I had arrived at this vague notion of getting a PhD as a step towards teaching and mentoring others interested in academic pursuit.

I didn’t get into too many of the details as I was doing it but, years of toil later, as I was nearly finished and ready to start hunting for work as an academic, I learned that pretty much every academic slot would be taken either by someone 20 years my junior, or was already filled by someone who had already held the position for at least 20 years – there just weren’t places for fresh PhD’s. At that point, I could have gone on and done a post-doc (essentially, done research for which someone else would take credit, for very little pay), I could give up on the idea of Academia entirely, or I could teach part-time on the side and treat Academia as little more than a hobby.

I decided to take the latter option, this past year, and taught a few online classes. I have since decided that “Academia” isn’t to be found in online education – at least not with that particular institution – and have given up on the idea of Academia entirely. I could go on about students who can’t even be bothered to spell-check their assignments, or who somehow believe that writing a few sentences of their opinions down should magically grant them an A, but those are just the annoyances of teaching and could be remedied.

What cannot be remedied, though, is that by teaching “in my spare time” I was essentially depressing the wage scale. I didn’t need the money (for a given value of “need” – it’s always nice, but I did have another job that was paying the rent), so didn’t really have any incentive to negotiate a higher wage (what they were paying me amounted to less than $18 / hour). By agreeing to work for that rate, I was essentially pushing someone else out of the market. And it is a market: where I was teaching, each student paid something like $30,000 per year for the privilege of working through some online resources. The total cost in salaries to the university for the entire group of students was something on the order of $18,000, meaning that anything more than 1 student taking a course would be profitable for the university. To state it a bit differently: with a cohort of 20 students, the university’s take was something approaching $600,000, from which they’d subtract some $18,000 in teaching salary.

Yes, yes, there are other costs which have to come out – the servers which run the courseware must be paid for, email software must be maintained, etc. However: teaching salaries represented a cost of only 3% of the amount taken in by that university.

I continue to follow along with The Adjunct Project and articles like this one keep coming through to me.

Working as an adjunct is a bit like working for a charity, I guess: you do it because it makes you feel good, and people donate money thinking that the money will go to help people, but the only good that gets done is by the volunteers and the money goes into the pockets of someone else. That’s adjunct teaching, and the university system in this country.

Which brings me to my conclusion – after five years away, and two years now back and trying to figure out what it all means: I don’t regret the PhD. But I will probably simply keep mentoring people in my community for free, rather than participate in the formal education system. Was it worth the travel? Undoubtedly, yes. The time? The debt? Well… an expensive lesson, if one can afford it. All to do what I’d already been doing – but with those three little letters behind my name (or, actually, eight, since the M. Litt was also earned during our time in Scotland), maybe my mentoring will mean more to someone.


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light & joy

Hayford Mills 233

Things got busy around October, and it seems we never recovered from it. Between the deluge and the deadlines, health visits – why do all doctors visits come at once? – and the usual holiday hoopla and T’s little sister being in/out/in the hospital these last few months, there’s been less communication and recipe-sharing here – but it’s our hope to improve upon that in the next few weeks. Here’s to the close of a tumultuous year – hope you find time for books and quietude, family and fun, as much as you need.

Joy to your world,


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…because there truly is a song for every occasion.

Every once in awhile, D. & T. have those random conversations wherein it ends up one doesn’t know what the other is talking about. (Okay, let’s be real, here: it happens far more often than “once in awhile.”)

Late Sunday morning, T. was volubly holding forth on a girlfriend who had married outside of her culture, ending with, “She’s totally against the macho thing, you know, against the whole ‘brown-skinned girl, stay home and mind the baby’ thing.”

“What?” D. asked, who probably had only been half listening to begin with. “Who would even say that?”

“It’s a SONG. You’re the one that taught me the song.”

“Uh, no, I did not. I’ve never even heard that song.

“Yes, you have!”

“No, seriously – I haven’t.

“Um… I think… it was in that movie. It was Whoopie Goldberg, and… that guy. Sarafina?

*D. taps on laptop keys* “That’s… a movie about South Africa. Whose baby is she supposed to be minding?”

“That doesn’t sound right…”

*more digging into the hivemind of the internet*

“Clara’s Heart! I think the kids at [school where T. taught] must have watched that for a class project… don’t know why I thought it was you.”

*D. watches short clip of Whoopie Goldberg singing*”Is that Patrick Swayze? Isn’t he dead?”

“Uh, no, that’s Neil…Patrick… Harris and no, he’s very not dead. Never mind. I’m still trying to figure out, whose babies? That’s got to be the most insulting thing to say to anyone, so why is she singing it to preschool kids?”

*D. on the internet, looking for something else by now* “No idea.”

Well, we still don’t know, and neither of us are willing to watch a movie from the 80’s to find out – but T. wanted to look up the lyrics to the song. Because it was a popular Harry Belafonte song in the fifties, it has turned up on the background music of more than one film. But, according to the Historical Museum of Southern Florida’s “Calypso: a World of Music” page:

“Brown Skin Girl” was composed by Trinidadian calypsonian King Radio in 1946, in response to the presence of American servicemen in Trinidad during World War II. The calypso commented on the practice of soldiers and sailors fathering babies and then returning to the United States. In the song’s chorus, a serviceman tells his paramour:

I’m going away, in a sailing boat
And if I don’t come back, stay home and mind baby.

While its social commentary was typical of calypso, the song undoubtedly became a favorite with audiences because of its infectious melody. Caribbean-American singer Harry Belafonte popularized the calypso in his smash-hit album titled Calypso (1956). Since then it has remained a standard part of the repertoire of Caribbean hotel entertainers. Meanwhile, jazz versions of “Brown Skin Girl” have appeared on recordings by Sonny Rollins and Roy Haynes.”

Both of us were a little sobered at finding the provenance of this lighthearted sounding song. They say that our culture is America’s greatest export… Hm. Maybe not.

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November 5, In Retrospect

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November 5 is a strange day, in Retrospect. In the UK, it’s Guy Fawkes Night, which means that pretty much anybody with something to burn or explode is out, burning or exploding. Here in California, though, it’s pretty tame, as evinced by the picture of the California hills (2012), which D. took from the car on the way back from a Novato. He took this shot to demonstrate how utterly boring his drive there was. Notice that there’s a small flock of sheep upon the hill. It was quite reminiscent of Scotland, actually.

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In 2011, we were living in Hayford Mills / Cambusbarron, outside of Stirling. It was a Saturday, and still a teensy bit sunny, so of course we decided to take advantage of the weather and read outside on the porch. You can see how bright and sunny things are – and also how much insulation was needed to manage being outside!

Cranberry Orange Bread 3

In 2010 we apparently we had a party of some sort, involving tootsie rolls, tea, and cranberry-orange bread. This was probably in preparation for going out to see fireworks.

Glasgow Fireworks 2010 012010 Fireworks

And, in 2009 we also went out to see fireworks, down near the People’s Palace, from a bridge over the River Clyde.

Glasgow Fireworks 2009 D 822009 Fireworks
Glasgow Fireworks 2009 D 842009 Fireworks
Glasgow Fireworks 2009 D 772009 Fireworks

Of course, in 2008 we got our first real taste of Guy Fawkes Night by watching the neighborhood hooligans burn things, when we lived on Kent Road. Below is a shot of a mattress and a shopping cart / trolley being burned … on the grass, in the neighborhood park.

2008 Guy Fawkes 4Because mattresses and shopping carts need to be burned, apparently.

This November 5 we’ll be … not burning anything, nor watching any fireworks. Perhaps we’ll make some cranberry-orange bread, though, and sit upon the deck, in the sunshine, wrapped up in blankets.

-D & T

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Shadow Shot Sunday

Last weekend we spent some time up at Leoni Meadows, north of Sacramento. After the fog burned off, there were some great opportunities for pictures in the incredibly bright sunshine.

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Lamb’s Ear growing by the train tracks.
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D’s shadow on the tracks.
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D’s shadow in front of the lodge.

It was a beautiful, if chilly, weekend.


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