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Doom and Zoom

December 28, 2020

Our hiking group had its annual gathering today. Via Zoom. We don’t hike anymore… which is a true bummer, and we haven’t had our annual full-moonrise snowshoe for years now. We have sorta traded out rigorous hiking for travel — Yosemite (Ahwahnee-style), Italy, Barcelona. Until this weirdo year, we usually manage some lunches, some special events, maybe a mellow walk somewhere…. and our annual holiday gathering, which has for many years been a long lunch and gift exchange, at one of our houses or, in recent years, at a restaurant.

But of course none of that works at present. So this year, it was a Zoom call.

This is a deeply well-read, politically savvy group. Back in the olden days, when political discussions were just about routine politics, they were just garden variety lively conversations. Now political discussions are about setting our hair on fire. And it’s still the focal point of our conversations. At least we’re all on the same page. (And frankly, were we not, we wouldn’t be friends. In the current era, there are not two legitimate sides to the debate.. but that’s another blog post.) So we had a lot to talk about, what with the final days of Trump’s chaotic reign, his predictable antics, continued unraveling, blah blah blah. Much doom he has wreaked.

But also.

Two weeks ago, Rick died. Not surprising, but still shocking to hear the words. The good judge had been going downhill for years, due to runaway bad side effects from an otherwise successful treatment of melanoma. He already gathered a hundred of his closest friends several years ago on the Fourth of July at his foothill property to say goodbye. Things should not have gone so awry, but they did, and should not have gone on as long as they did, but that’s the way it happened, and it was horrible. It was a tragically sad thing to observe. Rick was a powerhouse in every way: intellectually, professionally, socially. Commanded any/every room. He was at the center of so many people’s lives. Could write a book about him (certainly a longer blog post). Fascinating man, an amazing life.

And in the end, we learned today, he died by choking on a hotdog at Costco. I can’t even.

Life can be so cruel.

Linda was going to join us from their home in Hawaii, but the day got away from her. We’ll stay in touch and include her at the next thing.

So our Zoom today.. was a mix of shocking Rick revelations, some sweet reminiscing, a satisfying measure of disdain for Trump, and a boatload of laughs and silliness.

Feel like Rick left us years ago, even as his huge body was still lumbering along. Will surely miss him; we will carry on.

Then and Now

December 27, 2020

Was in the ditch yesterday with Janet.. a nice post-Christmas day walk on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Thought I’d post a couple of compare and contrast pics:

On the edge of town… November 22 and yesterday:

That crazy Chinese Pistache, November 22 and yesterday:

Who says we don’t have seasons in California?

(Sung to the tune of, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year..” can’t ya just hear Andy Williams voice ringing out?)

I changed it to day and refer of the day after Christmas. Is that cynical? I have to check my cynicism about this time every year. I’m usually a leeeetle bit too happy to see Christmas come to an end. I might guess it has to do with the amount of work it takes to pull Christmas off every year (which is a problem of my own making… I mean… it doesn’t have to be this much work).

The absolute truth is, I like a whole bunch about Christmas, more than I resent, a lot more…. but, it’s still more project management than a joyful season of light and good spirits. It just is. And Mr. Pandemic year, while I thought it might be scaled way back, was pretty much the same amount of effort. Same basics — tree, lights, decorations, gift buying, wrapping, shipping (far more than usual since we didn’t see anyone in person), cards, family calendars (still yet to do), meal planning/cooking, baking, delivering. This year most events were online, and there were no gatherings whatsoever, so we netted time in the travel department… but, see? Still a bunch to do.

Okay… no grousing. Sorry.

I posted a couple of pics in last night’s blog, and here are a few more, with descriptions.

Started day with Peter via Zoom. We shipped 6-7 boxes his way.. there is still one that hasn’t arrived (the first one we shipped, interestingly). We ordered a babka from the local bakery — Zingerman’s — so he could have coffee and baked goods with us as we ate ours (from Upper Crust). Fun eh? Here he is getting ready to open his stocking:

My god, that hair.

This is the view out his window at Escher coop:

THAT is a white Christmas! I was glad for that. And he got to get out in it, too, a snowy walk with Claire and Lisa, in his new winter coat.. so yay.

Then we spent another couple hours or so opening presents and generally hanging out before he had to take off. Later in the day, Claire and Lisa sent this picture: they’d put Peter to work in the kitchen cutting veggies… another first for the Christmas annals.

Funny to see our dryer marks are still on his pile pullover.

Mid-afternoon, we had a Frame Family Zoom gathering:

That was about an hour and a half. Good times… these Zoom gatherings are pretty focused and easily allow good attendance! As usual, good Frame conversations.

We had another Zoom call later in the evening with the Peterson family which was a smaller group, especially as the Thailand contingent was unable to get its Zoom audio to work.. so lots of hand gestures from Jay and Saythong before they gave up. Matt kept it short for Michael reasons, John and clan had a conflict.. so mostly it was Chris, Peter, Jim and me, which was mellow and sweet (and I wonder if I’ll always remember the edibles conversation..).

So, in sum: Christmas 2020 was not horrible. How ’bout that. Lots of family and friend connections–online and over the phone.. but still lots of great conversation. It was memorable for its unconvention (it’s okay, spellcheck, this is my blog and I get to make up words) and our adherence to covid protocol earns us a whopper of a celebration next year. At least huggy, with a lot people.

Here are a couple shots from the end of Christmas Day.. Christmas wind down:

For Christmas dinner, Jim took Christmas Eve’s turkey (with its crispy bacon wrap) and turned it into amazingly flavorful turkey soup.. which he served with his homemade corn muffins. Off the charts comfort food.

And if ever there were a defining Christmas-is-over statement, it’s the nubbins of Christmas candles flaming out..

Only five more days ’til the end of this ridiculous and tragic year.

To All a Goodnight

December 25, 2020

So much to love about this unconventional day. I’m too sleepy to report out… but will write this weekend a bit and post some pics.

In the meantime, I leave you with two highlights.

This is a perfect Jim gift.. it’s some kind of monument or lid or something old that he found when he was out in the sticks somewhere doing a survey (aren’t I terrible.. I really should know what this is and where/when/how he found it… I promise to articulate this better tomorrow). It’s heavy. He cleaned it up, cut it from its base, powder-coated it, gave it some tiny legs, and now it’s a trivet for the kitchen. I love him for this gift. And it will make me smile every time I see it on the butcher block island. Forever.

It’s about 9″ in diameter:

The other thing that made my day.. this picture sent by Claire from Ann Arbor this afternoon. It’s Lisa and Peter (and Claire and the dog…. Scout, I think) out for a walk on a snowy Christmas day. Yep.. a white Christmas. How enchanting is that? This is Peter’s new winter coat, purchased from Bivouac a couple days ago, the locally owned outdoor store in A2. We gave him a gift certificate to spend on a coat and some boots. So far, so good!

Doesn’t he look like he’s been living in the snow his whole life?

I was so happy to know he had people, dear friends, to be with today.

My heart is full.

More later.

My friend and neighbor Desmond said it well on his holiday card, “I felt more than a slight pang of ambivalence when Julia asked me to help get down the two Christmas boxes that hold our Christmas lights and decorations. Should we be celebrating Christmas or mourning? Mourning the unnecessary losses of thousands of our fellow Americans. Mourning the state of our nation, at war with itself, tearing itself apart. I said to Julia, ‘I have mixed feelings about Christmas this year. After some thought, I decided that our Christmas lights might after all be justified. We could see them as a sign of hope — hope that the vaccines will work, that our country can get itself out of this manic phase, that our family and friends survive to see the light at the end of the Covid tunnel.”

Agree with that.

Most everyone I know is doing fine. Disappointed, bored, depressed, sad, frustrated, angry at pandemic-deniers… but fine. Most of us have the luxury to find fun diversions and keep ourselves busy in novel ways to fend off boredom and anxiety. A lot of us won’t be with family. I think that’s a small price to pay to keep ourselves and our communities safe. This is what makes 2020 one for the history books. We will surely all remember what we did this year, especially these holiday seasons, to find some normalcy and joy. But it won’t stand out as unique if we just pretend it’s a year like any other. It’s shocking to me how many people are ignoring the non-essential travel ban. I mean, we could have done it safely, too, but didn’t. Wouldn’t. If everybody decides they’re exempt for whatever justifiable reasons they come up with (and we were tempted), there are bajillions of people in the airports.. then it’s not safe. Travel this year is not safe. Period. Watch the charts in about two weeks.

I go between angry, aggrieved, feeling like a chump, feeling righteous, judgy, chill. We just do what we have to do. For reasons that make sense to us. Zipping my lips, keeping my head down.

But man.. it’s a weird year to pretend all is well when it isn’t. It certainly isn’t for the 328,000 people who have died or the countless families who are barely holding it together. All is mostly well here. We miss Peter, we miss seeing our family and friends. Otherwise, we’re well. It just makes it hard to celebrate.

Yet. Jim and I have done most of what we usually do, just with less octane. Little tree, fewer decorations, quieter season. Nobody but us. We’re phoning it in with Peter and our extended families. That’s all tomorrow.. sure I’ll write about it.

We had Christmas Eve dinner tonight. Made a little event out of it.. I made myself some glögg, we had our Swedish angel merry-go-round candles, we made another version of turkey breast with bacon (this time bone-in). We took a walk tonight to see some neighborhood lights. We secretly stuffed each others’ stocking for the morning.

Small nods toward the familiar, slightly melancholy, as something’s missing.

Some pics:

The turkey… it’s almost disgusting, isn’t it? The bacon’s just for flavor, (though ever-edible as bacon is)..

Jim carving it…

He’s going to hate that shot.

We had butternut squash and au gratin potatoes.. gilding the lily, I must say.. and the cranberry sauce I made a couple of days ago…

Got a pie from Upper Crust… it was really good (Jim made whipped cream, which… why not? Lily’s now totally gilded itself into heavenly oblivion)..

Beth’s yard, at the A-Street-bend…

And across the street at the Bridges, the luminaria…

I tried several times to get Peter to join us for a while online… but he didn’t answer. On the third or fourth try I texted, “Should I worry or be happy you’re busy?” to which he responded, “the latter.” Friends and Christmas movies, as it turned out. I was glad to hear that!

The Day Before the Day Before

December 23, 2020

Gosh.

The holidays.. so extraordinary. A time like no other. We shouldn’t gather: it’s too risky. Help’s on the way (vaccination’s already in over a million arms), but we won’t see this thing turn around for months, and in the meantime, an unfathomable number of people will die. A huge number of people are broke. A huge number of people are without food and basic services. It’s just all so very hard to grasp.

And the guy who lost the election is unraveling. Vetoing defense bills, threatening to veto the relief bill that took months to negotiate, a bill that is disgustingly late and inadequate, but both sides agreed finally. Yet… he’s decided, at this late moment, it’s not to his liking (which is bs).

Not going to write about this. Just saying: holy god, what the hell is wrong with this animal and what more will he do?

He’s also on an egregious pardon spree (all ugly.. read about it). He’s lashing out at former defenders (Barr, McConnell, anyone who’s not supporting reversing of the election).

And, not that it’s at all surprising, instead of sticking around to resolve now stalled legislation that would have helped folks, he took off for Florida to play golf. I don’t really know what that means for any of this.

~~

As that roils, the rest of us try to find our way through the holidays, without our kiddos and families. (Speaking for ourselves here on A Streeet.)

To that end, a few shots on the day…

A call with Peter.. a lifeline to love, connection, and all that’s good, in this time of so much non-good.

As he was explaining a math/logic problem, I had time to run to Upper Crust to fetch Christmas morning baked goods. LOL!

After the call, I resumed some baking of my own…. these chocolate cookies I’ve made before but whose recipe I modified this time.. I think to great effect!

(Used milk chocolate instead of bittersweet.)

I also made a dozen of my favorite gingerbread muffs…. and had enough batter to make a few minis, too!

Have already given some butterballs to friends and family, and will give a few more batches of these to friends and neighbors (and Ruben/crew). Not the usual roll out! But okay for a weird year. I enjoyed baking this past week.

Did a quick batch of cranberry sauce — this with rosemary and orange zest…so, so, so good. I just love having a jar of it in the refrigerator for whenever I want some!

Will do a limited amount of cooking tomorrow (Christmas Eve day for dinner tomorrow night) and then we’ll just eat stuff, talk to Peter and do our own quiet little Christmas .. just us two.

Secrets of Christmases Past

December 22, 2020

I have not a thing to write about, nor any remarkable photo to upload on the day. Even though it was a moody, foggy morning around the creek, and even though we had some substantial work done in our front yard, and even though I cooked and baked for a couple hours this afternoon, and even though I took a lovely walk through the Old North neighborhood on my way to Upper Crust Bakery to pick up monkey bread that wasn’t ready for pick up. See? All kinda things that might have produced a good blog post (well… ) — I have pictures of all of the above (a daily blogger’s job is to take pictures of every damn thing that happens in a day, you know) — but nothing that inspires me to write.

So.. reaching back into the Christmas archives, I found this gem.. one of my favorites. I know it’s Christmas because it’s the only day of the year I pull out that Christmas light necklace (I still have, and love, that sweater). I love this picture for the obvious moment Peter and I are having — whatever the story he is telling, it looks like it could be a secret. It’s sure cracking him up.

I also love that we’re sitting on the hearth at mom’s house. How I miss that house.. that room.. that fireplace. If I were there right now, I’d be lying on my back on the floor, with my legs up on the hearth, burning the bottom of my feet on the heat from the fire. Heaven.

Ten Zillion Light Years Away

December 21, 2020

Tonight’s the night that Saturn and Jupiter are closer than they’ve been in quite a while (something like 700-800 years). Their proximity is something to behold and visible with the naked eye… if it’s not foggy. It’s foggy in Davis, so no viewy.

Here’s a picture, prolly not the best, but one a friend posted on Facebook that shows the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter, and I have to admit, it is very, very cool, indeed.

And all this talk of planets got me singing a song by Stevie Wonder that I used to love, absolutely love, when I was a freshman at UC San Diego… gosh… 46 years ago. Gulp.

Heaven is Ten Zillion Light Years Away

They say that heaven is 10 zillion light years away
And just the pure at heart will walk her righteous streets someday
They say that heaven is 10 zillion light years away
But if there is a God, we need Him now
“Where is your God”
That’s what my friends ask me
And I say it’s taken Him so long
‘Cause we’ve got so far to come…

Tell me people
Why can’t they say that hate is 10 zillion light years away
Why can’t the light of good shine God’s love in every soul
Why must my color black make me a lesser man
I thought this world was made for every man
He loves us all, that’s what my God tells me
And I say it’s taken Him so long
‘Cause we’ve got so far to come…

But in my heart I can feel it, yeah,
Feel His spirit wow oh woo…
Feel it, yeah, feel His spirit…


I… can’t say that heaven is 10 zillion light years away
But if so let all be pure at heart
Just to walk her righteous streets I pray
Let God’s love shine within to save our evil souls
For those who don’t believe will never see the light
“Where is my God” – He lives inside of me
And I say it’s taken Him so long
‘Cause we’ve got so far to come…
No people, “where is your God?”
Inside please let Him be
And I say it’s taken Him so long
‘Cause we’ve got so far to come…

But if you open your heart you can feel it yeah yeah
Feel His spirit, yeah
Feel it, feel His spirit, wow oh wow…
Feel it, you can feel His spirit
I opened my heart one morning and
I sho nuff could feel it yeah yeah
Feel His spirit yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
You can feel it, yeah, feel His spirit
You can feel it, yeah, feel His spirit

— Stevie Wonder

Makes me cry just reading them, thinking about Stevie singing it, remembering the feelings it generated, feeling sad for all the hate in the world.

I don’t worry about all the gods in the song, interpreting for myself a deep love, a strong spirit, kindness for all… and that we’ve got so far to come.

I could really use a long moment, lying on the ground, staring at the stars and contemplating life right about now.

How ‘Bout a Duck?

December 20, 2020

As seen on a late afternoon walk with Janet down by the creek…

Wish I could have moved that branch out of the way. But honestly, those bright orange web feet just jumped out at us as we walked past these fellas… requiring a photo, branch notwithstanding.

Not a Christmas Concert

December 19, 2020

Jim and I went to our second concert in three days. It’s the season for music, right? This one featured our cousin Monica, one of sixteen singers in Volti…a San Francisco ensemble of professional singers who “are dedicated to the discovery, creation and performance of new vocal music.”

In tonight’s concert, “Singing Puzzles,” the virtuoso musicians, “

screamed, cursed, imitated crude
sound effects, impersonated turtles, brutally
butchered IPA symbols, sang beautifully, and
conjured up just about every sound the human
voice is capable of into their recorders. Elements
of the choral experience — such as group
rehearsals, coordinated singing in time, visual
cues — remained, but deconstructed in bizarre
ways that only a year like 2020 could deliver.

The director was careful to point out: it was not Christmas music.

Here are a couple pics:

Jim and I assuming the now very familiar position (this is where we sit for all our Zoom events):

I liked this particular number…I won’t go into detail describing it, but just know that each singer, alone at home, sang their part without hearing the others. The director had them close their eyes, turned them into black/white, edited each individual’s recording, added graphics to represent the sounds and then put it all together. The singers heard the composition as a whole for the first time tonight.

There were 7 “puzzles,” in all — some more random than others — all an interesting blend of sounds, graphics and direction.

Like:

I think what went on here was each singer gave his/her sound impression of one of the images and the director mixed those in an artistic way.

I’m not exactly sure what was going on with this one….

… but they put those symbols to sound, as only Volti professional singers can.

All the numbers were interesting. The entire 25-minute performance was worth observing… because, number one, it’s our cousin who’s a major musical talent (all of the singers are) and, number two, it’s a style of music that is 100% foreign to me (save that one experimental music class I took at UCSD nearly a half century ago in which we did crazy things with our voices, embellished by skits, costumes, found objects and weird sound effects.. well outside my comfort zone, but a worthwhile class because it broke the ice on my uptight, self-conscious, late-teen self) and there’s always something to gain through that exposure.