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The Adventures of Mr. Orange Kitty

In the few years we’ve lived in our house, we’ve become familiar with a number of neighborhood outdoor kitties. For instance:

  • The small tortoiseshell we think lives in the house behind us, and who sometimes walks through our yard.
  • The tuxedo cat who lives across the street and sometimes hangs out on our front porch.
  • The tabby cat who also lives across the street but who mostly stays over there.
  • The young cat down the street who sometimes walks with us to the edge of his territory when we go for our neighborhood walk. He has a collar so he’s probably an indoor-outdoor cat.

Our most common visitor, though, has been a large orange tabby who we call “Mr. Orange Kitty”.

As far as we know, Mr. Orange Kitty doesn’t have an owner (no collar, doesn’t want to interact with humans). He also walks around like he’s the ruler of the neighborhood. (We actually don’t know that he’s a “he”, but he’s a big guy – probably 15 pounds or more – so that’s our guess.)

Sometimes we see him hanging out on the front porch (occasionally with tux boy), but he runs away when we get close. He walks across the street, hides under cars (and seems to know to avoid them when they’re driving down the street), and comes into our back yard to sleep in the sun on our patio. He has on occasion attracted the attention of our indoor cats; they find him interesting, but he’s realized their appeal to him is limited. Here he is exchanging a look with Blackjack, which means this is probably from 2011:

Mr. Orange Kitty & Blackjack

But we mostly see him sitting on our back yard fence, especially in the spring and fall when he can sit in the sun when it’s cool out. He also sleeps on the roof of the shed in the yard behind us, or even on the room of the house next to us. A couple of times I’ve place cat treats on the fence near where he sleeps to see if he might warm up to us, but no luck so far – he takes off whenever someone gets close to him.

The sad recent development is that a month or so ago we noticed that he looked kind of disheveled (well, more than usual) and was walking with a limp. Around the same time we stopped seeing him on the fence, so we think he got hurt somehow – perhaps in a fight, since we do sometimes hear the sounds of cat fights at night – and that he might not be able to jump onto the fence any more. I actually hadn’t seen him at all for a few weeks – which is quite a while even for him – but Debbi says she saw him crossing the street heading for tux boy’s house this week, so he’s still around.

Since we don’t see him in his usual spots anymore, we put a cardboard box on the front porch for him (or any other cats) to sit or snooze in. No sign yet that they’re using it, but we know cats like the porch so hopefully some of them have found it.

Hopefully Mr. Orange Kitty will heal up and be able to get back to his usual routine. Of course, we have no idea how old he is, so if he’s an old guy then he might not heal up. But I wish him the best, because he’s been a cheerful part of our corner of the neighborhood for the last few years.

Nap Time

Momorial

This past weekend Debbi and I flew back to Boston for my Mom’s memorial service – or her “momorial” as I started thinking of it.

Since Mom passed away in March, my sister Katy and I have been working on her affairs. As the executor of her will I’ve been setting up her estate, while Katy’s been working on the memorial and having her remains interred. It’s been a lot of work for both of us, and Debbi pitched in to help planning the memorial.

We took the red-eye flight Wednesday night – and boy am I getting tired of red-eyes. I think our next trip back we’ll take a daytime flight instead. On the other hand, we landed on time Thursday morning and had a quiet day hanging out with my Dad, and later with Katy and my nephew I when they drove up. It was refreshing to land and not have something I had to get done that first day.

Friday was the memorial. Mom’s remains have been buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery since, as Katy put it, Cambridge was always the center of the universe in Mom’s mind.

The memorial was held at the Bigelow Chapel at the cemetery:

Bigelow Chapel

We arrived around 10 am to find the priest and pianist both already there, and the caterer setting up for the luncheon afterwards. We started a bit after 10:30. Besides the priest – who I thought did a really good job – Katy read a poem she’d selected, and one of Mom’s oldest friends shared a personal remembrance. And then I shared my own memories.

Writing my talk had taken chunks of time off and on for a week previous, and it was not easy to figure out what I wanted to say in public. And even after practicing it the night before, I was glad to see the others speak first so I could adjust to deliver it a bit more extemporaneously rather than just reading it.

So, although I read it somewhat differently, this is what I prepared:

When I was writing this, I kept going back to the month before Christmas of 1999. I’d just moved to California, and I was feeling pretty homesick. Mom suggested that it wasn’t too late to come back to visit, so I lined up someone to watch my cats and flew back for the holidays. It was just what I needed.

Visiting Mom for me was a time to relax: We’d sit and eat breakfast and read the newspaper, hang out reading books, and sometimes go out to eat or to do some shopping. We’d enjoy the warm days on the deck of her house, or watch the Red Sox games at night. If I headed into Boston to meet someone for dinner, I’d walk back from the subway to find the outside lights left on for me even after Mom had gone to bed.

Like me, Mom was something of a homebody. She’d talked once or twice about moving after Katy and I finished college, maybe after she retired, but she stayed in her big old house as long as she was able. It was hard to beat the location, of course, but it was also obviously her home, where she wanted to spend her time and read her books and sit with her cat. And she made it a comfortable place for me to visit and get away from things in my own life for a while.

* * *

Mom was always thoughtful about sending little gifts – thoughtful in the sense that I think she either really thought about them, or she’d come across something and think about someone it would be a great gift for. Gifts that maybe made you raise your eyebrows at first, but then you’d find out that they were just what you wanted somehow. One year she gave us an electric pepper shaker which Debbi thinks is the best thing ever. She’d send me articles from the Boston Globe – okay, mostly Red Sox articles, but still.

She especially had a talent for finding greeting cards for every occasion. Even when she moved to assisted living, and she was no longer driving, she managed to find clever cards for the holidays and for my birthday. The first Christmas after she moved she gave me a couple of things which included a little flashlight which I still use to find cat toys which have rolled under the furniture.

They weren’t grand gestures, but they were the little things that she kept sending year after year. Eventually I started putting more thought into finding good cards of my own to send, but I don’t think I’ve gotten up to her standard yet.

* * *

No remembrance of Mom is complete without talking about pets. She loved her pets, and she loved other peoples’ pets too. She was one of our few house guests who would leave her bedroom door ajar for our cats to visit her at night. I remember one time – after she’d visited – sending her some pictures of our cats, and she asked, “But what about my friend, Blackjack?” Debbi’s cat had snoozed with her most nights while she’d been with us.

Mom and her cat Maggie were made for each other: Maggie had had a rough kittenhood, and needed someone patient enough to let her get used to being a house cat. But Maggie is also an independent cat, which I think suited Mom’s lifestyle after she retired. So they had their routines, both together and separately. The last couple of years Mom would tell me how often she’d get up from her spot on the couch and Maggie would immediately move to it for the warmth. But I also have lots of pictures of Maggie sitting on Mom’s lap getting petted, both of them happy to have the other.

* * *

These last few months lots of people have said to me how they appreciated Mom’s friendship, or her presence in the various communities she was a part of. I know all of you have your own memories of her, from different times and places that I didn’t really see, from school, or teaching, or volunteering. She did a lot of stuff, and touched a lot of people.

I know she’d be touched and grateful that you all came out today.

Thank you for coming.

After the service we walked out to her grave. We were lucky that the humidity of the previous day had broken for a while, so it was a pretty nice walk. The caterers switched out the chairs from the service for tables for the luncheon. It was nice to talk to Mom’s friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in years, and catch up with some other people I don’t see often enough. One guest said that he appreciated the luncheon since, as he put it, funerals are often an opportunity for closure, but the luncheon was also an opportunity to keep some things open.

The chapel was a great venue, too. If you look at it superficially it might seem dark and maybe a bit dreary, but it honestly didn’t feel that way inside, with lots of wood and gentle lighting. The fact that it was bright outside to help lighten things up through the stained glass was probably a factor, too.

Bigelow Window

I remarked that I think Mom’s reaction to the service would have been that we didn’t need to go to all that trouble. But Debbi added that she’d have loved that we did.

Things started wrapping up around 1 pm, and everyone had left by 1:30. I guess I wish people had stuck around a little longer, but I wouldn’t have wanted things to go on too long, either.

So we had the rest of the day to hang out, as well as Saturday morning, to hang out. Katy and I left after lunch on Saturday, and Debbi and I drove down to visit her family for the rest of the day. Her niece – who I guess is also my niece now! – was performing in a dance recital and also celebrating her 14th birthday. The recital was – okay – a bit long, but actually pretty fun overall. And we had a fun time hanging out for dinner and cake afterwards.

Sunday the weather was a mix of rain and humidity, and our flight home was delayed an hour and a half due to the weather. On top of that, Debbi had been fighting off a cold and it blossomed Saturday night, which made for a miserable trip home for her. But we finally made it home, unpacked, and collapsed into bed, surrounded by kitties happy to see us.

We both took Monday off, and on top of Debbi being sick, I came down with a splitting headache late in the day, which clobbered the rest of my day. But at least we were able to get over our let lag, and make progress fighting off our respective ailments.

The week leading up to this trip was very stressful as I worried about getting my talk done, how it would go over, and worrying about the memorial generally (even though I wasn’t the one doing the work). But it all went as smoothly as we could have hoped, I thought. And now we have a lovely spot where we can visit Mom when we go back to Boston. As a final image, here’s the view from her grave site. I think she’d have loved it.

Lake View

Mother’s Day

Mom never cared much about Mother’s Day that I can remember. Not while I’ve been an adult, anyway, and I don’t remember it ever being a big deal as a kid, either.

One thing Mom was really good at was finding fun and clever greeting cards for holidays and birthdays, and even when she moved into assisted living where her greeting card options were basically limited to a single CVS, she was still able to find some great ones. So over time I started putting a little more effort into finding good cards for her for holidays, too. So for me, Mother’s Day involved sending her a card, and giving her a call.

Today is the first Mother’s Day since she passed away, and it’s definitely melancholy because of that. No more phone calls. (In fact, if you call her phone number – which she had for almost 44 years, it was kind of hard to call to cancel it – you get a recording directing you to my phone number.)

I’m planning to call my sister later today, though (not only because she’s a mom, but to discuss some stuff about her estate), and it seems appropriately congruent with the (Hallmark) holiday.

Off The Grid

On top of getting married last week, today was Debbi’s birthday. We haven’t done a lot to celebrate our birthdays in recent years – neither of us has a lot of stuff that we want, and sometimes we take a day off or go away, but usually all we do is get a card and go out to dinner together.

Tonight we decided to try something new, going to the Off The Grid gathering of food trucks in Palo Alto. Well, it took us a little while to get there as something was wrong with the left turn light at a major intersection, but we did finally make it. Debbi drives past this location on her way home from work so she’s seen it setting up for a while. And I wanted another go at Rocko’s Ice Cream Tacos, since my work catered them in a few weeks ago and they were delicious!

It was pretty quiet when we arrived a bit before 7 pm, probably because it was also getting chilly out (a far cry from the 90 degrees it hit on our wedding day last week!), but within half an hour there were a couple of dozen people milling around. There were – I think – 7 trucks plus a guitarist, and the hotel hosting the event was smart enough to have a tent selling beer and wine, too. We were both in the mood for barbecue, which we got from Roderick’s, and it was good! Debbi also got some clam chowder from Lobsta Truck. And then ice cream!

Off The Grid has a bunch of locations where they set up around the Bay Area, and some of my San Francisco friends know them from their presence up there. I like the idea because I see a lot of food trucks around, but some of them look pretty dodgy, and I figure a larger organization like this is a good way to be exposed to the better-quality ones. (Sure, there’s no guarantee, but there’s no guarantee with a restaurant, either!) I have tried following some food trucks via a Twitter list, but haven’t had much luck with it mainly because I haven’t figure out how Twitter lists fit into my online workflow.

Anyway, we’ll probably go back this summer as the weather warms up – it was a nice change from our usual weeknight dinner fare!

Married!

So Debbi and I got married!

We’d been talking about it and then planning it since last summer. For my part, I think the stuff with my Mom over the last few years made me think more seriously about it, in case something happened to one of us the other one would have some rights to care for them. Plus we’ve been together for 14 years, so it’s not like we rushed into it. Exactly 14 years, in fact, as April 30 is our dating anniversary.

We got married in a 15-minute ceremony at the Santa Clara County Clerk Recorder in downtown San Jose. I went in over Thanksgiving break last year to make the appointment, and then we bought rings (picking them up in February), and then last week went in to get the marriage license. We mostly kept things under wraps until sometime in March.

Last night our friend Karen flew in from Portland because I think she had to see it with her own eyes to believe it. We wanted to have a low-key event so we didn’t really encourage people to fly in for it. So Karen was the only out-of-towner we expected. Debbi took half a day off to pick her up, and they hung out at home for the afternoon. I gave her one frivolous little gift, a tiara which I thought she might wear for dinner after the ceremony. In fact, she wore it almost the whole next day!

The next morning we got up and drove to Sprinkles to pick up three dozen cupcakes for dinner in the evening. Then we went to the Crepevine downtown where several of our friends met us for brunch.

Back home we started changing for the 2 pm ceremony. The doorbell rang and I went down to see who it was, and we got the biggest surprise of the day – Debbi’s sisters flew in from the east coast for just the day to come to the ceremony and to dinner! It was nuts – Debbi couldn’t believe it! We got to show Janine our house, and Dianne found the cookies I had baked a few days earlier.

Yes, I wore a suit to the ceremony:

Married

We happened to get the same woman, Tina, who had sold us our marriage license the week before, to officiate the ceremony, and she was a lot of fun. I think we had 10 people at the ceremony, so we ended up with lots of pictures, including a bunch in the courtyard outside afterwards (where we didn’t linger too long because the mercury hit 90!). K in particular took a bunch of great photos that I need to get from her at some point (besides the ones up on Facebook). I thought Debbi was going to be fighting back the giggles for the whole ceremony – neither of us are very comfortable being in the spotlight like that.

Bouquet

Debbi decided to wear her dress for the rest of the day, but I changed out of my suit when we got home and hung out for the afternoon. For dinner we invited a bunch of friends out to our traditional anniversary restaurant Don Giovanni where we were seated in their new(ish) banquet room we’d never been in before. It had some space for the kids to run around in, and a couple of good-sized tables. We were able to talk to most of our guests during the night. And my credit card company didn’t put a fraud alert on the card when I paid for it all! Yay!

Debbi’s sisters headed back to the airport a little after sunset (they spent less than 12 hours on the ground in California), and people gradually filtered out as dinner wound down. We came back home with Karen – who’s heading back home tomorrow – and we collapsed ourselves.

All in all I think it was just the wedding day we’d been looking forward to.

And now on to the rest of our lives.

Rings

The Final Mom Trip

We’re back from what I think of as “the final Mom trip”, even though Mom wasn’t there (she passed away earlier this month), and even though there will be a memorial service for her later this spring. But this was the last trip to her last home.

Debbi was kind enough to come with me to help out with whatever she could help out with. We took the usual red-eye flight to Boston and stayed with my father. The timing was not bad, as after Boston’s record-setting snow total we could have arrived just before one of the city’s huge blizzards. Instead it was cold, but still mid-20s at the coldest, and the foot-and-a-half of snow still on the ground was slowly melting.

We landed Thursday morning, and in the afternoon drove over to The Falls at Cordingly Dam, the assisted living facility where Mom’s lived for the last two and a half years, since her knee replacement surgery. Mom had moved to a new apartment in January when she was declining more rapidly, and my sister Katy went up then to dispose of most of her stuff (since she had way, way more clothes and books and tchotchkes than she needed – or even wanted by that point). This was my first visit to this room, which was small but had a terrific view overlooking the falls for which the facility is named.

The room felt very much like her, with many familiar things. The most unsettling thing for me was seeing her glasses and shoes sitting there, as if she’d just stepped away for a minute and could soon return for another normal visit with us.

My sister drove up for the trip too, and met us at The Falls in the afternoon, as we started going through her things. The main things to deal with were her collection of pictures, and her furniture. Katy and I divided up the pictures, and Katy decided to ship a few pieces of furniture back to her home. And we kept a few books, and a handful of other keepsakes. But that was about it.

Friday Katy, Dad and I went to Mount Auburn Cemetery, where we plan to bury Mom’s ashes so we could check out their available spots. Katy had said that she’d gone with Mom to a funeral for one of Mom’s friends several years ago and that it was very pretty and Mom seemed very taken with it. Plus, it’s in Cambridge, which Mom has always felt attached to, ever since she went to college there. So it seemed appropriate. Even with all the snow I could see how pretty the cemetery would be at other times of year, and after talking to one of the representatives and going out to see some spots, we decided on a spot to bury her, one I think she would have loved.

Saturday was another day of going through Mom’s things, and then Katy left Sunday morning. This was one more milestone, as I said goodbye to Mom’s cat, Maggie. We think Maggie is about 12, and she’s had a rough time of it, switching homes twice these last few years. And I don’t think Mom was really able to interact with her near the end – The Falls staff took care of her. I guess she sat quietly with Mom for most of the last couple of weeks, and the morning Mom died she apparently meowed to get peoples’ attention. Debbi says she thinks being there at the end gave Maggie some closure.

When we visited this week, Maggie was always lying behind the couch, although she would let us reach down and pet her. The director of the floor said Maggie had been coming out for attention when she went in to feed her, so at least she was getting a little love. We’d been unable to find another home for Maggie, so Katy took her back home with her and was going to try to integrate her into her household, which has two 1-year-old cats already. Maggie deserves a happy ending, so hopefully it will work out.

From there Debbi and I drove down to visit her family and take a day off, hanging out with her sisters and their pets, and eventually the kids. It wasn’t exactly a quiet day, but it was a fun one. In the evening it started snowing, which led to Boston breaking its previous record for snowfall in a season. I got to brush snow off of Dad’s car, something I don’t think I’ve had to do for a car since I moved to California. But the drive home was not bad, as once we got on the main roads they were pretty clear.

Monday we went back to Mom’s apartment and picked up the last few things I wanted, and also met the shippers who collected the items Katy and I were each keeping. This was also the last goodbye for me to The Falls and to my Mom’s “space”. I hope she feels that we did all right by her and the things she felt were important.

Tuesday’s main event was meeting with some attorneys to get moving on executing Mom’s will, of which I will be the executor (I guess the modern terminology is “personal representative” for her estate). I’d really had no idea where to begin, but I got a referral from the lawyer I’d used to draw up her power of attorney in 2012, and the folks we met with were very helpful, so we’ve hired them to work on the legal end of the process. It sounds like it ought to be all something I can handle remotely, which is good because those cross-country flights get pretty wearing. And it doesn’t sound like there are likely to be any glitches along the way. So that was a big weight off my shoulders.

And Wednesday we hung out for the morning, then took the T to the airport and flew home.

It was a draining trip, but I got everything done that I wanted to, and it all turned out pretty well, I think. I guess I’m still a bit numb from it all, but on the other hand it’s not like Mom’s passing was a big surprise, so I’ve been gradually getting used to the idea for a couple of years now.

There’s a certain glum finality to the process of going through stuff and closing things down, which will continue for a while as her estate gets handled. But it’s not a sudden thing, it’s a series of events and a bunch of work. I guess that’s something I’d never thought about before.

R.I.P Mom

This morning I woke up to the text message I’d been anticipating for several days. I called my sister Katy and she told me that Mom had passed away overnight.

It wasn’t a surprise – she’d been declining more rapidly for months, and had moved on to hospice care at the beginning of February. The head of hospice at her facility had been nice enough to let us video chat with her in the last week, and it was pretty clear the end was not far off.

This is the first time someone so close to me has died. My grandparents are all deceased, but I was never that close to any of them. So it’s… a new thing. I’m still wrapping my mind around it.

Rest in peace Janet Rawdon. Mom.

More later, when I have time and energy.

(I posted this a couple of weeks after it happened, but I wanted to note it here on the actual date she passed.)

My Morning Quiet Moment

Last fall I decided to spend a minute or so every morning standing on our front porch and just enjoying the view. Since it’s rarely much colder than the low 40s here when I make it downstairs, even in my bathrobe taking a minute is not uncomfortable, and often it’s downright pleasant – especially after one of our (sadly, rare) rain showers.

This time of year is also nice because of the flowering trees in the neighborhood, which I can often smell from our front porch.

I try to use the moment to stop worrying about whatever it is that I need to tackle in the day ahead. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

Here’s what part of my view looked like Friday morning:

Morning Moment

Leonard Nimoy

When I was a kid – this was probably the summer of 1974 – my dad sat me down in front of the television (or so I remember it) and said, “You might like this.” This was Star Trek: The Animated Series. I don’t remember much about watching it back then, except being compelled by the episode “Albatross”.

A few years later, a friend and I would play Star Trek on the jungle-gym in our yard. He was Captain Kirk, and I was Mister Spock.

After seeing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, I eventually realized (although it would take some years) that Star Trek was fundamentally about Captain Kirk. (One reason among many why none of the later Star Trek series worked for me.) But like, I imagine, many engineering types, I still identify more strongly with Spock than with Kirk as a personality.

Yet more years later, in my days of arguing Star Trek: The Next Generation on USENET, my main sparring partner made an observation that Leonard Nimoy was the only actor on the original series with much of an acting range. While I think this sells many of his co-stars short, it’s clear that Nimoy’s acting was a big factor in bringing Spock to life. With any other actor the character would, at least, have been quite different. Heck, even with Zachary Quinto doing his level best to imitate Nimoy’s performance, his version of Spock in the recent films feels considerably different from Nimoy’s.

Today Leonard Nimoy has died at age 83. And, as is usually the case when someone passes – in this case, a man I never met, whom I only really know through a fictional character he played – I don’t know what to say.

How about this: I always thought it was great that back when the original Star Trek was bring produced, Nimoy and William Shatner became good friends, and stayed friends for the rest of their lives. Considering that Shatner was cast to be the series’ star, but that Spock was the breakout character of the show, it’s easy to see that they could have instead been rivals and not gotten along at all. I think each of them came away with a lot of baggage from the show, but in a way I think their lasting friendship is as powerful a lesson as any of the morality plays that Trek threw up on the screen.

A Week Vanishes

It’s been a hectic week-plus around here.

Last weekend we drove up to San Francisco to go to Borderlands Books since they announced they would be closing in a few months due to San Francisco’s new minimum wage ordinance. We wanted to see it once more, buy some books, and also buy some commemorative hoodies they’d had made. Since then, they decided to try instituting a sponsorship program, which brought in the needed amount of money for this year in just two days, so they’re going to be open through at least early next year. Which is great news!

Last Monday I got some nachos at the cafe at work, and they didn’t sit well with me. Tuesday morning I woke up feeling kind of woozy, but I got my act together and went to the gym anyway. But once I was sitting at my desk in the office I just couldn’t move forward, so I went home. And proceeded to spend most of the next nineteen hours dozing or sleeping with some sort of stomach bug. I blamed the nachos at first, but apparently there’s been something going around the office, so it was probably a coincidence. I felt better on Wednesday, but still pretty out of it, so I stayed home again. I basically spent the day quietly reading in the living room, and by about mid-afternoon was feeling much better.

Anyway, losing two days out of my week is a pretty weird experience.

Debbi was very nice and brought me soup and crab-apple juice (which I was in the mood for), and looked after me while I was sick.

And Roulette was delighted that I spent a whole day on her favorite couch, where she loves to snuggle with me every Wednesday evening for comic book night.

Thursday and Friday were back to work. I continue to chip away at making calls on behalf of my mother, about which I will likely write a longer entry at some point.

Saturday a couple of friends of Debbi’s family were in town – a woman who lived near where Debbi grew up, and her daughter. They were having what sounded like a great vacation in San Francisco, and drove down to see our house, and go to lunch. Then we drove out to Livermore wine country for a wine tasting. Our go-to winery these days is Thomas Coyne Winery, although we learned on this trip that the rustic barn where their tasting room used to be has been sold (I guess they were renting it), so now they’re in a less-picturesque light industrial zone. However, their wine and their entertaining tasting staff are still intact, so we’ll be sure to return. Our visitors seemed to have a great time, too.

I’m not quite sure where Sunday went. I did some yard work, we went for a walk, did our grocery shopping – and suddenly it was dark and time for dinner.

And now it’s Monday again somehow!