October 2015
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Jackson vs. the Fan

Well, not literally. But this week has been nice and cool at night (compared to the over-90s highs we suffered through most of last week), so at night we’ve not had the fan on while we slept. And that’s confirmed that our cat Jackson really does not like the fan in our bedroom.

He doesn’t especially hate fans, but when the fan is on overnight he doesn’t sleep with us. And in fact he tries to wake us up once or twice by pawing at the venetian blinds, to the point that we often chase him out and close the door. This week, he’s slept with us more nights than not, and has hardly disturbed us at all. And at least twice he’s been snoozing on Debbi’s side of the bed when I woke up (Debbi leaves for work before my alarm goes off – we have a time-shifted marriage).

Well either that or there’s some temperature threshold above which he won’t sleep with us, but the correlation seems stronger with the fan. I don’t know what it is about the fan that does it, since he’ll sleep on the couch downstairs underneath a running fan, and he doesn’t seem hostile towards any of the fans. Just some funny association in his little kitty brain, I guess!

Running Again

Last Friday on my ride home from work I popped a spoke on my rear wheel. This bike lasted over a year before finally popping a spoke, which I guess is not bad. I made an appointment to take it in on Wednesday to get fixed and tuned up.

Meanwhile, I decided it’s time to start getting more exercise, so on Monday I started jogging again. I don’t think I’ve jogged since before we moved into our house in 2011, so my expectations were not high. However, I managed to run about 2/3 of a mile before I had to stop and walk for a couple hundred feet, and then I ran the rest of the way home. The 1-mile loop took me about 12:30.

Tuesday I did the loop again and ran it without stopping, albeit in about the same time. I got my bike back Wednesday, rode to work on Thursday, and then ran again yesterday and today. Today I stretched my run to 1.2 miles, though at a slightly slower pace since it was horrendously humid (at least for northern California) today.

I can definitely feel it in my legs, using muscles that aren’t often used to that extent. In particular my calf muscles have been tight all week, I suspect because I use them to run with a gait where I land on the balls of my feet rather than the heels, in order to not aggravate my recurring shin splints. But they’ve felt better today than earlier this week.

I know that the main factor in popping spokes on my bike is my weight, so my hope is I can alternate biking and jogging to work on getting that down. I’ve traditionally loathed jogging, so we’ll see how long I can keep it up, and what sort of distances I can reach on a regular basis.

Oh, and to go along with this I’ve started getting up an hour earlier on weekdays. We’ll see how long I can keep that up too!

Trail Tabby

Most days I’ve biked in to work this year I’ve seen a young tabby cat on the Stevens Creek Trail:

Trail Tabby

She’s a small cat (which is why I think of her as “she” though I don’t really know), and she’s usually lounging by the side of the trail. She seems (appropriately) cautious of bicycles, since the one time I tried to attract her she seemed to want to avoid it. I started thinking of her as the “trail tabby”.

Last Friday I saw her wearing a light blue collar, which was comforting because it meant someone was taking care of her. (She is small, but not thin.) There aren’t any homes nearby, but there’s a hotel so maybe she’s the resident mouser.

This morning, though, I stopped because a couple of guys on bikes were standing over her and she was lying on her side. Fortunately she was okay, just relaxing in the sun, but it turned out that the collar had been put on her by another passer-by, and it had a note asking if whoever received it owned the cat. So, apparently she’s not owned after all! One of the cyclists was considering taking her to a vet, and contacting the person who’d left to note. So, I decided to leave it to him.

While I’d miss seeing her on my rides, hopefully those folks can find her a good home, since she seems like a friendly little cat.


I continued riding down the trail and half a mile on was almost stopped by two other cyclists who was blocking most of the trail talking to each other. I rang my bell and said “Excuse me, coming through”, but they didn’t move or even acknowledge me. So I maneuvered between them…

…and saw a four-foot snake stretched halfway across the trail on the other side of them.

Thanks, guys, for doing nothing to alert me to it, just standing there seeming like jerks blocking the trail.

Monterey Bay-cation

It’s been a busy year, as my few (dare I say rarified?) readers know, and ultimately Debbi and I decided to take a low-key vacation this month to unwind a bit. We decided to go to Monterey for a couple of days at the end of last week, and then take a couple more days off this week to relax and catch up on things.

Thursday morning we loaded into Debbi’s car Flo, and headed out. We had breakfast at Southern Kitchen in Los Gatos, which was very tasty, although the portions were about twice as big as we expected. Then we drove down Highway 1 to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a seaside town about half an hour south of Monterey which we’d never been to. Its downtown is cute, although mostly split between upscale boutiques and touristy souvenir shops. Carmel Beach City Park is quite nice, though (albeit extremely windy during the time we were there).

We drove up to Monterey along the 17-Mile Drive and through Pacific Grove. The former costs $10 admission, but I much prefer driving along the latter’s coastline, a rocky shore whose character and ocean waves for my money easily surpasses the views on the ritzy private drive.

In Monterey we stayed at the Spindrift Inn, which is right on Cannery Row. We looked at several hotels along the street and decided on this one in large part because we were able to get an ocean view room for not much more than we could get a street-side room in other hotels. Plus they had free wi-fi, continental breakfast delivered to the room in the morning, and a wine and cheese social in the late afternoon.

So we walked in and found that the view from our window looked like this:

View from the hotel room

Yes, we spent plenty of time over the next two days sitting in that windowseat. And the rest of the room was pretty nice, too! We definitely recommend the inn to anyone looking to spend a few days on Cannery Row.

Of course we spent the next morning at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is the signature sight in Monterey. We saw an otter feeding, their current exhibit on cephalopods (I loved cephalopods when I was about 10 years old, and I still think they’re pretty cool), and lots of jellyfish (which Debbi loves). Even a staff member who was carrying a tube with a bunch of small jellies:

Handheld Jellyfish

Plenty of good food during the weekend, too: Hula’s Island Grill, the Whaling Station steak house, and on the drive home Aptos St. BBQ. And a visit to the Monterey branch of Bookbuyers. Alas, despite Cannery Row having a zillion candy stores, none of them carried chocolate cordials, thus saving me from myself. Well, almost, since we did make a couple of trips to Ghirardelli for ice cream sundaes.

Saturday we drove home and stopped off in Santa Cruz to do some shopping, and we made it home to have a relaxing evening with Chinese take-out for dinner. And appreciated having air conditioning at home, since while it was nice and temperate in Monterey, we were having a high-80s heat wave at home, which has persisted the rest of our vacation.

While there’s not a tremendous amount to do on Cannery Row, and we didn’t want to drive around any more than we did, we definitely had a very relaxing and fun couple of days down there, and might do it again someday!

Since then we’ve spent a couple of days puttering around the house – paying bills, having dinner with friends, etc. – before heading up this morning for a trip to California Academy of Sciences (yes, we’re still members!), with the usual follow-up trip to Borderlands Books. And here’s my obligatory panoramic photo from the roof of the Academy:

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

They had a couple of new exhibits at the Academy, too: One on the use of color in nature, and one on whales. Honestly I enjoy their rotating artifact exhibits such as the whale one more than the long-term, permanent installations. Variety and rotation is what makes it worth going back multiple times per year (and, in turn, having a membership).

I don’t think we’ve taken a vacation to just have time off for ourselves since Disneyland in February, so this was long overdue. We’re both in a bit of denial about going back to work tomorrow, but life marches on – with or without us.

Good Samaritan

This morning I did my good deed for the week. Maybe even more than one, in the space of 10 minutes.

I was biking to work on the Stevens Creek Trail, when I came across a guy helping another guy up who had apparently fallen over while on his bike. I stopped to see if they were all right, and it turned out that the first guy had pulled over to change a flat tire, and the second guy had stopped to help, and somehow lost his balance and fallen over.

Fortunately, no one was hurt (the second guy said one time he’d fallen over on his bike and broken his arm – ow!). The second guy’s seat had turned 45 degrees and he needed a hex wrench to get it straight – which I loaned him since I carry one in my seat pack. The first guy had finished replacing his tire, but needed a pump to inflate it, and I have a frame pump on my bike, so I loaned that to him. In fairly short order they were both on their way, and so was I.

Then, just about a hundred feet up the trail a guy hit his brakes and came to a sudden halt, burning rubber on the pavement. So I stopped again and asked if he was okay. He was, but his chain had somehow slipped off his gears. I’m not sure why that required coming to a sudden stop on a downhill, but I suggested he continue along to where the other two had stopped since there was a turnout there, and where he’d stopped was just on the wrong side of a blind curve (bad enough that the city mounted a convex mirror at it). Since I was also stopped on the wrong side of the curve, I got back on my bike and continued on – hopefully he took my advice.

I don’t know if it was the short rest break or just feeling good about myself, but I powered my way through the rest of my ride and made up a little of my lost time. But hopefully I earned some karma points today.

House Band and House Fireworks

One nice thing that happened at our open house last week is that my friend John came down from his place on the upper peninsula with his wife Mary. John was one of the guys I played Magic with every Monday until the regular host moved to Texas. The game moved to a new venue, but also a new day – Wednesday – which is much less convenient for me, and John got a new job closer to home so coming down here to play on a weekend wasn’t convenient for him, either. So it’s probably been a couple of years since I saw him, and I hadn’t met his wife before.

He’d also invited us to his Fourth of July party, and so I was inspired after seeing him again for us to go. So we did!

(Aside: John is also one of my regular sparring partners at Ascension on iOS.)

The party was in a way their own open house, and in addition to seeing their home, his son C and his rock band Time Heist (named after the Doctor Who episode) played a couple of sets in their back yard. They’re quite good! C usually played lead guitar but switched with the bassist sometimes, and they’re a rare band where the drummer is also the vocalist. Their first set was a tad wonky because the guitar was mixed down below the bass and drums, but it seemed to get balanced out for their second set.

After a comment I made to John, they did a rendition of The Who‘s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which was quite good (even if it did perhaps show the limitations of the drummer also doing the vocals, as both parts are pretty demanding), and C did a chunk of the synthesizer part on guitar, which was nifty. Afterwards I reflected to myself that we’ve gone in less than 50 years from the song amazing everyone in rock music with its technical prowess to one that a high school trio can credibly cover in a back yard. And that’s why we’ll never see another .400 hitter in baseball. (Okay, that sentence only makes sense if you read the book on the other end of that link, Stephen Jay Gould’s Full House.)

(Sigh… why did I not take up guitar or piano in earnest when I was a kid? One of many things I regret not having had the discipline and/or interest to pursue when I was young.)

Anyway, a couple of other guys from the old Magic group came by, too, and now I have a couple more people to invite to next year’s open house.

The food was good, and John mixed some tasty cocktails as well. We hung out with everyone, and towards sunset came the other reason to stay: John lives in one of the few cities around here where it’s legal to buy and shoot off your own fireworks. So he set off a bunch in the street in front of hid driveway, and sure enough, two police cruisers drove by during the show and didn’t even slow down. A pretty nice display all in all.

We finally headed home an hour or so after sunset, and had a great time. I’m definitely glad we made the time to head up, and hopefully we’ll see them again before another year – or three – has passed.

Open House 2015

Yesterday we held our fifth annual open house, our annual summer party which started as a housewarming but which we enjoy enough to throw every year. It’s a fair bit of work to set up, if only to clean the house, buy the food, and throw the cats in a room (so we can leave the doors open), but at the end it feels worth it.

This year I made margaritas again, but instead of Debbi making sangria I made a gin punch called mother’s ruin, which we discovered at a cocktail party a friend threw last winter. I made a triple batch of what’s in the recipe, and we went through almost all of it. Debbi used a triple slow cooker we received as a wedding gift to make dips, and also prepared meatballs for sandwiches. So we had plenty of food – especially considering that a few folks always bring things to munch on as well. (It’s gonna take a while to go through the enormous box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates someone brought!)

I doubt we’ll ever get the turnout we got for our first open house, but we probably got 40ish adults plus 8-12 kids during the course of the day, including a few folks who hadn’t been before, which meant showing off the house to them, which is, frankly, one of the fun parts, since we love our house! Of course it’s also why we had to do all the cleaning!

The biggest downside to the open house is that so many people show up that I don’t get to talk with everyone, and there were a few people who I think showed up and then headed out (maybe several hours later) without my saying more than ‘hello’ to them. If anyone reading this wanted to spend more time specifically talking to me or Debbi, in the future your best bet is either to show up early or stay late! A couple of friends and their families showed up right around start time so we were able to chat with them at some length, and then our neighbors and our friend Paul stayed late. If you want to meet our cats, staying late is also the way to do that, as in the evening we closed the doors and let them out of their room.

One of the fun things about the party is all the kids who come over, putting our back yard to use it doesn’t often see, and also getting a bunch of our friends’ kids together to play. As usual bubble blowing was a big hit with the kids. We should have kids over more often just to have them stomp down the uneven soil in the yard!

Once again we were blessed with nice weather, a little warm at the peak of things, but not the 90+ degrees it had been a few days ago.

And then today we remembered why we always hold the open house on Saturday rather than Sunday: It’s gonna take us a few days to finish putting the house completely back together.

It was worth it, though!

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


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.