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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!

Summer at Disneyland in February

We’re back from a long weekend at Disneyland! This was a slightly different trip for us, as we’ve never gone in February before, and we also flew down rather than drove. When you factor in getting to the airport early, flying is not a huge amount faster than driving (though if they close the Grapevine into L.A. as they did last time we went then it is quite a bit faster to fly), but it is nice to not have to do the driving ourselves, and it really does shave at least an hour or two off of the travel time. We also had a hilarious driver of our SuperShuttle from the Orange County airport.

We stayed at the Carousel Inn, which we were less impressed with. Aside from the extremely small bathroom and the tub drain getting clogged, it has a weird mix of old/new technology: Ancient lights with push buttons which are nonetheless wired to modern wall switches, and an old air conditioner with a modern thermostat control. It was like the ultimate half-assed remodel. At least the beds were comfortable and things basically worked, but it’s not a place we’ll be in a hurry to return to. Of course it’s also very close to the main entrance to the park, which is why we chose it (well, that and several other hotels were full by the time we booked).

Anyway, we bought 3-day passes for the parks since we got there early enough on Saturday to enjoy a half-day. Quite a few attractions were closed as they’re refurbishing many of them in preparation for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary which starts later this year. The two I missed the most were Soarin’ Over California and the Disneyland Railroad. Well okay, I also missed Muppet*Vision 3D, which is temporarily displaced by a Frozen musical theater.

Disneyland Main Entrance

Since we usually go to Disneyland during the holidays, this was a – for us – rare opportunity to see the Haunted Mansion in its standard, non-holiday configuration, which I appreciate more than the holiday version. I’m not a big fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas (I prefer The Corpse Bride), and the bright colors and less-detailed figures of the holiday set-up I find less appealing overall. I particularly enjoyed seeing the “bride’s attic”, which lead me to learn that Wikipedia has an enormous entry on characters in the Haunted Mansion. You’re welcome.

Though we were getting a series of rain storms at home when we left, it was bright, sunny and warm in Anaheim while we were there, and I wore shorts on Sunday and Monday, and was glad I’d brought them. Honestly I almost wish it had been a bit overcast like it was on Saturday, since it was maybe too warm for a few hours at midday otherwise. (I’m sure all our friends who are snowed in in the northeast are really sad to hear that.)

We spent a chunk of time in Downtown Disney, which now features what may be the largest Starbucks I’ve ever seen:

Ginormous Starbucks in Downtown Disney

(click for larger image)

And we spent chunks of two evenings in the Hearthstone Lounge for cocktails, and one night for dinner since we were not very hungry (having chowed down on fried chicken for lunch) and just had some of their bar snacks for dinner. This lounge is becoming my favorite place to end a day once the parks are winding down.

We rode a bunch of rides multiple times, including the recently-refurbished Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. And while the Radiator Springs Racers is a fun ride, we only rode it once because of its long lines. And honestly, as I remarked at one point, the best thing about the Racers is that it sucks crowds away from California Screamin’, which to my mind is the superior ride.

Debbi also bought some Disney pins. I don’t think she’s going to go full-on into pin trading, but she did have this experience: We were in a store on Main Street and she saw a Tigger pin (Tigger is her favorite character) available for trade. The cast member (employee) working the counter said she could buy a pin off the wall to trade for it, so she told me to pick a pin for her. I picked a Stitch pin, and she made some comment about not liking that pin. (I thought it was fine, actually, but not one I wanted to own myself.) The cast member said, “You know whatever pin you picked would have been the wrong one.” Yeah, I did. So, Debbi traded for the Tigger pin, and the cast member took the Stitch pin to put on the board to trade. And just after he did, a maybe eight-year-old girl came up and said that she’d been looking to trade for that Stitch pin all day! So I guess I did choose the right pin!

Oh, and along the way I also took this picture of Debbi:

Debbificent

Hee-hee!

We and our tired feet flew back on Tuesday, and got home early enough to run some errands and settle in.

Debbi was intent on not running us ragged on this trip, and I think we had a good mix of doing stuff, standing in lines, and just hanging around. I think the only things we really missed were seeing fireworks, and riding Star Tours (we opted to ride Space Mountain a second time instead).

And I’m sure well go back sometime during the upcoming 60th anniversary, too.

Quiet Birthday Weekend

I took last Friday off for my birthday, and decided to do… nothing. The last few months have been stressful, so I really wanted to spend a day just hanging around at home not worrying about things I needed to do.

So I got up, got sausage biscuits from McDonald’s for breakfast, then did my one chore for the day, which was getting my hair cut. I went downtown to get a falafel sandwich for lunch, and otherwise I spent the day sitting in our library reading graphic novels. Other than a blip in some e-mails that I had to handle, it went pretty much as I hoped. In the evening Debbi took me out for dinner to Sundance the Steakhouse, as I was craving their prime rib and of course their mixed drinks.

Saturday was busier, as we ran errands all over town, from Costco to OSH to Bed Bath and Beyond. And then at PetSmart we found a new cat tree to replace our ten-year-old one which has been just about shredded on top. Amazingly we were able to get it into my car and get it home, too! The cats seem to have all accepted it, even Roulette, who has been snoozing at the top of it on a regular basis, after having mostly avoided the old tree since we got the kittens.

Sunday went back to being a lazy day, as we watched the two football conference championship games. It was pretty sad to see the Seahawks win, meaning we’ll have one more week of The Worst Fans in Football, but watching the Patriots stomp the Colts was fun. (I actually like the Colts, but they’re not there yet.) Since then we’ve had “deflate-gate” over allegations of the Patriots deflating the ball when they were on offense. This left me agog that teams apparently provide their own balls when they’re on offense in an NFL game. Haven’t all sports leagues learned from baseball’s steroid controversy that any aspect of the game which isn’t closely overseen by the league will be exploited? How in the world could the league have not realized sometime in the last ten years that this was a bad idea?

Well, regardless of whether or not the Patriots cheated, hopefully the NFL will learn from this. The last couple of years have shown that they have a lot of learning to do.

Anyway.

Sunday evening we went to meet our friend Paul for drinks. After a brief bit of confusion over where we were meeting, we had a nice couple of hours with him and a friend of his at Shiva’s. A pleasant wrap-up to the weekend.

Once again, it’s hard to believe another year has passed. It feels like I’m in that stage of my life where the days, the weeks, the years are starting to fly by. That’s a little scary, if I think too much about it. On the other hand, I think back to where I was 20 years ago, how much has happened since then, and think that 20 years from now I might be nearing retirement, but by today’s standards I won’t really be old.

So, it’s not time to worry about the passage of time yet.

Back to the Gym

I went back to the gym this morning for the first time since… well, since last March. That’s misleading, though, since I switch to biking to work in April once Daylight Savings Time starts (so I’m not biking home in the evening in the dark). But other than walking and doing some push-ups in the morning, I haven’t gotten a lot of exercise since the end of October.

I’ve been spending a lot of my mornings before work making phone calls for my mom’s affairs, being stressed out about making those phone calls, or taking care of stuff around the house. (Home ownership! Never lack for things to do again!)

Anyway, the gym went fine. On the elliptical machine I started reading Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible, whose upside I figure is entertaining-but-lightweight. The place was pretty busy but not too bad.

Maybe I’ll go again next week.

End of the Holidays

The end of the holiday season for us comes when we take our Christmas lights down, which we did this weekend. We put them up the weekend after Thanksgiving, so they’ve been up for six weeks, which has to be a record for us.

We have two artificial trees, a big one which goes in the living room so it can be seen from the street, and a smaller one in our family room so we can enjoy the lights while watching television. (It is still a little weird to me that our TV is not in fact in our living room. Almost as weird as the fact that we own three couches, even if one of them is in bad need of replacement.) Then we put up lights around the first floor of the house outside. I added a few more this year, and by my count we had 23 strands of lights up. I think almost all of them are low-power LED lights now, except for maybe a yellow strand and a white one which contains some blinking lights. I actually prefer the rich color of LED lights to incandescent ones, so it’s a win all around as far as I’m concerned.

The holidays were somewhat bittersweet this year: My mom is having some issues, which both my sister and I have been dealing with (her more than me, as she made two trips up on the last two weeks to see her; my role has been in making a lot of phone calls). And Debbi got sick the week of Christmas and has continued to be sick through this weekend. She went to the doctor on Friday and got some antibiotics, which seem to be working already. I thought she’d just had the nasty cold that’s been going around (which I had over Thanksgiving), but apparently hers was worse than that. Hopefully she’ll be better soon.

We still got out to see Christmas lights the week leading up to Christmas, though. We have a lot of nice ones in our area to go view.

We also had a good holiday break, as much as possible with Debbi not feeling great. We got out to the coast and walked the new Devil’s Slide coastal trail, which is about as much fun to walk as the old highway along the cliffs was to drive. We also got together with some neighbors for drinks, and got up to Cal Academy for a day with our friends Chad & Camille and their kids. (Doing the museum with kids is quite different from doing it without kids!)

But this weekend we took down the lights and put everything back in the shed for another year. It’s a bit sad each year when we do it, but it’s nice to reclaim the space from the trees and have the house get back to normal. And, as they say, it’s the fact that it only comes around once a year that makes it special.

Christmas lights

Doctor Who, Season Eight

Welcome to my review of the worst season of Doctor Who since the Colin Baker era. Yes, even worse than last season, which did not have a lot to recommend it.

As usual, I’ll start with my ranking of episodes, from best to worst:

  1. Deep Breath (written by Steven Moffat)
  2. Mummy on the Orient Express (Jamie Mathieson)
  3. Robots of Sherwood (Mark Gatiss)
  4. Last Christmas (Steven Moffat)
  5. Dark Water/Death in Heaven (Steven Moffat)
  6. Time Heist (Stephen Thompson & Steven Moffat)
  7. Listen (Steven Moffat)
  8. Flatline (Jamie Mathieson)
  9. The Caretaker (Gareth Roberts & Steven Moffat)
  10. Into the Dalek (Phil Ford & Steven Moffat)
  11. In the Forest of the Night (Frank Cottrell Boyce)
  12. Kill the Moon (Peter Harness)

Let’s sum it up this way: I own every season of the new series on DVD – but I don’t plan to buy this one. Frankly there is not a single episode I particularly want to see a second time. The best of the season, “Deep Breath”, is barely more than a run-of-the-mill suspense yarn. And it gets worse from there.

Also as usual, my reviews contain plenty of spoilers, and so I’ll continue after the jump…

Read on, Macduff! »