After our whirlwind time last weekend, we wanted to have a quieter time this weekend. It didn’t quite work out that way, but it was pretty good anyway.
Friday morning I took my car in. I had it in a week earlier for an oil change, and they said they’d noticed both an oil leak (possibly coming from the head gasket) and a power steering fluid leak. They suggested I take my car to have the engine block steam-cleaned, and then come back in a week to see if they could find the leak. So I did that, and they couldn’t find any evidence of recent leakage. So perhaps whatever they saw was an old leak which has since been fixed. They also showed me how to monitor my power steering fluid level to know when to add more fluid, or when it might need to get fixed (which will be expensive). So, that was about as good as I could have hoped for. I did get a new battery, though, since mine was nearing the end of its life.
That night we went out for Italian food and drinks, which I was craving. And then we went for one of our walks around the neighborhood, which we haven’t done recently since Debbi has been hurt (shin splints and/or pulled muscles in her leg), or sick, or we’ve just been busy (after all, I bike to work on the days we did our walks over the winter). We dropped in on my friend Alex and his family so Debbi could see how their black lab Alton is doing. He’s no longer a puppy, is how he’s doing (well, he’s dog-sized by still has a puppy brain). He also got so excited that he peed on my sandal. Thanks, Alton!
Saturday we ran some errands. The filter warning light for our refrigerator’s ice maker has been on for a couple of weeks, so we bought a new filter for it (and subsequently found the one we already had). We then discovered that it didn’t actually have a filter installed! Yet it took two years for the warning light to come on. Weird. Well, there’s a filter now.
We also bought a new area rug for our family room, as we had to get rid of the old rug because Newton had peed on it. (I hadn’t really intended this entry to be about animals peeing, but there you go.) Debbi wanted one that didn’t have shag since the old one was a pain to clean and vacuum. We found one we like pretty well, and put it down. And then we decided to run it the other direction, so we moved it on Sunday. Lots of furniture moving. But it did give us a chance to pretty thoroughly de-fur the couch.
The cats love the new rug. They’ve all been lying on it, especially when it’s in the sun, and we’ve played with them on it. Jackson likes to lie under the coffee table now that the rug is there.
We made a trip out to one of our favorite pet stores to buy some toys for the cats and also for Debbi’s sister’s family’s kitten. And we got Chinese for dinner, trying a couple of new dishes by ordering their prix fixe menu (or do I have to figure out what “prix fixe” is in Chinese to write that?).
We have been a little worried about Roulette since Newton left us last week, since now all three cats she grew up with are gone, and she hasn’t warmed up to the kittens yet. So we gave her some extra attention. We even each got her to play for a bit, and she tolerated having Sadie sleep almost right next to her. I wonder if she knew Newton was not in good shape and if that was stressing her out. Now that that’s been resolved, maybe she will integrate with the kittens a little better.
Sunday I got up and mowed the lawn. The back lawn was looking a little brown, and I finally did what ought to help it: Replaced the solenoid for the valve which controls the automatic sprinklers for that area. I hate doing those kinds of home repair, because it seems like when I do it not only do I fail to fix the problem, but I manage to break something else. But this went smoothly (other than dousing my shorts with water when I removed the old solenoid, not realizing I should have shut off the water to the valves first), and I ran the sprinklers in the evening to let them get some water overnight. Talking with my friend Chad about sprinklers I’ve learned a bunch of things about them recently. I’m not sure I’d want to actually replace one of the valves myself, but maybe I could.
We wound up the all-too-short weekend by grilling pork chops and asparagus for dinner (and I made some sour apple martinis), and then I went upstairs to pay bills.
The weekend flew by, and I feel like we didn’t have quite enough downtime during it, but we did get a lot of stuff done, and between the family room and the sprinklers it feels more comfortable now.
It was about a week ago that we decided to take Newton in to the vet because of his increasing meowing, apparent trouble sleeping, and starting to pee in more and more places. While I thought we might do some blood tests and see what was up, I also realized there was a good chance that we would just decide that that was it for him (as it turned out to be). I made the appointment for Sunday because our vet was booked on Saturday and I had another appointment on Friday.
We actually had quite a busy week, and I admit that some of it was wanting to be distracted so I didn’t sit around moping about the impending vet appointment. I felt a little guilty that I didn’t want to spend as much time as possible with him, but honestly he was becoming an increasingly grouchy kitty and he really did not interact a lot anymore.
Last Sunday – before I made the appointment – we had gone to the birthday party of our friends’ four-year-old twins, and while there Debbi scheduled a couple of other dates with their parents and some other friends. So Wednesday we met four of them at Flea Street Cafe, in a part of Menlo Park we’d never been to, for dinner and drinks. It’s a pretty good place, rather on the pricy side, and a little ritzy for our usual dinner haunts, but we might go back with other folks sometime.
Friday I had an appointment to take my car in. I drive a 2000 Honda Civic, which I actually bought in fall of 1999, and it is starting to show its age. The battery needs to be replaced (it’s been replaced at least once before), I have an oil leak (which might be at the head gasket), and apparently a power steering rack leak as well. They told me to take the car to have its engine block steam cleaned (I’ve never heard of such a thing!) and I’ll bring it back this coming Friday to see if they can pinpoint the oil leak. But likely it will run well over a thousand dollars to get it all fixed. I will likely fix it, since I’m not yet ready to get a new car, but it looks like I’ll need to move on cleaning out the garage before too long so I can consider getting a new car (which I won’t want to park in the driveway).
Friday night we got together with Susan and Subrata for dinner and games, which is always fun.
Unfortunately, Debbi started feeling sick on Friday, with a sore throat when she woke up, and we had many plans on Saturday. She felt a little better on Saturday, so we went ahead with the plans. In the afternoon we had six of our adult friends, and four kids, over for a BBQ in the back yard. This was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work to keep this kids entertained. The twins live in a house without stairs and so they always want to go up and down the stairs when they come visit. But mostly it was an outdoor party, so they got to run around in the yard, but we adults went out to keep them entertained regularly; they wanted me to swing them around by their wrists or ankles, and to chase me back and forth in the yard. (The five-year-old realized I would cut back to avoid the twins, so I had to zig again to avoid her; fortunately I can still out-think a five-year-old.)
In addition to the BBQ I made mai tais using the recipe the twins’ Mom uses (more or less), which is pretty different from the “traditional” mai tai (it uses pineapple juice) I made a batch, gave it a try, added some stuff to it, and it turned out pretty good. There’s still something missing, but I’m not sure what. It was also stronger than I’d expected, but I think the dark rum I happen to have on hand is pretty strong in both flavor and alcohol content.
When the first people showed up, I let Newton outside with us, and basically just let him roam around the yard – as long as he didn’t go under the deck we let him be. He lay in the sun, lay in the shade, went behind bushes and our Japanese maple tree, sat on the edging stones, and generally had a great time (meowing a lot of the time, too). Eventually more people showed up, so I took him indoors, but he spent at least an hour and a half (including some time before the party) in the back yard, so it was a good last full day for him. He managed to sneak outside a couple of times later, too.
The party went rather longer than we had originally planned, but everyone was having fun and the kids were still full of energy so we didn’t worry about it. Things wound down around 8.
This was good because we actually had plans with the neighbors around 8 to go hang out for the evening. So we were a bit late to that as we cleaned up (and gave Newton his subcutaneous fluids). It was a nice change from the busy-ness of the afternoon, though: Our neighbor enjoys making vodka drinks, so he prepared four different ones for us, and we all sat and talked and noshed on munchies and enjoyed the drinks, which were delicious. Now I’m feeling inspired to make martinis and such. We stayed until nearly midnight, and then staggered home, being very glad we didn’t have to drive.
Debbi unfortunately felt sicker on Sunday (and is home from work today), which was also a drag because she was trying to take care of herself while we took Newton to the vet and then came home after having him put to sleep.
It’s been easier getting over Newton’s passing than it was for me with Jefferson. Partly I think because I said goodbyes to him last year before his hospital stay, and partly because we’ve basically known since that stay that his day was not far off. Really he lived longer than we expected, I think. The kittens have been sniffing around his spot on the couch and sometimes lying there, and I sat there last night to watch the Red Sox game. Roulette I think knew something was wrong with him before he passed; we’re worried about how she’ll handle the fact that the last of the three cats she grew up with is gone, and now she just has these kittens that she doesn’t fully accept. With time, maybe she will.
We’ve been picking up some of the things we had to deal with Newton peeing around the house, and we took up the towel from his spot and put a regular blanket there (our couch is covered in blankets to try to control some of the cat hair). It’s not quite the same and taking away the food dishes when Jefferson passed, but there’s a mark of finality to it. Disposing of his remaining medications is next, I guess. And I can try to return that unopened pack of puppy pads to Petco.
And, life goes on.
Today Newton went to join his brothers Jefferson and Blackjack in that big cat window in the sky. Newton lived to be 19 years old, quite elderly for a housecat, but I think he was mostly happy up until the end.
I got Newton and Jefferson not long after I left grad school in 1994. The Humane Society in Madison thought they were six months old in October, but after seeing how big our current kittens were at six months, my guess is they were more like three or four months old when I got them.
“Hi, I’m Newton.”
Newton was “the explorer” of the pair. I remember when we (my then-girlfriend Colleen and I) let them out of the carrier when we brought them home, they both immediately did a 180° turn and walked right up to a half-height mirror that was leaning against the wall. They both jumped back from the “other cats”, but quickly learned that there were no actual other cats. They spent half an hour exploring the living room, and then walked over towards the kitchen. Jefferson headed into the kitchen, but Newton noticed the hallway leading to the bedroom and bathroom and immediately turned and headed into the bedroom, with Jefferson following. I also remember going into the bedroom when they got bigger and finding Newton on top off the door. I guess he jumped onto the desk, onto the bookcase next to it, and then across the doorway to the top of the door, where he happily sat for who knows how long before I recused him.
Newton was also a very enthusiastic, high-energy kitty. I remember we would play with them and he would keep going long after Jefferson called it quits. Heck, he would keep going until we stopped, and would sit looking at the toy and panting. And if we started again, he’d keep going. We finally stopped for good because I was afraid he was going to hurt himself!
“I got it!”
“If I put paws in both holes maybe I can get the mouse…”
Jefferson grew to be much bigger than Newton, and also became top cat, as I’d learn later. Newton topped out at a little under 10 pounds; I always wondered if he’d been the runt of his litter. Despite their size difference, Newton and Jefferson were pretty evenly matched. Newton was also the social one: I remember hosting a book discussion group at my apartment, and Jefferson stayed in the bedroom, but Newton eventually came out, jumped up on an empty chair, and loafed up as if he were listening to the conversation.
The three of us moved to California when I went to work at Apple. I started dating Debbi, and bought my townhouse in Mountain View. Jefferson may have resented Debbi’s taking my attention away from him, but Newton adjusted pretty well; he enjoyed getting attention from anyone, and got more and more snuggly as he got older.
“I loves my brother!”
Debbi’s kittens came along in 2003 and changed the dynamic: Jefferson became top cat (though Newton could always pester him like no one else could), and Newton and Blackjack started their struggle for the second position, which I don’t think ever really got resolved. The two of them would sometimes wrestle with each other, and we’d call them “the silent wrestlers” because they would often fight without making a sound, just pouncing back and forth and circling each other. Newton would often roll onto his back to fight, which was funny since Blackjack was much bigger than he was.
“Okay, okay, that’s enough!”
Newton had some weird habits. One was jumping up on my desk when I was at it and putting his head directly under the incandescent bulb of my desk lamp, “baking his brain” I called it. He never showed signed of getting particularly cold, so I don’t know what was going through his head. He was also the cat who would spaz out at a second’s notice and go running through the house. At the townhouse he’s tear down the stairs to the landing halfway, and then wriggle under the railing to jump down to the floor directly, and then keep going. He’s also the reason I didn’t have house plants for many years, not because he’d eat them but because he’d dig in the dirt in the pot. Again, don’t know what was going through his head. For a few years he liked to lie in the sink; when he got older, he just liked to drink out of it. And he liked to bury his head in my armpit, sometimes making snorting sounds when doing so. It grossed Debbi out.
When Jefferson passed away, the cat dynamics changed again; I think Roulette sort of inherited the top cat position from Jefferson, because neither Newton nor Blackjack was willing to yield it to the other. We moved to our current house, and Newton again was the first cat out of the carrier to check things out.
Blackjack was diagnosed with lymphoma in early 2011, but by this time Newton was almost 17 years old and was taking medication for hyperthyroidism, so I think their struggle ended without really being resolved. Then early last year Newton spent a few days in the hospital, and was diagnosed as having slowly-failing kidneys (kidney failure seems to be a common way older cats die). When he came home he was not quite the same cat he was before, having slowed down a lot and lost a lot of weight. He spent more time downstairs, taking the center spot in the family room couch as his own, and didn’t sleep with us anymore. He went on a regimen of subcutaneous fluids and various drugs, which took a while to figure out how best to give them to him (especially the aluminum hydroxide; going with an oral syringe of it in gel form worked much better than adding a powder to wet cat food).
Last November we got our new kittens, Jackson and Sadie, and Blackjack passed away a couple of weeks later. Newton quickly laid down the law with the kittens, showing that he wouldn’t take any guff from them, but they could sleep with him if they wanted. I think they actually made him perk up a bit because there were now things going on in the house.
We realized earlier this year that Newton couldn’t really run and could barely jump anymore, which meant it was now safe to let him out into the back yard with minimal supervision. This quickly became his favorite thing in the world, and he would sit at the back door meowing to go out, and also try to slip out with a human when the door opened. As long as he didn’t go under the deck, we let him have the run of the yard. He’d lie in the grass, sit on an edging stone, walk behind the Japanese maple, and then come over the rub his head against me, in thanks, I guess.
He didn’t make his last months easy, though. He stopped peeing inside his litter box, so we put puppy pads down in strategic spots for him to use. Sometimes he’d miss and we’d have to clean up the floor. These last couple of weeks he started peeing in other places (even on the blankets on the couch a few times, though we managed to save the couch from getting wet), and he was meowing more and more. Sometimes he’d put his head down, and then three minutes later lift it up and meow for thirty seconds. I don’t know whether he was sleeping very well, or eating or drinking. And his breath got really foul, which our vet says can be a symptom of severe kidney degradation.
So I made a vet appointment for today. I took him outside for one last walk around (the picture below is from this morning), and then in we went. After talking with our vet and thinking it over for a while, I decided that it was probably time. His meows probably meant he wasn’t very comfortable anymore, and I didn’t want him to deteriorate over the next week or two to the point where he was miserable and pathetic. The vet thought it was a good decision, that even if we treated his current symptoms it was likely he’d only have a few more weeks. I didn’t know going in whether that would be the decision, but I thought it was likely. Despite feeling like I’d said my goodbyes to him last year before his hospital stay, and the fact that he hasn’t really been the same cat since, it was still very hard to say goodbye. We snuggled with him until he was sedated and he seemed just happy to be in our arms.
Several of my friends had young cats around the time I got my guys, and Newton I believe outlived all of them: Scout & Smokey (Newton & Jefferson’s doppelgangers), Sarabi & Mufasa (Sarabi passed away earlier this year), Oscar & Spud. And all the “K” kitties two of my friends had, of which I only remember Kang, because he always wanted to snuggle with me when I visited.
Goodbye, little orange fellow. You had a long, full life, and I’ll miss you.
Onwards to new adventures!
Monday Debbi and I took the day off so we could attend a unique (at least in our experience) award ceremony: Our neighbor Juan was being awarded an Air Force Commendation Medal for his actions saving several people during a hurricane when he was in the Air Force back in the 50s.
The Mountain View Voice has a couple of articles with background on the award (with photos): one announcing the ceremony, and one reporting the events.
Juan has been active in the community for a long time, and he invited many of his friends and neighbors. Although the ceremony was not until late afternoon, Debbi and I decided to take the day off. Debbi asked me what I’d be wearing, and I said “probably a suit”. She said she didn’t think I had to wear a suit, and I said, “true, but I think our congressional representative is going to be there, and I don’t think she’ll be wearing a Hawaiian shirt.” It’s not that I enjoy wearing a suit, but I don’t do it very often, and this seemed like a good opportunity. It turns out I haven’t yet forgotten how to tie a tie, and it wasn’t an uncomfortable as I remembered (probably because when I bought my current suits and shirts I actually got them sized correctly). You can bet if it had been 90 degrees out I would have worn shirt sleeves, but in fact it was our usual cool low-70s temperatures for this time of year.
The ceremony was held at Moffett Field, at the hangar of the 129th Rescue Wing of the California National Guard – I expect because the medal was for a rescue act (Juan was a radio operator in the service, not part of a rescue team). While we were waiting for things to start, regular business was clearly still being conducted in the hangar as every so often someone would poke his head out of a door to see if things had started, and then dash out to head somewhere. A number of service people in fatigues attended the ceremony, and my guess is that anyone who was there and not busy was allowed to sit in. There were camera crews from a couple of local news stations, and they set up a Skype link so Juan’s daughters could watch the ceremony remotely.
Once everyone was settled things got underway. There was a formal presentation of the U.S. and California flags, and the playing of the national anthem. The master of ceremonies was a Lieutenant Colonel from the Rescue Wing, and then our congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, introduced Juan and spoke about him. And then Juan was presented with his medal by a Brigadier General. And then Juan gave a nice speech to wind things up. Afterwards there were refreshments and photo opportunities with Juan. We talked briefly with Ms. Eshoo, where I felt like my usual tongue-tied self. 🙂
I did not have a good angle for these pictures
(click for larger images)
I noticed a couple of interesting things along the way: Ms. Eshoo sang along with the national anthem, which made me wonder how many times per week she hears it. (I like our anthem, but I imagine I could get a little tired of hearing it if I served in congress for 25 years!) Also, the Lt. Colonel said that he’d been in the National Guard for (I think) 41 years and had never been part of a ceremony like this. That indicated to me that this really isn’t something that happens every day, even for long-serving military folk.
Attendees got to look around the main area of the hangar, where they had a large plane and a helicopter in view. The amount of stuff they had stashed on the walls of that plane was impressive! We also noticed a wad of cloth inside one of the things hanging from the wings, and Debbi and I agreed it looked like old socks, even when we got close to it. Debbi asked one of the people on-duty what it was and he said it was a parachute used to slow the plane down for in-air fueling.
I’m honored that Juan invited us to attend, as for a civilian like me this might be a once-in-a-lifetime event. I know that Juan was having the time of his life, and it’s great that the powers that be were able to put together such a nice event honoring him for his actions all those years ago.
It was just under a year ago that I chose a new RSS reader when Safari dropped its syndication support. But at the beginning of this month Google Reader was end-of-lifed. While my reader of choice, NetNewsWire, still works, I’d have to either start syncing my bookmarks myself (such as using rsync via Dropbox), or sign up for a new service for syncing.
(Why is syncing important? Partly so I can subscribe to a new feed in one place and it will appear in other places, but more importantly so I can read articles in one place and they will also no longer be unread in other places. “Places” for me mainly means my Macs at work and at home. I do read feeds on my iPad, but that’s not essential.)
TidBITs had a nice summary of available replacements. And by “replacements” they really meant the services providing syncing, not the desktop- and device-side clients. It seemed like Feedly and NewsBlur were the services which best matched what I was looking for. Feedly is a free service. NewsBlur is ostensibly free, but you don’t get a lot for free – in particular, you get a lot less than I use. But you can subscribe to it for $24/year.
For the time being I’ve decided to go with NewsBlur I was disappointed that Feedly didn’t support exporting your feeds to OPML when I was looking (though I guess they’ve added that), but NewsBlur had a couple of compelling points:
- Its Web interface allowed me to get a “combined” view like NetNewsWire had – I really hate the master-master-detail interface that many readers have.
- It supports nested folders, which I find useful.
It also has an iOS client. However, the only supports Mac client seems to be ReadKit. I would describe ReadKit as “bare bones”. It doesn’t have either of the NewsBlur web reader features I mentioned above, and I wasn’t too impressed with the interface overall. Perhaps it will improve, but I think it has some distance to go. Your mileage may vary. (I know people who chose other services because they’re supported by Reeder. I was not impressed with Reeder a year ago; perhaps it’s improved. I don’t think the Mac client has been updated for a while, though, and that’s the one that matters to me.)
So for now I’ll mainly be reading feeds through the web. And while it’s taken me a little while to adjust to the keyboard shortcuts in NewsBlur, and the fact that it’s not a separate app, I’m getting used to it. It’s pretty good, actually. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a syndication reader whose interface I’d characterize as “great”, so there’s an opportunity there for someone to seize.
Here’s what NewsBlur’s web interface looks like, in the configuration I’m using:
(click for larger image)
And yes, I subscribed to Newsblur. I think it will give me value for my money, and I am increasingly skeptical that free services are worth my time investing in: I mistrust companies based around advertising and don’t want to get locked in to them. I would rather pay for the service. And I’m especially doubtful that free services which aren’t supporting themselves with ads and don’t seem to have a clear path to financial stability will be around in a year or two. (I’m not completely consistent about this, but I’m taking stock of the services I’m using over time. I recently bought the premium service for Evernote, for example.)
Marco Arment makes some good points about where syndication support has to go. In particular there will have to be syndication services with available, documented and supported APIs, and there will have to be clients which support multiple services. There’s some money to be made on both sides. It’s still early days, though. Five years from now I bet the landscape will be completely different.
Oh, and NetNewsWire? Arment had a few words about that at the link above, but I tried out the NNW 4 beta, and noticed that the combined view – the killer feature that made me choose it a year ago – is gone. So they’re going to have to really step up to get me back.
So overall I’m pretty happy where I’ve landed. I’d be lost without RSS feeds – how would I ever keep up with all the Webcomics I read? (And don’t say Twitter – I’d have to laugh in your face.)
A week and a half ago we had an unusual day of rain showers – normally we’re bone-dry from May through November other than perhaps an early-August shower. That was Monday; they predicted even more rain on Tuesday, so I decided not to bike to work. I was cheated – no rain, just lots of humidity.
Worse, the strange weather presaged more than a week of high temperatures, peaking in the mid-90s around us, but getting even hotter further inland of us. Boy have we been glad we moved to the new house with its air conditioning, since we would all have been melting if we were still in the townhouse – especially Sadie with her longer fur. It didn’t stop me from biking in twice since then, but it hasn’t been comfortable to be outside.
One of Debbi’s cow-orkers gave mer a new cat shrub – a little round cylinder about a foot high with a door to go inside. All the cats have checked it out (apparently her cow-orker’s cats wouldn’t go near it), but Newton has used it to sit on top of in the morning when it’s in the full sun. I think the sun helps his creaky old bones (he is 19 after all), and it’s high enough that he can look outside while sitting there. It’s pretty cute.
In the middle of all this we threw our third annual open house on Saturday. Which might have been the hottest day of the heat wave. If I’d been smart I would have sent mail to everyone we invited telling them that we’d have the A/C on. As it was we had a smallish turnout.
We decided to try an experiment since the doors would be closed and not lock the cats up in a room this year. (This had the additional bonus of not having to deal with Newton’s don’t-want-to-pee-in-the-litter issues by sticking him by himself in a bathroom.) I spent some time trying to make sure neither of the kittens got out (I don’t think either of them really tried – Jackson seems to have lost his interest in darting out the front door). Roulette went upstairs and hid under the bed from as soon as the first person arrived until after the last person left, but the other three all stayed out.
We got quite a few kids under age 10 this year. While Newton I think got kicked out of his sleeping spot by them a couple of times, he did get some snuggling time with me and some guests. Meanwhile a bunch of the kids (and a few adults) spent a chunk of the party playing with the kittens, which they adored. Jackson actually got a little overwhelmed and retreated to the top of the stairs for a while at one point, but otherwise they had a lot of fun. At the end of the day they were about as tried as I’ve ever seen them; Sadie actually jumped to the top of the cabinets in the laundry room and curled up to sleep for a while.
It was a great party, and despite the small turnout neither Debbi nor I felt like we had a lot of time to chat with people, except for a few at the beginning and end. Before we knew it, it was 8 pm and everyone had headed out and we could clean up and collapse.
My other project recently has been to step up my skills at mixing drinks. I think I’ve mastered margaritas (I made a pitcher for the party, which used up one of the three bottles of triple sec we were given two years ago for our first open house), and next I’ll give mai tais a shot. After that, we’ll see.
And now it’s Independence Day here in the US, and I took tomorrow off to have a four-day weekend. We’ve had a pretty quiet day at home, hanging out with the cats and making an excursion downtown. Last year I was back east helping take care of Mom after her knee replacement surgery, so it’s been nice to spend the day with Debbi this year.
Tomorrow it’s supposed to finally cool off to more normal temperatures. At last.