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2017 in Review

I’ve seen several people on social media say something along the lines of, “2017 was a pretty terrible year for the country/world, but a pretty good year for me personally.” That pretty well sums up how I feel. The Trump administration and Congressional Republicans have been a garbage fire, working tirelessly to destroy the country and stymied in large part by their breathtaking, historic incompetence. But I’ve had a pretty good year.

A few years ago I was going through a rough stretch at work for a variety of reasons (among them my Mom’s declining health and eventual passing), but I feel like this year things really came together. I’ve spent the last two years working on a fun project (Xcode’s new build system, unveiled at WWDC in June), written in a new language (Swift) which I have been thoroughly enjoying, and I’ve been broadening my skill set in a variety of ways. In addition, I’ve been moving into a larger leadership role, which has been surprisingly rewarding. The surprise is because what I’ve always found most enjoyable about my job is building things and seeing them work, but the coordination and organizational parts of my job have been more fulfilling than I’d expected. While I’m still happy when I can carve out a day to work through a problem and code it up, the rest of it has been pretty cool too.

(By the way, if you’re a programmer who’s like me in that you primarily enjoy building things and seeing them work, I highly recommend embracing an automated testing development workflow, because it gives you great feedback and a sense of accomplishment to write tests and see them work. Even working on test infrastructure is fun and rewarding!)

At home we had an unorthodox set of vacations. In February our niece R and nephew J (on Debbi’s side) came to visit for a week, their first plane trip without their parents. I think they enjoyed their stay more than they’d expected; we mixed up seeing the sights with time hanging around at home, and also getting together with some of our friends with kids (albeit younger kids, which didn’t seem to make a difference). R is a couple of years away from college so we drove through UC Santa Cruz, and we had a big day going to Alcatraz and Ghirardelli. In June we went back to visit our families, and spend a few days at the family beach house (which is great unless it’s ridiculously humid). And in September my dad came out to visit for the first time in over five years, which was also fun. It had been long enough that we went to see a few things a second time, for instance the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I sure hope I’m able to make cross-country plane trips when I’m in my 80s!

Somehow I’m now 2-1/2 years into running regularly. I peaked at running 3 miles about 5 times a week (2 out of every 3 days), and decided that I needed slightly more off days, so I switched to running 4 days a week and worked my way up to 4 miles earlier this month, which works out to slightly more distance overall. My legs seem to appreciate the extra day off each week, and it gives me a little more flexibility when we have things going on during the weekend. Frankly it’s the podcasts I listen to which keep me motivated (thanks especially to Limited Resources and Magic the Amateuring) – if I fall behind on my running then I fall way behind on my podcasts, so in a sense I use my OCD to keep me going (though I honestly enjoy the podcasts too).

Our household has been stable, but with a pleasant development: I wrote a few years ago about how Roulette was traumatized by her three brothers passing away, but over the last year and a half she seems to have gotten over her grief and started enjoying life again. She doesn’t put up with Jackson’s crap and stands up to him on a regular basis. She and Sadie sometimes chase each other around (which is hilarious because each is easily the smartest cat the other has ever played with). And she’s started sitting on our laps and even sleeping with us at night. Rou is now 14 years old and is acting younger and happier than she has in years – it’s been a joy to see.

So now we’re having a quiet New Year’s Eve watching television, having eaten Chinese take-out for dinner, our cats snoozing around us. We’ve had fun times with friends and family this past year, and we’re looking forward to 2018 with the hope that it will be better for everyone.

Happy new year to all!

Jackson’s Home

After a long and stressful week, Jackson is finally home!

Wednesday the vet called to say that Jackson still hadn’t passed whatever it was, and recommended we take him to another, more expensive, vet – a.k.a., the hospital – since they had both an ultrasound machine and the capability to do surgery if necessary. So I picked up the little troublemaker – who had an IV needle in one paw and a cone over his head and drove him over.

Despite the cone and hating the car, Jackson loves the vet – at least, he loves checking out the exam room and the people who come to see him:

At least, he was very excited until it was time to say goodbye so he could go in the back. And I could go to work.

Thursday they called to say that they’d given him an enema (which I bet he loved!) and that he successfully pooped out – a hair tie. Which is kind of what we thought it might have been, although there was a chance it might have been a Lego-like brick. They suggested they keep him for one more night to make sure he was fully recovered.

So Friday I left work early to go pick him up. It was, like, 95°F outside, and he meowed the whole way home. He came right out and checked out the house when we opened his carrying case, and then he spent the next hour or so grooming himself all over (the details of which I’ll leave to your imagination).

Since then he’s been, well, I’d call it subdued. Not lethargic, but not completely back to normal. But he’s been eating, not throwing up, and mostly acting like his normal self. And very happy to be home – probably even happier than we are to have him home! He may be a little bundle of trouble, but he’s an important part of our household, and we missed him.

The Trouble With Jackson

I’m heads-down at work this month making the annual push for our upcoming conference, while Debbi is preparing for an off-site for her team at work later this week. Besides that we’ve been doing some deferred maintenance on our home (perhaps worth a post of its own), we’re planning a vacation this summer, I’m juggling discussions with other family members about things they’ve got going on, and I’ve been sifting through some bills which need attention (almost missed the due date for our homeowners insurance – whoops!).

So with all of that we did not need to have Jackson start throwing up repeatedly on Sunday night, waking us up twice, and requiring repeated spot-cleanings of the upstairs carpet over a 12-hour period. (Speaking of home maintenance, we should really get them steam-cleaned, too!)

By the time I came back from my run Monday morning he seemed to have stopped, but he was definitely a little out-of-sorts, possibly from not having slept enough himself the night before.

So Debbi made an appointment yesterday and took him to the vet. I’d hoped to make time to join her, but even for this time of year yesterday was an especially busy day, so I wasn’t able to make it. The vet took X-rays and – as we’d guessed – he apparently ate something, apparently a small rectangle maybe a half an inch by an inch or two, which the vet thinks was irritating his stomach. We’d learned a few weeks ago that someone – probably him – had eaten and thrown up one of Debbi’s hair ties – which you’d think would be very common, but Jackson is the first cat we’ve owned who’s gone after them. So apparently he got something else and swallowed it.

Debbi left him at the vet overnight, and the vet called to say that the object has apparently passed into his colon already, so there’s some chance that it might just come out the other end, which would certainly be the best case. (The worst case would be surgery to remove it.) So hopefully she’ll call and give us some good news today.

So we spent the night without Jackson, which was certainly a little quieter, since he’s our big troublemaker, often pawing at our venetian blinds at 4 am and forcing us to kick him out of the bedroom. But we’ve been missing him, and his sister Sadie has been especially snuggly; as our herding cat, I think she’s upset when members of her household are unexpectedly missing.

But this is stress we really did not need this week!

R.I.P. Maggie

My sister Katy texted me last night to tell me that our Mom’s cat Maggie passed away sometime during the day.

Mom had cats for just about my entire life. When I was born she and Dad had a cat named Dinah, whom I barely remember, although I dimly remember thinking she was someone to avoid. She died when I was still quite young. I grew up with an Abyssinian cat named Amos – I’m not sure if they got him before or after I was born – and he was around until 1987, along with our Welsh Corgi, Punkin, who joined us in 1976. I always found Amos somewhat aloof, even for a cat, just doing his own thing. I don’t really have strong memories of him, even though I was a teenager for part of his life.

In 1988, after I went to college and Amos passed away, Mom and got a couple of cats, a sweet tabby named William, and a feisty polydactyl calico named Jenny. William was my buddy whenever I visited, and I was very sad when he passed away in 2000. Jenny lived a couple more years, and I think enjoyed being an only cat.

We weren’t sure Mom would get another cat after Jenny – well, maybe Mom was less sure than the rest of us – but she found Maggie at a shelter, I think around 2003. The shelter said she’d been found pregnant and with a collar on her neck which was too small. And she was a small cat – maybe 7 pounds – a calico with smoky fur and a smudge on her nose. Mom adopted her, and really had to stick out caring for her for that first year, because she said Maggie took a long time to warm up to her, and even longer to really become her friend. But eventually she settled in with Mom, coming down for treats or to lie on the newspaper, and moving from room to room to lie in the sun in various windows. I guess she would growl and hiss loudly at cats who came into her yard, and avidly watched all the birds which flew into the yard.

She was not a very friendly cat, usually running and hiding when visitors came. It would take several days after I’d arrive to visit before she’d do more than look at me around a corner. She didn’t bite or scratch (much), she just wasn’t very friendly. She did warm up to me when I stayed at Mom’s house while she was recovering from knee replacement surgery in 2012, even getting into the morning paper routine. She’d even sit at the top of the stairs and meow for me to come to bed when it was Mom’s usual bedtime!

She had a bit of a mischievous streak: Mom said she once got outside, and Mom left both the front and back doors open for her to come back in. After an hour, she walked in the front door… and before Mom could close the doors she walked all the way through the house and went out the back. She did come in to stay later in the day, though. She also loved to play with tabs from plastic milk cartons, and would sometimes carry one to the top of the stairs and meow until Mom came out and told her what a good kitty she was. (When we were preparing to sell the house, I found dozens of the tabs behind the oven.)

Maggie had a hard time in Mom’s apartment in assisted living, with people coming in and out several times a day, and having a pretty small place to live. Mom played with her a lot, but as Mom declined (and I see in hindsight that she hid a lot of the symptoms of her decline from us) I think she became neglected and lonely.

The nursing staff told us that when Mom passed away she meowed loudly for a while afterwards, and then she had to endure several days in the apartment alone, with the occasional visitor to give her food and scoop her litter, until Katy and I came to clean out the place.

Katy volunteered to adopt her, and something remarkable happened: She moved into Katy’s house, with her son and her two young cats, and she totally took over the house. She whipped the young cats into line, and became very friendly to the humans. Katy says when she’d have workmen over, the other cats with disappear but Maggie would stay and supervise them. And last December, when Katy adopted a young dog, Maggie told the dog who’s boss, and used him against the other cats, since they didn’t like him.

So after everything, Maggie got her happy ending, a year and a half in a nice old house, with friendly humans, lots of wet cat food, and plenty of time lying in the sun on the porch.

Katy said Maggie had been getting small and thin lately, and we’re not really sure how old she was. Our best guess is that she’s 13, about the same as our calico Roulette, but she could easily have been a year or two (or more!) older than that. She always had kind of cruddy teeth, which is not a recipe for long-term health. So it was not really a surprise, though the suddenness was a bit of a shock. I don’t think Maggie would have done well with a long decline, anyway.

Katy says she’s having Maggie cremated and will spread her ashes over Mom’s grave next time she visits. I think they’d both like the thought of that.

(photo by Katy)

(photo by Katy)

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!

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

Tiny Kittens

Over the last couple of months I’ve been watching a group of kittens through a page called Tiny Kittens. They have a Facebook page, but more importantly they have a live stream page. Ceej turned me on to them.

These particular kittens are six called the “tiny dancers”, born to a mother named Calypso, and with six dancing names: Mambo, Foxtrot, Jitterbug, Lindy, Salsa and Hula. Over that time the kittens have grown from barely-able-to-move to being small but fully-functional cats, running and playing. Their mom has been great, too: Once they started weaning from her, she became playful and would even wrestle with her kids. And she was a beautiful calico to boot. (She was a little clueless about monitoring her kittens sometimes; once one of them fell out of their bed and was meowing on the ground, and Calypso would go down, then jump back up, and back and forth until a human came in and picked up the kitten and put it back.)

Anyway, the kittens are now about three months old and have been getting fixed and are heading out to their forever homes. Mambo and Hula headed out on Wednesday, and Calypso – who has also been spayed – went to her own home today, after one last morning snuggling with and cleaning her kittens. I watched Wednesdays’ departures being packed up with little plastic lunch box care packages, and being shown to the camera one last time before they departed. (Each pair has their own Facebook pages: Hula and Mambo, Foxtrot and Salsa, Lindy and Jitterbug.)

Watching them get broken up has been sad. Even though I know they’re all going to good homes, living together is all the kittens have known and I wonder how the seven cats each react to being broken up like this. It’s totally anthropomorphizing on my part, since I know most cats adapt to their new situation, and they’ll all be happy with their new humans. It’s great that it looks like each kitten will have one of their siblings to spend their lives with: I remember telling Newton several times that he got to spend just about his whole life with his brother Jefferson. Of course I don’t know whether they really cared about that, but we humans like to think they do. I still have small regrets that none of the other three cats got to say goodbye to Jeff, since he went so quickly.

Anyway, I can’t imagine fostering kittens myself. It would be too hard to let them go, I think. It’s hard enough watching these kittens – who I haven’t even spent times with directly – head off. Debbi has thought about volunteering with our local Humane Society, but I think she worries that she’d have trouble saying goodbye to them, too (not to mention that not all of the animals will come to a good end; even if the shelter is no-kill, some of them will get sick or have other problems).

In any event, I guess the Tiny Kittens shelter will get some new kittens in at some point, and I’ll get to watch them grow and then leave. It’s adorable and entertaining while it lasts. But it’s sad because what the end is for me comes all too soon.

The Kittens Go to the Vet

We took the kittens to the vet yesterday for their annual check-up. At 14 months, they’re not really kittens anymore, but we still call them that, and probably will for a while.

We also brought Roulette for her check-up. In the past she always rode in our large carrier with her brother Blackjack, but since he passed away just about a year ago, we decided to put her in a small carrier by herself and put the kittens together in the large carrier.

Result: Roulette meowed the whole drive, and Sadie meowed from time to time and even louder than Roulette. Jackson was completely blasé about the whole thing.

In fact, Jackson was perfectly happy at the vet: He came out of his carrier, tail straight up, and checked out everything in the office, and was perfectly pleasant to everyone he met. Other than a brief yowl when his temperature was taken, he was quite comfortable in this new place. He really is the alpha cat, I guess! We also learned just how enormous a cat he is, which is to say, not as enormous as we’d thought: He weighed in at 14-1/2 pounds, well under the 16 pounds I’d guessed, and even the 15 that Debbi guessed. He’s about the side Jefferson was when Jeff wasn’t getting pudgy.

Sadie was also pretty comfortable at the vet, but Roulette was not, and had to be pulled out of her carrier for her exam. And afterwards she jumped down and went into the large carrier and curled up. So we decided to have her and Sadie ride home together, since they get along pretty well (it’s Jackson and Rou who don’t get along – specifically, Roulette does not like Jackson).

(Aside: Roulette is a little lighter than Debbi had expected, at 11 pounds. Sadie weighed in at 10 pounds, fluffiness and all.)

Putting the girls together worked great, as everyone was relatively quiet on the ride home, and Roulette was even up and looking around during the ride. When we got home we let them all out and the three sort of followed each other around looking a little dazed by the experience, without any friction between Jackson and Rou. So maybe there was a little bonding that went on during the trip.

The adventure took a lot out of them as they slept most of the rest of the day.

Oh yeah: And they’re all healthy, which was the point of the trip in the first place.

Roulette’s Difficult Summer

It’s been a couple of months since Newton passed away. I’m not sure Jackson and Sadie really noticed. I mean, I’m sure they did in some way, but it didn’t slow them down. They both started lying in Newton’s spot on the couch pretty quickly (to be fair, so did Debbi and I). But he was not a big part of their life for very long.

Roulette has taken his passing harder. It doesn’t help that Jackson still chases her from time to time, and doesn’t take her hissing at him as a signal to stop. She spent several weeks mostly upstairs, and mostly under the guest bed, which seems to be her safe spot. She would come down at night and sit on the back of the family room couch and mostly try to avoid Jackson. She recognized that Sadie is not a big threat, even though Sadie would chase her too, sometimes.

But I think she’s been a bit stunned by the last of the three cats she grew up with passing away. It’s been a sad time for her.

We wondered what would happen when we went away for our vacation for 12 days. We found a great cat sitter through a friend, and knew that she would give them all plenty of attention and play time, but still Roulette would be alone with the kittens for at least 23 hours a day.

Oh, and the kittens ceased being kittens early in September, as it turned out their recorded birthday is September 4.

Our first night back we realized that Roulette was coming in to our bedroom, and leaving when she noticed Jackson in there. I suspect she expanded her territory to include our bedroom while we were gone, and that the kittens mostly stayed downstairs.

Also, since we got home she’s been spending more time downstairs, and not a lot of time under the bed. She sits on the couches, and on the dining room table in the sun during the morning. Last week when I sat in the living room reading comics she curled up with me for most of the evening, and even tolerated each of Sadie and Jackson lying with us, for a while.

This weekend she started lying on the family room couch itself, not just on the back, and she’s been cuddling up next to me and Debbi. And there’s been less chasing, and less hissing. And she plays with toys when we bring them out sometimes, too. She’s also joined me in the study to pester me while I’m paying bills. And Debbi even noticed her eating next to Jackson yesterday. Sadie has gone up to her and groomed her a little without any growling.

So I think she’s started to get used to the kittens, slowly, slowly. I think the next step will be to see her and Sadie grooming each other, or at least snoozing together. Perhaps not any time soon, but maybe it will happen.

But we did get some pics of the three of them lying together on the couch, in Newton’s spot, for a little while:

Cat harmony

Home Maintenance

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.