Holiday Break: The First Half

We’re a little more than halfway through our holiday break, so here’s what we’ve been up to:

The break has unfortunately been marred by Debbi’s illness, which she’s had for over a week, and which has progressed through the usual cold symptoms, but has taken forever to progress. After hearing her chest coughs yesterday, we finally decided that she should go see a doctor about it today. (I even hauled out our humidifier to see if damper air would help her cough less.) The doctor diagnosed it as just a cold, so there’s not a lot she can do except take it easy and take some cough medicine – and try not to overmedicate.

On the bright side, our friend Karen came down for the Christmas weekend. She usually heads east to visit her family over the holidays, but the price of air fare persuaded her otherwise, so instead we invited her down here. She flew in on Christmas Eve, which I had off but Debbi didn’t, so I picked her up from the airport and we went to Whole Foods to pick up the fixings for Christmas dinner, and lay in food for Karen while she was here. We went to Cascal for dinner, and then drove around the area looking at Christmas lights as there are some impressive displays around.

Christmas morning we sat around the tree (our artificial tree that we bought last year, because real trees have gotten astonishingly expensive around here) and opened gifts. My big gift to Debbi and myself was to replace our aging comforter with a nice new one. It’s even larger, so it fits in the comforter cover whereas the old one was a bit small for it. I also bought her the third season of Corner Gas on DVD. I received a goodly haul of books, CDs and DVDs from various people.

Karen has been training for a long race, so she needed to get some training walks in during her visit, thus in the afternoon we went out to the Stevens Creek Trail so she could do her walk, while Debbi and I took a ore leisurely one. We went directly to have lunch downtown at a Thai restaurant, and then vegged for a while at home, before finally cooking dinner in the evening. I made meatloaf, Debbi made mashed potatoes and steamed carrots, and Karen baked a blueberry pie.

Saturday Karen headed out for a long walk, and Debbi and I went over to Bill’s for his annual Boxing Day party, where we played some Fluxx, one game of which was epically long and I won in a particularly improbable way (involving randomly switched followed by randomly chosen cards). We picked up Karen (just before the first of the week’s rains came in that evening), and went to dinner at Sundance the Steakhouse, which has to be one of our better recent restaurant finds in the area.

Sunday we drove to the coast and had the champagne brunch at the Moss Beach Distillery, then stopped off for an outing at the beach the beach near Pillar Point. Monday, Debbi’s cold was starting to get her down, so we had a quiet day mostly at home and went to dinner at Amber India, before taking Karen to the airport, where she caught her flight home only a little late.

Tuesday, as I recounted yesterday, I went to play poker at a local card room, coming home as Debbi went out for dinner with some friends. I spent the evening puttering around in the study, and afterwards we watched some Corner Gas until we went to bed.

Today I went to the comic book store for the one comic that came out this week (Blackest Night #6). Due to the holidays, shipping companies couldn’t guarantee that books would arrive on Wednesday, so most companies decided to skip this week, as it was the fifth Wednesday of the month anyway (often called a “skip week” in the industry). DC decided to ship one book last week instructing stores not to put it out until this week, on pain of whatever tortures DC has at its disposal, I suppose. You can sometimes tell how ethical a store is by whether they abode by these requirements or not. My store, of course, held the book until this week like they’re supposed to, and held a sale besides – the store, surprisingly, was quite busy when I arrived!

I also went to an Apple store to buy a new keyboard, since the wireless keyboard I’ve been using since I got a stand for my laptop has been terribly unreliable, dropping connections every 10 seconds at times. Very disappointing, but web searches suggested that the keyboard has been problematic for a lot of people (apparently 2.4 GHz devices – wireless networks, cordless phones, etc. – can interfere with the keyboard’s bluetooth connection). Oddly, I’ve never had any such troubles with wireless mice.

And that brings us up-to-date. Now, to go read that comic book – and the few others I bought at the sale!

Red Sox Days

These past two evenings have been taken up with two trips to Oakland to see my Boston Red Sox in their only trip to the area this year.

Monday night we took my friend Joar and his wife Karin to their first baseball game since they moved here from Sweden a couple of years ago. We’d meant to go last year, but it never happened (mainly, I think, due to my own sloth). I don’t think either of them are really sports people, but obviously they’ve heard about the game and Joar’s seen my own enthusiasm for it on display plenty.

I explained the basics of how baseball works, which is a bigger challenge than I’d expected: What innings are, what outs are, the fielders and the batting line-up, how balls and strikes work, what foul balls and home runs are, and how outs are actually made. That doesn’t even get to things like stolen bases or double plays or pitching changes or any of that. Never mind the Seventh Inning Stretch.

All this was much easier once the game began and I could point out how the umpire indicates balls and strikes, where the foul lines are, how the runners move around the bases, etc. It really brought home how I take the play of the game for granted, having absorbed it mostly through watching a whole bunch of games as a teenager.

I think they enjoyed the game more than they’d expected, especially Karin who was watching the game quite intently as it progressed – which is saying something because it was a pretty mediocre game, as the A’s clubbed the Sox’ pitching into submission and rolled to an 8-2 victory. But we had great seats in the second deck behind home plate (and Joar nearly got his head taken off by a foul ball, but it was deflected at the last second), and it was a fairly warm night. We even saw the Red Sox pick off not one but two runners from first base in the same inning, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

Next I’ll try to get them to a Giants game, hopefully for a weekend day game so they can appreciate Pac Bell Park.

Debbi and I went back last night for the second game of the series, which was considerably less fun, because the temperature was in the 40s and the wind was in the 20-30 MPH range, so it was goddamned freezing, even with the extra layers we wore. Hot cocoa and Irish coffee only staved off the chill for a few minutes.

Which is too bad because it was quite a good game: Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka melted down in the first inning (and went on the DL today), but Justin Masterson held the A’s scoreless for 4 innings, and the Sox came back to tie it 5-5. Finally we got too cold and left in the middle of the 8th, and the game was still going on by the time we got home and went to bed. I learned this morning that the A’s won 6-5 in 12 innings, so I’m rather glad we didn’t stay to the bitter end.

Of course, the Sox saved the best for today’s day game, which is a bummer, but at least they won one. I’m just sorry I wasn’t able to see it.

And even more sorry they won’t be back for another visit later in the summer. Darn the unbalanced schedule anyway!

Birthday Weekend

I can’t complain about my birthday weekend: It’s been packed full of fun stuff.

Friday night Debbi took me out to dinner. We went to Sundance the Steakhouse, a local place that we’d never been to before, but which we discovered through the discount cards we get through our workplaces. (We’ve actually discovered several good places through them.) It was very yummy! They have an elegant decor with wood panelling and display cases of what I assume are memorabilia from Stanford, which is just down the street. We each ordered a steak dinner, with an appetizer of potato skins. Good stuff! We’ll definitely go back.

At home we watched 3 more episodes of Battlestar Galactica, and we’re now nearly caught up.

And that wrapped up my birthday proper.

Saturday we ran a variety of errands in order to host my birthday party in the evening. As always I didn’t send out the invitations until quite late – Wednesday evening. With my birthday falling so soon after Christmas it’s always hard to get myself to put it together early. I also have a hard time figuring out whom to invite. I worry about having so many people over that we won’t have space to cram them all into our house, but on the other hand I also consider inviting some people I know casually, enjoy hanging out with, but wonder if they’d feel peculiar that I invited them to my birthday party. Debbi encouraged me to invite more rather than fewer people, so that’s what I did. And then of course, there’s always some obvious person that I forget until a day or two later.

Anyway, despite my worries and despite the short notice, we had plenty of people show up. Which is itself rather flattering: I have lots of friends! Some folks I hadn’t seen in a while showed up, too, such as Lucy, Trish, and Mark & Yvette.

People were mesmerized by a frustrating puzzle that Debbi’s father sent her for Christmas: I think we managed to identify all the OCD people in the room with it. And our friends Lisa and Michael brought their daughter Isabella, who is now walking, and who loves cats. I guess she was able to pet Blackjack at one point, which left her completely delighted. She’s become quite the little flirt. Subrata and Susan brought over Ajay, who’s not yet crawling, but who seemed pretty happy to see all the people. He’s going to be quite the little charmer himself.

After consuming the USDA-mandated quantities of cake and ice cream, everyone staggered off home. But we had a great time. Even the cats had fun!

Today we headed off to Half Moon Bay for brunch and an hour walk along the seashore: It’s been quite warm here recently, so it was perfect weather for it. Then we came home and sat around watching football and putting the house back together.

I couldn’t really have asked for a much better weekend. How was yours?

Full Weekend

We’re finishing up a full weekend around here.

Friday night we got together with our friends Chad and Camille for dinner at Cascal, the popular tapas restaurant downtown which we finally discovered a few months ago. C&C used to live in Mountain View, but moved further into the valley around the time I moved here, so we also walked around downtown so they could see what had changed since they were last here.

Saturday I got a much-needed haircut, and then we met up with Subrata and Susan for lunch, Magic and dominoes. Subrata and I played some more Shadowmoor-Eventide sealed deck, and our games took quite a while since we each kept drawing most of our removal and other tricky spells, so we had lots of maneuvering to do. I eventually prevailed 2 games to 1 with my white-blue deck over his black-red deck. Ironically, I put together my own black-red deck which had most of my rares in it – my blue-white deck had none – but didn’t get to play it. I’m not sure it would have been very consistent anyway.

Today we had a relatively lazy day, watching football and the James Bond film License to Kill (1989), the Dalton film I hadn’t seen before. It’s not as bad as I’d feared, but it’s lackluster at best. The acting is often atrocious, with Dalton a shining star next to anyone – indeed, everyone – else.

The painting around here is just about done, so I put the furniture back on the upstairs porch. I’ll move the plants back there over the next week or so. I’m so glad it’s nearly over. It’s been quite a haul to get it all done. (I’m sure the painter feels the same way times ten. I think it’s been a bigger job than he expected. It looks like he did a really good job, though!)

One good anecdote before I finish up: This past week I was sitting for my friend Josh’s cats. (He and his fiancée went to Hawaii, the lucky ducks.) Thursday night I went up to find his one cat who usually hangs out under the bed. Sure enough, there he was, and I went around to the other side to pet him and coax him out. While I rubbed his chin I looked to the side, and…

…well, I went downstairs and said to Debbi, “Either Josh has the most realistic cat toy ever, or there’s a dead sparrow under his bed.”

Sure enough, it was a dead sparrow – still warm, even – and I threw it outside. I suspect it came into one of the enclosed porches somehow – one with a cat door leading out to it – and one of the cats dispatched it and brought it inside to, uh, enjoy. Fortunately, it was still basically intact, rather than being a mess. I sent Josh a text message and he replied that he was sorry I had to deal with that, but that he thinks it’s happened once before.

The things we put up with for our furry friends!

Cliff’s Wedding

Yesterday Debbi and I headed out to the wedding of my friend Cliff, who was marrying a Debby of his own!

I must be getting less high-strung in my old age, since putting on the monkey suit (i.e., my suit) didn’t bother me, despite having to remember how to tie a tie and doing so at the tail end of the area’s latest heat wave. And Debbi looked great in the dress she bought last month for the event. I did learn that it’s time to buy a new suit, though, as this one is showing the initial signs of being a little too old and worn (I think I bought it in 1994 to interview for jobs following grad school, so I can’t really complain).

Cliff is Jewish, so this was a traditional Jewish wedding (well, or so he told us!), which was a new experience for me. About as new as Subrata‘s Hindu wedding a few years back; heathen that I am, all of these religious wedding ceremonies are equally fresh to me, I guess. We showed up at the temple and the guests were divided into two rooms, one for the bride and one for the groom. Cliff was about as happy as I can imagine ever seeing him; he’d been looking for the right someone for a while, and has been positively brimming over with excitement over his wedding day.

This pre-ceremony event apparently traditionally involved the groom expounding on some element of the Torah – and apparently with some heckling from the gathered guests, although I’m not sure how traditional that is. Though I noticed that it was common throughout the events leading up to the ceremony that people would be laughing and joking about everything, and Cliff was certainly among those. After this, Cliff was danced (literally) over to Debby’s pre-ceremony reception (the violinist played what I presume is a traditional tune along the way, but before then he was playing “Mahna Mahna” and the theme from the Muppet Show, to much amusement of all), and we all went over for the ceremony.

Well, not quite: Before the ceremony is the signing of the marriage contract, which is apparently the majority of the legal event (under both California and Jewish law). This was somewhat less interesting for us because there wasn’t a lot going on to see or hear, and because the room was a little too small to see what events there were. But afterwards we went into the temple for the ceremony proper. And this was joyous but in a more serious sense, as ceremony typically is. One thing that struck me was that Debby circled Cliff 7 times when she walked in, and if I recall correctly (not having journalled about it at the time) Subrata circled Susan 7 times in their ceremony (or maybe it was the other way around?). I may have the particulars wrong, but the circling in both ceremonies struck me as interesting. Anyway, Debby seemed to be just was happy and enthusiastic about it all as Cliff was, and it all went quite smoothly.

The wedding reception was a couple of towns over, and we were seated with some of Cliff’s gaming friends. There were actually only two guests I knew beforehand, although there was one woman whom I recognized from the campus at work but whom I don’t know. (I don’t think she worked in Cliff’s group, so I may ask him how he knows her.) Dinner was quite yummy, and we had a good time watching the dancing (no, I didn’t dance), and we congratulated the happy couple of course.

And now they’re off on their honeymoon. I wish them the best – certainly it seems like they got off on the right foot!

Welcome Ajay!

Subrata and Susan’s son Akash (Ajay, or maybe A.J.) arrived on Thursday. We visited them in the hospital last night and got the whole scoop; it sounds like things went quite smoothly, and I expect they’ve probably gone home already as I type this.

Ajay seemed surprisingly aware of things going on in the room around him, as he locked eyes with me and with Debbi, and watched the nurse avidly when she came in. I don’t know much about kids, but that seems pretty perceptive for a 24-hour-old kid! His parents would be bouncing off the walls if they weren’t as tired as they are; give ’em a couple of days and they probably will be!

Debbi’s Birthday Weekend

Busy weekend!

Friday Subrata and I got together to play Friday Night Magic. Meanwhile our partners Debbi and Susan got together to do Friday night scrapbooking at a store they discovered. We each had a good time, and although Subrata and I went to Game Kastle, which started its game about an hour later than where we’ve been going to play before, we didn’t finish a lot later than they did, so it all worked out well.

Friday was the release day for the new Magic expansion, Shadowmoor, which is the complementary set to the previous block, Lorwyn. Rather than having interactions among creatures in a tribe (elves, goblins, etc.), this block involves colors which work closely together. That gives it a different dynamic in draft, since the “hybrid” color mana costs mean you can play more cards that come your way than in other blocks.

I had a pretty good draft putting together a green-red deck which had a few good tricks but basically came down to putting big creatures in play before my opponents could deal with them. I won my first match handily, lost my second match by a very thin margin, and got crushed in my third. So not too bad a showing. My third opponent isn’t impressed with the set, feeling that it’s a set which plays slowly at first, but then a single card can win the game for either player if they get lucky. To some extent this is always true in Magic, but it does seem like the power curve leaps rather suddenly at a certain point. On the other hand, I enjoy creature-based decks, so the slow progress early in a game suits me okay. I’ll have to play more to see what I think about it. It does feel like the set is very light on creature removal, though, which might make red-black the color combo of choice.

Saturday was a day of running around doing errands, followed by going to an engagement party for our friends Josh and Lisa. Some friends of theirs put together a very nice party at their house, and many friends of each showed up. Josh has been one of the more avid boardgamers at Subrata’s weekly session since he started coming a couple of years ago, so there were several people Debbi and I knew there. It was a fun time, at least until my cold meds started wearing off around 8 and I started wearing down.

(I can’t wait to shake this cold. I’m slowly getting better, and not really wiped out by it by the end of every day, but it’s sill a drag, sniffling and coughing.)

And last but by no means least, today it’s Debbi’s birthday!

I’d been teasing her all week about the presents I’d bought for her, all the while hoping that I’d actually get them in time, since I’m becoming the world’s worst procrastinator when it comes to buying presents. However, I’d come up with a couple of neat gift ideas, and hoped to pull it off.

Fortunately, I was able to make time to go by Lisa’s Tea Treasures on Thursday morning and picked up a nice English-style tea pot for her, since she’d talked about getting one so she could make larger pots of tea. (Lisa’s Tea came at Susan’s recommendation, for which I thank her since otherwise I had little idea of where to go!) And my order for Corner Gas seasons one and two on DVD arrived from Amazon Canada on Friday afternoon, somewhat to my surprise since they’d just shipped earlier in the week. Corner Gas is Debbi’s favorite show these days, and we watch it most nights on TV. A lot of its humor is based on wordplay, which means I enjoy it a lot more than most sitcoms.

Anyway, somehow I’d managed to not give her any hints about it all about them and she was completely surprised! And loved them all! Yay!

In the afternoon we had a small group of people over for grillables and cake to celebrate, keeping it small to not drive ourselves nuts with preparation. (I still drove myself nuts by insisting on mopping the tile floors this morning, but that’s my problem.) We had a fun time, and our friends Lisa and Michel brought their infant daughter over, which especially amused the cats, since Newton had no idea what to make of this not-a-lot-larger-than-he-is human sitting in the carrier on the floor. Isabella also was fascinated when I brought out the radio-controlled helicopter later on.

It all went smoothly, and after people left we had a quiet dinner, and of course some cake and tea and watched tonight’s Corner Gas.

Happy birthday, Deb! I’m glad you had a good one.

Dinner with Trish

Went to dinner tonight with my friend Trish. Trish is another one of the “olden days” journallers, having started her journal, Rant and Rave, back around the same time I started Gazing Into The Abyss. We became friends when I moved to the area, and I introduced her to her “evil twin” Lucy, and they became fast friends. Trish moved away a few years ago to be with her boyfriend, then moved back here last year, and this is the first time I’ve seen her.

We went to Cascal, a local tapas restaurant I haven’t yet tried! Very yummy! Expensive, though!

Trish was her usual cheerful-yet-smartassed self. I think she’s happy to have a job in the tech sector and not to have the godawful long commute she had the last time she lived here. Plus she has two cats, which makes her happy. She’s more in touch with many of the “old time” journallers than I am, so I got the scoop on some people I haven’t heard from or about in years. And mostly we just caught up on what we’ve each been doing for the last few years.

We should do this again sometime.

We Got Him

Yesterday was my friend J.’s 40th birthday. J. is on a pretty close-knit team in my department, but they also have this comically adversarial relationship with each other, playing practical jokes on each other and so forth. J. had made the mistake of letting slip when his birthday was, so yesterday at 2 pm his cow-orkers D. and L. gathered a bunch of people together and we all surprised him by walking up to his office singing Happy Birthday. L. even bought a cake and got it inscribed “Happy Birthday Old Man!” 🙂

J. is someone who appreciates some good verbal abuse jousting, so we made sure not to let him down on that front. It’s almost too easy since D. and L. are both recent college grads. At one point D. and J. were sitting in adjoining chairs and I said, “It’s like you two are the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures.”

Tonight hopefully I can further celebrate J.’s birthday by taking some of his money at poker!

But seriously, J. is a good guy, a fellow science fiction geek, and I wish him the best. Especially if doing so means he won’t pull the same thing on me on my 40th!

Time Flies By

I can’t believe how fast this weekend went by. How fast? Well, it’s already Tuesday!

Friday night we finished watching season three of Doctor Who, as I posted a few days back, but that was just the warm-up.

Saturday afternoon we went to a baby shower for Susan and Subrata, who are expecting their first in a couple of months. It was a lot of fun, with about 30 people there and lots of good food. Our friends Chad and Camille hosted at their house, and everyone ooh’ed and aah’ed over their remodeled kitchen (we’d seen it before, but it was new to a lot of people).

Of course, we also ooh’ed and aah’ed over Susan and Subrata, who had a blast receiving gifts and seeing friends. Subrata’s parents also attended, having flown in for the weekend. They’re very excited about having their first child and have been getting their house ready for the new arrival. So everyone had a great time.

Then Sunday we got together with S&S and Subrata’s parents to go to the double feature at the Stanford Theatre: North by Northwest and The Trouble with Harry. NxNW as I’ve said before is one of my very favorite films, maybe my favorite. I’ve seen it so often that I’m well past the point of getting something new out of it on each viewing. This time around I think I enjoyed the scenes with Martin Landau in them the most, although the airplane scene is always terrific.

I thought I’d never seen The Trouble with Harry, but it soon started to seem very familiar. In fact I saw it back in 2000. It’s what passes for a comedy in Alfred Hitchcock’s oeuvre, and it’s certainly one of his lesser films. Pretty to look at and with snappy dialogue, but it moves too slowly and the ending is just too unbelievable. Shirley Maclaine does a perfectly quirky turn as the female lead, and John Forsythe reminded me strongly of George Peppard for some reason. Not exactly essential viewing, but a nice try.

We went to P.F. Chang’s China Bistro for dinner, which we’d never been to. I guess I’d always suspected it was overpriced mediocre Chinese food, but it’s actually tasty, Maybe slightly expensive (though in the Bay Area who knows what that really means?), but it has just a hint of fusion flavor while still being essentially a Chinese restaurant. We consumed everything in sight and had a good time. And celebrated Subrata’s mother’s birthday, to boot.

All of that explains how the weekend could fly by so quickly. Since then it’s been work, bill-paying, ultimate and preparing for our fantasy baseball draft which has occupied my time. No doubt it will be Sunday before I know it!