Meeting the Neighbors

Next door to our house is a house which is a rental property. When we moved in, our neighbor Juan told us that the renters were a bunch of Stanford students, mostly engineers. Other than saying hi to them once in a while when taking out the trash or mowing the lawn, we haven’t really interacted with them. That’s not so strange, since we have several neighbors we haven’t really met, but none of them are right next door to us. They’re mostly fine neighbors, actually; they’ve had a couple of loud parties, but never late into the night, and they used to have an old camper parked in their driveway right next to our joint fence which was there for a couple of years, and which left last year. That’s barely anything to complain about.

So the last two days I’ve been working the developer tools lab at WWDC, for which I woke up early (5:40 am!) and Debbi drove me up with her and dropped me off at the South San Francisco CalTrain station, and then I took the train back home, getting back around 7. Yesterday we also went to get my comic books and then out to dinner. And it was trash day.

We got home and found that someone (probably Juan) had brought in our recycling and yard waste bins (which we store around the side of the house), but the actual trash bin was missing. Since we and the neighbors put out bins right next to each other, I figured they’d probably brought our bin into their yard by mistake, so I went over to ask.

Sure enough, that’s what happened, and two of them went out and checked and brought it out for me. Then we ended up chatting for a while, because we’d never met! Three of their roommates came back while we were talking, and we learned that one of them had just moved in, and he’d brought the trash bins in, and didn’t know which were their and which were ours. So, an innocent mistake (as I’d suspected). But Debbi came out and we got to meet each other. Some of them are students, but others are working at startups. And it seems one guy – who’s since moved out – was responsible for most of the occasional wackiness we’d seen.

Anyway, now that we know them, they seem like nice folks, and it’ll be nice to have more people to say hi to around the neighborhood.

Oh, if they hadn’t been the ones with our bin, I have no idea where else it would have gone! So, glad I was right.

Another Ant Invasion

The summer we moved into our house, 2011, we had serious problems with an ant invasion. We brought it under control with Terro, and have only had a few minor problems with ants since then.

This year has been another matter: Two weeks ago we had an incursion in the kitchen, along the base of the cabinets. Fortunately we seem to have pretty dumb ants around here: They were just wandering back and forth, ignoring the trash, the dishwasher (under which they were coming in), and only wandering kind of close to the cat food. We put the cat food and water in trays surrounded by water, deployed the Terro, and in about three days they were gone.

Late last week, though, Debbi noticed a few ants on the kitchen counter, between the stove and the sink. A few of them made it into the sink, but there weren’t very many. Indeed, there were so few that it took us a couple of days of watching to see that they were coming down from behind the mounted cabinets. Again, dumb ants: Not going into the cabinets (you know, where the food is), and also ignoring the toaster oven and the stove. We deployed the Terro after moving everything off the counter, and holy cow have there been a lot of ants over there this weekend! Annoying the disgusting, but they sure did find the Terro quickly.

The problem is that by the time we see more than one or two stray ants inside, it usually means there’s a nest established fairly close, so Terro takes two or three days to get rid of them (i.e., for them to take enough of it back to kill the queen and the rest of the nest).

I wonder whether California’s drought is causing the ants to range places they usually don’t in search of water or food. We do have a lawn which we water, but I cut back the watering by over a third due to the drought, so maybe that makes a difference. Or maybe it’s a fluke.

A friend of mine suggested using fipronil around the base of the house to keep them away. “Good for a year”, he says. So maybe I’ll try that. If the Wikipedia entry is correct, it’s fairly safe. On the other hand, it does seem to be dangerous to bees, of which we have a number who forage in our yard. So I’ll have to think about it.

Anyway, we shouldn’t complain too much as a serious incursion every three years doesn’t seem too bad, and we are able to deal with it. But it’s still pretty annoying and somewhat disruptive.

Volunteer Tomato Plant

We have two large pots in the back yard where I grow tomato plants each year. (We don’t have a proper garden – someday, maybe.) Sometimes random weeds drift in and start to grow, but this year I got a surprise: A little tomato plant, probably from a seed from a tomato from last year’s plant that dropped into the soil, sprouted and started growing.

I bought a plant for the other pot, but I moved this little volunteer to the center of the pot, and it’s been doing pretty well so far. The store-bought plant is bigger and bushier, but I’ll take care of this little guy and see how it develops over the next two months.

Volunteer Tomato Plant

Power Outage

Last night just as I was about to change to bike home Debbi texts me: “We just lost power.”

Our neighbors say that our neighborhood loses power a couple of times per year, which has been about right for the three years we’ve been here. (By contrast, our old home, only half a mile away, lost power less than once per year.) Twice a year seems like a lot, and I guess it is, but wen they first told us this I figured it was because of the aging infrastructure of the neighborhood (most houses here were built in the 50s), but actually if we learn the reason it’s usually a different reason each time.

This time it was a power cable falling (for reasons unknown) and hitting a tree. I guess we’re lucky it didn’t start a fire, but it just blew out the power for a long, narrow strip of homes.

Oh, and did I mention that yesterday marked the start of a heat wave? So it was north of 80°F when I got home, and stayed pretty warm into the night. (It’s even hotter today.) So, no A/C last night. actually it was pretty reasonable inside the house when I got home (yay insulation!), but upstairs was still warm and made sleeping a bit uncomfortable for a bit.

Anyway, the outage torpedoed our dinner plans, so instead we were bad (very very bad) and went to the Creamery for dinner. By the time we got home, the estimated repair time had moved from 8:45ish to 11:50ish. And PG&E trucks were driving up and down our street looking at wires and poles with spotlights. So we lit some candles, took out the trash, tidied up downstairs, and went up to bed where Debbi zonked out and I read (and played iOS games) until I joined her around 10:30. (And yes, I blew out the candles first.)

Oh, we got some use out of the tea light lantern that Debbi bought me a few years ago:

Tea Light Lantern

The power did indeed come on around midnight, because our bedroom fan came on. So I got up and went downstairs, and found that the television had come on too. So I turned it off, prepared the coffee maker for Debbi for when she got up, and went back to bed.

The cats, by the way, found all of this incredibly confusing.

Today I worked from home (which I’ve started doing once a week and which is an experience worth its own entry sometime), and was very happy the power was back so I could have the A/C on. Not to mention power for our internet and my laptop. But mostly the A/C.


This weekend was an organization weekend.

Saturday we went to The Container Store and bought some industrial shelving for the shed, since the wooden boards out there kept falling down and weren’t doing the job. It was hot this weekend (80 degrees both days!), so we waited until after dark to put the shelves together and put them in the shed. They also provide more shelf space than we had, so now we have some extra space in there!

I had the bright idea to use some shelves we’d used at the townhouse for plants to store the extra pots that have been sitting on the ground for the last couple of years. I think I’d always hoped to find a place for those shelves somewhere in the yard, but there isn’t really a good place, so using them for storage is better than not using them at all.

We also bought some more shelves for the closet in the study, which straddle the cat litter in there. Sunday it turned out that Magic Online was down, so I wasn’t able to do a Magic draft and instead I went through a huge amount of stuff on the floor, on the bookcase shelves, and sitting on top of the filing cabinets and got it all put away, or thrown out. Some of it’s been sitting there for two years or more, and now the study looks almost fit for human habitation (well, by someone other than me).

Oh, and we also bought a new office chair (one of these); it’s not fancy, but it’s a lot nicer than the 20-year-old armless chair I’ve had since graduate school. Now I just need to find a good desk to replace my similar-vintage unit up there.

It makes me tremendously happy to either get rid of a whole bunch of stuff, or file it away and have space left over. Like I’ve really accomplished something and I’m behaving like an adult.

I got a lot of other things done, too, like testing the lawn sprinklers (which I promptly forgot to turn on, so I did that this morning), watering the plants, hosing down the glider chair on the front porch (which was quite dusty), and vacuuming parts of the house.

I think our big projects this summer will need to be putting in another shed to store larger items like the lawn mower, and installing some wall-mounted shelving in the garage. The ultimate goal is to clear out the other side of the garage so I can park my car in it (Debbi uses the side that’s already clear). That will be a bunch of work, but I think it will be the last of the work we’d planned to do when we moved in. Three years ago.

Okay, sometimes it takes me a while to get to stuff.

The Cusp of Spring

The lawn has been mowed:

Mowed Lawn

The solar lights are ready for deployment at twilight:

Solar Lights

The yellow wildflowers (or are they weeds?) have taken over the edging and haven’t yet died back:

Yellow Flowers

The Japanese maple is budding:

Japanese Maple

In some places places the lawn had gotten as much as a foot long. I did a pretty high cut for this first mow of the season, but it was still a struggle in a few spots.

The cheap solar lights I buy only seem to last for one summer. All but three of the ones from last year have stopped working. OSH was paying the sales tax on all purchases this weekend, so I bought the new ones, among many other things.

We have another Japanese maple in the front yard, and it’s taking off; I think a year ago it was a little taller than I am, and now it’s three or four feet taller. The one pictured above in the back yard is still only a little taller than me.

Supposedly we’re supposed to get a little more rain tomorrow, but I’m skeptical. I hope we get a few more showers this month before the rainy season winds down, though; we really need it!


For Christmas my aunt and uncle gave me an amaryllis plant. Pretty neat, but before I set it up I had to check whether it was poisonous to cats, since both Jackson and Sadie like munching on plants (yet another obstacle to my mastery of growing orchids!). It turns out it is moderately toxic, so I decided I couldn’t just set it up in the house. So it sat for the better part of a month while I thought about it (or, really, ignored it).

Around my birthday I realized that the plant was forcing the issue, as even though I hadn’t watered it it was sprouting anyway. So I unpacked it – it came in a very attractive little pot – and put it out on the front porch, where it will get a lot of indirect sunlight and hopefully not get too cold. And I started watering it.

Well, as of this morning it looked like this:


And it looks like it has more flowering yet to come.

I’m not certain what I’ll do once it goes dormant for the summer, maybe put it in the garage, where it will stay warm and get some light. But it’s working out pretty well so far.

That Darned Tree

Our house has a big ol’ sycamore tree hanging over the front yard. For the most part this is a good thing, as it keeps the yard (and the front porch) shady for most of the day in the summer.

The winter is another story: The tree starts dropping leaves in October, and sometimes it seems like it never stops. Last weekend I was out filling our yard waste bin again, and it’s mid-February! And the tree still has plenty of leaves left on it! It’s not even particularly attractive in the fall, as the leave turn brown rather than turning bright colors. Also, our neighborhood has a couple of dozen such trees around, but our tree seems to have more leaves left on it than the other do. Geez!

I think what’s happening is the warm weather and California’s drought that’s on right now: Normally we get plenty of rain in the fall and early winter, along with colder temperatures and occasional gusts of wind. I think the warm weather is tricking the tree a little, but more importantly the rain and wind are important to knock all those leaves off. Most of the leaves I raked last weekend fell during the rain showers the previous weekend.

Now we’re heading into spring, and I bet the leaves will start falling faster as the tree starts sprouting some buds. Most of the flowering trees in the area are in bloom right now, and the deciduous trees are probably not far behind. So I expect more raking in the month ahead.

Plus, there’s a forecast of more showers in the middle of next week, so maybe that will finally knock the last of those leaves off that darned tree.

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.