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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!

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.

Feline Integration

The kittens have had the run of the house for about a month and a half now, and things seem to be going well. There are some expected bumps, though.

Sadie & Jackson

Jackson is turning out to be the troublemaker. He’s gone behind the A/V cabinet and chewed on some of the thinner cables, breaking both the AM and FM antennae for my receiver. (It turns out those are hard to replace – no one really carries replacements!) We’ve piled empty boxes back there, but he keeps trying to get back there anyway. Then we grab him and put him in time out (holding him against his will) and he mews pitifully. He tries to force his way into our food at meal time, and yesterday stood on a spoon covered in pesto sauce while licking a plate. He likes to “help” me scoop the litter, standing in the box and batting at the scoop.

Sadie is not quite as rambunctious, and has gotten snugglier as she’s grown up. She likes getting attention in the middle of the night, which is not ideal, but she also likes to check out what people are doing. Sometimes I’ll be in the study and she’ll walk in meowing, and I think she just wanted to know where I am and make sure I’m okay. One morning she climbed through the shade in the front window to watch me leave for work.

Sadie is turning out to be a medium-long haired cat, which I would not have guessed from when she was a kitten. I’ll need to get her used to getting brushed. Jackson is definitely short-haired, and his fur is starting to soften a little. Jackson is going to be long and lanky, as I think I’ve said before, while Sadie will have a more compact body.

Jackson in the Sun Sunbeam Newton & Sadie
(click for larger images)

The kittens get along very well with Newton, and often sleep with him. I think Newton enjoys the attention, and I wonder if he was a little bored, lonely, or even feeling a little abandoned before the kittens, since he now spends time with them in group grooming sessions and seems a little perkier and happier (now that Sadie isn’t pouncing on him). I know he doesn’t like all the medicines and subcutaneous fluids he has to take, so the more innocent attention the kittens give him might make him happy. He’s also taught them about drinking out of the sink in the downstairs bathroom.

Kitten Pile

Getting along with Roulette is taking longer. There’s still some hissing, and Sadie sometimes chases her, which we can’t really tell whether she enjoys or not. Maybe sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn’t. Sadie really wants to be like Rou, and we often see her imitating the big cat. They don’t quite sleep together in the sun on the guest bed, but close. Jackson has tried to win her over by being snuggly like he was with Newton, but so far it hasn’t worked. But at least Roulette isn’t hiding under the bed all the time, and Debbi even saw her and Jackson playing next to each other in some brown packing paper we’d put on the floor.

Cats Together Sadie & Roulette

They’ve also been doing very well with guests: We had Chad & Camille and their kids over last weekend and the kittens were quite sociable. Today we had Subrata & Susan and their son over for part of the Super Bowl and they again were quite happy to check out everything everyone was doing. It’s nice not to have either cat running and hiding when people come over.

Yesterday we took the kittens to the vet for their last round of shots. When we were there a little over a month ago, Sadie was around 4 lbs and Jackson was a bit over 3 lbs. Jackson has passed Sadie and is now at 7 lbs, while Sadie is a little over 6 lbs. The vet thinks Jackson will be a 14-15 lb kitty, while Sadie will be 10-11. That’s gonna be a lot of Jackson to deal with!

Jackson is proofreading this post as I type, so I’ll sign off with a picture of the two of us. Carefully taken to crop out (most of) the horrible bed-head I had that morning before my shower:

Jackson & Me

Kitten Distraction

The kittens have been a nice distraction from Blackjack’s passing. They’re getting big so quickly! A about two weeks ago we started letting them out of their room to start exploring. First we let them have half the upstairs hallway and a bathroom, then the whole upstairs (guarded by a baby gate and a human sitting at it at the top of the stairs). They loved chasing each other back and forth through the hall and bedrooms, and they explored the bathrooms, and the beds, and various other things.

A melancholy moment was when Sadie went to the laundry basket where she’d encountered Blackjack before, and we’re pretty sure she remembered him and was looking for him, as he was the first kitty she’d really met. I like to think Sadie and Blackjack would have become friends, had things gone differently.

Anyway.

Last weekend we opened up the whole house to them (except for the study and the laundry room). They careened down the stairs and suffered a major traction loss when they got to the hardwood floors downstairs, but since then they’ve loved it! Jackson likes hanging out under the Christmas tree (and we have to stop him from chewing on it), and they both like to scale the cat tree.

I think it took the better part of the two days last weekend for them to finally calm down enough to sit and snooze with us. At times we’d see Sadie walking around looking absolutely exhausted, but she was still so excited that she didn’t want to sleep because she might miss something! But eventually they napped: Sadie sleeps loafed up on a couch cushion, while Jackson sleeps on his side with his legs sticking out. And then they wake up and do it all over again.

Lick Time
(click for larger image)

We still put them in their room overnight or when we’re leaving the house (and sometimes just to give the big cats a break from them), but they’re totally looking forward to being out all the time. And we’re being really careful when we go outside when they’re out to make sure they don’t try to dart outside.

The big cats are doing okay with them. There’s been some hissing. Jackson seems to back off when hissed at, he doesn’t want to get smacked down. Sadie, though, runs after Roulette and paws at her even when hissed at; I think those two are going to have to throw down at some point. If Roulette would just smack her a couple of times that might resolve things, but so far she hasn’t. Sadie has even tackled Newton on the couch a couple of times!

Roulette ran upstairs the first few times we let them out, but now she stays downstairs and is usually either under the futon, or on the back of the couch, watching them. Newton followed them around a little, but now isn’t very interested unless they disturb his sleep. Jackson likes to go sleep with him sometimes, and he gives Newton a bath when he does (Newton has mostly stopped grooming himself in his old age). One time I heard Newton meow, and I went over to find him ready to jump off the couch, while Sadie was upside-down, on her head, back to the couch cushion looking at him. “Extreme kitten flirting” I called it.

Snoozing with Newton Snoozing with Michael and Newton

Debbi’s started giving all four cats wet cat food together as a treat, and they’re all pretty accommodating. Jackson is a bit of a bully trying to get the others cats’ food, and Roulette is torn between wet food (her favoritest thing) and staying away from the kittens – the food wins. To her credit, she’s also played with Debbi and the kittens when Debbi brings out a toy, so she’s starting to get used to them.

Who's That? Sitting with Debbi

The kittens’ personalities are slowly emerging. Jackson is full of energy, is easily distracted, but is also the snuggler when he finally winds down. He’s also got the extra-loud purr. Sadie paces herself a little better, isn’t quite as aggressive, but also interacts with the humans less. I think she’s still trying to figure out how to get people to love her. I hope she becomes more snuggly because she has extra-soft fur which is great to pet.

The kittens have been a lot of work, but they’re also a lot of fun. They keep themselves entertained a lot, and then crash and hang out with us for a while. The big cats are still not too happy about it all, but I think they’re slowly coming around.

Hi there!

The Big Cats

I wrote about the kittens, so I also wanted to update how the big cats are doing.

I’ll start with the bad news, which is that Blackjack has not been doing well. He’s been gradually going downhill for a while now, but right after Thanksgiving he had a big slide: He doesn’t jump anymore, he seems disoriented and unbalanced, and he spends most of his time sleeping. Debbi took him to the vet this morning and they’re running some tests, and gave him a vitamin shot, so we’ll see. He might have something treatable, or his cancer might finally be catching him. Or, we might never know, since we’ve already decided we’re not going to run invasive tests on him, since anything we find is probably more than we’d be willing to treat at this point.

Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to be in pain, and he’s still eating, drinking, and using his litter, and he sometimes comes out to say hi. But it’s been a hard week.

Newton, by contrast, has been getting better recently. Well, sort of. He went in for some blood work and had lost a little weight, which surprised me since he feels heavier and more solid to me. His hyperthyroidism has been improving, but his kidney values are off a bit. So we’ve cut back on his thyroid meds, but are giving him subcutaneous fluids an extra day per week. The doctor said we want to treat the symptoms, but we also want to treat him, and he seems to be feeling fine.

Really: He’s up and about more often, he’s curious about things (he wants to go into the garage lately), he walks around meowing and demanding that we put water in the sink for him to drink out of, and his appetite is fine. He even chased Roulette off the couch recently, although he doesn’t move so fast anymore so she got away easily. He’s no spring chicken, but at this point I could almost believe he’ll outlive us all.

His better condition unfortunately has come with him meowing at 3 am again sometimes, which isn’t so welcome. But oh well.

As for Roulette, she’s about the same. She’s been a bit more spastic recently, running around downstairs and playing more often. She’s still very wary of the kittens, but not as much as she was.

I don’t know if it’s the kittens, or knowing that something is wrong with Blackjack, or sensing Debbi’s sadness about him, but she has been sleeping with us at night more than she has in a long time. That’s been pretty nice. We were sitting on the couch yesterday and every so often she would get up, walk over my lap once, and then go back to where she was sleeping. I guess she’s just checking on us.

I’m just hoping she’ll adjust to the kittens and be a good big sister to them, because I think they’ll have a lot to offer her, though I bet she wouldn’t believe that if we told her!

Gratuitous Cat Pictures

Time for a few pictures of our cats as they enjoy our new home.

First, can you spot the two cats in the photo below?

Roulette & Newton have been enjoying the morning sun in the guest room, and Roulette has also turned into something of an “under-furry”.

Blackjack sometimes lies in the sun, but lately he’s discovered that the heating vent under our kitchen island blows a nice stream of hot air to warm his paws and shaved belly:

And one morning he decided he really needed the warmth:

Roulette has been getting more used to the downstairs, and the other morning she was enticing me to pet her on top of the kitchen island:

Blackjack and Roulette each like sleeping in the papasan, which now lives in the library upstairs (which holds my comic books, humor books, and mass-market paperback fiction). Sometimes, when there’s no sun elsewhere, they’ll sleep together:

But more likely we’ll find Newton and Roulette sleeping together, which is how I found them a few minutes ago when I came up to post this entry:

Fast Friends

Roulette seems to have finally won over Newton as a sleeping buddy in our new house:

Remnants

When we put Jefferson to sleep, Debbi started crying, and she said, “I was trying to be strong for you.”

In fact, I’ve rarely seen Debbi cry during our relationship, and for the most part this week when she’s gotten weepy it’s been because I started first. But two times I have seen her cry have been back in 2005 when Roulette escaped from the car when she drove up for their weekend visit (and we spent two twilight hours hunting for her), and today when she deleted Jefferson from our Wii Fit, since seeing his avatar sitting there every time we seemed just cruel to us.

I really hate to see Debbi cry. I rarely think about the day Roulette escaped because she was so terribly upset, and I never want to see her that way again.

I think we’re going to be putting away remnants of Jeff’s life here for weeks to come, and each piece will be hard.

It’s especially hard to think that I’m going to live for decades more with only memories and photos of him.