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Beach Vacation

We’re back from a 2-week vacation to Massachusetts – which I think is the longest vacation I’ve taken since our Hawaii trip in 2011. We had originally planned this trip as part of Debbi’s sabbatical, but then she changed jobs so it became its own thing. Moreover, I haven’t taken much vacation time in the past year because of a big push at work, so I was due. (The last time I went a year taking so little vacation was 2005, but both times were for good causes. This coming year I’ll take more time off, if only otherwise I’d hit our vacation cap!)

Anyway, this trip was our annual visit to see our families – well partly, but I’ll get to that shortly. We took the red-eye flight from San Jose, landing in Boston the morning of Saturday June 24, picking up our rental car and driving to my Dad’s house. Red-eye flights are getting harder to weather so I don’t know how much longer we’ll keep doing them; at least I’ve learned to sleep on planes a bit, but Debbi hasn’t.

We had breakfast with Dad, took a late-morning nap, and then had lunch. Otherwise we just hung out for part of the day before driving down to Debbi’s family’s place where we had dinner and hung out some more. All three of the teenaged niephews [sic] hung out too, which shocked all (well some) of the adults. Sunday, we… well, again I’ll get to that in a moment. And then we drove back to my Dad’s and had dinner at the Regal Beagle. We got caught in a rainstorm on the way home and spent some quality time hanging out in the Arcade Building, checking out some of its corners that we’d never had reason to visit. (It’s not that interesting, but the century-old decor is unusual today.)

Inside the Brookline Arcade Building
The interior of the Brookline Arcade Building

Monday we drove up north to visit Nancy, a high school friend of Debbi’s, and her husband Dan (and their cat, who I followed around until I convinced her to let me pet her). I didn’t really know Nancy in high school, but I knew who she was – which frankly was about how well I knew Debbi in high school! Afterwards Debbi drove back to her family and I spent a few days with Dad.

Dad and I made some of the usual rounds, including visiting my Mom’s grave at Mount Auburn Cemetery, and going out to Waban where I grew up, having lunch at Barry’s Deli, which is very nearly the last thing left from my childhood town that hasn’t changed much. I’ve written before about Mom’s house being replaced with a much larger home, and now the large house on the corner – on a huge lot, and which I understand had been built around 1890 – has been torn down and replaced with two large houses. What will the neighborhood look like in another 40 years, I wonder?

I wanted to wander in to the Waban Library Center, but they weren’t yet open. However, walking up I remembered that one of the attorneys who had probated her estate had bought a memorial brick there, so I found it and took a picture. There are actually two bricks, and I don’t remember who bought the other one. (I might have a note of it somewhere, or it may remain a mystery.)

Memorial bricks at the Waban Library Center

The other place we went was That’s Entertainment, which is a huge comics, game and hobby store in Worcester. I remember why I only go every few years, because it takes over an hour to drive there! This trip was well worth it, though, because I managed to find all but 4 issues of two different runs of comics I’d been looking for. As with most series I’m currently collecting, they’re both not valuable and not in demand, so hardly anyone stocks them. I also managed to stump several employees with a question, which went down the line of four employees before someone knew the answer. (The answer, alas, was that they didn’t have any old issues of Dragon magazine in stock.)

We had originally planned to go to the Museum of Science on Thursday, but the weather dissuaded us. Instead Debbi drove up and had lunch with us, and she and I took the train into the city to have lunch at Faneuil Hall and look around. It was a little soggy, but not too bad. I bet parking and crowds at the museum would have been bad, though.


For the second half of our vacation: Well, a couple of years ago we bought a beach house on the south shore on Humarock. It was a keep-it-in-the-family purchase, and it’s mostly my in-laws who use it, but we arranged this trip so we could spend a chunk of time there, including the July 4 holiday.

The house had sustained some damage from the strong winter storms earlier this year. It sounds like these storms were the strongest in a generation, if not more, and we saw pictures of many houses hit much harder than ours. We ended up with some roof leaks, and some damaged furniture, but not much more than that. In particular it sounds like we avoided any serious mold issues. We hired a great contractor who put on a new roof, aired out the attic, repaired some damaged walls and ceilings, and discovered that the bedrooms have hardwood floors under their ancient 70s-era carpets. Even better, almost all of the work was done by the time we arrived.

So the first Sunday we went with the in-laws to check things out, and move some of the furniture back into place, as well as figure out what projects we wanted to do while there. We met with the contractor to go over some things, and also bought a new grill as the old one was getting pretty rusty. Then on Wednesday Debbi and Shawn (the brother-in-law) picked up some furniture at IKEA.

Friday we arrived to find a worker replacing one of the windows, so we left him to do his work and went out to get lunch and pick up stuff at Target.  Many of the furnishings were still jammed into the undamaged bedrooms, and we weren’t sure whether some things – like curtains – survived or had been kept, so we bought more than we needed to.  When we got back, we moved the bed back to the master bedroom and moved around some other things, and found that several items did in fact survive, so we were able to return some stuff later! Then in the evening I drove into Boston to meet my old friend Bruce, whom I haven’t seen in about three years.  We had dinner at Maggiano’s, and caught up with the latest developments.

Saturday the in-laws arrived with the IKEA furniture and Shawn, Debbi and I spent most of the afternoon putting it together in fairly hot and humid weather (alas, the house does not have A/C), with the World Cup games on in the background.  The in-laws are big soccer fans and were following them closely.  I’m not much of a soccer fan, but it’s an interesting break from baseball.  While people didn’t stay overnight with us, we did grill dinner together, and then they headed home and came back the next day for a much lazier day.

Monday Debbi and I drove into downtown Scituate for lunch and to walk around the harbor area.  We also drove over to Old Scituate Light, which is in a surprisingly built-up area, but is worth the visit nonetheless, for the view if nothing else.  Supposedly the battle which resulted in the line “Don’t give up the ship!” occurred near there as well.  We also made another run to Target, where I embarked on a small project to replace many light bulbs in the house with LED bulbs, since the heat from the incandescent bulbs was pretty nasty in hot weather.

Old Scituate Light
Old Scituate Light

In our driving around we also worked our way through the first (and so far only) season of a conspiracy-fiction podcast called Rabbits, which we both enjoyed quite a bit.  I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately and need to do an entry or three about them soon.

And indeed Tuesday was probably the worst day for heat and humidity that we had, and we spent most of the day lying around the house like slugs.  We did make a run to the grocery store, where the A/C tempted us to wander the aisles for longer than we would have otherwise.  Thankfully, it cooled off late in the afternoon when the fam arrived, and we were able to hang out on the beach after sunset and watch the fireworks.

But wait! you say, Tuesday was July 3!  Yep, Humarock has a long-standing tradition of fireworks on July 3 rather than July 4.  Up and down the beach – several miles of visibility in each direction – people were shooting off fireworks, probably thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars worth.  All perfectly illegal, I’m sure.  But it sure was a great display.  There were also a couple of people launching fire lanterns which would drive over the ocean and into the clouds.

Wednesday July 4 was another great day weather-wise, and we spent much of the day on the beach. Around the time the fam was heading home, Nancy and Dan showed up for a few hours, to hang out and grill dinner.  They headed out a little before sunset, and I spent an hour meeting one of my last goals, walking up to the end of the sandbar peninsula on which our house sits. I had to book it back before it got pitch black, but despite the rush it was a nice hike with some great views.

Fourth Cliff just after sunsetThe ocean side of Fourth Cliff just after sunset
(click for larger image)

We’d planned on Thursday to hang out around the house until late in the afternoon and then head back to Dad’s, but it turned out to be another humid stinker, so we actually called it a trip around noon, had lunch on the way out, and then drove around for a bit before heading back.  It was sad to go – other than the weather – but we had a good time, and a good mix of Getting Stuff Done and Enjoying Ourselves.  Unfortunately at Dad’s we went back to the Beagle for dinner, but their A/C was out so it was kind of a downer of a meal.  (Not as much of a downer as it was for the wait staff, I’m sure.)

Finally, Friday it was a rainy day and we mostly hung around at Dad’s until it was time to drive to the airport and catch our plane.  It didn’t rain enough to delay our flight, so we got home more-or-less on time, said hi to the cats, and collapsed into bed.  Then we had the weekend to recover and get ready for a new work-week.I think this was the longest vacation I’d taken

All-in-all a great trip, though as usual we were ready to come home to our own bed and our cats by the end of it.  But we’ll be back.  Because ocean.

My Trouble with Names

I’m bad with names.

No, not that way. I’m fine with remembering peoples’ names. Well, above average. Probably.

I’m bad at coming up with names. At naming things.

The earliest instance of this I remember was when I was about 10 and was playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. We’d come up with characters, and a few of them would persist for a while. The one I kept the longest had the deeply evocative name of… Seggerillon.

(He was a wizard.)

I probably haven’t written that name since I was 13 and geez, it looks even dumber than I remembered. Just a bunch of syllables stuck together, and it doesn’t even scan well. Okay, in my defense I was 10. But still.

This has extended into other parts of my life. For example, my two journals, both with names I’ve never been very happy with (“Gazing into the Abyss” and “Fascination Place”). I’ve never been able to articulate what I wanted my journals to represent, and I’ve shied away from titles that seemed snarky or dismissive. It’s been over ten years since I started this one and I haven’t yet come up with a name I like better. (Not that it’s been a high priority.)

I also hit this at work, where naming classes and objects is a routine part of the job. Fortunately, most of this involve fairly rote and descriptive names. But coming up with good names for more advanced classes is sometimes a challenge. I sometimes joke that one of the big problems in programming is that many things you create are abstract with only a tenuous connection to anything in the real world, and there are only a relative handful of words for abstract concepts in English compared to the number of words for concrete things. So we always end up with some class which is a BuilderOperationDelegateProviderManagerContext or some subset thereof.

On another note, something I rarely mention here is that I write a little fiction. A very little. So little that I wouldn’t call myself a writer. One of my problems is that I have trouble coming up with names for characters, especially since what I really want to write is far-future science fiction, where the names might arguably have a tenuous connection with names in today’s world. I like to think I’ve advanced a little beyond Seggerillon, though. I have a couple of names in my quiver that I’ve carried through a couple of story concepts looking for the right one. (And waiting for me to actually start writing one of them.)

Anyway, as they say, there are only two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation and naming things. At least I’m good at invalidating all the caches.

Middle Age

The last couple of years I’ve been feeling more keenly that I’m middle-aged.

I guess it started a decade or so ago when a cow-orker of mine observed that he remembered watching Babylon 5 when he was in junior high school, whereas I was halfway through graduate school when it premiered.

Since then time has marched inexorably onwards. Most of my cow-orkers are between the ages of 30 and 40, which puts them in average half a generation younger than me. It’s enough that our cultural touchstones are just a little askew: I saw Star Wars in the theatre when it came out, while they mostly watched it on cable growing up. They grew up playing Nintendo and Sega game consoles, while I had left game consoles behind by then and was playing Apple ][ and Mac games. One of them was visibly surprised that I was born in the 60s. And, my career at Apple is almost 19 years old, which means there’s a real chance that I’ll soon have a cow-orker – an intern, perhaps – who was born after I started working there.

(This is not at all to disparage my younger cow-orkers, who I learn things from all the time!)

As I’ve been feeling these differences in age, though, I’ve started making quips about our relative ages from time to time. Some of the jokes are rooted in these different touchstones, and others are more generally about my age (“Pipe down sonny or I’ll whack you with my cane” types of jokes). It’s not that I feel old – in a lot of ways I feel better than I did 20 years ago – but it’s like I have a new perspective that I haven’t had before, and which feels weird.

I’ve been feeling a little – something, guilty? Unjustified? – in making these jokes. I don’t necessarily believe that talking this way is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it’s been making me a little uneasy. So my plan – my resolution, if you will – is not to make jokes like those this year. There’s a gray area, since I don’t think it’s feasible for me to just ignore or never mention these differences, but to the extent that not talking about them leads to me not thinking about or feeling being middle-aged, I think that’s a good thing.

I’m sure age will announce itself to me in due time, without any help from me.

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!

Twenty Years!

How appropriate given my relative quiet here that I missed my 20th anniversary of starting my web journal (which was yesterday). Since I still haven’t gotten around to importing my old entries into WordPress on this site, you can still read it from the beginning in all its hand-rolled 1997 glory starting here. (shudder)

Or you can read my entry on “Ten Years!” Or my long winded reminiscences on the early days of my blog.

The big difference between 10 years ago and today is the advent of social media platforms. Twitter was only a year and a half old a decade ago, and Facebook was a little older, but neither one had anywhere near the penetration they have today. I didn’t join Facebook until 2009, and Twitter maybe slightly later, so in 2007 I was still doing almost all of my online writing here.

Today, it’s much easier to make pithy comments (and a few pissy ones) on those two sites where the opportunity for dialogue and interaction is much greater. (Twitter is a pretty lousy platform for saying anything with any nuance, to be sure, but it has its uses.) Heck, I post links to my entries here on those sites since that’s where most people follow me.

I keep wanting to spend a little more time writing here – an entry a week – but it’s hard. Always so many other things I want to do, around the things that I need to do. It’s a different tension than in the old days; back then if I was busy doing stuff I didn’t have time to write, and if I had time to write I hadn’t been doing stuff to write about. Now I do stuff, take pictures of it, and post it on Facebook for my personal friends.

Anyway, cheers to 20 years of blogging. Or web journalling. 20 years ago I was still living in Madison and was over a year away from moving to California. 20 years from now I’ll be… geez, who knows? But hopefully still writing at least the occasional piece in whatever blog I have when August 2037 rolls around.

Busy Vacation

We recently got back from a trip back east to visit our families – and quite a busy trip it was, too. We were there June 16-26, since we were trying to balance seeing Debbi’s family as well as my sister and nephew, all of whom had various plans in the works from mid-June through July. So this was in some ways an awkward time to go, but it was better than the alternatives, and I personally wanted to avoid the awful heat and humidity of our trip last year, if we could.

We arrived Friday morning and spent the day and night visiting with my father (and taking a nap in the middle, too, since the red-eye flight always wipes us out). Saturday we drove down to Debbi’s family’s house where we spent the day and took them out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant which had pretty good drinks and very good guacamole which they make table-side. This was, unfortunately, the only day I’d see my brother-in-law Shawn or their middle kid Rachel, since the two of them were driving out-of-town for a concert the following weekend.

I actually took my Dad’s car on Saturday, because I drove home to spend Father’s Day with him on Sunday. We didn’t do a whole lot on Sunday, just hung out, watched Doctor Who from the night before, and I took him out to dinner in the evening (at a place he wanted to try, which, unfortunately, both of us were kind of disappointed in).

A big part of this trip for us was to spend some time at – and doing some work on – the family beach house. Debbi and I each had a different “most important thing”: Debbi wanted to replace some of the mattresses, while I wanted to replace the curtains. Debbi went out on Sunday to pick out mattresses and set up delivery for Friday. I bought some tools, and on Monday we went to Target and bought a bunch of stuff for the house, including new rods and curtains. We spent a bunch of time on Monday and Tuesday replacing the curtains and doing some other chores: Drano’ing the shower, cleaning up the silverware drawer, and vacuuming under the beds. Since this is a beach house, sand gets everywhere constantly, and that lifting mattresses isn’t a high priority for our family when they stay there – but with new mattresses coming in it seemed worth doing.

We also checked out a new sandwich place in the area, and had dinner at the local restaurant. Plus, in order to make progress tying up a loose end on the property, I contacted the local Coastal Commission with some questions, and three of them came out to check things out and talk with us on Tuesday. They were very friendly, and I have this sneaking suspicion that a lot of local owners don’t reach out to them to do this work very much.

Debbi drove me back to Dad’s on Wednesday, and my sister Katy and nephew Ivan came in that afternoon. Thursday we went over to Mount Auburn Cemetery to see Mom’s marker, which Katy commissioned and helped design, but she hadn’t seen it in person yet. Now, with the grass grown in around it, it looks really nice:

We also went in to Harvard Square to look around. I haven’t been in quite a few years, and honestly there’s not much there to attract me any more, as the place is a shadow of its former glory: Most of its bookstores closed (the loss of the venerable WordsWorth was the final straw), the comics shops not stocking many back issues anymore, browsing music stores isn’t really a thing anymore, etc. (I did find something at the Harvard Book Store, though.)

Friday, Katy and Ivan and I went down and spent the day at the beach house. The mattresses got delivered in the morning, so Debbi went over there with her nephew Josh to receive them. We mostly hung out for the day, and went down to the beach to kick around at the water’s edge (it’s not quite warm enough to go swimming) and throw a frisbee around. Katy and Ivan decided to head back to Dad’s for the night, while I stayed down with Debbi.

Saturday, Debbi’s family – her sisters, and her nephew and her other niece – came over to hang out with us. It had been warm and kind of muggy for much of the week, and it started clearing out on Saturday, at least a bit. We played bocce ball on the beach, Yahtzee in the house, and everyone tested out the new mattresses. Three of them left before dinner, and we took the fourth out to the local restaurant. (Said restaurant has good drinks and a lot of food I like, but 4 visits in one week was probably my limit.)

Sunday we had a lazy morning before Debbi drove me back to my Dad’s and went back to spend one more night with her family. On Monday Katy and Ivan headed home in the morning, and Debbi came up for lunch and then we drove to the airport, dropped off the rental car, and made the long flight home, finally getting back, unpacking, and falling into bed around 11 pm.

This was a more hectic trip than we’d hoped, and while we did get some downtime to just relax and enjoy, we also were very productive and got a lot done. It was satisfying, but not always very restful. Next year maybe we can take a longer trip and not have to schedule around so much going on. I think this year was just unusual in that way.

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!

Forging Onward

I know, I know: Things have been awfully quiet around here.  This is my first entry of 2017, and it’s not like I haven’t been doing anything.

For those keeping score at home, later this year I’ll hit the 20-year mark of journalling, or blogging, or whatever you want to call it.  That’s a long time to be doing this, and we can’t all be John Scalzi, writing multiple entries per day. I know I’ve even written entries before about not writing entries – I’m not sure if that’s self-referential or the absence of referential.  But it has gotten harder to keep writing regularly as the years have past.

Well, that’s not entirely true: In fact a lot of my writing, the day-to-day “here’s what I’ve been up to” stuff, has just moved over to Twitter and Facebook. Both of them offer more immediate feedback, and of course lower overhead in writing very short pieces. There’s also the “mental overhead” of feeling like I should have a topic worthy of spending a whole post about it.  I also often have some amount of worry about whether I’m doing the topic justice, like I need to cover it from every angle and build a bullet-proof case, rather than just exploring the subject to the extent I’m able (and interested in) at the moment.

And so, I don’t write.

So, I want to write more. And we’ll see if I do – no promises, though.

So what has been going on this year with me?

The biggest news was that we had Debbi’s niece R and nephew J visit us for a week in February, which was a lot of fun for all of us (aside from Debbi and I each having a bout of food poisoning, from two different restaurants).  We went to Alcatraz, the Winchester Mystery House, and Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, and had a couple of great afternoons visiting with our friends and their kids.  We even managed to get a couple of teenagers tired enough to go to bed by 9 pm most nights. Debbi thinks they had more fun on their visit than they’d expected to, and apparently they’re hoping to come back next year.

In January I went to Grand Prix San Jose, a big Magic tournament held just down the highway from me.  I played in a Mini Masters event the first day, which was perhaps the high point of the event for me, as I ran the table with a remarkably good deck for only 3 packs.  I played a “last chance” event to get some byes in the main event and washed out in the first round.  And then in the main event itself, I went 1-3-1 before dropping, with a pretty mediocre deck.  (A 6-3 record or better was needed to advance to day 2.) I think I played okay, but didn’t have the results.  It did remind me how frustrating sealed deck can be due to its variance. I also played a few side drafts, one of which went well, the other two of which didn’t.  It was a fun time – but exhausting! I can’t imagine playing the 24 hours out of 36 it would take to win the main event, even if I were remotely good enough to do so.

Anyway, I’ve done a few other drafts at a nearby store, with better results, even going 3-0 in my most recent Aether Revolt draft with a fast and fun red-green deck. I’m going back for another draft tomorrow night.

We’ve also had a nice home development in that our 13-year-old kitty Roulette has been getting very snuggly, and has finally discovered the joys of sitting on laps, which has been fun for everyone.  We think Roulette spent a long time feeling depressed and traumatized since she lost all of her brothers between 2010 and 2013, and we got the kittens in 2012, with Jackson being a bully towards her. But I think she’s figured out how to stand up to Jackson, and has worked through her sadness and realized that she would like to get more love and attention from her humans.  She’s become more active and has even been running around the house with Sadie from time to time.

There’s been plenty more going on, but that’s enough catch-up for now.  I’ll try to write again soon.

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)