Fifty-Four

I think it’s been a while since I’ve posted a photo of myself here, so that’s me up there, a few days after my actual birthday since I’m back-dating this entry. My hair has been doing some funky things in the front lately, it’s continuing to gray in little bits around the edges, and my face is developing those telltale signs that I’m not a young guy anymore. (The furrow between my brows is especially annoying.) I thought about being artsy and doing this in black-and-white, but that made me look terrible, so instead you get to see the color of my current favorite shirt. And my apparently larger-than-I-realized forehead.

Anyway, John Scalzi posts a portrait of himself each year on his birthday, so maybe I should do the same.

My birthday fell on Martin Luther King Day this year, which meant 3-day birthday weekend! Saturday we watched the 49ers obliterate the Seahawks in the playoffs (sad Pete Carroll is best Pete Carroll), and in the evening we went to dinner at Sundance the Steakhouse, which was as good as I’d remembered. We’d only gone once since the pandemic started – when they still had an outdoor seating area the winter of 2020-21 – and I’ve missed it.

Sunday we went over to visit our friends the Hoffmans, where Domino got to play with their pups, including their current foster pup who I think needed to get some orientation to other dogs. It has been raining like crazy in California for the last month, and there was more rain on Sunday, so everyone mostly stayed inside. I played Magic with their son D which was fun – introduced him to a different 2-player draft format – and then they made pot roast for dinner and a chocolate cake for dessert.

We had a quiet Monday, and Debbi made a cinnamon Chocolate Chip cake for dessert, which ended up especially moist and yummy. We ate some while watching Moon Knight as we’re still catching up on television series from last year.

I used to throw parties for my birthday, but even without the pandemic I think I’d enjoy having low-key ones, as I do in reality. I miss holding our summer open house parties, but otherwise I’m happy to see friends in smaller groups these days.

A Very Doggo Christmas

Debbi and I are both off work this week for the holidays. We haven’t really been feeling in the holiday spirit this year: It took us three weeks to put up most of our outdoor Christmas lights (in part because it rained two consecutive weekends), and we decided not to put up a tree. I’m not entirely sure why, but December has been a real slog for us.

I think the enduring memory of this holiday is going to be taking Domino to the park, which Debbi has been doing for a few weeks, and I started joining them in the afternoons the Friday before Christmas. We have a surprising number of dogs in the neighborhood, and many of their owners bring them over in the morning or late afternoon to let them off leash so they can run around. The park is completely fenced in (it’s a locked-gate school field during the school day), so it’s pretty safe for trained dogs to get off leash.

Training Domino to coexist for our three cats has been a big source of stress for us this year, and while he’s getting better, he and Jackson have some sort of antagonism going on, which has meant we’ve had to work to keep them segregated a lot of the time. He’s doing better with Simon and Edison, but not so we can leave them alone together.

The park is different. While he can be barky towards trucks, bikes, and joggers, at the park he goes around and says hi to every dog and human, and plays nice with pretty much everyone unless they’re a jerk to him. He enjoys chasing and being chased by other dogs, and while he sometimes wanders off a bit – sometimes even behind a building – he’s always come back so far. Debbi thinks he suddenly realizes he can’t see us and comes sprinting back.

Anyway, I’ve been enjoying these outings. We’re getting to know some neighbors – even if we only know them by their dogs’ names. I am still definitely more of a cat person, though.

Our black dog Domino in the park

Christmas Eve we went to Cascal for dinner, and then drove around looking at Christmas lights as we do every year. I noticed my car was struggling a bit to start at each place we stopped, and figured the battery might be nearing the end, and resolved to call on Monday to get it replaced.

We had a quiet Christmas Day. Debbi made very yummy cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and I made my traditional meatloaf and potatoes gratin for dinner. Last year I had a pretty stressful time making the meal, so this year I looked ahead to plan. Debbi suggested I could prepare the potatoes and hold them until I was ready to put them in the oven with the meatloaf, and it turned out that just starting the potatoes first made all the difference, because they had to boil for a while before baking, and I used that time to make the meatloaf. Anyway, it was all delicious as always, and I added the beet salad that I concocted for Thanksgiving dinner. We also called our families during the day.

Our gray-and-white tabby cat Jackson sitting in the middle of a pile of wrapping paper

Monday I made an appointment for my car for Wednesday, but it turned out my car didn’t start, so I figured I’d have to have AAA tow it in. Worse, late in the day we encountered a serious problem with our freezer: It had been having trouble closing at times, and now was both not opening all the way, nor closing all the way. I finally managed to close it after 15 minutes of tinkering, but we removed the important stuff to our chest freezer in the garage and decided to just leave the troubled freezer closed until it could be looked at.

Monday night Debbi ended up with what we think was food poisoning, maybe from one of the chicken pot pies we’d had for dinner after rescuing it from the freezer. It made her pretty miserable for a couple of days. We took COVID tests in case it was that, but they both came back negative.

On Tuesday Debbi made an appointment with a repair company for Friday – the fridge is still under manufacturer’s warranty, so we crossed our fingers that this would just be an inconvenience. Meanwhile I called AAA to tow my car, but the tow truck driver saw that I had a AAA-installed battery (from 2018) and that it would be a lot cheaper to do that than to go to the dealer. And indeed after a couple of phone calls (by him and me), we determined that it would be less than half as much, so I did that, and 30 minutes later the car was starting again. I cancelled the appointment for Wednesday.

Thursday we had our friends Chad and his son D over in the afternoon and evening for several hours of playing Magic together. Their family has also had a month, so I think they appreciated some downtime away from home. I gave D a playmat and some packs from The Brothers’ War as a late Christmas gift. We also picked up pizzas and subs for dinner from our nearby hole-in-the-wall place, which went over well. They were also Domino’s foster family and I think Domino really liked seeing them, even though I think he was confused that they were at our house and their dogs weren’t.

Friday we waited around for the repair guy, who arrived 3 hours into his 4 hour window. Fortunately it turned out to be an easy fix. The freezer had a number of cables inside which were getting twisted and blocking the track. I wondered why they’d have cables like that rather than just having the drawer be on the track, and it turns out – they didn’t. The cables were there to keep things from shifting around during transit, and they weren’t removed when the fridge was delivered like they were supposed to be. I don’t know why we were able to open the freezer at all, but the repair guy removed them all and it’s working fine now. The stupidity of the problem aside, it’s a relief that it wasn’t a problem with the freezer that could break again in another year.

Over the week I also watched the Watchmen TV series from 2019, which overall was excellent. I suspect people who aren’t pretty familiar with the graphic novel wouldn’t get as much out of it as people who are, but it’s well worth watching anyway. I’m not surprised the show runner decided not to do a second series, because it comes to a pretty definitive conclusion.

Finally, we’ve had a quiet day today. Domino has been going a bit stir crazy because it’s raining out and he doesn’t want to be out in the rain, but he doesn’t want to be inside all the time either. Debbi took him for a couple of walks, and then gave him a bath. I’ve mostly been hanging out on the couch. Tonight we’re playing games remotely with family and friends (probably Jackbox), and I’ll likely go for a walk after the rain ends since I haven’t gotten any exercise today.

2022 has been a pretty bumpy year, with a lot of ups and downs, and I suspect 2023 will be similar. But I’m hoping we don’t have to get as many things repaired.

Our black dog Domino in the park

Short Ribs Day

For Thanksgiving Debbi and I went over to our friends Chad & Camille’s house, bringing Domino so he could play with their dogs.

There was actually a fair amount of prep involved: Camille was making the main dish and hors d’ouevres, but we bought the sides: Debbi made 10 pounds (!!) of mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon and maple syrup, and an apple pie, as well as bringing a pumpkin pie. I decided to try making a beet salad, with candied pecans. I also brought the makings of Aviation cocktails, since Chad and I are both gin drinkers. So Wednesday was mostly a day of cooking and baking at our house (followed by comic book night, of course).

Thursday morning I also convinced Debbi to give me a haircut, as it was getting uncomfortably long for me.

We’re having unseasonably warm weather this month – it’s cracked 70°F a few days this week. I almost wore shorts! The four of us and their kids H & D played games outside for a while before settling back to munch and chat. And that’s pretty much how the day went – other than revving up the dogs from time to time – through dinner, until we all collapsed in food comas. (And it got cold enough after sundown that I was glad I didn’t wear shorts.) The short ribs were fall-off-the-bone delicious. I put a little too much dressing on the salad but otherwise it turned out great.

Debbi and I have been doing Thanksgiving dinner by ourselves for quite a few years so this was a really nice change of pace.

Shorts ribs and gravy over mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon and maple syrup, and beet salad. Partly eaten.

San Fran Sunset

Debbi and I are both on vacation starting today (well, I was off yesterday also), so after a fairly lazy morning we drove up to San Francisco for the afternoon.

We got ice cream at Ghirardelli Square (sadly, they no longer validate parking in their garage), swung by the new location of Borderlands Books in the Haight, and then drove over to Ocean Beach just in time to see the sun set a bit before 5 pm.

A lot of driving for just a few stops, but it was fun.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean at Ocean Beach in San Francisco

Falling to Boston Again

Debbi and I are back from a week in Boston – well, Massachusetts – visiting our families. I was there in July, but we decided that Debbi would come too, partly because she hadn’t seen her family in over 3 years.

Preparing for this trip was the most stressful part of it. While air fares have come down a bunch since the summer (I think we spent slightly more for both of us than I spent on just me in July), we also had to get to the airport (we decided to go with long-term parking at SFO, since 8 days is about the break-even point compared to taking a cab, Lyft, or Wingz), and also find a cat sitter.

This last part was the real point of angst: Our long-term sitter has basically retired to take care of her mother, and the woman who recommended her to use has been using Rover, which she says is okay but she’s not in love with it. We got a recommendation from one friend, and I picked up a recommendation from work. We also started learning that our regular sitter was a really great deal in the dollar department. The recommendation from work was promising, but not available during part of our trip, so she referred us to someone she knows, and we ended up going with her. Which worked out great! Thank goodness.

(Domino the dog, by the way, was already taken care of because our friends who fostered him were happy to take him for a week, so he could chase their husky around.)

We took a 10:45 am flight out, which meant we didn’t have to wake up at oh-god-thirty to drive up. Everything went smoothly, and we landed in Boston on time. The one hiccup is that it took 30 minutes for our bag to come out, but we got to my Dad’s house in time to grab a quick dinner at a taco place which is open late.

I had a couple more things to help my Dad with on this trip, and those all went smoothly. He was nice enough to let us use his car so we didn’t have to rent one (which was especially nice since rentals were starting at $100/day – guess that industry hasn’t entirely recovered from COVID yet).

We got to see the latest progress on the beach house remodel – a lot of work done in 3 months, and stuff more in the wheelhouse of our general contractor than the earlier structural work, so he was eager to show it off and know that we were happy with how things are going. And holy cow it’s all going to be awesome when it’s finished – hopefully early next spring, as winter is not far off up there. Also, he and Debbi got to meet, which I think was a big deal for both of them, as Debbi is the main person who talks with him.

We ate a bunch of good food on this trip, my favorites being return trips to Galley and Hops & Scotch, both excellent small-plates restaurants. One big difference is that we mostly ate inside, because it was too cold (and sometimes too wet) to eat outside. I was a little concerned about this, but not as much as when I was there in July. And from what I’ve read lately, COVID cases are quite low right now, and if you’re not prepared to eat inside now, it’s unlikely things are going to change for the better in the next 2 (or more) years. Granted, there are plenty of people who are likely prepared to not eat indoors (or even go out among other people much) for the foreseeable future (quite possibly the rest of their lives), but we decided that we’re not those people.

One night we went down to the North End to meet our oldest niece for dinner. Since we last saw her she’s graduate college and started working for Oracle, and is apparently kicking ass in her job. She seems very happy with life right now, which is great to see.

Over the weekend we made a couple of trips to visit the rest of Debbi’s family, spending one night down there. These trips are generally a hang-out-with-everyone experience for me, so there’s not a lot to report, except that I went walking around their neighborhood for about 40 minutes to look at Halloween decorations. Maybe not the smartest thing on a semi-rural road at night while wearing a black jacket, as sister-in-law mentioned, but oh well!

We made time to watch the final episode of Jodie Whittaker’s tenure on Doctor Who amidst all this. (It was okay.)

We had good weather on the trip – a little nippy a few nights with lows around 42°F, but a couple of days of highs near 70. And autumn in Massachusetts is quite pretty, with the fall colors in full display. There’s also something about Halloween displays outside the old east coast buildings at night that give them some extra punch. Plus I managed to avoid a repeat of the mishap of my last fall trip to MA!

Our flight home on Tuesday left around 5:30 pm, since for some reason JetBlue has either early morning or late afternoon flights from Boston to San Francisco. So it was a hecka late night for us, but we made it, and the cats were very happy to see us. We took Wednesday off and picked up the dog, who was also happy to see us. Maybe the first time he’s been left with our friends and had his owners come back for him, since he’d been surrendered three times. Now we’re trying to figure out if he’s enjoying the relative quiet of our home, or missing the constant wrestle opportunities at our friends’.

Our first COVID test today came back negative for both of us, so hopefully we’ve managed to dodge that particular bullet, and can look forward to going on a few more trips in the future.

Sweltering

A couple of weeks ago I decided to take the two days after Labor Day off to have some extra downtime and get a few things done around the house.

Little did I know that I’d be doing so during an historic heat wave.

We had some advance warning that it would be hot, but not how hot it world be. So we kicked off the weekend on Saturday by taking the doggo over to our friends’ house so he could play with their dogs and we could play in their pool. We got there on late morning and spent all day hanging out with them and their kids, having both lunch and dinner. It was great. I’d also been over there with the doggo the previous Monday to help teach their son Magic the Gathering. Domino had a great time, and he’s also learned that he comes home with us afterwards, as our friends fostered him several times before we adopted him. So I guess he knows we’re his humans now!

Sunday it got hotter, but we nonetheless hosted an outdoor gathering of a few neighbors, including a couple of new ones we hadn’t really met yet. (Their daughter got to come in to meet the cats.) It was planned to be a short event, and it was, because after a couple of hours we were all starting to melt. But it was a fun time despite this.

On Monday – Labor Day – the heat arrived in earnest, in time for us to have nothing planned. So we spent most of the day lazing around inside with Domino. Occasionally he wanted to go out, to almost immediately turn around and look inside with an expression that said “WTF is this?” Safe inside the air conditioning I did a bunch of small inside chores which made me feel accomplished. And around 9 pm I went out for my daily walk because it was down to 80°F/30°C and wasn’t going to get any cooler soon. It was okay, but still: Ugh.

It got up to 110°F/43°C on Monday and a little warmer on Tuesday, but maybe the most brutal thing was that it only got down to about 70/21 overnight, which meant things just never really cooled off. It also made me decided to take the week off from running, though I did walk in the morning instead. We also slept with the A/C on, which is no fun either.

Tuesday we both took the day off and drove over to Half Moon Bay, where we experienced what I’d read about the “heat dome” over the western U.S. which was (partly?) causing this heat wave: The high pressure zone has been compressing the marine air layer and keeping it from blowing over the hills to cool off the area, but the coast was still being cooled by the layer. And sure enough, it was 103°F/40°C as we went over the hills a little before 11 am, but had cooled to 70/21 by the time we got to the coast – only about 6 miles away. Pretty impressive!

We went to lunch at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, with a nice outdoor table, although we were disappointed that they didn’t have their roasted artichokes, which we found last time to be absolutely yummy. But as with last time this place has good food for good prices, a better value than your average brew pub. I also recommend their fries and Buffalo wings.

By the time we were done it was gotten up into the 80s even on the coast, so we had a short walk along the coast before driving back. (And noticed on the way that the Dunkin’ in HMB is closed – “temporarily” says Apple Maps, but all the signage is gone.) We treated ourselves to milkshakes at Rick’s on the way before getting home to release the doggo from his when-we’re-away room (also known as our guest room). It was brutally hot so that was about all we did.

The Pacific Ocean seen from the Half Moon Bay coastal trail.

Debbi went back to work today, while I did some chores around the house and then went and ran some errands in the Valley, including lunch at Falafel Stop. Took care of a couple things which had been on my list for quite a while, too, such as disposing of some medicines that have been bagged since we got the kittens in 2020. It was pretty ugly out, but the temps peaked at 100°F/38°C which did feel a little better than the last two days/

There was more I wanted to do this weekend, but between policing the dog (who is getting better but still lunges at the cats, and had an encounter with Jackson where Jackson gave him a good scratch on his nose) and recovering from the heat, I’ve just felt like sitting on the couch a lot.

The next two days are going to be a lot like today, and then it should finally cool off. Indeed, next week we should have highs in the 70s/20s, which is cooler than it was for most of August. Not quite fall weather, but then, it won’t be fall for another two weeks.

I am definitely ready for some fall weather, though.

Debbi and Michael in Half Moon Bay

Newspapers

I’ve been thinking about newspapers recently. My generation might be the last one to read newspapers in large numbers, and in fact I still get the newspaper delivered every day, which is probably rare even among my generation today.

I don’t think even my generation has a true understanding of how important and influential newspapers once were in the United States. They were effectively the only form of mass media in the 19th and early 20th century, and major newspaper publishers could be major figures in public life. But their influence waned as new mass media technologies were developed – radio, television, and of course the Internet.

When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to the Boston Globe daily, and the New York Times on Sunday. We’d walk up to the local newsstand to buy the latter. I, of course, bought comic books instead, and that’s where I started with newspapers: The comics page. I was a big fan of Garfield, and I also remember cutting out episodes of The Amazing Spider-Man and taping or pasting them to paper to gather whole stories to read. Later on I discovered Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, and others, though honestly the quality of strips dropped off pretty quickly after those two. (The heyday of newspaper strips was long before I started reading them.)

For three years in high school I had a history teacher – Dr. Paul Gottlieb – who every year said we should read the newspaper and that we could supersede the regular syllabus to discuss current events, so long as we actually talked about it. I never took him up on it, but a few other students would half-heartedly try, mainly to try to defer talking about the class materials, but it never worked. Obviously Dr. Gottlieb had been around this block a few times.

(Aside: While I was pretty much a C+ student in his class, Dr. Gottlieb was one of my favorite teachers in high school. He died – from a heart attack, I heard – a few years after I graduated. So I never got to hear his recitation of the history of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringens. I think I’m now older than he was when he died.)

I also was a delivery boy for the (now defunct) Newton Graphic in high school, one of two weekly papers in my home town. I picked up the route from a friend of mine. It involved the papers being delivered to my house in a stack, and I’d have to fold and rubber-band them and then walk or bike around the route delivering them. And I’d get paid, thus supporting my comic book habit. I wasn’t very good at it, mostly in that I wasn’t able to carry a bag full of papers without really hurting my shoulder. So I’d wrap the bag around the handle of my bike and ride around, which worked great until the day I was booking back home with the empty bag flapping off the handle, and it flew right into the spokes of the front wheel, throwing me off the bike and leaving me with badly skinned hands and knees. But no permanent damage, fortunately.

I had to deliver in the rain, which led to a couple of complaints that I was being lazy and throwing the papers on the steps where they got wet. So I had to go up to each door and put the paper somewhere dry. I’m sure I saw it as an annoying inconvenience rather than learning a lesson from it. (Aside: Not that I don’t take responsibility for my, well, irresponsibility, it’s just that after over 35 years it feels like it was done by someone else, and that I’d do a better job and better react to the experience than I did then. Of course, maybe I’m fooling myself!)

I had a couple of routes during the years I delivered, for reasons I don’t remember. And I’m sure I got less out of it than I should have, but “I got less out of it then I should have” could be the tag line for my whole teenage years.

And now, a discontinuity: When I went off to college at Tulane, I started reading the paper every day. I don’t know why, I just did. The New Orleans paper of record was the Times-Picayune, which has since merged with another paper. I’d walk down from my sixth-floor dorm room and across the street to buy a paper from the vending machine. I imagine it cost about 50¢ an issue, but I don’t remember. But I don’t really remember clearly reading this paper. Maybe I read it all through college, maybe not. I suspect not, because I don’t think I was reading a paper when I went to grad school at Wisconsin in Madison.

That changed in the spring of 1993 when I started playing fantasy baseball. This was at the very leading edge of being able to compute the weekly results by computer, which our league commissioner handled, but it was really before the World Wide Web, so if you wanted to follow your team you had to buy a newspaper, read the box scores, and tally up the scores yourself. (Before this, league owners would compute their scores by hand from the box scores in the newspaper. I’m sure it was delightful.)

Madison had – and I think still has – two daily newspapers, the Wisconsin State Journal, published in the morning, and the Capital Times, published in the afternoon. (This was a weird holdover from the days when many papers would publish two – or more – editions per day, a practice which ended well before my time.) Since I wanted to see the box scores every morning, I subscribed to the State Journal. I think the Cap Times was a slightly more left-wing paper, but the State Journal had really good sports coverage, in particular they would publish every box score of every baseball game, even if a game ran late and they had to run it a day later. I learned how important this was to me when I became immersed in fantasy baseball when I went back to visit my parents that summer and found that the Boston Globe definitely did not do this, which was immensely frustrating.

To further feed my fantasy baseball habit, I bought USA Today once or twice a week, as it had detailed baseball transactions. I also bought USA Today’s Baseball Weekly, which featured in-depth coverage of the ongoing season combined with fun historical articles. It was a competitor of The Sporting News, which had been the preferred paper for fantasy baseball owners for years, but for whatever reason I picked and stuck with BW. I even cut out a stack of articles from it over the years, which I still have sitting in my office upstairs. While these papers are both still going, I suspect they lost much of their readership to fantasy web sites in the early 2000s. Both of these papers I picked up from the newsstand rather than subscribing – these were the days when convenience stores would have racks of papers, so it was easy to find them.

Madison had at least two other newspapers while I lived there, one being the weekly free local paper Isthmus, and the other being The Onion. Yes, that paper. I kind of regret not saving some of my copies of The Onion from when it was a local humor weekly, as keepsakes. Especially the one with my all-time favorite headline, “Chick Corea Falls to Communists”. Anyway, I think Madison may have had another local weekly – probably entertainment-focused, and maybe others I no longer remember, but those are the four I recall.

Another thing which was in vogue in the 90s were weekly newspapers which would collect political and other cartoons, as national syndication could be spotty for some artists. It was a great way to follow, for example, Tom Toles, or other favorite political cartoonists at the time. Once newspapers started going online, these papers largely went away.

I think initially I was buying the Wisconsin State Journal at a nearby convenience store, and only during baseball season, but once I finished school and got a real job I subscribed. This was a little exciting as I lived in a fancy (for Madison) apartment building with a locked front door, so everyone in the building who subscribed got their papers dumped in the atrium outside that door. The delivery person did write the apartment unit on each paper, though, so everyone knew if they’d gotten theirs or not.

In 1999 I moved to the Bay Area, and again I chose my paper based on its baseball coverage, going with the San Jose Mercury News, which like the Wisconsin State Journal had excellent daily baseball boxscores. What it also had was a muckraking sensibility which regularly exposed scandals in local and state politics. As the newspaper industry has contracted, the Merc has changed ownership a couple of times, but the paper is still pretty solid, with national, local, and sports/finance sections – plus comics pages, games pages, weather, and a pretty hefty Sunday edition. Between my recent visit to Boston where I bought a Globe exactly once, and accidentally receiving a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle last week, I have a new appreciation for the Merc‘s standing among daily newspapers.

My current home town of Mountain View also had a weekly local paper, the Voice, part of a network of local papers in the area. The Voice discontinued its print edition at the beginning of COVID in 2020, but continues to publish online. It’s not quite the same, and I miss picking up the Voice every weekend when we’d go downtown for dinner, but I still pitch 10 bucks per month to support them. They do good work.

The Merc is pretty expensive to subscribe to these days, but I still get it. One good thing – for me – about the decline of newspapers is that my paper hardly ever gets stolen out of my driveway anymore. Sure, I could read all this stuff online, but I enjoy reading it on paper. For now it’s worth it to me.

I don’t feel nostalgic for the eras of newspapers of the past, though I do think they served a valuable role in investigatory news which has been seriously degraded over the last 20 years. It would be nice if we could have that and what we get from the Internet, but it seems it isn’t to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if all but a few big national papers and some niche local papers like the Voice fold completely in my lifetime.

It’s strange to think that my life has been witness to the end stages of the newspaper as a business and social phenomenon.

Back to Boston

I’ve spent most of the last two weeks in the Boston area, my first airplane trip since COVID started. I’m not going to say “my first post-COVID trip”, because COVID is still with us and probably will be for the rest of my life. Nonetheless, this trip did feel like a landmark.

It wasn’t a vacation, as I had to head back to take care of some personal business, which I’m not going to go into here. Originally I’d planned to be there for two weeks – July 19 to August 2 – but some of that business got truncated, so I ended up moving my flight earlier, coming home on July 28.

I flew JetBlue, which I’ve been flying for over a decade as they consistently have direct flights between the Bay Area and Boston, and they’re usually on time. My flight out left at 8 am, and the day before a friend posted on Facebook that the line at security at SFO had been insane, so we got up at 4:30 am and Debbi drove me up early. It turns out whatever had been the problem the day before was fine for me, and I got to the gate two hours early, the flight took off on time, and landed half an hour early.

I had massive anxiety about the plane flight ahead of time, even though as far as I can tell there have been negligible COVID outbreaks traced to airplanes. Staying masked for a 5-1/2 hour flight (even longer on the return trip) seemed implausible at best to me, if for no other reason than because I’d need to drink water regularly on the flight. I wore an N95 mask, but less than half the people on my flight were wearing any mask at all (and that was probably a pretty good rate, since I bet San Francisco and Boston have higher mask-wearing rates than most cities). Most people took off their masks to eat or drink, and, well, it’s really, really hard not to follow the examples of others, even when you know it’s not the smartest thing to do, and especially since the mask was starting to drive me crazy after a couple of hours (cloth masks are fairly comfortable, N95s are definitely not). So I took off my mask to eat and drink as well.

So I have a lot of sympathy for people who have to wear masks all day, and a fair amount of understanding for people who object to having to do so, as well as a fair amount of annoyance at people who blithely say or imply (usually through their tone) that that level of mask wearing is easy or should be globally expected.

Anyway.

My sister Katy took the opportunity to drive up to visit as well, bringing my nephew Ivan along, and they picked me up at the airport. We all crammed into my Dad’s townhouse. Fortunately said house has excellent air conditioning, because the first week of my visit had highs in the 90s and awful humidity every day.

It was good to visit with them and my Dad. I haven’t seen Dad since he visited me the fall of 2019, and it had been even longer since I’d seen Katy and Ivan.

I might have mentioned that we’ve been doing some work on the beach house we own on the south shore. “Some work” undersells it considerably, as in a sense we’re making up for several decades of deferred maintenance. On the bright side we have an excellent general contractor managing the project, and I finally got to meet him and see the progress firsthand. The really large chunk of work has been finished and now we’re on to the large-but-smaller pieces. As big an effort as it’s been, it’s going to be awesome when it’s done.

One of my tasks was to help my Dad buy an iPhone, because his flip phone uses the 3G network which Verizon is discontinuing at the end of the year. That went reasonably smoothly, and he seems to be picking up the essentials of using it pretty quickly (though he might not entirely agree). But then, he’s been using an iPad off and on for a few years, so he had some familiarity with it.

Originally, Katy, Ivan and I had planned to go to the Red Sox game on Friday, but we all bailed because of the heat. We’d eaten dinner outside several times and I’d wilted after about an hour, and couldn’t see myself making it through a 3-hour game. It turns out we missed an historic game, as the Blue Jays won 28-5, which is tied for the 4th-largest run differential in the modern era (since 1900). How often does one get to see something like that? Oh well! Hopefully whoever bought our tickets we either a Jays fan, or really wanted to drink a lot of beer.

Over the weekend I drove down to visit my in-laws, whom I also haven’t seen since the Before Times. I got to see all three of my niephews, and all four of the dogs – three of whom are new since our last visit. It was a nice quiet weekend other than chasing the dogs around.

Katy and Ivan had left by the time I got back – and of course while I took a bunch of pictures with the in-laws, we completely spaced taking photos with the three of us. Oh well!

I had some more tasks to do during the week, and also hung out with my Dad a bunch. I was happy to see it rain Monday evening, which finally cleared out the humidity and took a bunch of the heat with it. I also drove back Tuesday night to meet our contractor for dinner, which we both enjoyed. I ate out a lot on this trip, but was able to eat outside almost all the time.

I took a late afternoon flight home on Thursday, because I just didn’t trust dealing with getting up early, catching the T, and getting through security in time for one of the morning flights. Fortunately everything went smoothly, except that the plane took off almost an hour late due to general weather issues across the country, and didn’t land until about 1:30 am east coast time, so I was basically dead by the time Debbi picked me up and we got home.

We took the next day off and went out for breakfast, and then had a pretty quiet day otherwise. Domino-the-labradork is slowly adjusting to living with us: His personality is coming out as he gets more comfortable, and he is slowly getting less aggressive or excited around the cats. Progress!

I took COVID tests on both Friday and Monday, and both were negative. I decided to just work from home all week out of an abundance of caution, and will take another test at the end of the week. Maybe I got away with it.

It was a good trip, although holy cow Boston you can keep your summer humidity. Hopefully next time I can go back for a proper vacation, and Debbi can come with me.

Introducing Domino

So this happened:

Domino sitting in the kitchen

Domino is a black lab mix, about a year and a half old, maybe 50 pounds? (My guess is he’s 55-60.) (ETA: The vet says he’s 45 pounds!) He had a rough early life: He was abused as a puppy, was rescued and had at least one surgery (one rear leg is stunted and we think has a pin in it so he can’t bend the knee), then was sent to California where he was adopted and returned three times. Our friends Chad and Camille fostered him in between, so they got to see him grow up, and he became friends with their two dogs.

After he was returned the last time, Debbi decided to pursue us adopting him. He’s going to be more her dog than mine, because while I like dogs, I’ve never really wanted to responsibility of a dog (which is rather different from the responsibility for cats). I’m going to help, of course, but she’s primary.

He arrived with the name “Dominoes”, but we decided to drop the plural.

We brought him home a week ago, having picked up a couple of crates, beds, food, toys, bowls, and a leash. Understandably he was tentative at first, but he seemed to trust us, and he got more comfortable over the next few days. We even took him with us to pick up dinner!

Domino in the car

Integration with the cats has been… bumpy. Maybe because he doesn’t have much experience with cats, we’re not sure. He barks at them and sometimes lunges at them if they get too close. But sometimes he does the “I want to play” crouch. He’s slowly getting better but there’s a ways to go. We’ve been keeping him on a leash inside to control his lunges.

The cats’ reactions have been varied. Jackson pretty quickly decided the dog doesn’t impress him, and he quickly returned to his normal habits. He’s had a couple of close encounters with Domino, but no one’s gotten hurt yet. Simon by contrast has mostly kept his distance, and spent the first couple of days mostly under the bed. Edison is somewhere in between. All of them have been figuring out Domino’s habits (he sleeps in a covered crate, he spends most of the work day in the dining room with Debbi, etc.), which I think has helped them be more comfortable.

Domino gorked out on the couch

I think Domino has accepted us as his humans. Debbi has been taking him for a walk in the morning, though he is a low-endurance pupper and I doubt I’ll be taking him on my runs any time soon. He is enjoying the back yard, though, and his favorite game seems to be tug-of-war. Sometimes he just gleefully runs around the yard with a kong in his mouth.

So it’s an ongoing adjustment. I’m hoping he’ll eventually chill out enough that the cats will lie with him, or at least play a bit with him, but I’ll settle for him not going after them, even if there’s some barking. We’re doing some training with him on Saturday, and there will be more in the future.

In any event, we now have this big ol’ labradork in our family.

Domino lying on the lawn
(Just ignore the drought-browned grass)

Backyard Multiverse

Writing this at the end of a long weekend, one which was both productive and quite lazy.

We had a warm Saturday which prompted Debbi to take the covers off our patio furniture at last. It’s pretty durable stuff, but we were happy with the waterproof protection of the covers during the winter rainy season (such as it was – California is in another bad drought), and we didn’t get any critters nesting in the furniture when we removed it.

Consequently it was so warm that we spent most of Saturday afternoon sitting on the sofa outdoors under the umbrella and reading (in between wasting time on our iPads, of course). We left the doors to the family room open (with the retractable screen in place), so the cats got to have the full outdoor-smells experience. I don’t think the kittens are quite used to us being around but not indoors, but neither of them tries to go out (Simon definitely does not want to go out), so it’s fine.

In the evening we played Jackbox Games with friends and family – which we’ve been doing regularly throughout the pandemic – followed by me going out for a walk.

Sunday we also spent a bunch of time outside, but I also did some yard work since it cooled off to reasonable levels. I finally replaced the transformer for our low-power accent lights outside, which went really well, and I honestly probably spent more time practicing stripping the wires than anything else. I also re-staked a couple of the lights and replaced some bulbs, and it made me feel like a real homeowner.

Then I assembled my new extension pruner (the old one having seized up last summer) and filled up our yard waste bin with trimmings from the plum tree. Our yard is maybe 20% larger than I have the energy to take care of, and so it’s been slowly getting away from me over the 11 years we’ve lived here. I expect we’ll re-landscape sometime in the next couple of years.

I took today off and Debbi took the afternoon off. After lunch at nearby sandwich joint Specialty’s, we went to see our first movie in the cinemas in over 2 years – for which we were joined by exactly three other people, who all sat behind us. We saw Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I’m not going to write a full review, but I enjoyed it overall. People who enjoyed Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) character development in WandaVision will probably enjoy it here as well – I personally did not, though since it wasn’t her film, I can live with it. I enjoyed seeing Benedict Cumberbatch’s Strange as a more experienced sorcerer, yet I thought he had some good character development. They didn’t quite stick the landing on that character development, instead taking things in a suddenly-different direction, so that was disappointing. Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez and Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer were both great. There was a bunch of fan service nonsense in the middle which was fine as far as moving the story along and setting up a big set-piece, but honestly since I thought the Illuminati in the comics were stupid, I’m glad they didn’t make more of it than they did. The film’s sense of humor works sometimes but feels awkwardly bolted-on at other times. I sort of agree with Kurt Busiek’s take in this Twitter thread, though I think I liked it more than he did. But the script probably needed a couple more rewrites to completely work.

Anyway, it’s a dark and sometimes very grim film, and I think they really missed an opportunity for closure and optimism at the end by not having Strange more directly talk to the one person he really owed some emotional honesty to. A solid mid-range MCU film, sort of the dark version of Guardians of the Galaxy. If they’d clung more firmly to the theme of “learning to love yourself” (the flip side of Guardians’ found-family theme) and followed it through then I think it’d have worked better.

Hey, I guess I did write a review.

Anyway, I’m sitting on the back porch again writing this while Debbi plays (different) games with friends, and I think we’re going to QBB for drinks and barbecue afterwards. So it’s been a good weekend.