Saturday, December 28, 2013

Wrapping Up 2013

Notable Events of 2013:

  • February: Diana and I went to Costa Rica
  • February: Diana and I had our 25th anniversary
  • March: Josh and I saw most of the major caves in Virginia together
  • March: I turned 50. 
  • April: My birthday party, delayed a week since my actual birthday conflicted with Easter
  • May: We refinanced the mortgage, which is not something I'm likely to reminisce over but took a lot of attention
  • June: Buffy passed away and we attended her funeral in Montreal
  • July: Gwen arrived from Australia, huzzah!
  • July: tiled the kitchen backsplash, another forgettable item which took much attention at the time
  • August: Josh and Gwen moved to Blacksburg
  • August: Diana turned 65
  • September: I took a vacation to Utah to see national parks, attend SLC ComicCon, and meet people.
  • October: Zoe Mutt diagnosed with cancer
  • November: my grandmother passed away
  • November: spent much time with the Muttling
  • December: Diana got the braces off her teeth after 26 months
  • December: Zoe took her last sleep, with us beside her
  • December: sold the house on Trafalgar Avenue.

Zoe

On Monday. at the farm, Josh, Diana and I put half of Zoe's ashes on the meadow and stream where she liked to play. Today, Diana and I took the remaining ashes and went to the beach. Zoe would trot down to the edge of the water and if the surf wasn't rough she'd wade in to about knee deep and then plop herself down in the water for a few seconds. So, after we shared some memories, I took off my shoes and waded in about as deep as Zoe would have--the water was quite cold, but I didn't really notice at the time. Then, as three waves came up on the sand and ran back out, I gave her ashes to the water. Then we petted a cute Welsh terrier who came trotting up to us, agreed that we didn't want another dog, no matter how cute, as no one could replace Zoe. We walked up the beach for half an hour and then went home.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Home on the farm

A slow morning with rain all night, but at least not frost. Toronto had an ice storm on Sunday and Willa's farm house is without power, including power for the well. They're having to haul water 20 miles to water the horses, and they're nearly out of firewood. When last we looked, Ontario Hydro said there were over 200,000 people affected in the Toronto area.

In the afternoon, we spread half of Zoe's ashes on the meadow and creek on the farm; in the summer, the grasses and wildflowers are waist high and she would bound across the field and then plunk herself into the creek. Looks like there is a new creek forming, with a tiny rivulet running down a gully so small it looks more like a slightly sunken footpath.

Josh and Gwen decided to maximize the utility of a pair of their Christmas presents, and opened them early. Josh's gift from Gwen was a copy of Fred Jane's wargame rules, best used with another wargamer (ie me) around; Gwen's gift from Josh was a jaffle iron, best used with a fireplace around. Although instead of Jane's, Josh and I played a scenario from Josh's birthday copy of Yaquinto's Ironclads; Gwen made jaffles with salami (not "slimey") and cheese and tomato sauce.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Tree

Every year we get an ornament to reflect something important from the year. So...I managed to find a Playful Black Lab ornament, which is now on the tree.

Monday, December 16, 2013

On This Day

On December 16, 1689, Parliament passed the (English) Bill of Rights.

In 1773, the Sons of Liberty dump crates of tea into Boston Harbor as a protest against unfair taxation.

In 2013. Joshua turned 25. Huzzah!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Zoe

CS Lewis says, in Perelandra, that sin not only choosing the bad over the good, but clinging to the lesser good that we have rather than accepting the greater good that God wants to give us.

Since Thanksgiving, Zoe has been lethargic. She's spent most of her time on the couch; her walks have been only to the nearest patch of grass, and she's resisted going any farther. I took her to the beach, and she went maybe 30 yards across the sand and turned back; that was clear sign of trouble, as usually she prances right down to the water. In the last week, she's had trouble climbing up on the couches, or going up and down the stairs, and she lost her balance and fell at least twice. And the cancer was spreading quickly.

We, reluctantly, released the lesser good that we had. I fed Zoe mini-sausages, and dipped my finger into eggnog and put it to her mouth, and she lapped it up eagerly. And then we carried her to the vet, and told them what had to be done. Zoe wasn't nervous at all. The vet put the IV lead into Zoe's leg, and brought her back in to us, and told us we could take as much time as we needed; I said "Two years, please...". We petted her and told her we love her and she is a good girl. I tried to tell her what I'd thought about six weeks ago--"when you wake up you'll be in a sunny meadow, with wildflowers you can bound through, and open lawns where you can run, and streams you can splash in, and other happy dogs you can play with. And not very long from now, we'll come to you and play Peek a Woof with you" --but I choked up and couldn't finish. I kissed her nose and her forehead, and we held her as the vet gave her the sedative, and the second syringe, and she splashed through the waters to the green fields beyond.

(Please don't leave comments. If you've been here, you know).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Braces Out

Diana's braces come off today, huzzah! She got them in September 2011, so it's been somewhat more than 26 months of the tin grin. They were supposed to come off on the 18th, so getting rid of them today was a happy surprise. "Happy" in a painful way, that is--I gather having the clamps knocked off was an unpleasant half hour. But now, of course, we can have spicy food! (Yes, "braces" means "cuts on the inside of your lips" which makes hot peppers a problem).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

"It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas", which means the decoration bins are in the livingroom, strings of lights are snarled on the table, a dozen or so Christmas mugs are on the floor in Josh's room, and there are a few unwrapped presents on the stairs. We took Zoe with us to pick out a tree at Taylor's Hardware; she wasn't enthused about getting out of the car, but once she was out, she trotted around sniffing at things and letting people admire her.

We got the tree into the stand, although not lit and wrapped and decorated and hung.

A couple of days ago it was 76° but this weekend was a lot cooler. Gwen sent pictures of snow and ice in Blacksburg; it didn't get that cold here, but it was certainly wet and chilly. Muttling was shivering at one point; we took her upstairs, put her on the bed, and put the warming blanket over her. When she had to go out, Diana put a green turtleneck on her, which looked properly Christmasy; unfortunately the sleeves wouldn't stay rolled up and kept falling down to cover her paws. I have a couple of vests which should work, though, and it's not like she's going out much anyway. Unfortunately. She's still quite strong--when I want to pull her one way and she's made up her mind not to go, she plants her little 35 pound body and it takes quite a bit of effort to haul her along--but she's just not interested in going out. She's beginning to loose her balance, though; I saw her trying to stand on the hardwood floor, and she sort of stumbled backward until she sat on her rump. Usually she stays curled up on one couch or another; but she can trot right upstairs when she's minded to.

She does like eggnog quite a bit, and I've given her three bowls of it. I've had to dip a finger in and put it to her mouth to get her attention, but once she's got the idea, she laps it all up. She's also eating chicken, usually from our hands.

Other things about the house: I've caulked Josh's shower, and installed a new printer. Our printer scanner no longer scans, since Lexmark never got around to updating the drivers to work with Win7. Since we're sending documents back and forth to Montreal now, we decided to go ahead and get a new printer scanner--this one is an Epson XP 610. XP is always good, right? 1 It prints a lot faster than the Lexmark did, and I've got it set up to print from both computers instead of just Diana's.


1 This is a gamer joke: XP is Experience Points. Ask your local gamer for an explanation.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

To the Mountains

Off to the mountains for Thanksgiving, along with everyone except the Nashville delegation. And there's snow! Not on the roads yet but the fields are white.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Obituary

Nov. 22, 2013
Jean Ruth Stewart Brown, 92, of Brunswick, passed away Friday morning at Hospice of the Golden Isles.

Mrs. Brown was born June 17, 1921, in Savannah, GA, and moved to Brunswick at the age of 7. She attended Glynn Academy, was a member of Lakeside United Methodist Church, was a former member of the Brunswick Country Club.

A Celebration of Mrs. Brown's life, will be held Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, 10:00 am, at Chapman Funeral Chapel. A private inurnment will follow at Evergreen Cemetery.

Mom said:

 Mema's Memorial Service was FABULOUS!  :)   It was honoring and double dipped in humor.   Jonathan
nailed the music as he is so capable of doing....   your dad did a good job of scripture and the rest of us shared fun times with Mema. Hard to describe it - you just had to be there. There was knee slapping fun and much laughter and pure hilarity but all in good taste. Mema had to be loving it.  :)   It lasted for an hour and seemed to be about 20 minutes.  People were saying how fabulous Jonathan's music was and about the service itself that they had NEVER been to a "funeral" like that


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Zoe Chow

Experimentation over the last few days indicate that Zoe likes:

  • ice cream
  • chicken cordon bleu
  • bacon cheddar burger
  • lasagna
  • fondue
She's always been fond of "people food" but now we're spoiling her even more than usual, and she thoroughly approves.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Out, Out--"

For Mum's funeral we ran around and organized things and packed and booked plane tickets and took time off from work and flew to Canada and did the service and reception and so forth. 
 
Mema didn't want anyone to be bothered, so she asked that there only be a graveside service, and that only for the people already in Brunswick; the Virginia contingent will have a memorial at the farm when we're all there. I'm reminded of Robert Frost's poem that ends with:

                       They listened to his heart.
Little - less - nothing! - and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

When I die, I'm going to insist that people fly to Uzbekistan or Ecuador or wherever I've settled and attend the funeral. It's when you go through the inconvenience and bother and time that you grasp that it's important. 

Bathing the Mutt

Since the diagnosis, we haven't been taking Mutt to get groomed. We've washed her a couple of times--she considers a "walk on the beach" to necessarily include a "roll in the sand"--but it's too cold now to spray her with the hose on the deck. She doesn't like the bathroom shower; when she realizes that we're herding her there, she digs her feet in and refuses to budge. I have to scoop her up and carry her in. Once she's actually in the shower, she sighs and says "Oh all right then, if you must" and resigns herself to it, but she doesn't enjoy it. So today we tried her in the big tub upstairs. When she goes to the beach or the pool, she usually plunks herself right down, so we figured that it the tub was half full of warm water, she might do the same. But no. She was fatalistic about it but as soon as we hinted it was okay for her to get out, she scrambled out and away.

The girls at PetSmart invariably cool "Oh, she's such an angel, she was perfect" and so forth, which makes me wonder whether there's some other technique we should learn, or if their threshold for "angelic" is low.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mema

My grandmother died this morning.

Jean Brown, but we called her Mema, or just Me--I shortened it when I was very young, and being hustled to get into a car and leave, and called out "Goodbye, Me!"

It's odd to think that when I was six, and we moved off to Virginia, that she was 48. Younger than I am now.

She had been ill for about ten days--congestive heart failure, kidney failure. She told Mom "I had a little talk with the Lord and I told him I'm ready to go."

I talked to her on Monday evening, for about a minute. "I love you." "I love you more!" "You're probably right, Mema." A couple more sentences and she was out of breath.

Mom kept watch in the room beside her, for the last few days; she called at 7:00 this morning to say "Momma has finished the race."

Friday, November 15, 2013

OGRE Designer Edition

The OGRE Designer's Edition game arrived today. This is the one from Steve Jackson's 2012 Kickstarter campaign, that started with a goal of $20,000 and ended up with over $923,000. And it grew, and grew, and grew...it's the only game I've seen to have a "Team Lift" warning label on the box. Just to give an idea of the scale, the box was 28lb and measured 25" x 21" x 7.5"--I'd been imagining that I could put it into the bookcase with the other games, but this is way too big, so it'll have to go under the coffee table. Over 1000 counters. At least 27 of the 3D OGRE counters; I may not have found them all because there are still thirty-one counter sheets I haven't punched yet.
So Josh and I set up the original Mark III scenario and had a game. My defenders managed to immobilize his OGRE before it got in range of the Command Post, although I had only one GEV and one Mobile Howitzer left, right down to the wire. Good times.

Four Weeks

It's been four weeks since the vet said "probably two to three weeks" and Mutt seems to be doing pretty well. She was a bit less energetic today than usual; but we all have days like that.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thor: the Dark World

Or possibly "The Rise of Loki" since Loki is a more interesting character.
The movie was entertaining. Thor was a good Norse God of Smashem Inna Face, not particularly clever but able to solve things by brute force + invulnerability + physical courage,  He didn't wrestle with tough moral choices; he did have to make one tough choice, but all the discussion on that one was "how do we pull this off", not "what will it cost us?" and "what if we're wrong?" The line from the trailer "Ask yourself: what would you sacrifice, for what you believe?" just didn't apply. Thor isn't, apparently, much given to worrying about consequences.
Other than that: I didn't find the villain's "Let's destroy all the worlds" motivation to be believable, although I think it could have been improved with a bit better writing; also, he apparently didn't care about his own people's casualties, which is a bit odd since that's all that's left of his whole species. The Asgardian flak guns and aero-boat fighters (with open decks....) were jarring, particularly since the Asgardian infantry only uses melee weapons. I think they tried to give too many people screen time; for instance, they could have eliminated Selvig and given all his "figuring out what's going on" functions to Jane, which would have made her less of a passive victory token and more of an active participant.
Still, it was fun.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Parks

Yesterday Muttling took us to Francis Land House in the afternoon. I'd been there before, but it turns out that behind the house, there's a short trail that looks over the creek they used to use to canoe goods to the Lynnhaven River and thence to ship. The water level is lower there now; I might be able to get a kayak from there to the bay but I don't think there's any chance of getting a laden canoe out. We also looked at the gardens, including the herb garden with chives, tansy, madder, false indigo, St John's wort, and many others.

Today I took Zoe for a quick walk around 1:00, but when we got back to the house, instead of prancing up the steps and going inside, she started tugging back toward the street...past the car...and then she stopped at the car's back door where she usually gets in. This didn't really require a round of "What's that, Lassie? Little Timmy's fallen down the well and we need 252 grams of neodymium to save him?" to figure out. So, after lunch, we set out towards another park. This time we went to the 64th Street entrance for First Landing State Park,  also known as Seashore State Park. I'd been there before, several years ago, and Diana hadn't been to that part of the park at all. There's a narrow sandy beach on the Broad Bay side, and just back from the beach there's a trail through woods, where red-leafed maples stand next to live oaks hung with Spanish moss, with marsh on the other side. Zoe made a good choice with that one.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Three Weeks

It's been three weeks since the vet said "probably two to three weeks" but Zoe is looking like her normal self.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A few more days

Muttsy has been pretty perky since Sunday. Bright eyed, prancing as usual on her walks, and sitting next to the table in her usual "I'm not begging, mind you, just conveniently available" pose. She has also jumped onto the couch without trouble, although we still have the mattress on the floor so she can sleep on the bed with us without having to exert herself.

Meanwhile, I've gotten the new computer up and mostly running--Win7 is changing the screen resolution when the computer wakes up, which is a nuisance but not unbearable, and that's been the only real issue thus far.

Reading Spider Woman's Daughter, which is a continuation of Tony Hillerman's books by his daughter.

The Philippines are getting hit, right now, by a supertyphoon, known as Haiyan or Yolanda. The "tropical storm" level diameter is 300 miles, the overall storm is over 1100 miles across, and it has sustained winds of 195mph, gusts of 235mph.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Walk in the Park

Other than refusing some foods, Zoe seemed perfectly normal today. Maybe a little creaky, giving a bit of a grunt when she lays down, but given that she's 14, that's nothing unusual. She turned down mesquite turkey but she took all the chicken cordon bleu we would give her, and then decided to accept a couple of slices of the turkey after all. This evening, she took a couple of chicken thighs we cooked for her, but declined the pumpkin ice cream that she liked a couple of days ago. We took her to Great Neck Park for an hour this afternoon and she wandered around off the leash, never getting too far from us but enjoying sniffing at the leaves on the ground. and trees, and little hidden things that we couldn't see but must have announced themselves to her nose. A couple of spots she investigated excitedly, and then rolled on, although they seemed to be bits of grass just like any other bits across the field. When it was time to leave the park, she jumped into the back of the car on her own, before I could lift her.
I took her out for a walk this evening and she pranced along like she always did.

In other news--it's National Novel Writing Month and I should be at 5000+ words now. I'm actually at about 1300. I can knock out 600 words in 20 minutes, no problem; but having them be 600 words connected to a story I really want to tell, well, that's more of a trick. Bleh. Novels may not be the thing for me.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Once more unto the Beach, dear friend

Zoe seemed better at her 6am walk, although not up to par. She usually follows a particular route--this hill, that patch of lawn, this tree, that bush; this time she just wandered along, hitting a couple of usual spots but not others. Is she confused? I don't know. She seems alert.
I thought a lot last night about when to take her for that last trip. I don't want to sacrifice even one day that she could be happy. I don't want her to suffer one day that she doesn't have to. But life isn't binary; it doesn't go from "happy" to "suffering" with no possibility of mixing. My shoulder usually hurts, has for months; that doesn't mean life isn't worth living. And we say "I don't want her to suffer" but then you think "When they put her to sleep, I want it to be to take away the suffering, not to take away the life"...but that implies waiting till she is suffering. I didn't come to any good resolution on that.
I pretty much had to put a piece of ham in her mouth to get her to eat anything this morning, but once she started she ate five slices.
I figured if we went to the beach and she just laid there, that would be a good indicator that the Time has Come, but I was hoping she would enjoy it. And....she enjoyed the beach. Trotting around, happy as can be, getting into the water, sniffing at things, going up to a lady walking up the beach and getting petted. We walked back through the memorial path around 47th Street and looked at some of the names: some people who were eighty or ninety, one who was forty one, one who fifteen.
On the way home we got frozen yogurt for all three of us, and Zoe polished off hers without hesitation. But then when we got home, she didn't eat any ham. So...I don't know. But at least she had one more happy time. All we can do.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday in the Park

Diana had physiotherapy and our scheduled Zoe-sitter fell through, so I took my lunch hour to go pick the Mutt up from the physio place at Hilltop and take her for a walk. We went to the woods next to the Great Neck Library. Muttsy mostly walked around slowly; however, she was mostly sniffing at the ground, so maybe that was why. She did trot a little bit.
It really hit me, though, that absent a miracle, she's not going to be with us long, and at some point I'll have to carry her in and tell her "Just close your eyes, Good Pup, and when you wake up you'll be in a sunny meadow, with wildflowers you can bound through, and open lawns where you can run, and streams you can splash in, and other happy dogs you can play with. And not very long from now, Mommy and Daddy will come, and you can tear back in forth in excitement like you used to, and jump on the bed with us, and Daddy will toss his shirt over your head and play Peek a Woof with you."

One of my coworkers suggested that we go ahead and get a new dog now. I told him "I don't want a new dog, I want my dog."

An emotionally draining day.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Crisis

Diana noticed that Zoe was unusually still, and called me to come home during lunch. Muttling was alert--turned her head to track sounds, that sort of thing--but she didn't get up, wasn't interested in food. Vet was closed so we got an appointment for 2:00, when they reopened. We were thinking "This may be It"--such a drastic change from yesterday's "At the beach" and "She seems so happy".
But the vet looked her over and said that she seemed stable. Good color--with a dog, you tell that by looking at the gums and roof of the mouth, using a flashlight so you're not fooled by the room lights, and if she's really bleeding, you'll see grey instead of pink--and no feel of fluid pooled in her belly, so the vet didn't think she was hemorrhaging. Cardiac and respiratory were okay. Vet said that possibly cancer had spread to somewhere else, like her kidneys, which was a depressing thought. I had thought it was just going to be her spleen and she'd basically be fine up until she had a serious bleed; but I've had kidney stones and know how much they hurt, and I don't want Zoe going through that. On the other hand, when I had kidney stones, I didn't want to move unless it was absolutely necessary; if Zoe is willing to get up and wander around, I'll guess that that's not the problem.
Anyway, the vet said to take her home and keep an eye on her. Zoe wasn't interested in food, which is very unlike her, but she did amble around the house and took a walk outside, and at 8pm she finally ate, and another walk at 11pm.
All we can do is wait, and watch.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Beach

It was a warm sunny day so during my lunch, we took Zoe to the beach. She's not quite as frisky as usual, but pretty close; she trotted down to the water and plunked herself down, as usual, then sniffed around at everything, rolled in the sand, and met a couple of people who, as usual, loved her and petted her. She seems happy.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Long Walks

Today was mostly a Zoe day. Took the muttling out for a 90 minute walk around Mount Trashmore around noon, and took her for another 90 minute tour around Great Neck Park this afternoon. Petted her and fed her and gave her treats. Diana said "It's odd how, we're treating her so well now, and why haven't we been doing that all along?" I'd had that thought myself: when you know someone's dying, you start treating them the way you should always have been.

Other accomplishments for today:
Started Christmas e-shopping.
Threaded a needle, which with my hands is something of a feat.
Lit the gas fireplace, for the first time this season. In some ways the pilot light is a nuisance and I keep thinking "let's tear this out and convert it back to wood burning"--that would certainly put out more heat and be more satisfying. Yet the gas is what's here, and it's enough of a fire to encourage curling up with a book.

.

Friday, October 25, 2013

NaNoWriMo kickoff

We had the NaNoWriMo kickoff, a little early this year. Held at the church at Ward's Corner, with about twenty people attending. A lively crowd, with spirited bidding on some of the plot bunnies.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Authors

Since this summer, I have met Larry Correia, Dave Wolverton, and Howard Tayler, and talked with Toni Weisskopf and Mad Mike Williamson. And now, Sarah Hoyt has thrown a carp at me, due to a terrible pun. (I do think that escalated a bit quickly--it was a pun, but she was using a fishonable weapon).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Names of a dog

Zoe, Mutt, Muttling,  ZoPup, Woof, Fluffy Pupkins, Princess Pup, Fluffermutter, Zo Zo the Mongrolian, Jinglewoof (from the collar tags jingling), Thing Woof (from Thing One, Thing Two), AeroPup (sometimes when she lies on her side, she stretches out her legs as if flying), Little Sofa Cushion (when she's curled up on the couch, she looks like a black furry circular pillow), Z Dawg, Zup Pup, The Black Beast.

Her fur has been referred to as "Zoe wool", on the theory that she sheds enough that we could produce a sweater every two days.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Zoe the Escape Artist

Zoe has been an escape artist.

At our previous house, the living room had a glass door which opened onto a deck, which was adjacent to the stairs down to the parking lot. On occasion, we would leave the glass door open; and once in a while, Zoe would get onto a chair, then on to the balcony rail, then around the deck to the stairs, hop down and go exploring. Neighbors would knock on our door and say "Is that Zoe? She's down in the marsh." Usually with thick gooey mud coating her legs and fluffy feet. Zoe never ever pulled this "climb up and tightrope walk along the balcony" trick while we were watching--as far as we could tell, she just beamed herself to the marsh--so it took quite a while for us to figure out how she was doing it.

Then we moved to the new house, and the glass doors open onto the back deck. In 2009 we had the November Nor'Easter, which included the highest flood level I've ever seen since moving to Hampton Roads in 1986. As you might expect, this included quite a bit of wind and rain. Zoe gets antsy when it's windy, and wants to go out into the weather. Which she did. Despite the door being closed. She somehow managed to flip the latch to unlock the door, got the wooden door handle between her teeth,  and pulled it open. This did quite a bit of damage to the door handle, and the splinters tore up her mouth; there was a splattering of blood under the door handle. But she was determined to get out, and she did. When I replaced the door handle, I put bitter apple on it, which is supposed to guarantee that dogs will leave it alone. She had it open within an hour. Next time, I put Chinese fire oil on the handle. That didn't slow her down at all.  Fortunately she was going out onto the back deck, and there's no way to get out from there without jumping down eight feet or more, which she's too smart to do. So I gave up, and she opened the door whenever she wanted.


X ray

Our plan for this weekend had been to go to Colonial Williamsburg on Saturday; I was going to an Ironclads game on Sunday; D&D on Monday; board meeting Tuesday. How quickly one x ray can change things...

On Thursday night, around 1am, Zoe gave one sharp arf!, which is usually her way to say "I'm out on the deck, someone come open the door."  But she wasn't outside; she was downstairs (which is odd--she normally sleeps in the bedroom) in the living room, in her Princess Pose--laying down, head out, front paws stretched out in front of her. I figured she wanted a walk, so I took her out for ten minutes, she did what she needed to, we came back inside.
She arfed again at 2:30am. She doesn't usually ask in the middle of the night; on the other hand, she's been needing more frequent walks for the last couple of months. So I took her out again.
Again, at 6am. Diana took her out this time. Odd but not worrisome.

Friday evening we were both out of the house for a bit. When Diana came back, Zoe didn't get up to meet her at the door; she just stayed there, her head down on her paws, not moving. Diana rubbed her back and Zoe just stayed put; normally she'll flop over so you can rub her tummy. Odd...odd enough that we took her to the vet. Zoe perked up while we were in the waiting room but we figured, eh, "we're here, might as well do an x ray; if it's good, then we won't be worrying, and if it's bad, at least we'll know."

And so, sadly, we know.

Spleen is about three times normal size. There's an 80% chance it's cancer--given that she had growths in the last few weeks from mouth and eyelid, it's almost certain. As is, the vet says she might make it two or three weeks, but probably not to Thanksgiving.  They can do surgery and give her chemo, but even so, she'd probably only last three months, so what's the point of putting her through that?

We called Josh Friday night; he drove down from the farm this morning.

Zoe's not as energetic as usual but she doesn't seem to be in pain, she alert, and lovable as ever..




Friday, October 18, 2013

Tortas de Aceite

Diana saw tortas de aceite and decided we should try them. They turn out to be sort of flatbread with a bit of sugar, almond, sesame, and anise. I don't know if they're supposed to be bitter, but the ones we had were, quite.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

All's Well That Ends Well

"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none"
All's Well That Ends Well    Act I, scene 1.

Now Reading


  • Swords of Exodus, the sequel to Dead Six by Kupari and Correia. 
  • Skinwalker by Hillerman
  • Lord Geoffrey's Fancy by Duggan
  • Deadlands RPG rules

Lord Geoffrey's Fancy is set in Frankish Romanie, which was what we'd call Greece while it was under control of French-descended barons around AD1255.  The narrator is a landless knight recently come from England to serve under Geoffrey, so we get to learn through him about the campaigns and politics and interactions in this little known portion of history.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Door Hanging

Diana decided she wanted new door on the second bathroom, but the new one turned out to be 1/8" wider than the old one. So today I planed it, mortised the hinges, hung the door, installed the lock set, mortised the strike plate and installed that. Not as neat aj ob as I'd have liked, but passable and the everything works.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Doobie Brothers

My first concert in a loooooong time, we went to see the Doobie Brothers at the Sandler Center.

Quite a bit of white hair in the audience.

They started with "Jesus is Just Alright" and went on with a mix of classics and more recent songs, mostly high-energy although there was one acoustic with just two guitarists. It would be overstating things to say that people were dancing--the Sandler doesn't really give you enough room for that--but people were certainly up and clapping and singing along, particularly on "Old Black Water". It was a bit loud, and the instruments overpowered the vocals; on the other hand, they didn't have anyone with a voice like Michael McDonald, so the instruments were the main attraction. The keyboard player was quite good, another guy played guitar, electric harpsichord, harmonica, and violin (not all at the same time), and everyone seemed happy to be there. We had a good time.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Alvin York

Everyone has heard of Sergeant York, but it is good to be reminded.

On this day in 1918, the 328th Infantry engaged German forces near Chatel-Chehery, France. As York recalled:
The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the heights overlooking us and well hidden, and we couldn't tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from... And I'm telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home...
Seventeen men, including York, were ordered to infiltrate and take out the machine guns. The patrol had captured a group of the enemy, when they came under fire from German guns; of the seventeen, six were killed and three wounded. York, the ranking NCO, left his men under cover, guarding the prisoners, while he advanced and engaged the guns. His Medal of Honor citation reads:
After his platoon suffered heavy casualties and 3 other noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading 7 men, he charged with great daring a machine gun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machine gun nest was taken, together with 4 officers and 128 men and several guns.


Monday, October 7, 2013

DnD

I've found a new D&D campaign, this one using 4th Edition rules. Tonight was my first session, and my first die roll was a natural 20--an auspicious way to start off the game! I'm looking forward to getting back into campaigning.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Government Shutdown

And the Federal Government has shut down, as of yesterday, with only "essential" personnel working. "Essential" personnel apparently includes "people to close National Parks and monuments which don't ordinarily have any NPS staff, don't ever close, and don't cost any money to keep open", such as the WW2 Memorial in DC. Because they're being spiteful and petty and, oh wait, the Government Is Our Friend. Trust the Government.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Blacksburg

We did a weekend trip to Blacksburg to visit Josh and Gwen.

Drove past the Virginia Tech Quidditch Team, which I found bemusing. The whole point of the game, in the book, is that you're flying...running around clutching a broomstick just can't be the same.

Went to the Farmer's Market and bought apples.

Went to Boudreaux's, where they don't grasp the concept of "sweet tea". I said "sweet tea", I saw the waitress write "sweet tea" on her pad, what came to me was suitable for tanning leather. I had to tell the server to look behind the bar for Simple Syrup and add some of that. However, they did a decent job of the biscuits with andouille sausage gravy.

We walked a couple of miles in and around Heritage Park, including exploring a couple of shortcuts which totally did not involve multiple instances of trespass in any way.

At a consignment shop, bought them a table, and Josh found a couple of paintings of hussars in parade dress, which he promptly pounced upon.

Josh and I were discussing miniatures, which escalated to a 1/32 scale Santissima Trinidad, then to a 1:2 scale Santissima Trinidad, then to a full scale HMS Victory. With a huge air compressor in the hold, feeding the cannon, so they're not technically "guns", but we could still sail off Somalia. But we'd need modern engines and bow thrusters. The thought of Victory pivoting in place on thrusters was amusing. That led to the idea of Victory's hull above, a hydrofoil below. You see this sailing ship proceeding along...hm...it's sailing pretty quickly...it's really moving right along...it's rising up out of the water!  You'd need the sails to be holograms so they don't rip the masts off at that speed.
Of course there would be no possible justification for building such a ship (except "Science!"). You'd need.to be...wealthy! And insane. But "wealthy and insane" is "eccentric", and that's okay.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Court

I was in court today, as a potential witness. The defendant stole some material that I'm familiar with, and the prosecutor asked me to be available to testify as to the value. As it happens, the perp's lawyer saw that the prosecution actually had four witnesses present, and advised the guy to go ahead and plead guilty, which he did. But first we all got to spend a couple of hours listening to people petitioning for court-appointed lawyers, a couple of arraignments, one or two sentencing phases, and other such legal rituals. No drama, just people reciting their lines. But it was a new experience.

New Books

Swords of Exodus, by Correia and Kupari
Lord Geoffrey's Fancy, by Alfred Duggan

Monday, September 23, 2013

R I P

R I P Dawn Brain nee Grinnell after several years' illness.

Something of a shock when someone you know, several years younger, dies.

Mortise door

We're repainting Josh's bathroom (now that it's no longer Josh's) and somehow that has led to replacing the door. Which has led to getting a hammer and chisel and chipping away at the door in the space for hinges. Makes you wonder who came up with that idea, and makes you appreciate the men who could do it smoothly, by hand.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Byzantines Discover America

A month ago, Josh and I were talking about story ideas, and I mentioned "Byzantines Discover America" as a setting. Josh liked that idea, so we spent a fair amount of tonight chatting about what year the Byzantines would depart, and what would be happening in the Mediterranean at the time--Roger de Flor and the Catalan Company, the Seventh Crusade, the Principality of Achaea, and so forth. Slightly esoteric, but fun.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Mutt

Mutt had bleeding from her mouth (dried blood shows up very well when it's on a white leather couch) so Diana took her in to Bay Beach Veterinary Hospital. They saw her right away, and lasered a growth off the inside of her mouth. Unfortunately she's stuck with a lampshade again for a few days.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Utah: Canyonlands Island in the Sky

It took quite a bit of driving just to get to Canyonlands. There are three sections of the park; I came in from the east to Island in the Sky. Once you get past the entry station and gift shop, there's a T intersection where you can go south and look over the Green River Canyon and out to Abajo and Lasal; the north road ends at a crater which might have been from a meteor, or a salt dome collapse, or something. Getting to the crater is a bit of a hike, maybe a mile or so on a fairly steep slope; with the altitude, the slope and the sun, it took a bit to catch my breath after getting to the top. You get to the rim and look down into a bowl with a center peak, all greys and whites, and wonder what could have caused it. There are plaques illustrating what would have happened for the salt bowl and meteor theories. It doesn't show the Mysterious Ancient Mine Pit theory, but you never know; maybe the Anasazi Aztec Atlanteans were into organic mountain salt.
The south end is more impressive, and could be called "Utah's Grand Canyon"--I suspect the main reason it's not as well known is because the Grand Canyon is an short drive from Flagstaff, while Canyonlands is a short drive from nowhere. Just like the Grand Canyon, there are cliffs, then slopes, then another layer of cliff and another slope, ending in a river cut. I stood out on an overhang and held my camera over the cliff, the sort of experience which makes you dizzy even when you're clinging to rock.

Driving through Utah

After leaving Canyonlands, I took Interstate 70 to Rte 24 to Rte 12. It was somewhat disturbing to see signs on I-70 saying "No services 100 miles"--better stop and fill the tank.

In Utah, going from one place to another means you drive through a National Park, a National Forest and a State Park on the way. And so, on the way from Canyonlands to Bryce, I went through Capitol Reef, Anasazi State Park, Dixie National Forest and Escalante / Grand Staircase / Petrified Forest.

Utah: Arches

Drove from Green River to Arches National Park. For much of the trip there was a hot air balloon visible off to my right--it turns out there's a place offering balloon rides off Rte 191.

Arches Park is immediately east of the Moab Fault; there's a V shapped valley with a high western escarpment and a lower one (but still high) to the east. From the highway, you follow a windy road up the eastern face to the top to get to the arches--or more accurately, the roads which lead to arches. Where the strata have a hard stone cap, that stays in place while the softer stone underneath it erodes. If it's a stone fin, think of it as a square; the middle of the square gets thinner and thinner until it's gone, and what's left is an arch. The opening of the arch gets wider and wider and eventually the center collapses and you're left with two stacks and a lot of rubble between them--that's what formed Sheep Rock (not Shiprock, which is more famous but is also in New Mexico).
There aren't actually all that many arches, or at least not that are visible without some hiking--more like "five" than "lots". There are also balanced rocks, cliffs and so forth, and those are impressive, but if you're expecting a panorama of five hundred arches, you're going to be disappointed. One of the arches is Delicate, and depending on how much hiking you want to do, you can go the long way and stand under it; or a short walk and get a more distant view; or what I did, which is climb to the high overlook. For the amount of effort it took to get there and the view I got, I should have either taken the long hike to the arch itself, or just used my zoom lens from the roadside. The most imposing presence actually was LaSal Mountain, off to the east.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Utah: Colorado

After finishing Dinosaur National Monument, I drove to Dinosaur, Colorado, where I stopped at a kitsch shop and looked at souvenir rocks and herbs and such before getting an ice cream and driving on. The owner said Labor Day was his last day open; after that he'd work in his garage and generally hang out. He said winters didn't usually get below 30°, which sounded really attractive until he added "except for that one winter when it got down to fifty below and everybody's pipes broke".
From there it was Route 139 down the western side of Colorado, through an area more verdant than Utah; mountainsides actually had trees rather than scrub. One part looked like our farm--creek gulley with water trees, grassy flood plain, hills with dry trees--except it was five to ten times the scale of the farm.
There was a slow climb up to the top of the Douglas Pass, then a long winding descent, like Bent Mountain's switchbacks except with a wider road and more shoulder space, so rather less of a feeling of "if I stray a few feet I'll go over the edge and plummet into squish".
At Loma I turned west back to Utah, driving on I70 across a plain, or enormous valley with mountains bordering on the distant north and south. In the distance I could see one lone mountain rising above everything else, with bluffs at its feet and a storm at its head--LaSal Mountain.  But that was a long way away, and in between, vast barren stretches. How did anyone look out across this landscape and say "Yeah, let's try to cross that, because who needs water anyway?"
Finished the drive at Green River UT, about 230 miles for the day.

Dinosaur National Monument

Started off with a drive to Jensen and the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument. There's a visitor center at the base of a hill, and a shuttle tram which takes us up the hill to another visitor's center. Inside, there's a wall of bones. At some point, a river flooded and washed bodies into a pile, and this wall had a jumble of fossil bones, large and small.
After that a group of fifteen follow a ranger on a hike. There are small bits of bone, a vertebra, a fossil clam, a fish scale. Nothing terribly impressive and some of the fossils are only notable because a white arrow is painted on the stone to mark where we should look. The main point of the hike is to tell us how the strata were laid down: one layer from a river, another from an inland sea, a third from a new river, unrelated to the first and running north-south rather than the earlier east-west. There's brown sandstone, gray shale, olive sandstone, rusty red, and more. Now the strata are rotated, on edge, so that as you walk a hundred yards horizontally, you're walking across layers of time.
At the east end of the park there are petroglyphs, pictures chipped into the stone by the Fremont people, over a thousand years ago. There are lizards, humans, bighorn sheep, a couple of pinwheels and other obscure symbols. And cut into a manganese stain, there's a kokopelli with his flute; the kokopelli is in profile while all the other human figures are frontal views. What made the Flute Player different? And many of the carvings are well above ground level. I imagined the conversations that must have taken place:

"Yo, Scrawny Bear."
"Yo, Quivering Lizard, 'sup?"
"Nothing. You?"
"Nothing."
"Hey, it's Saturday night, I thought you and Sheep Girl were...?"
"Nah."
"Oh. Sorry, bro."
"It's cool."
"Got any hooch?"
"Nah. Hey, you know what would be really cool?"
"What?"
"We get some ladders, like, you know, eighteen feet tall.  And we lean them on the cliff up there."
"Yeah?"
"And then we get some, you know, pointy rocks. And we, like, spend hours and hours chipping pictures into the cliff."
"Dude!"
"I know, right?"
"That would be awesome!"

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Utah Day 1

Took Southwest Air to Baltimore, thence to Salt Lake, no problem. Checked out a car and started driving 175 miles east towards Vernal.
Once out of SLC, the land becomes barren--rocky and uninhabited. There are trailers, mobile homes, shacks; they look desolate, like they've been placed on a patch of land purely to claim residence, not because anyone lives there. I drive by an intersection and there's no clump of houses, no store, no gas station, just a road leading off to the north. Driving on Route 40, I pass by a lake--must have been Strawberry Reservoir--and there are boats on it but no development there, no lakefront property, just raw dirt leading to the water. Apparently there aren't enough people here to need to claim every square foot, or to manicure it.
Duchesne City isn't a city, it's a small town clinging to a highway. I'm through it before I quite realize it.After that, it's up over a mountain pass, over 8000 feet.
I check into a hotel in Vernal, then go a few more blocks to The Quarry restaurant. They have 5 ounce samplers of beers for $1.50, so I try Baba Black Lager and Cutthroat Pale Ale, plus an undistinguished French dip sandwich. I conclude the desk clerk recommended this place because he drinks here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Blacksburg Redux

Gwen's furniture shipment finally arrived, and it all (barely) fit in the Honda, so I folded myself into the driver's niche and drove it up to Blacksburg. Josh and Gwen provided satay chicken, and after dinner we broke in their new Dominion set. I won that one, largely by going for provinces for a turn or two while they were still gathering gold.
On the way home, I saw a bear that had apparently wandered onto the interstate the night before and gotten hit. First time I've seen a bear like that--deer, yes, racoons, yes, but never a bear before. Must have been a shock for whoever ran into it--"driving, dark, driving, dark, fuzzy patch of slightly darker, WHAM THAT WAS A BEAR!"

Monday, August 19, 2013

Birthday

We went shopping on Sunday and got a couple of things for Diana's birthday. Then on Monday, I knew she'd be at the pharmacy around lunchtime, so I left work, got two dozen roses, found her car, and left the flowers in her front seat.  Surprise #1/
Then I told her that I'd take care of dinner, and with the cold wet weather, I was thinking of Italian. Came home after work, told her to get dressy, and went to Mannino's on Pleasure House Road, which is currently the #1 rated restaurant in Virginia Beach according to Trip Advisor. Diana said the veal cannoli was superb, my lasagna was excellent, and our server Christine took good care of us. Surprise #2, and a very successful birthday.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Courage

"Courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other."
Samuel Johnson

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Blacksburg

Saturday:
Having played Tetris with furniture and boxes of books while also keeping the load weight within limits, we set off on Saturday morning with Gwen and Josh in the Toyota while Diana and I took the Honda and attached trailer and trudged up the hills...The forecast was rain, rain, rain, but it didn't rain, right up until we pulled in and started unloading. Fortunately, even then it was a light sprinkling rather than a downpour, just enough to motivate us to hustle.
Met my high school classmate Paula and her daughter and went to Macado's for dinner, then drove to the farm and finished the night with Mom's lasagna.

Sunday:
Josh and Gwen loaded some more furniture from the old house--there was an orange salamander in the grass there--and hauled it back to Blacksburg. They are now officially Moved In.
I took the Mutt down to the field to bound around through the grass and wildflowers and wade in the creek. There's a new spring coming out from under a split rock, a few yards up from the pool.
Dinner with Mom, Diana and me, Josh and Gwen, David and Elizabeth, Jack and Julia. Gwen saw her first hummingbird.
The night was a bit cloudy but I saw a couple of Perseid meteors.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Packing

Tonight we're packing Josh and Gwen's stuff for the Historic Move To Blacksburg. Got the UHaul trailer, got the suitcases, got the boxes. Getting the boxes into the trailer is the next step.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Monster Hunter

We've gotten our copy of the Monster Hunter International RPG. I say "we" because Josh immediately grabbed it and started making notes for a campaign.

I note that one of the Navaho hero/gods is Monster Slayer.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tile Backsplash

The grout is done, most of the haze is polished off the tile, the electrical faceplates are up and the trim pieces are in and caulked. Finished, huzzah!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

History

In the morning I went to Echoes of Time, a vintage costume shop on North Witchduck in Virginia Beach. I'd been hoping to find a frock coat or a Victorian British uniform jacket for sale--they had some for rent, but not for sale--but I did pick up some leather gaiters and a vintage tuxedo shirt, which I think can be made to go with the Steam Gunslinger look.

In the afternoon Jon Davis came over again. Apparently someone didn't follow procedures the way the manufacturer intended, so the nuclear tests are delayed and Jon had some free time. We set up Close Action and each took three ships; Jon ended up losing 15 sections while I lost 16, earning him a marginal win. Pretty good for being the second time he'd played !

I ordered Navajo Wars and one of Gwen's favorite games Dominion.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Anzac cookies

Gwen made Anzac cookies for us tonight. One of the ingredients is golden syrup, not easily obtained here, but Gwen and Diana found some at the Highland Store.

I grabbed a couple fresh out of the oven, and they were fantastic. And then they were all gone, and I was sad. I'm not sure why Gwen doesn't make a batch every day.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Brown Dwarf planet

Astronomers have announced the discovery, through gravity lensing, of a planet in orbit around a brown dwarf about 6000 light years away. The planet is about twice the mass of Jupiter; the dwarf is about twenty Jovian mass.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Grout

We put grout on the backsplash tonight. The "grouting" stage is where you find that half the tile wasn't really straight, and the other half wasn't really attached to the wall.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Celebrity Visit Round 2

Jon Davis had another free afternoon between bouts of bringing a nuclear reactor online (for sub West Virginia), so we taught him Close Action, with Josh taking a couple of D quality French 74s while Jon and I each took a B quality British 64 and wandered around the map.  Jon's ship quickly suffered a Wheel Shot Away critical but he still managed to hold his own quite well. He encouraged me to run a Close Action event at the next East Coast Con.
Afterwards was Carcassonne, in which Jon took the lead early and just kept increasing it. Josh and I need to get the hang of completing cities.

 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Doobie Brothers

The Doobie Brothers will be in Virginia Beach on October 11; we got tickets for them today. This will be my first concert in 30 years or so. Should be interesting.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Celebrity visit

Jon Davis, renowned among GZG circles, is also a nuclear engineer, and came to Norfolk Naval Shipyard to get a submarine's reactor up and running. He was able to stop in and visit us tonight, and we were able to initiate our copy of Carcassonne. I came in last by a convincing margin...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Home work

Finished putting the aquamarine and bronze tile up on the kitchen backsplash. Next step will be grouting but that can wait a bit, and in the meantime, it looks better than I'd expected. Also painted the kitchen trim, installed the shade in the office, cleaned this, scrubbed that, fixed the other, and generally scrambled around getting things ready for Gwen to arrive at the house tomorrow.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Gwen!

Huzzah! Gwen arrived safely in DC, where Josh (and roses) met her.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Detroit

The City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy today--not the first municipal bankruptcy lately, but the largest one.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tiling the Backsplash

Over the past few days I've been chipping the eggshell and brown tiles off the kitchen walls. We've received three boxes of aquamarine-and-bronze glass mosaic tile, and we've gotten mastic and a special order of grout and a trowel with 3/16" vee notches. Diana painted the wall white, so the brown and grey drywall doesn't show through anywhere, and then I sanded it to rough it up a little so the mastic would grab better.

So, all preparations being complete, tonight I started putting up the sheets of tiles. Drag the stove out of the way. Lift off the counter tops. Get out a level and draw vertical lines and horizontal lines for guides. Spread white goo over the wall, making neat lines with the trowel because the tiles are transparent and I don't know if you'll be able see the ridges and furrows in the mastic after I squish the tiles on. The first three sheets go on reasonably well, and I can slide them across the mastic well enough to get them lined up evenly with each other. Number four is a problem, as I have to cut out some tiles to fit over an electrical socket, and when I try to slide the sheet to adjust the position, individual tiles start coming off. It's intensely frustraing, but I eventually get the sheet more or less into place. Then to finish off that size I need a third of a sheet; fortunately these sheets are fifteen tiles across, so it's easy to cut. I stick that on the wall, press everything down, put the stove and countertop  back into place, and call it "done" for the night. It only took about two hours although it was more laborious than I expected.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Carcassonne

Gwen likes Carcassonne, so we got a copy in preparation for her coming to the US. Oddly, I've played it with Canadians and Australians, but never with a group which is primarily Americans.

As it happens, we also received a copy of Trireme. When it arrived in the mail, the conversation went thus:

"Son, I got you something."
"It's A BOX!"
"And you know what's inside it?"
"Wait, there's something INSIDE it?"
"Yes -- another box!"
"IT'S MORE THAN I EVER DREAMED!"

Later, Josh posted: "Got a copy of Trireme in the mail today...SOON THE WORLD WILL BE SHATTERED BENEATH THE CORVII OF ROME!...I mean, uh, "thanks Dad".

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Murat's Charge

Among the other stuff happening today, Josh and I got an interesting game of Command and Colors Napoleonic in today, using the Murat's Charge scenario. It was notable because, as Josh observed, I played the Russians as if they were French, and he played the French as if they were Russians.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

More books

Picked up Neal Stephenson's Reamde, which reminds me rather more of Snow Crash and particularly Cryptonomicon than of Anathem or the Baroque Cycle, which is good.

Also got Orson Scott Card's Empire, just to support him.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Argentina

Argentina has announced that they will be jailing hoarders, as bread prices skyrocket. They need 6 million tons of wheat, they produced nearly 10 million, and yet they still have a shortage.

Note also that the real inflation rate is more than twice the officially admitted rate--although saying the true inflation rate can also get you jailed.

Fortunately, That Could Never Happen Here.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Battle of Sybota

Ryan hosted a game of Trireme, playing the Battle of Sybota. It was disappointing not to have Josh there, but he understandably didn't want to give up a day's work; and we did get eight guys and a fun battle. AAR at the link.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day

Spent much of the morning and early afternoon chipping tile off the backsplash, preparatory to putting new tile on--hopefully before Gwen arrives from Australia ! Diana and I took both kayaks out for an hour in the afternoon, then the three of us went to the beach for fireworks. Josh and I finished the day with a game of Command & Colors: Napoleonics, with his French defeating my Russians in a hard-fought battle of Eylau.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tonto and What's-His-Name

We went to the Beach Movie Bistro for opening night of The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the masked man. I had high hopes, but it was weak. Too violent to be fun--one of the bad guys cuts out someone's heart, with lots of blood--but later on it's almost cartoonish, with the Spirit Horse casually standing on a roof, the madame with the ivory leg, and infinite-six-shooters. Tonto is eccentric-to-crazy, which is fine--eccentric people are more memorable than normal people--but he outshines the supposed main character.
The Ranger starts off bland and clueless, and never really gets a clue. When he tracks down a villain, he insists on "bringing them back to justice", but when he finds out that   the local political boss is in cahoots with the villain and no justice will be done, he doesn't really even think through the situation, much less come to any decision on what to do about it. He doesn't want to carry a gun. When he's persuaded to carry one anyway, he then doesn't want to shoot anyone; but when his first shot ricochets and kills two bad guys, he doesn't have any misgivings about it, nor does he rationalize why violence is sometimes necessary.  Overall, a wimpy character. There was no chemistry with the Love Interest.
Pass.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tattoo

Someone at work has a musical symbol tattoo'd on the back of her leg. It's a treble calf.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Permanent Lightning Storm

There is a more or less permanent lightning storm over Maracaibo, and it's been going on since at least 1597. The lake is boxed in on three sides by mountains, so the air moving across the lake rises and produces thunderheads. The lightning that results is called Catatumbo Lightning, based on the Cataumbo River that flows into Maracaibo; it's also called the Lighthouse of Maracaibo, since it can be seen for miles around the lake.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Delta Airlines and the Trip From Hell

On Monday night we left for Canada. The flights were:

Monday   6/24
4.53 pm  Delta 7300 to LaGuardia  -- delayed due to weather
7.00 pm Delta 6217 to Montreal -- cancelled

Tuesday 6/25
8:40am Delta 6202 to Montreal -- delayed due to maintenance issue

Returning Wednesday   6/26
7.05am Delta 3907 to Detroit  -- delayed due to maintenance issue
10.20am Delta 3653 to Norfolk -- missed because 3907 was delayed

When we landed at LaGuardia, there was a theoretical possibility that our second flight might also have been delayed and we could still catch it. However, there were no gates available, so we (and other planes) sat on the taxiway for over an hour. It literally took us less time to fly from Norfolk to New York, than to get from the LaGuardia runway to the terminal. We would definitely have missed the second flight, if it hadn't been cancelled instead.

All the hotels around LaGuardia were full, so for dinner we went to a sports bar in the airport, where Josh said "I could microwave better burgers than these." Around 1am, the LaGuardia staff started setting out cots; they were under bright fluorescent lights but they were more comfortable than hard plastic chairs and, unlike Philadelphia's airport, they didn't have an ad blaring every ten minutes on why the city is so great and you should really spend a lot of money there. Josh still didn't get any sleep, but I managed a couple of hours.

Sleeping in the airport and waking up at 5am made it easy to catch our 8:40am flight, which left the gate on time, made it almost to the runway, and then went back to a maintenance area. The crew told us that they didn't know how long it would take, and they might be putting us on a shuttle to go back to the terminal. It was looking like we might miss Mum's funeral entirely, and I was considering just chucking the trip and going back to Virginia Beach. But, an hour late, we got airborne, and landed at Montreal at 11:30. Josh and I had our suits with us, so we decided to forego picking up our checked luggage; we raced through the airport, found the Customs and Immigration hall miraculously empty and blitzed through, and got a cab directly to the church, arriving about 12:10, just before the limo with the rest of the family arrived. We had just enough time before the service to find a washroom and change into our suits, before taking our places.

The next morning, we got up at 4am and headed to the airport at 5:00 to catch the 7.05 flight. Needless to say, that one was delayed also. A passenger seat had been broken the night before, and the clean up crew hadn't fixed or reported it. The flight left about an hour late, long enough to make us miss our 10:20 flight and leave us sitting in Detroit until 2:10. Delta gave us $6 meal vouchers, which isn't enough to buy a meal in an airport; but at least the Detroit airport has free WiFi, unlike LAX or LaGuardia. Instead of getting home at noon as we should have--which would have let Josh get to work at his usual 1pm--we landed a little after 4pm and made it home at 5:15.

I wrote a letter to Delta to say: "The front line people were almost all at least okay, some were good, some went above and beyond. They just weren't the people responsible for getting the planes from A to B on time. "Getting from A to B" is the reason for spending $1500 on a pair of plane tickets in the first place. So, you were polite while completely failing in the whole point of your business.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Stupid and Evil

"We have a two-party system in America: The Evil Party, and the Stupid Party. And every once and a while the Evil Party and the Stupid Party get together to pass something really evil and stupid. That’s called ‘bipartisanship.’ " -- attributed to a Congressional staffer circa 1989

I'd say that each party is evil on some things, and stupid on some things, and there's some overlap.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

DTP to the rescue

Sometime last night, Diana and Willa realized there was a mistake in the bulletin with the order of service for Mum's funeral. One entire hymn was wrong--the title was similar but everything else was different. The church office that did the bulletin is closed till Tuesday--Monday is St Jean Baptiste Day, which is a national holiday for Quebec--and Tuesday will be too late to fix it.
 
They have the file but it's PDF rather than the original. So...they send it to me because I know computer magic. I felt like saying "Yes, I'm a computer wizard...a first level computer wizard..." but one must rise to the occasion. After reading the bones and muttering mystic words, I passed it on to Barbra, who a) determined that it wasn't really editable without messing up the formatting, but b) got the fonts and pictures and send them to me. After that, it was just a matter of putting everything into a new document and fiddling with finicky formatting until the new document looked just like the old one. That was about two hours last night and four more this morning--but I've gotten three separate phone calls to say "Thank you so much!" and "That was awesome" and "You saved the day!"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Buffy

Buffy passed away a little before 1pm today. Willa was there with her.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ciboney

It turns out the Caribbean islands weren't just inhabited by Arawaks and Caribs; the Ciboney people lived in caves and rock shelters on the northwest coasts of Hispaniola and Cuba.

Korean food

Josh brought home Korean food: beef bulgogi, barbecue chicken, rice, bean sprouts, garlic broccoli, and macaroni salad. I have no idea why macaroni salad is Korean, and neither does my Korean co-worker, but she says that it is typical of Korean restaurants. The beef was thin sliced beef, a bit gristly, no particularly unusual flavor. The barbecue chicken was barbecue chicken, a bit on hot side, but nothing distinctive (other than being overcooked and dry).

Josh wisely did not bring home kimchee.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hurricane

In October 1780, the Great Hurricane hit. The storm surge was over 25 feet; the wind, estimated to be over 200mph, stripped the bark off trees and threw cannon into the air. It destroyed every house and tree on Barbados, dropped a ship on top of a port town's hospital, sank or wrecked ships across the Caribbean, and killed 20,000 - 24,000 people.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cynicism

"The power of accurate observation is often called cynicism, by those who don't have it".

--George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Cooperhead

Out kayaking this morning, saw a small copperhead sunning (clouding?) on the rocks on the other side of the river. As soon as he realized I saw him, he vanished into the rocks like magic.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Freedom

"Those of us who have been so fortunate as to have been born in a free society tend to take freedom for granted and regard it as a natural state of mankind. It is not."
--Milton Friedman

Conspiracy Theorists

From a Facebook post, slightly edited:

Conspiracy Theorists suck at their jobs!
Where was the outcry warning us that the IRS was secretly attacking right wing organizations in an effort to stage a coup by fixing the results of a presidential election in the United States?
Where was the outcry that the DOJ was illegally harassing journalists to force them to disclose their sources on stories which relate to national security?
Why, for the love of God, didn't the Conspiracy Theorists warn us that the NSA is reading Verizon subscribers text messages?
YOU PEOPLE ARE LAYING DOWN ON THE JOB !
And I'm being told that list is a comprehensive list of the stuff the Obama Administration has actually been doing, and been caught at just in the last 30 days. 

Sadly, none of this really surprises me. 

D Day

Sixty nine years ago today, 12,000 men gave their lives in the invasion of Normandy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Male / female color spectrum

Josh and Diana and I were all in the living / dining room at sunset, which was lavender and ciel and azure and eggplant and so on. Diana gasped "Look at the sunset!! Look at the colors !! What color would you call that sky??"

Completely in sync, Josh and I looked at the sky, looked at each other, and said, "Blue."

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Aerobatics

There was an aerobatic show at the beach today. They started off with skydivers, two sticks of two with square chutes and smoke canisters on their feet to make the maneuvers more visible; all four landed, one at a time, on the beach in front of us. After that the stunt planes started coming in. We saw tumbles, an octagon loop, hammerhead stall, and in intentional inverted flat spin, which is not something I'd ever care to try. However...after half an hour or so, you've seen the same maneuvers done by three different planes in a row, and it didn't seem worthwhile to sit out in the sun and watch it for another two hours.
Now, if it'd been military planes...

Now reading

Two books on writing:

Both of these having me taking notes and getting excited about getting back into writing.

And I'm also reading the rules to Impetus miniatures rules, which also look quite interesting

Friday, May 31, 2013

Mortgage refinance

Signed the papers for our mortgage refinance, just before interest rates went up. This significantly reduces our interest and monthly payments, and reduces our overall payout.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Methane-based ecosystem

From Popular Science:


Scientists on a research mission sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have found what could be the U.S. Atlantic Coast's largest methane cold seep near Virginia.

Cold seeps are regions in the sea floor where fluid rich in compounds like methane flows out at the same temperature as the surrounding ocean water (in contrast to the hot water that seeps from hydrothermal vents).

Methane seeps allow life to flourish in otherwise fairly barren deep sea environments. This is the third seep documented on the Atlantic Coast, and is much bigger than previously discovered sites, with areas up to a kilometer long and hundreds of meters wide. Mussels can survive in seeps through chemosynthesis, a process that utilizes bacteria in their gills to turn methane into energy. The seep's surrounding ecosystem also contained sea cucumbers, shrimp and fish, some of which exhibited what the researchers call "unusual behaviors," though they did not elaborate.

Studying these undersea ecosystems can help us understand how life exists in harsh environments, including potentially other planets, researcher Steve Ross explained in a press statement. It could also enhance our understanding of gas hydrates, a potentially huge alternative energy source.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Conjunction

Not the sort that puts together phrases and clauses; this conjunction was planetary. Jupiter, Venus and Mercury were visible together in the west, just after sundown.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cosmic impact event

According to an article on Physics.org:

About 12,800 years ago when the Earth was warming and emerging from the last ice age, a dramatic and anomalous event occurred that abruptly reversed climatic conditions back to near-glacial state. According to James Kennett, UC Santa Barbara emeritus professor in earth sciences, this climate switch fundamentally –– and remarkably –– occurred in only one year, heralding the onset of the Younger Dryas cool episode. The cause of this cooling has been much debated, especially because it closely coincided with the abrupt extinction of the majority of the large animals then inhabiting the Americas, as well as the disappearance of the prehistoric Clovis culture, known for its big game hunting.

By examining microspherules in the geological strata of North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East, a research team has concluded that a catastrophic cosmic impact event caused continent-wide wildfires,and threw enough dust into the atmosphere to block significant amounts of sunlight, leading to the destruction of the American megafauna.

The impact that scooped out the Caribbean and killed the dinosaurs was 65 million years ago, but this impact was comparatively recent. One wonders what the odds are of it happening again.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kola Superdeep

On this day in 1970, Russian scientists began drilling on the Kola Peninsula, with the intention to penetrate the Earth's crust as deeply as possible. The deepest borehole reached a depth of over 40,200 feet in 1989. Due to the 180°C / 355° F temperature at that depth, further drilling was considered unfeasible and the project focus switched to analysis of the core samples that had been retrieved. The project was finally shut down in 2005.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Defenestration

On this day in 1618, the Second Defenestration of Prague took place, igniting the first phase of the Thirty Years War. The hardline Catholic Ferdinand,King of Bohemia and shortly to be Emperor, reversed concessions made to the Protestants by the previous two kings; when the Bohemian Estates objected, Ferdinand dissolved the assembly and sent representatives to the Estates with a letter declaring their leaders' lives and honor forfeit; the leaders responded by throwing the representatives out the window; they fell 70 feet but survived. When Ferdinand was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1619, the  Bohemian Estates deposed him as king and invited Frederick V, Elector Palatine, to the throne; Ferdinand, with the assistance of Bavaria, invaded Bohemia in 1620 and suppressed the rebellion.

Also, on May 23, 1829, the accordion was patented.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Magdeburg

The city of Magdeburg had survived a siege by Wallenstein's forces in 1629; however, it was besieged again in 1631 by Imperial forces under Tilly. On May 20, 1631, Tilly's troops stormed the city and sacked it, killing at least two thirds of the 30,000 inhabitants and burning the town.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Now Reading


  • The electronic Advanced Reader Copy for John Ringo's Under A Graveyard Sky, in which a tailored virus causes people to turn into zombies--not technically "undead" but close enough--and our heroes, who are prepared for various end-of-the-world scenarios, take a boat out into the Atlantic and start rescuing people from other boats. And ships. The assault leader is Faith, a 13 year old girl, which makes sense, because teenage girls can be vicious.
  • The electronic Advanced Reader Copy for Larry Correia's Warbound, in which Franklin Roosevelt institutes some rather heavy handed government control--the parallel's with today's administration are, unfortunately, too applicable; Jake Sullivan picks up a couple of sociopaths and leads a team into enemy territory; and Faye Viera, despite being Spellbound, doesn't kill everyone, at least not by 75% of the way through the book
  • the advance PDF copy of the Hero System book for the Monster Hunter International Emplyee Handbook & Roleplaying Game.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

On this Day

On May 9, 1671, Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal the British Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Technically, he did steal them--hammered a crown flat and tucked it into his clothing, and his confederates picked up a sceptre and an orb--but they were chased and caught after leaving the Tower.  However, Kind Charles II was apparently amused by this Blood's bravado and not only pardoned him, but granted him an estate in Ireland.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Action of 6 May 1801

On this day in 1801, HM brig Speedy, under command of Thomas, Lord Cochrane, attacked and captured the 32 gun Spanish frigate El Gamo, despite the fact that the Spanish ship was four times the size, with six times the crew and weight of broadside. The Speedy approached under American colors until she got so close that the Spanish broadside passed over her, and returned fire with double-shotted guns. After exchanging fire and repelling several Spanish attempts to board, Cochrane sent over his entire crew, leaving only one man aboard the Speedy; he then told that one to "send over the rest of the men!" and tore down the Spanish colors, whereupon the El Gamo's crew surrendered. The British took 12 casualties, the Spanish 55 killed and wounded and 261 captured. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fighter Factory

Josh and I had our first visit to the Fighter Factory / Military Aviation Museum in Pungo. There are two groups of buildings; the one at the far end of the driveway has the workshop / maintenance area and the WWI planes, while the main building has the WW2 planes and some vehicles.
Some of the planes:

  • P40 with Flying Tigers livery
  • P39 
  • P51 Mustang
  • FW190
  • Yak 3
  • Corsair
  • B25
  • Junkers Ju52--larger than I expected, and the exterior is all corrugated, including the wings
  • Mosquito
  • Spitfire
  • Storch observation plane--they said it had a 300ft takeoff roll
  • Fokker DR1 triplane
  • Fokker D VII biplane
  • Albatross D.Va
  • Sopwith  1 1/2 Strutter
  • V1 flying bomb
They also had a display of the various types of ammo in use, from .30 cal to 30mm, and several vehicles--staff cars, gun tractors, that sort of thing. They also had a British antitank gun from the North Africa campaign, and a 89mm Flak gun in an Afrika Korps paint scheme, which was cool -- nobody was looking, so I sat in the gunner's position for a while, and thought about...well, what I actually thought about was telling Josh to go get the car and see if we could surreptitiously tow it home. We could put it behind the house. I can see the conversation when Diana gets home:
"What's that?"
"It's a tree, sweetie."
"A tree?"
"A fliegerabwehrkanone tree."
"When did you get it?"
"We've always had a tree in the back, hon."



Saturday, April 27, 2013

Battle of Montgisard

Broke out GMT Games' Infidel, which I've had for a while, and put counters on the board for the Montgisard scenario. Historically, in 1177, a tiny Crusader force under the sixteen-year-old King of Jerusalem, Baldwin the Leper, came across a much larger invading Saracen force under Saladin. The Saracens were tired from marching and unprepared for battle. Although outnumbered by something like 6 to 1, the Crusaders merely paused for a quick prayer, then attacked. With the King leading the attack personally, they broke through the whole Saracen army, destroying 90% of it and nearly catching Saladin himself. The game AAR went pretty much the same way.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Communism vs Capitalism

On April 17, a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, blew up, with over 160 casualties. I've heard people saying "The explosion happened because, CAPITALISM! It hadn't been inspected by OSHA since 1985 because, CAPITALISM!"

On this day in 1986--three years before the fall of the Berlin wall--the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine suffered an explosion and fire which spread contamination over much of western Europe. Over 130,000 people were evacuated; deaths from radiation exposure and cancers were estimated as at least 4000.

So disasters happen because humans are greedy, careless, ignorant, or lazy; it doesn't seem to matter much which economic system they're operating in.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Nightingale

Larry Correia, Howard Tayler and others had a Book Bomb to pump up Nightingale; the author's son was seriously injured in a skateboarding accident, and buying the book will both help with medical bills and promote the book, leading more people to buy it, thereby helping more with the medical bills.So I bought it.

I stayed up to 2am to finish it. That's not unusual, but normally I'm aware of the time. In this case, the clock somehow jumped directly from 11:29pm to 1:52am. That's pretty rare.

And as soon as I finished it, I wanted to start the sequel immediately. That's very rare, but I really wanted to know more about...not just the main character, but some of the secondary characters. What about Olivia's husband Mike? Is he a werebear? It seems unlikely, but not quite impossible. What about Father Leery, and how did he convert? How about the Weigher of Lost Souls?

Unfortunately the next book in the series isn't out yet, so I bought Million Dollar Outline and the first book of the Runelords series, and I expect to buy more of his work.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Productivity

The #1 reason why most people aren’t productive, isn’t that they’re not exercising – it’s that they don’t know what to do. They don’t know what to do because they haven’t decided what they’re going to do. They’re either waiting for a cue from someone or simply mulling over the pros and cons of the decisions over and over and over. --Joel Runyon

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dragonfruit

I expected dragonfruit to be a little more colorful. The outside certainly lives up to that; it looks like a red and green flame. The inside, however, is fish-white, with a speckle of black seeds. The taste is bland--something like a mix of cucumber and kiwi, but watered down.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher

"A man's right to work as he will, to spend what he earns, to own property, to have the state as servant and not as master--they are the essence of a free economy, and on that freedom all our other freedoms depend."

--Margaret Thatcher, from a speech in 1975, later Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Birthday party

Had my semi-surprise birthday party today -- moved back a week to deconflict with Easter. "Semi-surprise" because I knew there would be a party, and Diana showed me the list of potential guests; but I didn't figure out where it would be until a day or two before, and I mostly didn't know who would be able to attend. As it turned out, we had Diana and Josh; Mom and Dad; Tabitha, Chris, Ian, Kathleen, Emma, and Luke; Willa; people from work, Jimmy, Georgette, Robin, Desiree, Rob Cass; people from church, Charlie and Margaret Pittman, Bob and Maureen Kolstee; friends from previous jobs, Barbra, Mike Sahib and Rebecca Kowalski; gamers Tracy Johnson, John Andros; dentist Mary Dooley (how many people have their dentist come to their party?); neighbor Ella, and Mario from Taco Loco.
The cake image from a "put your face here" board with a Royal Navy uniform, taken in Madeira when we were there five years ago. Little did I know....
After the party dispersed, Tracy and Josh and I came back to the house and went through the introductory scenario for Conflict of Heroes: Kursk. In the evening, Mom, Josh, Diana and I taught Willa how to play Skip Bo, with the usual warning about Mom's underhanded idiosyncratic local interpretation of the rules.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fifty

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."
C S Lewis

Sunday, March 24, 2013

To DC and Back

Josh and I drove to DC for a Close Action battle with Mark Campbell. There was no snow while we were in DC, but it started snowing before we got to Fredericksburg, was covering the ground at Ashland, and was at "drive at 10-20mph and don't change lanes lest you slide" around Richmond. Cars spun out about every mile or so, some in ways with really made you question how they could manage to get that far off the road; and a lot of people were driving with their flashers on, as if the rest of us might not be aware of the snow. The road got a little clearer around Williamsburg but still had snow and ice all the way to the Bridge Tunnel; once we got to Norfolk, it was all rain. Overall, the weather added an hour or more to the trip--but seeing the trees all covered in winter white was well worth it.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Table

Got a new table for the dining room.

More accurately--we got a wargame-sized table ! The previous one was 32x42, not sufficient for a decent sized map. This one is 42x72--not huge, but big enough for a respectable battle.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring and Snow

On the second day of Spring, we get....snow. None of it stuck, but I Am Offended.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sales

Made my whole month's budget  with three sales today. Woot! Given that I already had a couple of decent sales, I've caught up for the shortfall in February. Yay!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Caving

I asked Josh what he wanted to do together while Diana was in Montreal, and he said he wanted to see some of the caves in the Shenandoah, so that's what we did. Drove up to Harrisonburg Friday night after work, talking with Josh about our D&D characters and having a good time; then in the morning (after a breakfast of waffles with sausage gravy), we headed north up I-81 to Shenandoah Caverns. It had snowed a couple of days before, and while the roads were clear, there was still snow on the mountain sides.
The Shenandoah tour was about an hour long, with Josh and I and two other people, and a fifteen year old freshman girl as the guide. The main things that struck me about this cave system was that it was bigger than I expected--more open space, only a couple of places where we had to mind the overhead, nowhere that we had to squeeze to get through--and it was wet. I'd thought it was from snowmelt and the rain of the preceding week, but the other caves didn't have nearly as much water. This one had plenty of opportunities for "cave kisses", which is what it's called when a droplet lands on you. They're supposed to bring good luck for a day, or a week, or a year, depending on which tour guide is telling you the tale. Made the loop, back to the elevator, up to the lobby, and away.
On to Luray, with a stop for camera batteries. Luray had tours going every fifteen minutes or so, and our tour had about 45 people in it. Same thing, draperies and stalactites and stalagmites and pools and such. There is a chasm, maybe 90 feet deep, along the pathway around Pluto's Ghost, and it's easy to imagine going over the edge (if the railing weren't in the way) and sliding down and being stuck there, with the goblins or the shuggoths or the creeping dark, whatever may be there. We didn't hear any drums, though. It was a long flight of stairs coming back up.
We drove down the valley to Grottoes, Virginia, home of Grand Caverns--not terribly well marked with signs, but we found it. This tour had around 15 people, and the guide was a college history student who seemed to be interested in the caves rather than just doing a job. Grand Caverns had another type of formation, called shields, and the whole cavern was in rock that was turned sideways--the strata were vertical instead of horizontal. Presumably the rock rotated during mountain building. Generally our guide interspersed cavern info with jokes--"here are the signatures from Civil War soldiers who were here. Since our cave got protected status, it's illegal to write on the walls now, and if you do it, you get a big fine....but I get a thousand dollar reward for turning you in, so let me know if you need a Sharpie", and "hat's a shield formation, the disc that looks like a pizza, extra cheesy, just like my jokes"--but there was one piece of really good showmanship. The guides turn the lights off as you leave an area, so algae doesn't grow. In this case, we come to a corner, and the way ahead is unlit. The guide tells us what he's going to do, then lights a candle and turns off the lights; it's impossible to see more than about twenty feet, anything beyond that just fades into darkness. And then he blows out the candle, and it's dark, dark, dark, and he talks for a minute or so, and it's completely black...and then the lights burst on for the hallway ahead, 300 feet long and 100 feet high, and impressive. Nicely done.
Near the end / beginning of the cave there are a couple of tiny bats, hibernating. At the entrance, there is a wildlife display with an otter, hawk, a couple of owls, and a black bear. Josh posed for a couple of "Bear with Bear" pics. And then we drove home. Good time together.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Excellence

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
--Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Costa Rica Day 5

Up at 6:15am -- which sounds rough, but it's Central time and also we've been going to sleep early, since the  nightlife is pretty quiet. Breakfast at 7am, the driver picks us up at 7:30 and we head off to our excursion, with a long detour to pick up people from the Marriott, which is part of a huge gated private property. The driver shows us one house and tells us that it's Michael Jordan's, "although he's rarely here". We pick up Richard and Cathy (from Atlanta) and Rick and Loreen (from Boston)--I think Rick is Richard's son although I don't think anyone quite said that--and head for the zipline.  One the way, we see a funeral, with about 40 people walking down the road, carrying a coffin; it's not a formal slow march, and the men carrying it trade out with others from the crowd. The coffin has a peach colored cover; as best I can see as we drive by, it looks like faux fur.
We arrive at Pura Aventura. Our guides are Orlando--who's rather short but otherwise looks like any surfer back home--plus several who are more Mayan looking, including "Carlos Santana", "Perrito", and a couple of others. The ranch here is 1400 acres, and looks a lot like Appalachian farmland except a bit more flat land, not as hilly; we take a truck across the ranch and up the hill. Orlando gives us a demo of how the zipline works. There are two cables, one above the other; the pulleys lock between them. Your harness goes around your thighs to make a seat. You get a glove with a heavy leather pad; you keep your trailing hand in a ring around the cable, and pull down on the cable to brake. Other than that, it's just lean back, pick up your feet and away you go! Loreen is pretty scared at first but Orlando rides in tandem with her for a couple of lines until she can cope with going solo. They have "eleven zip lines plus a surprise." The longest line is 600 meters, and several of them are quite high up. The view, at least for a first timer, is not spectacular: you're above the trees and can see through the hills to the ocean, at the right moment; but you're also going pretty fast, and there's no way to stop and stare. And you're preoccupied trying to keep your harness from twisting, and braking, and not losing your glasses to the wind. The real attraction is just to be able to say "I rode the zipline!" Some of the lines are long, some  pretty short, sometimes we get down from a platform and walk around the hilltop to the next station. The "surprise" at the end is that your last line brings you to a platform about 30ft off the ground, and you have to rappel down. Off you go, and there's enough freefall for your stomach to say, "Wait, what?" before the belay brakes you.
On the drive back from the hill to the tour HQ / snack bar, we see a troop of howler monkeys in the trees, and an iguana sunning on a tree trunk. At the snack bar, we meet the Oregonian couple who run the place for the owner, and have mora (blackberry) and piƱa (pineapple) smoothies. Heading back to the hotel, we pass some bulls; our driver tells us a little about the Costa Rican version of bullfighting, which sounds more like playing tag with the bull. Our driver has a scar on his cheek, which he says is from a bull's horn.
Lunch is tilapia and fruit salad, plus fries. Diana tells Mac, the older waiter, than we're leaving tomorrow; he's very sympathetic with our reluctance to leave. After that, some time in the pool, a couple's massage, and then back to the bungalow to pack and write out the diary. Our writing is interrupted by crashing in the trees out back, as howler monkeys move through the trees. "Did you see the baby monkey?" "No, the banana tree is in the way"--not the sort of conversation I'd ever expected to have.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Costa Rica Day 4

The beach right in front of the hotel is mostly sand, but a little west there are rocky spots; we go there in the morning and snorkel around the rocks, looking for fish. One small electric blue one, several that were yellow and black striped, one pink fish about 18" long, and a couple of little speckled brown and sand ones that see me coming closer but stay put, trusting in their camouflage. As we get out and head back to the hotel, we go past a guy on the beach with a fishing pole. It occurs to me "I could tell him where some fish are, behind those rocks; but I went in the water and found those fish and saw them up close. I'm not telling him that those fish are there."
Back at the hotel we have a dip in the pool; there are little pink flowers on the water, blown down from one of the trees by last night's winds.
We talk with Jorge, who handles reservations and answered a lot of questions for us before we came. He is pleasant and genuine, all smiles.  In the gift shop we get a brown tee shirt for Josh, plus some jams: dragonfruit, lemon jelly, passionfruit, and pica pica salsa. We arrange a zip line tour for Sunday, then pick up some jewelry from a beach vendor, a puka necklace for me and an orange-red for for Diana.
We walk into town, about a kilometer. No sidewalks most of the way, we're just going along the edge of the road until except for a few blocks of central Tamarindo. As we're coming into town, there's a girl walking along on the other side of the road, wearing shorts and a bikini top; a local guy on a scooter calls out "Aye oo!" as he drives by her, and she gives a little wave to acknowledgement the compliment. There are a few girls walking around with just bikinis, no coverups--and a couple of them have a palpable attitude of "Look At Me, I Am Being Sexy"--but most girls have something over their bikinis, and the guys are in board shorts rather than speedos. In the grocery we buy amaretto cake, banana cake, a couple of bottles of juice, snack cakes called Tuaregs. We stroll through town, visiting a couple of shops where Diana can buy clothes. The clerks here are mostly local girls, and they're notably short--some of them not up to shoulder height on me.  Dinner at Copacabana; Diana has Thai, I have "trio typico", which is nacho chips, black beans and corn in the center, and around the outside are pico de gallo, "cream cheese" which is thinner than our cream cheese but thicker than sour cream, and guacamole. Pretty good, and about the only thing on the menu that's "Costa Rican", although they have spaghetti and hamburgers and Thai and Hawaiian mahi mahi and such.
We walk back to the hotel by way of the beach, looking at the sunset, fiery in front of us, fading to violet over the hills to our right, and then the stars come out.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Costa Rica Day 3


Up at 6am, breakfast at 7am, into the tour van at 7:30. There’s another couple there, Michael and Barbara ; they’re 62, Audobon members from Baltimore. Our driver is Heiner (“call me Goose”), tall and very personable.  Heiner is quite proud of his country, and talked about their medical system, the education available, new investments in call centers and computer manufacturing. It seems he works a lot of hours, at least during tourist season, but he has a great sense of humor and he really seems to enjoy his work. He told us: “No worries, no rush, no rules”--if we want to stop along the way, for coffee or shopping or to look at something that catches our attention, we can, no problem.
We drive past Liberia and see a volcano—the clouds at the top may have been just regular clouds caught on the mountaintops,but there were half a dozen steam plumes around the base.  Then we go to a roadside restaurant where we put in our lunch order, then along a back road to a bridge, down the bank to the water. The boat is a rubber raft with a pair of outriggers at the stern for oars. We travel down the river for two hours, mostly smooth water although there are a few rapids—tame ones, though, nothing where you have to worry about flipping the boat. Lots of birds: kingbird , tiger heron, cattle egret, osprey, sand piper, parrot, small blue heron, and anhinga. We see  termite nests in trees, howler monkeys,  iguanas, crocodiles, and little basilisk lizards, which are also called Jesus Christ lizards because they run across the top of the water. One of the crocs looks like a mere log downstream from us, but moving across the river; he’s to the bank and  hidden by the time we reach him. The other is sunning on a log, and for all I could tell, might be a concrete croc put there to be sure the tourists saw something. I don’t think it actually was concrete, though—if I understood Melvin correctly, the river rises 4 meters in rainy season, and I imagine the log would be washed away. 

Halfway through the tour Melvin grounds us on a bank and cut up a pineapple for us, fresh, sweet, delicate flavor; canned pineapple is only a very poor and distant relation. That pineapple really deserves its own post. It is fantastic.

We come to the landing point--having only seen a couple of fishermen along the whole stretch of the river--and depart for the restaurant. Lunch is casados, and grilled chicken which is much improved by the salsa Heiner recommends, which gives it something of a curry taste. We pause for a bit at a gift shop to get tee shirts and souvenirs and coffee. On the way back to the hotel, Heiner gets word from his boss that there had been a serious accident which blocked the main road, so we'd have to get back to Tamarindo by the old road. Which is the former main road, but it's unpaved, not graded nearly often enough, with clouds of dust, very bumpy, and the line of tourist vans are snaking back and forth to avoid huge potholes. Heiner says "Now you know why Costa Ricans are so happy--any time we drive somewhere, we get a massage!" But he is also mindful that some of the other vans had newly arrived tourists, and it bothers him that their first ride through the countryside isn't making a good impression. He's a great guide.

Back at the hotel, we have an early dinner, an outdoor shower, and a nap. In the evening, there is "folkloric dancing" on the beach, with the men dressed in white with pink or orange sashes, and cowboy hats; the girls have their hair up and wear long yellow dresses.