Thursday, December 30, 2010

Highlight of the Week

Poor hungry cyclist Ma rolls off the hill after an idyllic sunny CA winter ride, stops to pick up kiddo from cooking camp. On arrival, presented with warm pastry filled with savory creamed turkey with peppers, followed by a cinnamon roll. Mmmmmmm......

The Young Chef's Academy is highly recommended; Nim quite enjoyed her 3-morning camp this week. Plus, they appear to do Friday kid cooking nights so parents can go out :)

Woe of the Week

The cat seemed off earlier this week -- not really eating or drinking, grumpy, and yowly if you dared pet her hindquarters. I took her to the vet yesterday; they found and drained a large gooey abscess on her tail. Poor kitty! One suspects Bad Bobber had something to do with it. I get to irrigate the wound twice daily, holding Mariam down with my famous "clamp the cat down between your legs" technique. (Poor Ma). The tubes come out tomorrow, which will make the whole thing seem a bit less grotesque.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Holidays in pictures

In the holiday aftermath, here are a few pictures for you all to enjoy:

Nimue's concert; she's the second kid in the back row, unable to keep still.

Taking notes about the airport art; in pajamas due to the redeye to Boston.

Not enough sleep on the plane; lucky Nim slept in the car up to Maine.

Poking ice in the woods with the best walking stick ever.

Interesting imprint in the ice after Nimue peeled up a frozen leaf.

Fun with Gran and Grandad.

Snow! Fortunately enough to be fun but not so much as to cause trouble driving.

Fun with cousins in Rockport.

Waiting for the hours-late airplane home, in an exceedingly cute hat.

Christmas at home. Yay!

Post-Christmas hike. We love CA.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Forget the cookies and milk -- Santa and the reindeer get CARROTS from us. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best Laid Plans

Every year, it is interesting to observe the pattern of holiday card arrival. They almost always catch me off guard. How can it possibly be December again? I'm quite sure it's still supposed to be September.

Then the guilt to catch up and send out one's own cards sets in. Usually I don't even have cards by the time the card from my aunt Bobbie showed up. Her card was traditionally the harbinger of the Christmas season; the last couple of years, cards from a couple of others have rivalled her card's usual first-week-in-December arrival date (but I still think of hers as the first).

Over the next two months, we watch the rest trickle in. To date, the usual pattern is that ones from the older generation of the family show up first, followed by friends from high school, followed by college and grad school friends without kids, followed by all other friends and siblings with kids.

Somewhere in there, I send out ours, and have resigned myself to the fact that they are more often than not New Years cards. Happy Holidays is a generic sort of wish that doesn't have to be rigorously tied to the 25th of December, right?

There are some in my acquaintance who happily maintain that theirs are Chinese New Year cards. I respect this :)

This year, however, I succumbed to a "50% Off All Holiday Photo Cards" offer back before Thanksgiving, madly looked through our year as documented by photos while the offer was still good, and put in an order. They arrived, miraculously, before anyone sent us their Christmas cards. I felt smug and ahead of the game. This is the year we send out cards that actually arrive before Christmas! Of course, life is busy and I set them aside, to be buried under piles of stuff to deal with in the office.

For 2010, a second-cousin-in-law-umpty-times-removed card showed up first, followed by several of Chad's friends, followed by my aunt. Ok. If I have the cards, I should just get 'em out, right? I threatened to write a terse holiday letter in the form of a haiku, at which point Chad produced a lovely summary of our year's events. Woo hoo -- let's hear it for teamwork!

Skip tedious part about finding list, marvelling at the length, and then browbeating small child to sign all letters. The rest will be easy.

Not so easy. Something seemed funny about the pile of envelopes as I worked through all the addresses this afternoon. It was oddly small. Quite small. Twenty envelopes short of the number of cards small. Aargh!!!! My normal paranoia about others screwing things up did not extend to counting the Christmas card envelopes when they showed up (I did count the cards themselves, though...) My plans to get everything out on time risk being thwarted!

The upshot: If your card shows up in a bizarre envelope that doesn't seem right, it's because in my determination to actually get things out on time this year, I pillaged all the rogue leftover envelopes from Christmases past to round up a quorum for this year. To the point of shaving half a millimeter off of two cards to fit into the last two slightly-too-small envelopes to make it work. It's not my fault, really. We wish you all the best, and trust that you realize that it's the thought that counts. Plus, most of you realize by now that everything I do is slightly scruffy :)

Merry Christmas / other Winter Solstice Holiday of Choice to all! We hope to see you in the new year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sledding in SF

Nimue found some unexpected fun in San Francisco yesterday afternoon, along with the planned fun of dinner out at paul k (highly recommended) and the San Francisco Nutcracker (also quite good -- though, for me, not as shockingly amazing as seeing John Adams conduct his oratorio El Nino at the symphony the previous week).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bike Camping in the Rain

Our original Thanksgiving holiday camping plans having been clobbered by the villainous rats, we still felt the need to get out and bike-camp a bit. However, the Prius we have on loan until the truck gets fixed can't really carry bikes. Thus, we needed a bike ride that would start and finish from our house, but there are precious few campgrounds withing reasonable pedaling distance of the Anna+Nimue tandem team.

The best choice seemed to be a campout at Joseph D. Grant park. We've hiked there a few times, but had not yet camped; it's a pretty park, about 25 miles from our house, and they had a spot open. We'd depart on Friday, camp that night, and come home Saturday.

"There's some precipitation that might come in Saturday afternoon" warned my charming wife. No problem, I replied, we'll be almost home if it does start to sprinkle.

We've found on previous bike voyages with the three of us, that we have two fairly evenly matched bikes if I take all the gear, and Anna gets Nimue and the tandem. Soon enough, Nimue will be putting out more than her share of power on a continuous basis, but for now it's kind of intermittent, and she does weigh 65 lbs now! With the added bulk of winter-time clothing and sleeping bags, I quickly found my bike equipped with both front and rear panniers, plus the trailer... and hoping my gearing would be low enough for the hill.

Did I mention the hill? Oh yes, Joe Grant park lies halfway up the climb to Mt. Hamilton, one of the favorite big mountain rides in our area. It's not a steep climb, without a burden, but we were about to find out what it feels like toting an extra 60-some-odd pounds.

As it turns out, it's not that bad. We had a nice, mostly-flat ride from our house through Santa Clara and San Jose, winding our way over towards the hill. The key to getting across the valley on bikes is figuring out where to cross the freeways. Anywhere south of Sunnyvale, bike/pedestrian over/under-crossings of the freeways are almost nonexistent. The routes that do go over the freeways are mostly treacherous high-speed, multi-lane, cars-only affairs... fortunately, Anna has scoped them out thoroughly on her previous rides to teach at the schools in the area, so she picked crossings as good as can be found, and on an almost-holiday Friday the traffic was very light.

My heavily-laden rig was entertaining to keep going in a straight line at first -- I'm used to towing the trailer, or carrying rear panniers, or a small load on the front, but not the combination of all of them! Small changes in grade (imperceptible to the eye) made themselves known immediately through the pedaling effort. Once we started up the hill, and I dropped into lowest gear, I figured I'd be able to pedal all the way up to the park without trouble, but knew that I'd work up a good sweat in getting there.

I was happy enough to see the park entrance, but the views out across the valley on the ride up the hill were great. There was a last steep pitch getting into the campground, that pretty well used up what was left in my legs at the moment. We had a nice campsite tucked on the side of a scenic oak-covered hill. Sadly, the campground host had left for the season, so no firewood was to be had, and it quickly was turning chilly in the absence of internally-generated heat from our earlier pedaling efforts.

We huddled around a little stove and made some hot tea, and got the tent put together. Anna and Nimue played a vigorous game of scrabble, while I took a warm-up rest in the sleeping bag.

You know you did a good job packing when, after arriving at your campsite and getting set up, all the bags from the bike (or backpack) are empty... we quickly reached that state, as every item of clothing found its way onto our bodies. We cooked up some soup for dinner, along with more hot tea and cocoa... as a light wind was coming up, we dove into the warmth of the tent as soon as dinner was finished. I think we got in the tent by 7 pm, and were asleep by 8. The stars were out, clear and bright.

At 5 am, the rain started. Lightly at first, just a sprinkle. But it gained energy as the morning dawned, and I worried how dry the tent would keep us. It's just a little backpacking tent, for two really, with two adults and a (growing, and sometimes wiggly) kid stuffed in there... By 7ish it was really pouring, but the tent was keeping the water out.

There was a break in the rain around 8, and while the girls made a run for the restroom I took advantage of the now-extravagant spaciousness of the tent to get everything inside it packed up. We then folded up the soaking tent, and loaded the bike while cooking up oatmeal for our breakfast. Just as we started eating, the rain picked up again... but having the gear packed, I really didn't mind too much. I knew that soon enough, we'd be back on the road and pedaling, and I much prefer that to just standing around in the rain. Somehow, the addition of motion makes the rain much more tolerable.

We did realize that our day's ride would start off with a long, wet descent, back down the hill we had climbed the day before. We left all our insulating layers on, under the waterproofs. Normally, when pedaling the bike, this would be a recipe for near-instant overheating. I knew I'd want the luxury of that warmth soon enough, though, and could take it all off when we got to the bottom.

As soon as we started out on the bikes, our moods lifted. We rolled down the hill at a good clip, and the rain even let up; the storm cleared out of the valley as we rode above it, giving us spectacular views through freshly-scrubbed air.

Once down in the valley, the rain gradually built up again, leaving us pretty well soaked but happy to arrive home where warm showers and dry clothing awaited.

We figured out, over the next couple of days, that the cold of Friday night, and the next day's soaking rain, had really used up a lot of calories, and our tasty soup-dinner represented only about 100 calories -- far fewer than we probably needed. Other than that, our rather wet little trip was a good success, helping to get the touring gear sorted out and ready for longer expeditions.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Broken Stuff Karma

Just a small rant for the morning -- this fall, everything is breaking. To date, things that have gone down include:

the main computer in the office (replaced and then resurrected as the garage computer)

my Garmin bike GPS (replaced; Chad dissected the dead one in preparation for fixing the flakiness in his)

the Roomba's bumper sensor (diagnosis/repair still in progress)

my kindle (warrantee replacement coming in the mail)

Nim of course is most upset about her wind-up whale bath toy, whose tail fell off. Waaaa.

That's not the worst of it, though.

Sunday morning, we went to start the truck, only to find that several warning lights came on. It was also running pretty rough. Given that the vehicle is still pretty new, we assumed that maybe there was some defect that would be fixed under warrantee. Maybe rain got in and fried its little brain, or something rattled loose, or the like.

Not so. Much more diabolical.

Chad got a call from the shop after they got it on the lift and the report was "Rodent chewed up cyl 3 harness"

Eh? Rats are eating the wiring in the car? To the tune of a couple thousand dollars of repair work? Devouring my tomatoes is one thing, but this is ridiculous! This means war.

On calling the car insurance, I found that "Rats ate my car's wiring" is not an unheard-of claim (and fortunately is a covered event). And of course, one can find all sorts of tales of woe/tall tales on this subject if one uses the power of Google. Apparently, rodents quite like some of the new soy-based plastics used on wiring in the last 10 or so years, if you believe everything you read.

We already know these vermin are not nesting in our yard; they have enough range to be coming from one of the larger brush-filled yards nearby. I just picked up some more traps and sent in the online request for the county vector control people to come out and investigate where the beasties are coming from.

Maybe we need a pet snake in addition to a pet barn owl. It wouldn't take care of the various broken electronics gizmos in the house, but it would be satisfying to watch the vermin be decisively defeated. Chomp.

Unfair. Argh.

Not All Bad

Despite the tenor of the previous post, most of our anniversary weekend was quite enjoyable, and full of mountain bike exploration. By far, the most interesting route was following an obscure trail out of Columbia that ran along side, or in some cases on, the Tuolumne Flume, then along an old rail grade, then on a series of little-known dirt roads heading north from Lyons Reservoir.

The next crossing was both much longer, and only had one board to walk on rather than two. Not the usual mountain biking terrain feature!

Route finding is left as an exercise for the reader, or bug Chad for the GPS trace.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Kids are sometimes irrationally terrified of things. For a while, Nimue was terrified of sea urchins, as they sometimes project a little bulbous eye-like thing on a stalk out between their spines. Unbelievably creepy -- to the point that she would run screaming out of a room if one were encountered -- until I did a little poking around on the web and was able to explain that that was the part of the urchin's anatomy used for excretion. (Bottoms are inherently funny to my small one, as mentioned in the past.)

Then it was old maps of the distorted not-quite-right "Here There Be Dragons" variety -- I still can't figure this one out, except that the juxtaposition of authoritative sources with the unknown bothers her. Most recently, we went through a spate of fear of skeletons. I was afraid that trick-or-treating would be traumatic until I hit upon the idea of routinely talking to and cracking jokes with any freaky Halloween decorations that we ran across on the way to school. "Nice to meet you, sir!" I shook hands with many, many unsold plastic skeletons at OSH before she relented and started doing it too.

For me, as a kid, the phobia was of the neighborhood Doberman. We never saw this dog. It lived behind a tall fence in the spooky corner of the neighborhood near the woods, and would bark its head off any time a kid went by. You could almost hear the feral dog slobber spraying across the fence as he paced you. I was certain it must be six feet tall with balefully glowing eyes. Older kids would tell stories of how their best-friend-from-second-grade's cousin's teacher had a bite chewed off the last time the dog got out. I was terrified.

Over the years, I've learned to suppress my inner distaste for the critters. For the most part, dogs seem to be good at following at clear expectations if your voice and body language match, so I usually force myself to relax and say "Nice dog", or perhaps "Stop!" or "Down!" if it is approaching too quickly. Even when one is on a bike and the dog has to fight its normal chase response, this is generally successful.

Occasionally when I run into a large-ish, but well-behaved dog out in public and respond with my default "Nice dog" mantra, it is misinterpreted by the dog owner as actual admiration rather than me trying to send a brain wave to the beast that it WILL be a nice dog and will NOT chomp me. "He's friendly -- go ahead and pet him" says the dog owner. "No no nono no no no no nooooooo!" says my hindbrain, as I dutifully pat the top of the head, trying to avoid the slobbery teeth. This is not what I want to do. I don't like dogs.

As it turns out, this is justified.

Chad and I were heading out on mountain bikes this weekend, riding up a hill through a rural neighborhood near Columbia on our way to a trail that runs along an old water flume when we came around a corner to see a woman walking with four large dogs. As Chad passed her, she had control of three of them while the fourth ran wild. She said something about that one not being her dog; it got all excited and started chasing Chad, who quickly outpaced it up the hill.

In cases like this, being the second rider sucks.

The dog was all raring to go, ready to chase bikes, and annoyed by the escape of the first cyclist by the time it noticed me. Charge! I rode to the other side of the road to go around it, but of course it was charging down the hill straight at me and matched every move. "Be a nice dog. Stop! Down. Nice Dog! Be a good dog! Ow!!!"

Ow? There were teeth making contact with my flank. Huh? This isn't in the script. "Be a nice dog." He let go and huffed hot breath on my calf, ran around the front of the bike, and chomped the other shin. "Stop that!!"

Meanwhile, the woman walking her other dogs was yelling at this one. Chad's impression was that she was calling it "Splitter" when he went by. I heard something slightly different. One of us must have misheard, or the name had morphed to something unprintable, which roughly translates as "One Who Defecates", by the time I was trying to avoid hitting the beast.

There's humor in the juxtaposition of her swearing at the dog and my "Stop that! Be a good dog!", not that I noticed at the time. At the end of the day, I don't think it cared what either of us were saying, but merely found the spandex-covered mouthfuls of me that it got to be unappealing enough for me to be able to escape and ride up the hill away from it.

I probably should have gotten some information from her about the dog at the time, but a quick check showed that my shorts and legwarmers had protected my legs enough that I wasn't bleeding, and I just wanted to get the heck away. Chad and I proceeded to have a lovely 40+ mile ride (more on that later). When we got back and cleaned up, there were two sets of four bruises each where the dog's canines had made contact and one small scrape where one of the teeth had almost but not quite poked in. Ow.

I did call Kaiser yesterday morning after we got home, as I was overdue for a tetanus booster anyway -- they made me come in to get it looked at, and insisted that I report the incident to animal control. Joy. I spent quite a while on the phone ("Hello, Tuolumne County Animal Control? I'd like to report that a dog with an unprintable name bit me on Yankee Hill Road..."), and had to fill out another form with the same information when I went in for my tetanus shot. Apparently a dog bite does not have to cause bleeding to count as having punctured the skin (the scrape from the pressure was enough). Fortunately, there's not been rabies in dogs in CA for quite some time. (Just don't get a bat or skunk bite.)

Funny thing, when you go to Kaiser with a dog bite, the staff are much more solicitous than normal, radiating a bizarre "Oh, you poor thing!" mien that's so strong it's almost cloying. This doesn't happen if you go in with a broken bone, sprain, or profuse bleeding from some other accidental self-induced trauma, or even if you're taking your small child in with pneumonia. It was weird -- everyone from the person on the phone, to the advice nurse, to the receptionist, to the nurse, to the doctor seemed to treat me as if I was fragile, despite all that really happened was some bruises, a scratch, and the need for a tetanus shot that was already overdue. Maybe others have the same subconscious response to dogs that I do? Or a primal response to wild-acting critters? This level of dog bite is much less of a problem than, say, breaking an ankle in the backcountry.

When I told Nimue the story, she wanted to know the dog's name; I told her that I wasn't sure, but it sounded like it might have been a bad word. "Oh, like Poopsie-Whoopsie?" she asked. Bottoms are inherently funny in the words of an 8-year-old. I'll probably remember that and crack up the next time I see a threatening canine. And start riding the other direction very, very fast.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Not bad for a rainy day

Nimue had so much fun running the Fun Run at her school a while back that we had to sign up for another event. The Title Nine 9k promised chocolate, plus it looked to be a nice route around the Palo Alto Baylands, so we were in!

Of course, being early November, it decided to rain on us. Nim and I arrived at the start early as recommended, checked out the situation, and retreated back to the shelter of the truck for about half an hour. We had to amuse ourselves by perusing the Title Nine catalog of cute but expensive stuff that was in the registration bag (evil evil temptations), as that was the only reading material in the car. About 15 minutes before the start, we got back out and huddled in the mob loosely arranging themselves at the start line. It's actually quite warm when you are in the middle of a bunched crowd of 1000 runners :)

Finally, it was 9:00, and we were off! After the usual disorganization of a bunch start, we found an open patch and Nim settled into a nice steady pace. Even though we had planned on a strategy of half mile run/1 minute walk repetitions, she decided in the heat of the moment that she wanted to run straight through, only stopping briefly at the aid stations drink and snack. Crazy determined kid did it, too!

Brief learnings:
  • Nim has decided that Gatorade is yummy and is convinced that it contains some sort of analgesic in addition to sugar and salt.
  • One's hat is less likely to blow off if you look down. (only one hat-sailing incident)
  • One can kill a lot of time for thinking of other ways one could say tailwind, especially given the fact that an 8-year-old finds words referring to one's backside to be intensely funny. Booty-wind comes to mind.
  • It's hard to eat chocolate while running.
  • A slightly chilly windy drizzle is neutralized by having a nice warm Nim hand to hold :)

All told, we went 6 miles in 1 hour, 17 minutes, and 53 seconds, over a combination of pavement, dirt, and slippery mud along the levees. My watch showed a total moving time of 1 hour 13 minutes, so our Gatorade stops were shorter than they seemed at the time.

Nimue also pointed out that the course ran in the shape of a heart:

The excellent tired kid is now splatted in the TV room watching cartoons.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More celebrations

A few more pictures from Halloween itself:

Like last year, Todd, Sarah, Cathryn, and Scott came over to share "Spooky Food".

The spider allowed Chad to sneak up on it.

Pumpkins. I'm sure I'm owed something for scooping them all out so others could decorate them.

Nimue and her haul, waaaay past bedtime.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Costume Preview

In Nimue's mind, the the creature that most epitomizes evil pestilence while still being cute is the squirrel -- so that's what she wanted to be for Halloween. It took a couple dollars worth of fabric remnants, part of an old pool noodle, some fishing line, a few safety pins, and some face paint.

Halloween Spy

We have a most excellent spider peering into our living room this week.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bike musings for the week

At 42 degrees Fahrenheit, it is cold enough to necessitate gloves for the ride into school. Nim and I discovered this the hard way this morning.

Moment of utter surprise: A Grim Cyclist in full fancy bike kit bedizened with the requisite logos riding along at a fast clip actually came out of his zone and said hi to me as he passed. I usually greet these Grim Cyclists excessively cheerfully in an effort to break through the training gloom (biking should be fun!); it usually doesn't work. This instance was especially unexpected, as I was riding slowly in mom clothes on the commute bike with fully-loaded bags on the back -- a sure indication of inanimate object status in the eyes of the typical too-too-focused Grim Cyclist. Thought I was hallucinating when he happily greeted me...

A prime candidate for Darwin in action: the Stanford student who rode out erratically in front of the truck in the dark the other night -- no lights, no helmet, flip-flops for shoes, all the while yakking on her cell phone. The truly scary thing is that this is not an uncommon occurrence around campus. You'd think they'd have more common sense. Argh.

I helped a rider who had toppled over and gotten tangled with her bike at an intersection near work the other day. Ow. Pay attention!

An entertaining read: Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling. Go find it in your library.

Most charming of all, Chad and Nimue spent quite some time together in the garage cleaning out several years of accumulated gunk from her wheels while I made dinner the other night. It seemed quite educational, and the look of joy on her face as she realized how easily everything now spins as she pedaled out the next morning was delightful. "I'm in gear five and it feels like gear two!!!"


Nimue is a triceratops. She informs me that this type of dinosaur only eats salad "kitty-style". Yet another example of our continuing Calvin-and-Hobbes-esque existence.

Who runs the universe?

The new cat has taken semi-permanent residence behind the computer, as if is her right to run the nerve center of the house. Now if only she was secure enough to make the dash to the litterbox in the garage on her own... (I have to take her there, as she's afraid the Bobber will come molest her while she's doing her business.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fat Kitty

This one's from Nimue about a year ago, but I still like it!