Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Yesterday was Christmas, and Ma asked me to write a post about it, so here goes:

For Christmas, Grandma Linda came down to visit us and share the holiday cheer :) .  Of course that is exciting for everyone, because grandmas are like that.

Lots of gifts were exchanged, the best one, I think, was a pair of overalls for me. I've been wanting overalls for a REALLY long time.  Some other memorable gifts are:

  • A bike stand for Daddy
  • A pair of awesome earrings for Ma that I made
  • A stripy sweater for me
  • A pair of fancy bike shoes for Ma
  • My school photograph for Grandma Linda
  • Adventure food for all of us
  • The LEGO 4x4 Crawler, given to me by Santa Claus
  • Fancy cat food/treats for the cats
  • More iPad games for all of us

Tomorrow we are heading up to Gramma Eileen and Grampa Jack's house to visit relatives there.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

MacBeaky the Treetopper

Nimue has been working hard on an ornament for the top of our tree this week, and finally finished it last night.  Meet MacBeaky.  MacBeaky has been driving me crazy.  If you really want to bug Nimue, call him a turkey. (As in "Just put the last layer of paint on the turkey so I can have the kitchen counter back!")

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Heading into Christmas

A few things for the you all, now that I've wrapped everything except for the item that was unknowingly ordered from Europe and won't get here in time.

Nim and I had a candy-making spree on Saturday, and she hasn't stopped bouncing since.  It's something about the sheer quantity of chocolate on the counter, I think.
Clockwise from top:  Coconut Bonbon, Nimue's Extreme Mint, Pecan Fudge, and Peanut Butter Square

The bi-yearly band concert.  Nimue played "Flos ut rosa floruit",  a medieval conductus that I transposed for piccolo, accompanied by her friend Clarissa on the bass drum.

She also enjoyed playing the woodblock in "Aztek Sunrise" (second from left in photo below).

Nimue had a choir concert too, but stupid Ma forgot the recorder and thus couldn't bootleg a recording.

Monday, December 17, 2012

On the street

We've had a number of interesting things to watch on the street out in front of the house lately.  First they chewed up the pavement: ("Nimue, you need to leave for school RIGHT NOW, or you won't get out...")

leaving it looking like this for weeks.  (Bad for bikes)

Then one random day I was stuck because of this
which at least improved the road surface enormously.

This morning, as Chad was leaving, he came back in:  "There's a fire down the street."

Indeed.  An electrical fire tried to turn the power pole into a torch.  I watched for a while as the fire department and PG&E arrived.  The PG&E guy was lifted up by the crane in the truck until he could reach whatever he was after with the end of his long pole, at which point the top of the pole lit up like a giant sparkler and all the flames and sparks from the bottom went out.  The fire department then sprayed everything down as commute traffic turned into the maze of streets to the sides in an attempt to get around the mess.

At least it has been wet out.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I knew there was a reason I had saved all the worn-out stripey socks!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Accidental Century

I kind of sort of accidentally rode 102 miles on Monday.  It was only supposed to be 40-50 miles and flattish.  However, at the turn-around point at the end of Canada Road, it was warm and sunny, so I headed down the Sawyer Creek Trail.  Ditto at the end of that section, so off to the end of the San Andreas Reservoir trail.  At that point, I was 40 miles from home, one thing led to another, and pretty soon, I was heading down the hill towards SFO to pick up the Bay Trail.  At some point, I realized if I kept the same pace up, I'd hit 100 miles around the time that Nimue was going to get out of band, so of course I had to add the bonus miles at the end to make that happen...

Many entertainments over that route included:

Wile E. Coyote's mailbox.

Riding under the spaghetti tangle of ramps going into SFO.  It is surprisingly easy to get through the airport on a bike, and I even saw helpful signs directing one towards airport bike parking.

Views of airplanes from the edge of the SFO runway, a helicopter taking off at the airport near the Hiller air museum, and low-flying small planes from the Palo Alto airport.  

A neighborhood of houseboats.

Lots of what Nimue refers to as "water chickens".

Almost getting doored near Mountain View High School at mile 99 (I was distracted looking at the giant construction project they've started).

Helping a small boy (maybe 4 years old) pick himself up after a scooter crash at the bottom of the bike bridge over 85.  His mom was way up the bridge out of sight, as he had apparently careened out of control to the bottom.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Photo keeps showing up

My picture of Ravenswood Open Space Preserve keeps showing up everywhere, including here this morning.  (The 4th one in the slideshow, labelled January Morning)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Walk and Roll in the Rain

Every month, as part of the Walk and Roll to School program, I put up a new set of Burma-Shave-style signs along the fences on the way into Nim's school.  This month's signs, as the weather is changing:

Rain is coming
We are tough
Put on your coats
Strut your stuff!

Walk and Roll to School

I was heartened today to see that despite the rain pouring down, there were still pedestrians and cyclists streaming toward the school.  The self-propelled population has really increased over the last couple of years.  By and large, people looked pretty cheery -- kids seemed to be finding great novelty in their umbrellas, rubber boots, raincoats, and the like; parents were still smiling and greeting each other despite the spray.  A little rain is Not Really a Big Deal if you have a coat and the right mindset.

And we didn't even have to resort to the rude version of the signs that Nimue wanted to make:

Rain is coming
Please be tough
Stop your whining
Get off your duff!

On my way back to the house, I amused myself observing the commute cyclists on their way to work.  Some of them were in full storm gear, others just a jacket and extra lights.  One had a plastic garbage sack, one was in shorts.   (I guess your clothes don't get wet if you are not wearing them.)   Recumbent trailer dad gets the toughness award, in my book.

On the last approach to the house, there was one more very fit, yet relaxed-looking cyclist with a bright headlight and a cheery blue jacket -- after a moment I realized he was my trusty spouse heading off to work.  He wins the "Rain?  What rain?" award  due to the aura of sheer mellowness that surrounded him as the traffic splashed by  :)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Breaking Thanksgiving

We ran away for Thanksgiving this year and went camping at Arroyo Seco.  


fabricated "Ye Olde Roasting Spitte".

 We still had a kid table,

but also a kid tree.

I made everyone sample madrone berries when we marrched up the canyon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Athol vise cleanup

Many of my planned (and ongoing) projects necessitate a big machinist's vise. When you really need to clamp something securely, only a big honkin' chunk of iron will do. Sadly, the vast majority of the vises sold today are either cheap Chinese crap, or are made in the US or western Europe and are horrendously expensive. We're talking an order of magnitude difference in cost, at least. Yes, you get what you pay for, and quality costs, and it's in increasingly short supply and so it costs even more. There's an opportunity here for the Asian manufacturers - but somehow, the quality of the iron castings coming from China just aren't up to the task. Fortunately, if you can't quite stomach paying $600 or more for what is essentially a big C-clamp, there's always the used market.

I started perusing E-Bay and Craigslist and other sources, but typically found Chinese junk (being sold for prices surprisingly close to retail, oddly) or, if an actual quality vise, the sellers knew something of its worth, and it wasn't that much of a deal.

The going rate for a good old US-made vise is considered to be about $1/lb, if the condition is good. I suspect that rate really pertains to vises found at garage sales and the like, though, because I never saw one online for that low a price. Once someone has taken the trouble to advertise it online, they probably are seeking to make more from the sale than if they just sold it on the street...

Having poor luck in the online quest, I put the word out to my in-laws in rural Washington, who are not  unlikely to come across something like this. I soon received word that a likely-seeming object was found lurking under a workbench in their garage. As soon as a more complete description was sent, I started to get my hopes up - as the name on the side of the grungy old vise was "Athol" and that was music to my ears!

Athol's vises are considered some of the highest quality ever made. Athol made vises in Athol, Massachusetts - under their own name until 1905, and under Starrett for a long time thereafter. Thus, if the vise is labeled Athol and not Starrett, it pre-dates the 1905 merger. This would be one such.

When the heavy chunk of iron arrived in my garage, it was pretty grimy - but in remarkably good condition, for something so old and well-used. The jaws have a few grooves and nicks, but are straight; there's no rust; the handle is straight. With some disassembly, cleanup, and lubrication, it looks pretty good and works very smoothly. It has at least another 100 years in it.

In case anyone else is looking for information on this particular vise (an Athol 613-1/2, fixed-base, 3-1/2 inch jaws, about which I've found very little on the internet) following are some of the details.

The handle and screw come out with the removal of a cotter pin, accessed from below. There's a bushing on the handle end, followed by a spring, another bushing, then the pin (1/8 in x 1 in).

The thread in my vise was in great condition!

The plating on the handle is mostly gone, there's a little pitting but otherwise good. The handle is completely straight, unusual on a vise... and a good sign it hasn't been abused. There's some remaining grime shown here that I subsequently cleaned up.

A little cleanup with degreaser and some wire-brushing brought the finish back.

The machined surfaces were all in great condition. The vise thus has very little slop.

 This is the underside of the sliding jaw - the bushings, spring, and cotter pin are accessed through the upper hole in the photo.

Installed in my garage, ready for use!

Big thanks to Jack and Eileen for finding, and then going to the trouble of boxing and shipping, this beautiful old vise! It will get lots of use here, and I love having a piece of American history in my shop.

5th Anniversary Weekend

To celebrate 5 years of being a "Country of Three", we had a fun weekend at home for our anniversary.  Here are a few highlights:

Sat: Wine bottling party at Chateau d'Hitz.  Always a fun event, and I was amused that people kept coming up to me saying "I saw you in the paper."  Apparently, a picture of me from the grape picking and stomping party made it into the Los Altos paper; you can find all the pictures from the events that the photographer took here.  (Yes, it is me in the orange shirt right up at the top.)

We went home to a delicious beef stew that had been maturing in the crock pot all day. Who knew acorns braised in beef broth could be so good?  

Sun:  Family cooking day.  On the menu were

Crudites with Nimue's special SuperYummy dip
Roasted tomato and leek ricotta tart
Roast duck with cracklings a la Julia Child 
Sweet dumpling squash stuffed with cranberry bean rice pilaf
Zucchini boats stuffed with parsnip puree
Mmmmm.  Yummy stinky cheeses
Chocolate almond tart with creme fraiche and pomegranate seeds

Post dinner we played an entertaining board game while the cat sat in the box.

Mon: Fine hike at Joe Grant County Park.  Chad took a gazillion photos, I enjoyed the oak-studded grassy hillsides, and Nimue sang songs, made faces, and generally tried to keep up.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Proof there was snow on Hamilton

It got cold and wet.  I was curious whether Mt. Hamilton got a dusting of snow last night, but the top was shrouded in cloud and I couldn't see it.  Naturally, this meant I needed to ride up it to find out...
Just a bit, and it was melting off quickly by the time I made it up to the top on the heavy bike (better traction than the light bike, and cargo capacity for extra clothes for the descent), but snow nonetheless!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

More Fall Exploration

I love Fall around here. The only problem is that by this time of the year, I start to get bored of all of the normal riding, so have to go exploring paths less travelled.  Here are a few good ones from the last couple of weeks:

  • Explored a maze of dirt roads through Little Basin on my way up to the Eagle Rock lookout.

I never would have found this except for the trail of breadcrumbs left on Ray Hosler's blog.  The yellow gate is the key way in, the grades are periodically steep (> 20%, with loose traction on leaves!), and there was one brief unrideable section by an old landslide.  I derive great delight from finding these bits that aren't on any of my maps :)

  • Dragged Nim out on a hike on the Ipiwa trail at Skyline Ridge.  This is a lovely trail that I don't find myself on very often as it doesn't allow bikes.  (Bikes diverted onto a nasty steep fireroad instead; I hate this.)

  • Finally got around to poking around Morrill and Wright's Station Roads.  These allow a delightful out-and-back bonus climb off of Summit Road in the same general vicinity as many other roads that we like. And there is a little bit of dirt to enjoy before the final gate barring you from water district land.

(Back side of Mt. Umunhum; the road I just mentioned drops into the hole between these ridges.)

  • Accidentally turned a 6 mile hike into an 11 mile hike due to the fact that a new trail presented itself.  I was just planning on doing a reasonable loop at Rancho San Antonio, but there's always been a spot at the top of that loop that looked like there might be a use trail leading through the chaparral up the ridge in the general direction of Black Mountain.  Previous investigation of maps made it look like a potentially nasty steep bushwhack through private property, so I've always been able to resist -- but this time there was clearly a lot of recent trail work and an official sign.  I couldn't resist.

Views from the trail.  I did start at roughly the lowest elevation pictured, and continued up several hundred feet more from where I had the camera out.
 Scrub jay.  He kept posing and then flitting away.

The cat, on the other hand, has decided it is cold, and has started searching out cozy places in which to hide.  Though creaky joints and tired muscles may induce me to follow suit, it's still too much fun to be outside instead!