Sunday, July 9, 2017

a vacation in CA

Summer vacation started with a small pop this year.  The night before our flight out to California I sprained my ankle playing softball.  I didn't think it was too bad, so I kept playing-- except that I moved from my standard outfield position to first base.  As an aside, first base is really great.  I hardly had to move the rest of the game!  And we won.

Later that night my ankle hurt bad.  I wondered if I needed an airport wheelchair.  While at the airport I eyeballed that old people greedily.  But I hobbled along.  And my ankle still bothers me 2 weeks later.

I didn't take as many pictures as I should have.  Missing from this post are images from our visit to Andy and Melanie in Napa (we had Oprah-recommended english muffins that did not disappoint.  Thanks, Oprah!), our beach trip, and several days hanging out at my sister's house.  

The biggest adventure of the vacation was visiting Big Trees state park near Bear Valley.  The trees did not disappoint.  As per usual, humanity did.  The largest tree was cut down shortly after the first Euro-Americans found the grove.  The stump remains in the ground, and some very big pieces lay beside it. 
 Before we all go 'what were you thinking???!!!???' towards those guys, I'll note that several trees in the area have fallen due to natural causes.  In fact, the signs say that much of the Sierras were covered with Giant Sequias several thousand years ago.  Those trees are long since gone.  Still, did they have to cut down the absolute biggest one???

Still, they might say to us in the after-life, 'did you have to climate change the whole planet????!!!???'  So maybe we're even.

On a perhaps related note:  we drove by the now-closed Sunol Golf course.  I was jolted by the sight of dead weeds standing in place of lush grass.  I guess googlers and facebookers don't play golf?
We camped (glamped?) overnight in Grandpa's RV.  The next day, Jill and I hiked down to the Stanislaus River to see how fast the water was flowing (very fast, and very cold!) and to see if we could find a gold nugget and retire (I'll be at work tomorrow.).
 That was an 8 mile walk with ~1000` of vert.  Ankle was pretty solid.
While at Grandpa and Grandma's house, we all played a golf-based game on their practice green,rough, sand-pit.  It was on the hottest side of the house, so evening games were common.  Some days reached 105.  But we also nearly froze to death at Half Moon Bay.  Janny and I played at the edge of the waves for about 30 minutes, and then she shivered for about 2 hours.
 Grandpa has a very cool koi pond (shown below).  Bernie has an unbelievable koi pond (not shown).  We will not be getting a koi pond (there are koi in the U of I's arboretum).
Grandpa and Grandma recently bought e-bikes that Jill and I tested out.  Very fun.  I was pleasantly surprised that they rode pretty much like normal bikes with the motor off.  Picking them up to carry them over a drainage ditch made it very clear to me that they had a motor.  Very heavy!  Note Grandma's sling in the photo below:  she was injured after crashing during a ride.  Heal soon, mom!  Also, Clara won Ticket To Ride.  Janny 'helped' her, so she was happy too.
We spent several days in Fremont, and this is one of the few pictures we took.  That's big cousin Anna, who is working this summer as a life guard!  Fremont is fancy now.  I saw a Whole Foods and a See's Candies store.  Some less fancy places remain, like Big 5 Sporting Goods.
I also partook in some silicon valley technologies for the first time:
1.  I texted [on my mom's phone]
2.  I talked to Alexa (Amazon Echo).  She played a Brett Dennen song for me.

The texting was to get details for what turned out to be a pretty sizable CBNC youth group gathering (plus their kids).  Jenn and Brian, Brian and Tracy, Eve (Anthony was ill, so couldn't come.  We did get to briefly chat later in the week), Phil, Tina, and I were all in the same place at the same time.  I don't know how this happened, and it is unlikely to happen again any time soon, but it was great.  Also at the party I met a fellow MSJ alum, who is a good friend of my best friend's brother.  Brentwood:  what a place!

Thanks to Mom, Dad, Bernie and Lisa for hosting us.  We look forward to our next visit.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

post-spring break

I'm so grateful for the start of spring.  Flowers are growing in our yard and some of the smaller trees and bushes are sprouting some leaves.  I moved the figs trees from our garage to the driveway.  Evenings aren't dark until after 7p.

Winter doesn't necessarily make me sad ( I really enjoy playing in the snow and battling the elements on my bike rides to and from work).  This year the experience was more discombobulation.  I couldn't assemble a coherent story for the various pieces of this life.  Each piece was acceptable or good enough on its own, but I didn't see any bigness to it.  As a grown up with barely sufficient maturity, I continue about life despite the dizziness.  Someday, it will likely make sense again.

Parenting anecdote: this morning (Saturday), Janny came into our room at 7:15 to play and request pancakes.  Both Jill and I wanted to continue sleeping.  Every single day this past school week, I had to talk to, shake her (in the legal sense), and carry her out of bed at 7:30 to get ready for school.  She turned 6 a couple of weeks ago!

 We almost had a new adventure for spring break, but fate intervened to give us a different adventure.  We made plans to stay at a bed and breakfast along the Katy Trail in MIssouri.  We would do some short out and back rides with the kids on our tandems.  I did some measurements and some preliminary packings, determining that our trusty Protege could in fact transport 2 tandems.  I removed the forks, racks, and wheels so that only the frames would be on the car's trunk rack.

As I wrote, fate intervened so we didn't get to that adventure.  But we did visit a lake in Kentucky and took a nice hike.  On Thursday night we want to eat pizza in Cadiz.  We found pizza at 8pm in the Casey's general store (the 7/11 or Circle K of the rural midwest) and drank slushies (cherry/coke mix for Jill and Chad, cherry for Clara, and blue raspberry for Janny).  Delicious if not highbrow.  And we got to spend some good time with family.  The girls love playing with their cousins.

Clara has 2 nearly fully sprouted front teeth.  She is growing out her bangs.  She is getting so much better at reading lately -- we are so excited to see this happening.  She is slowly getting through one of the Key Finders books and reading other smaller books with ease.

I have a business trip in May to Warren, MI.  My last trip for work was probably 6 years ago ( DOE conference in a Pittsburgh exurb.  The highlight of that trip was meeting a brahman that worked in coal gas extraction (i.e., removing methane from coal deposits, initially to reduce chance of mine explosion, then (and possibly now?) a profitable business.).

I started a new group on facebook called Urbana underground.  So far, claiming the cool name is all I have done for the group.  We have 4 members.  Maybe if we had a purpose or goal, it would be attractive?

Finally, I bought another cheap, 15ish year old mountain bike.  My intention was to swap wheels with my other psuedo-mtb and sell this one.  But it's fun, so I might keep it.  Now that 26" wheeled bikes are obsolete, I'm in!  When the trend reverses (and mark my words, it will), I'll be swimming in cash.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Christmas in the new south

Happy new year everybody!

We're back in IL after spending a pleasant Christmas break with Jill's family in Nashville.  Uncle Matt's family has yet to find a new house after selling theirs just a few weeks ago, so we all stayed together at Grandpa and Grandma's house. 
(Before we left, our good friend Fereshteh stopped by for a visit.)

We all took a house hunting trip together, but didn't find 'the one'.   Interestingly to me, this adventure demonstrated a strong use case for cell phones.  The realtor gave us the address of the next house only after visiting the previous house.  Without a very detailed map (the search area was HUGE), finding the next house would have been very difficult.  However, it didn't matter because:
1.  I didn't drive (we rode with Jill's parents and the kids were with Uncle Matt)
2.  Since we were on mostly rural roads, following the realtor posed no difficulties.
But, hey, that was a real-life use case for a cell phone (besides compulsively checking social media)!  And yet, I'm still not planning to get one soon.

 Once in a great while, I feel the itch to visit an actual city.  So we braved the traffic and terrors of downtown Nashville for a day.  I did a quick search for interesting things to see and had the Belmont mansion (on the campus of Belmont U) and the Downtown Presbyterian church.  Clara didn't want to see anything, and Janny wanted to walk along the river and throw rocks into it.  So we started with the river and skipped Belmont (too far to walk from downtown).

We parked near the football stadium and walked over the  pedestrian bridge to town.  Clara was still cool on the idea of the trip until we stopped at a cafe for muffins (chocolate for Janny and blueberry for Clara).  Then Clara was happy.  Phew!  Maybe cities aren't so bad after all.

The church had an 'out to lunch' sign, so we walked around a bit more, eventually coming upon the really nice (and free!) Tennessee museum.  Clara and I played checkers (I crushed her) in the play area.  There are some really excellent paintings along with artifacts from the frontier settlers.

The Presbyterian church office worker was back at his desk and led us to the sanctuary.  The current building is the 3rd version (the first two had burned down) and was constructed around 1850 or so.  After the Union soldiers conquered Nashville, they used it as a hospital during the Civil War.  A few older photos from outside show an isolated building, whereas now it is dwarfed by the neighboring skyscrapers.
I think Enoch and Ricky won Christmas present opening because they got pocket knives.  So far only one of them has needed a band-aid.

I recently implemented 'no dessert Tuesday', which really means no dessert for anyone in the family after dinner on Tuesdays.  I am very frustrated by the kids' eating habits.  They are irritatingly picky and generally eat as little at lunch and dinner as possible so as to eat much dessert.  I'm happy to report that the kids enjoy the idea, sort of.  My theory is that living under constraints (even an arbitrary one like this) resonates with our spirits.  It feels right and is right.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

a Christmas newsletter of sorts

I took too long of a break from this blog.  So I won't cover all (any?) of the important stuff since summer came and went.  

Church-league softball (and summer itself) ended months ago.  I recall writing about the team's struggles early in the season.  I'm glad to report that we rallied back, winning the semi-final game against Vineyard Blue so that we could face Vineyard Red in the final.  The final was close and hard-fought, for 2 innings.  Then their #10 batter hit a rocket that was beyond me by the time I took two steps back.  I got to it quickly and relayed a throw toward 2nd, hoping to hold him to a double.  He was already on 3rd.  Then, the rest of their team decided they would hit (and run) like that too, and we quickly lost by 10.

My softball fire was not quite quenched after summer, so I joined a friend's team for the fall season.  We had some really excellent athletes, so I could take it easy in right center field.  Fall ball is an interesting mix.  Some teams hit home run after home run (I think one guy hit 4 home runs in the double header against us, including a walk off shot in the 2nd game), others were terrible.  We won about 1/2 our games, one of which on a walk off homer by me, my first over the fence shot in some time.  Our church-league shortstop, Joe, was playing for the other team, so this story can be verified.
 Clara and Janny are in school all day now.  With 2 kids in school, it's much harder to keep tabs on all of the characters there.  Janny helps me remember [redacted's] name, because s/he was the kid that threw up in the classroom just before the end of the day.

Clara and Janny would have perfect behavior scores if not for the miscreants in their classes.  The scores are posted online, so we check on them once in a while.  At most, Clara has two red scores, and they're always because 'the whole class' (Clara excepted) was doing something wrong.  This frustrates her.  She was disappointed in the fall when we took a day off from school to visit our relatives in MI because her chance for perfect attendance for the quarter was gone.  So I bought Clara and Janny prizes for skipping school.  We'll see if that's still needed in about 10 years.

Jill continues to be so happy about having her energy back after surgery earlier this year.  She has retaken up piano learning, so my background music for writing Christmas carols.  Despite her increased energy levels, she would like a housekeeper for Christmas.  I'm trying to do a few more chores, as I'm much cheaper.
 I'm starting to lose... (insert your joke in the comments) ... my fire for minimizing our energy usage.  Our thermostat is now set to a whopping 66 degrees during the day and 60 at night.  Jill is talking me into getting a gas burner insert for our neglected fire place.  Our house has always been very humid in winters (every cold morning I took a squeegee to the windows to remove condensation), so I bought a dehumidifier this year.  It has been pulling about 3/4 of a gallon of water per day from our house, which has me a bit befuddled.  I suspect that the moisture is coming up from our crawl space.  The plastic on the ground has some holes that could be repaired, but I'm thinking that rainfall runoff is the main problem.  I don't have a good plan to solve this yet.

Work continues to be good and challenging.  Recently, I joined the ranks of Wolfram certified trainers (, so feel free to book me for your next training session.  My photo and bio should be on that page soon.
Our church is having a rash of trouble marriages, and some of these are good friends of ours.  This is such a downer.  It's not clear to me if this is a new trend, or just something that I'm able to notice more.  We continue to pray and work on our own marriage.

A number of work colleagues are from cultures where arranged (or 'suggested') marriages are common.  Interestingly, every person that I have asked says that troubled marriages are extremely uncommon in their culture.  One lady said that around year 3 is when the husband and wife typically begin to fall in love.  More investigation required....

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Still hot at night

A strong memory of my first days after moving to IL for grad school was how hot it was at night.  I'd be walking around campus town with some new friends (primarily Europeans) wondering how it could still be 80 degrees F at 10 pm.  Well, I don't have to dig deep into my memory vault to recall what that feels like.  I can just step outside.  It's 10 pm and the heat index is 100 degrees F (but a whole lot cooler than that in my modern home).

 Did you know that Janny will start kindergarten in about a month?  She graduated from preschool, and we'll miss her super teachers.  As part of the prep for school, Jill took the girls to the doctor today.  Along with the usual lecture about feeding the kids more, we learned that Janny's hearing is slightly below average (I don't think that fully explains why she says 'WHAT?  WHAT DID YOU SAY?  I DIDN"T HEAR WHAT YOU SAID!' very loudly a thousand times a day, but it might) and that Clara has a slight heart murmur that might mean nothing.  I guess that it's good to know these things???  Or maybe that's why I avoid the doctor like the plague.
Speaking of Europeans in IL, my company hosted a whole bunch of interns of such background this summer.  As part of a farewell celebration of their time in America, I led a bike ride from our house to the Sydney dairy barn.  Spain, Italy, and Ireland all represented, along with India, China, and some US citizens.  The most pleasant sounding of all the homelands was Turin, Italy (the chance to be on a snowy peak while looking over the Mediterranean sounds excellent).  But don't count out India.  I've been told of a happening tech city populated with mostly young cosmopolitans (and not too crowded either).
 This week we're hosting a couple of middle schoolers from China.  Our neighbor (below) is sort of a co-host, providing either transportation or watching the young girls while Jill drives the English learners to class.  5 people don't fit too well in the old Mazda.  But don't worry, we'll probably get a new car some time in the next 10 years (134000 miles on it now).
Finally, TCBC softball is BACK!  We've played 3 games since my last report, and we've won 3 times.
How can this be explained after our rough start?  As you might have guessed, the answer is Jill.  Yes, my wife Jill!  3 games ago, we were in a bind.  We had 8 players (which is technically enough to play, but having only 2 outfielders is tough).  So we looked around.  And we saw Jim's expecting wife, Matt's wife, and then, flowing down the sidewalk, 2 daughters in tow, the most lovely lady you've ever seen: Jill.  After a short negotiation with Matt's wife, Jill agreed to play.  She played catcher.  She batted 4 times, and 4 times hit the ball in fair territory on her first swing.  And, as you know, we won the game.  She didn't play in the next 2, but her indomitable spirit filled each player, including those new guys that I had never seen before but have joined our squad because at least 1/3 of the regular guys are gone every week.  

May that spirit continue on.

Oh, and we visited the local Vineyard church last Sunday.  My last visit to a Vineyard church was to the church in Anaheim (CA) as a middle schooler in the late 1980s.  At that time, there was a good bit of, um, spirit.  Apparently, that degree of spirit is much reduced, but I still really enjoyed the experience.  The aesthetics of the stage were really lovely -- a deep blue/purple in contrast with my own church's stark white.  The clergy and leaders are extremely open about spiritual struggles and encourage attenders to receive prayer both after the service and at a special healing prayer time.  With quite a few of us struggling through grief, anger, etc. this summer, this is an excellent emphasis.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Vacation in Alabama

After missing softball playoff games the past 2 years due to family vacations, we pushed for an earlier trip this year.  Initially, we planned to head north to hopefully have slightly cooler temps, but schedules didn't quite work out.  So the plan became Alabama in June, and we were ready to face the heat and humidity.  Except that the heat and humidity mostly didn't show.

Our schedule went something like this:  eat breakfast, read a while, visit the pool, eat lunch, read, visit the pool, eat dinner, fish, read, bed.  Quite relaxing.

On the fishing front, I caught a few sun fish using a cane pole.  I'm still squeamish when it comes to hooking the worm and unhooking the fish.  Maybe when I'm older it won't be so scary.

The champion fisherperson in our family was Clara.  She caught a pretty decent sized catfish.  Thankfully, Grandpa was there to pull the hook out it's mouth.
 The pool was a bit chilly.  On most days, we had to swim around to stay warm enough.  Or jump in and out.
 Clara and especially Janny are interested in bugs now.  At home, they catch fireflies.  On vacation, the best bugs to catch were willow flies.  They come in swarms in shady areas (especially the trees near the pool), fly very slowly, and don't bite...
 And often drown in the pool.
 Clara and Janny really enjoy being in pools, but they can't swim like cousins Ricky and Enoch.  Hopefully by the end of summer, they'll make some good progress.

 This is as close to an infinity pool as I've been in.  Note the Tennessee River in the background.  I had planned to swim in the lake, just so that I wouldn't feel like such an urbanite.  But I never actually got in.
Finally, TCBC softball continues to struggle this year.  Our record is now a grim 0-5.  A possible explanation is that we've lost too many quality players in the last few years.

That may be true.  But I dare you to doubt us.  Even if nobody believes in us, we'll still believe in ourselves.  We have the heart of a champion because we are the defending champions (I have the wind breaker that says so in my closet).  We know how to win when it's all on the line.  We are TCBC!!!!!

And now I must go kill some Japanese beetles.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

at home, springtime

Spring is the best.   We survived another cold, dark winter, and so did our garden.

The first project of the spring was Clara's idea:  build a mini-swing inside our tree fort.  We used some rope that had been in the garage for some time, and a short piece of wood.  Nothing fancy, but it brought many smiles.

 Jill is a gardening fiend.  We've been eating lettuce from the garden just about daily. 
 ... while I and the kids eagerly await the arrival of raspberries and blackberries.  The giant cherry tree is even holding some cherries, despite the bounty of last years crop.  Perhaps the awful smelling fish emulsion that I poured around the base helped?
Latest project around the house:  2 rain barrels.  During intense rain storms, water overtops the front gutter.  So I added this new downspout near the front door for one of the new barrels.  We'll have to wait a few more days before we see the barrels in action.  [I had a photo of the setup, but it's gone missing.  Google warned me not to use Microsoft Edge, but I did anyway.  That's because Chrome completely stopped working on this computer.  I tied re-installing twice without success.  I'll also note here that my software also doesn't always work.]

In sports news, church league softball is underway.  The senior members of the TCBC men's team, Matt A. and I, have returned for our 8th year.  Back in year 1, we had zero kids between us (though Clara was on the way).  Now we have 5.  But we're still out manning the left side of the outfield together. 

The squad has started the season off with 2 losses.  Can we pull ourselves together and make a run?  Are we getting too old?  Too complacent?  Did we lose too many players to graduation and free agency?  Or, perhaps we're saving ourselves for the post-season?  Stay tuned...

For the 3rd (4th?) year in a row, I raced the local Joker's Jaunt gravel race.  Neil crushed us all.  I was riding with Larry until I ran out of energy with about 4 miles to go.  I was riding my Boulder Bicycle, which continues to be a fantastic bicycle (and, no, Mike Kone does not sponsor me).  This year, I used Vittoria Hyper-something tires in size 700C by 35mm at about 40 psi.  They're okay.