Text Trail. 2013 - Present. ~mike gradziel.
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Spring is here, it has rained in California, the grass is green again, and flowers are blooming. Even in the desert, there are fields of flowers in some places where normally there is hardly anything alive. This was unusual enough to motivate us to pack up the kids and drive five hundred miles to Death Valley, where the best bloom in years is happening. Marlon did not appreciate this and would have liked to stay home in his cozy blanket, but Norman was mostly ok with the drive as long as he had his iPad and regular breaks to run around. We progressed about four hours for every six that elapsed, on account of the various stops.
The holiday lights came down the weekend after New Years, much to Norman's disappointment. We had gone walking every evening to see the lights around the neighborhood. He still talks about them, and it is February! We have settled into a new routine as a family of four. Norman understood what was happening and was rather somber at the beginning, apparently recognizing the significance of it all at just 2 years old. A couple nights before his brother arrived, as I was putting him to bed, his usual incomprehensible chatter trailed off as we lay there in the dark talking abou this and that. He paused for a moment as if struggling to find the right words before saying with perfect clarity, "watch baby brother come". I was stunned. He hardly ever said anything so distinctly, and he knew why mommy wasn't there to put him to bed. It took a month or so before he seemed back to his usual self: for a while, he was not letting daddy hold Marlon and not letting mommy do anything with Norman. But right from the start he wanted to help hold and shush Marlon, and now he tries to show him things and talks about him. We are seeing the first signs in Norman of empathy towards others, which is a big milestone in the journey through toddlerhood.
December 2015: It was a dark and stormy morning, and high in a corner of the big glass building where babies come from, little Marlon Taijin was having an out-of-body experience. The voice he knew so well was now coming from over there, across the room, and he felt detached. How strange it was to breathe cool air and flail one's arms and legs without bounds. Now when he opened his eyes, the most dazzling scenes appeared before him, bouncing and whirling. Above all, the silence was just strange. Little brother has arrived!
In June, after the trip to Yosemite, we mostly stayed home and visited friends. In July and August, we did the same. I did a bunch of work on the house, like usual, sifting tons of dirt and gravel in the back yard to tame the wild space and make room for Norman to play, breaking and moving six yards of concrete rubble to the front yard to have it hauled away, putting in more french drains, bark mulch, and brick pavers, and re-routing the slow garage laundry drain through new pipe into the crawlspace. In time of drought, I am preparing for floods. I installed some windows and have started the tedious process of masking and painting all the interior decorative slats. Norman grew taller, learned new words, and is still as unpredictable as ever when mealtimes arrive. The only foods he will reliably consume fall into the dessert category, of course, or are green peas. He has acquired his first wheeled vehicle and no longer sleeps in a crib, having graduated to a twin bed. This is well timed because Norman's little brother arrives in December!
At the beginning of June we went to Yosemite and stayed four nights in a cabin. This gave ample time for exploring Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome, the Mariposa Grove of big trees, and the Yosemite Valley in between Norman's naps as well as extended breakfasts and dinners at the cabin. The first two days it rained in the afternoon as mountain thunderstorms came through. I realized I had not seen trees in leaf there since 2002! The landscape was so lush, but also was very crowded with people. Usually I am there in the winter when there is snow and accommodations are cheaper and easier to book. Norman particularly enjoyed playing in the rain and in the muddy sand at the edge of Mirror Lake, where a duck came to visit him. Immediately he pointed to it and said "I want" over and over again. He also was very interested in the squirrels.
Last weekend I felt proud of my successful search for bottled rosewater, which led me (accompanied by sir Norman, in the stroller) to a little Indian grocery on a side street over near the train station. It came from Pakistan in a small glass bottle, and it was concentrated enough that I used just a quarter teaspoon in a Saudi Arabian semolina cake recipe. The cake is basically the Middle East's version of cornbread doused with maple syrup: semolina flour, baking powder, and clarified butter, baked till golden and then drizzled with a lemon and rosewater sugar syrup and left overnight. The cake gets cut into little diamond shaped pieces decorated on top with slivered almonds, and is served with whipped cream. It's coarse, heavy, sticky, and nice though not something I'm likely to crave. This means I am not likely to use up that bottle of rosewater, unless I find some other ways to use it. However before gulping it down in tea or a smoothie I was anxious to know more about pesticide residues: most flowers are heavily sprayed, there being little incentive not to do so, and I wonder how well the Pakistani rose petal supply line keeps their sources clean and honest. In my research into the mostly undocumented and therefore probably insignificant dangers of tainted rosewater, however, I discovered plenty of instructions for making good clean rosewater at home. It turns out that no special distillation equipment is needed. I made several ounces in less than ten minutes using petals from my back yard! It is not quite as intense as the bottled stuff, but has the same flavor and is actually more appealing being less industrial-strength. Here's how I made it: 1) gather a couple fistfuls of petals from the most fragrant roses, from fully opened flowers. 2) Put an inch of water in a big pot. Set a metal measuring cup in the middle with water in it so it won't float. Get this boiling. Have ready the pot lid upside down with ice cubes and some cold water in the lid. Put the rose petals in the hot water, set a small bowl on top of the measuring cup so it sits up above the boiling water, and set the ice filled pot lid on upside down. Simmer for five minutes. The ice will melt, the condensed rose vapors will drip down the underside of the lid into the central bowl, and when five minutes has passed there will probably be lots more rose essence to extract if you add more ice to the lid. Surely there is an optimal combination of time and temperature. There is probably also a way to make other amazing distillates like bay laurel and douglas fir. This is tempting to try, but I do not need another project! I will, however, start hoarding petals from the choice roses to make tasty rosewater icecubes!
We're back from Norman's first camping trip! 9-10 April, age 18 months. Two days before we left, Norman finally started walking significant distances on his own. Overnight, he went from cautious ten-step bursts to meandering around the house for minutes at a time, standing up and sitting down repeatedly. Joy had bought him a backpack so we loaded this with his clothes and strapped it on him for the short walk to the campsite, but the slight weight of this kiddie pack a.k.a. wearable carseat proved to be more than he could manage. In the end, he and the pack got carried to the campsite. Within sight of San Francisco, on a point of land south of Stinson Beach in Mt Tam state park, the Steep Ravine camp area has seven walk-in tent sites and nine cabins. Reservations are hard to come by so when we saw a tent site open on a Thursday night six weeks earlier we took it. With flush toilets and running cold water a four minute walk from the site, and a water tap a minute's walk away, it was a good place to get Norman acquainted with the outdoors. We did however learn that considering all the liquids an 18 month old can produce, hot running water and soap are really nice to have and camping for more than one night is probably not going to be something we yearn to do for some small number of years. One night is great fun, though: the tent is basically like an inflatable bouncy house, there are rocks to climb and slide on, there is fire in various forms, the view of airplanes flying overhead is unobstructed, and there are so many interesting plants to investigate.
On San Bruno Mountain there is a hole in the ground that people get excited about. It's been called the Crystal Cave, and though this is not wholly inaccurate (it's a short horizontal exploratory mine shaft along a vein of crystalline quartz) it seems to be described with a touch of embellishment and secrecy perhaps to justify the effort of getting there and back. The path was well worn when we went there on Saturday morning, and the nettles and poison oak were thick but manageable. It took less time to amble up from the nearest asphalt than it took to drive my truck there from San Mateo. Once we were at the cave, with little in the way of history or artifacts to feed our imaginations, I saw that it was plainly no more than a hole dug in a rocky outcrop in a thicket of poison oak, brambles, and nettles. This would not do for a Saturday morning adventure, so we continued on straight up the mountain where the path vanishes into a braided web of thinner spots in the tangle of brush where deer make their way through or where slabs of rock slant up the hillside. First it was unnervingly steep, and then the way was made difficult by a deep thicket of brambles concealing deep pits and hollows lined with harmful plants. A different way opened to more clear terrain where wildflowers sparkled in the morning dew. There were dozens of species, not in great carpets but here and there in an astonishing diversity of colorful blooms. The green season is fully upon us now, but without heavy rain for months it will surely pass soon. Towards the top of the ridge we came to a well worn path, and later a legitimate trail that we followed past the radio antennas and back down another way. The cityscape and views of the bay are fantastic, especially with the sun breaking through a clearing sky.
Marking five years in our cozy little house this month, I've taken a moment to appreciate what has been done and note what awaits completion: the fig tree we planted from a four inch square pot is bigger around than my arm and eight feet tall, the highbush blueberry grove is mature, and the landscape of potted succulents along the front patio has just gone through its first major pruning and re-potting after turning into a jungle. The whole house has been re-wired, re-ducted, re-piped, and re-painted, and new windows and doors are about a third done. The attic is insulated, the garage is sheetrocked, and the bathroom tile has been updated. The fireplace is reconditioned, the irrigation systems are too, and there are new and improved rain downspout drains and french drains. All that remains is to get the back yard sheds fixed up and the back yard ready for fort-building, hole-digging, vegetable-flattening, ball-throwing, and other activities that the youngster will soon undertake. Then there is the 250 square foot addition we have been planning: in theory, it should go easier than all the renovations, being entirely new construction.
Here's to time passing: Joy and I made a trip to Sonoma between Christmas and New Years to enjoy tamales from our favorite little Mexican restaurant there which we discovered four years ago when nobody else knew about it. Over the years we have always ordered at the counter, walked through the kitchen to the tables out back, and sat there usually on a gray rainy day it seems, under the gas heaters, with hardly anyone else around. One of the cooks would bring our food out and it would be amazing. Then Sunset magazine listed the place a couple times, and word got out. This time we couldn't park nearby because the parking lot was half full of tables. There was a line of people waiting out the front door. Our order took an hour to fill, and the cooks were so rushed they left the sides off my plate. Customers hovered waiting for seats. It just wasn't the same, and I may never go back again. It is time to let our memories and our photo albums keep this place the way it was while we go out and discover some other unknown little gem of a restaurant to make pilgrimmage to.
I went to the garden supply store a couple weeks ago intending to buy a couple dozen daffodil bulbs to replenish the front yard edging, but big sacks of bulbs were offered at half price and I ended up returning home with one hundred ninety bulbs for just $35. What a great deal! The yard seemed destined for splendor. About two dozen bulbs into the project it had become very clear to me what digging a hundred ninety holes in the lawn with a hand trowel was going to be like: ouch. I extracted from the garage a length of two inch scrap metal tube from an electrical project and made some cleverly designed cuts in it with my angle grinder, sparks flying everywhere, to make a turf punch. Each new plug of grass and dirt would eject the one above it, and in an hour I would have them all planted! Again I was thwarted, this time by the sticky clay that gummed up the works after one and a half holes. Next stop: back to the garden center where a proper hole digger will cost as much as the bulbs themselves.
I went to Massachusetts for a week at the end of September, the longest I had ever been away from Norman. We kept up with nightly Facetime sessions. I visited home, went to some meetings, and met Joanna for dinner in Boston. The next two weekends I replaced windows in our bedroom, swapping out the original 1940s single pane double hung sashes (with peeling paint and decayed wood) for thousand dollar Marvin windows sporting the latest double pane glass, weather seals, pre-painted aluminum exterior, and primed pine interior woodwork. Lower gas heating bills won't pay these back for decades but the real benefit is being able to open the windows easily and have screens. Each replacement takes me seven or eight hours including time waiting for paint to dry. Two is all for now, though we might do two more in Norman's room next year. Other things we've done recently: Pia and Teemu and baby Topias were visiting from Finland and we finally made it to the Point Bonita Lighthouse with them, our previous visits twice having been cut short of actually making it to the lighthouse, and afterwards we walked around Sausalito and ate sandwiches at the water's edge overlooking San Francisco across the bay. Another weekend we went to Golden Gate Park to meet friends at a childrens' playground where Norman had lots of laughs on the swingset. There were signs in the playground reading 'adults not allowed unless accompanied by a child' and I thought it was for fun until I saw the city code referenced. Makes sense, I suppose.
On Sunday morning we packed up the critter and a blanket and drove up to Baker Beach in San Francisco with Doug to enjoy the non-foggy scene and let the critter play in the sand. This beach is facing the Golden Gate straits, west of the bridge, and if you photograph the bridge with a narrow field of view it looks like you are right there beside it though in reality it is quite a long way off. I realized this is something we never used to do before baby Norman (go sit on the beach, vs go for a hike at the beach) but now it is about all we can manage. It was a four day weekend for me, with day 1 devoted to looking after Norman while Joy was at work, day 2 spent digging in the rock-hard clay of the front yard to extend a drain pipe and install new wood edging at the property line, day 3 at the beach, and day 4 on various projects including some baking and a new laundry-to-lawn setup that diverts wash water from the garage out to the driest parts of the front lawn. We have already cut our water use by about 40% compared to last year by not planting many vegetables, letting the lawn get more brown, and tearing out the turf on part of the lawn, but once I discovered that a 2010 law makes laundry water re-use a no-permit-required option I decided it would be nice to try out. Maybe it will get us our green lawn back without guilt in this drought; after all, with all Norman's bath towels and clothes changes after every meal time, we do quite a bit of laundry and we already use the right kind of detergent for dumping on the lawn. In total, the water we use every summer month would fill up a ten foot cube!
We packed the car and left town on a long trip for the first time since January, to Los Angeles via Santa Barbara and Malibu to see friends. It was a long time for Norman to be confined to his car seat, but he discovered how to operate the windshield wipers, music, and air during one of our stops and then persuaded us again and again to pull aside for play breaks. In Malibu he was delighted to finally achieve his long time goal of chewing on the stroller wheels, which I discouraged less vigorously than usual since they had been scrubbed by circling a quarter mile through good clean dirt in an attempt to get him to nap. We were encamped for the night atop a hill with a view to the ocean, in an Airstream aluminum trailer from the 1950s. It had a queen sized bed, hot and cold water, a tiny bathroom, a gas range and refrigerator, lounge chairs and shade, and an outdoor carpet providing a relatively clean base from which Norman launched his investigations of rocks, sand, weeds, and the trailer wheels. I cooked a big pot of chili and we watched the sun set. In the morning the marine fog had moved in and covered all the hills below us, giving the appearance that we were alone on an island in a sea of clouds. We met friends at a park in Santa Monica and later went to the beach where Norman got his feet wet in the ocean and tried licking sand.
Since I last wrote a month ago, baby Norman has started pulling up to standing on his own and cruising along furniture. Soon he will be walking! He turns 9 months old on 17 July. There are no distinguishable words yet in his sometimes elaborate babble, but he seems to know his middle name by which he is called at mandarin language daycare. At home, we call him by a dozen different titles and he probably thinks his name is "so cute". With four teeth now he can chomp into whole peaches and hunks of meat although the understanding that consuming solid food remedies hunger, and the concept of chewing, evidently has yet to sink in. His favorite place is the bathtub: just being in the bathroom causes an onset of giggling and he will crawl there from anywhere in the house and attempt to climb into the tub, which he may actually be able to do now if not supervised. The great beyond outside the front and back door is also very appealing, so we go out there regularly to look around and tug on interesting parts of plants.
Mom and Dad came to visit for a week and helped us eat cherries and follow Norman around the house as he investigates his favorite floor lamp, the books on the bottom shelf, the volume knob on the radio receiver, the oh so wonderful green flashing lights on the DSL modem, the cool white metal of the laundry rack, the dusty but so very fascinating wheels of the stroller (please, Daddy, may I lick them?), the wheels of the office chair (he especially loves wheels of all types), the grille under the refrigerator, the knobs and levers of the kitchenaid mixer, and all his toys strewn around the house. On Saturday we drove to Davis to see my uncle and aunt Tom and Pat. We had a nice visit and came home with boxes full of peaches and apricots from the university orchards where there are rare varieties of fruit too delicate for market, too juicy to sink your teeth into, too unpredictable to harvest by the ton, and too sweet and flavorful for mere mortals.
June is cherry season and this year the squirrels were denied their usual pillage by effective installation of netting at the family mini-orchard. Norman helped pick, and insisted on eating only what he himself pulled from the tree despite my attempts to intercept them to remove the pits. He has not really learned to chew yet however so after a few chomps it was on to the next one, with the forgotten cherry dropped to the ground. This week's dinner menu featured fruit in every entree: Monday, grilled Alaskan cod with a cherry - red onion - cilantro - jalapeno salsa; Tuesday, pita bread stuffed with chicken salad, cherries, and lettuce; Wednesday, a pork tenderloin spiral butterflied then rolled up like a towel around a filling of italian sausage, onion, and oven-dried cherries, all roasted and served with potatoes; Thursday, a mozzarella-cherry caprese salad with olive oil, fresh basil, and black pepper. I am out of ideas now and intend to eat the rest of the fruit out of hand with dark chocolate. Good thing help is on the way because there are still about fifteen pounds of cherries in the fridge!
I did not bring a camera with me to Sand Key on the west coast of Florida, so I must tell how it was with words. There is little to say about anything but the narrow fringe of land where it meets the tumbling waves of the Gulf, and indeed I did not spend any time elsewhere except for the meeting room where the company sent me for training. Beyond the wide blades of bermuda grass clipped neatly to form the hotel lawn, sandy scrubland with palm trees extends for a hundred meters to the edge of the beach. There the vegetation ends and pale sand loaded with crunchy bits of shells slopes down to the water. In bright sun the sand appears nearly white, but after a deluge of fat raindrops from a powerful afternoon storm the wet brown sand is prickly underfoot, a landscape of craggy sand peaks separated by billions of pea sized pockmarks. Seashells are everywhere but they are most numerous a mile or so down the beach away from the hotels where high-rise condos looking vacant mid-week in May do not contribute many visitors. The waves were as warm as bathwater and the tallest tumbled to shore knee-high. My favorite moment came one evening when the sun was low and dark bands of storm clouds had piled up to the east. Rays of sun shone in below the clouds to illuminate the beach, the palm trees, and the high white concrete buildings extending in a line to the south as far as I could see, while the clouds behind remained a dark deep blue-gray with streaks of white. The menacing sky was balanced by the green trees and the warm white beach and buildings bent in a gentle arc along blue water that reflected clear sky to the west. Other times the beach was blindingly bright and hazy, or gray with rain, and no matter what the conditions were, guests of the hotel much preferred to sit poolside and stay out of the sand. I do not have patience for that activity (or lack thereof) but there is something for everyone: each mile of sand might offer a new kind of shell to collect, and I spent my evenings in pursuit of new shells. I got to wondering: the simple animals that create these shells have very limited ability to sense light, so they have not evolved such pretty forms and patterns to appeal to one another. Why then do they take on such ornate designs? Evidently simple math explains most of it, just as with snowflakes.
Another month has passed and baby Norman is crawling short distances on smooth floors, sitting up, and chewing on pieces of zucchini and steak and steamed carrots. He accidentally eats some but doesn't know it is food. My house projects continue: I removed the swinging door between our kitchen and dining room. In 1939 evidently it was normal to have doors there and between the kitchen and the hall, and the hall and the entryway, making the house very compartmentalized. We want it open, and the door was just taking up space. The dining room is now 1.5 usable square feet larger. I had to patch the oak floor and install new trim and thresholds, and now I am painting the kitchen. When this is complete, of the entire house interior only the living room ceiling will not have been painted on my watch.
It's been six weeks since I last wrote! In that time, baby Norman has learned to roll over, sit up in his highchair and play with toys on the dining table, collect placemats and things on them and transfer them all to the floor, and say mamamamama! both for his own amusement and, evidently, to get our attention. We have not traveled too far, nor done much besides working on the yard and the house and of course playing with Norman. I waged war on the crabgrass growing along our front walkway, tearing out all the sod and the tentacle-like roots. Now it will rest a while while I weed out re-sprouts before seeding new grass. The blueberries are getting ripe, our first heavy crop after four years (it just takes that long to grow highbush plants) and this year I have built a bird-proof netting tent over them. I embarked on a rebuild of the irrigation check valve assembly that supplies the front lawn, getting ready for summer.
I went to Boston for a meeting the first week of February and just barely made it out before a snowstorm shut the airport on Wednesday. My original flight was scheduled mid afternoon, but the night before I grabbed a seat on the 8:10am flight and I left for the airport at 2:30am before the snow started to fall. At the gate I saw empty seats on the 6am flight disappearing on the overhead displays, so I got back on the website and booked myself one of the last seats. The plane waited a while for de-icing, and then for the runway to get plowed, so it was a relief to finally feel the wheels lift off the ground. The next day Joy and I drove out to Grass Valley in the season's first heavy rain, which lasted through the weekend, to attend Sean and Jenn's wedding.
For the third time in three weekends I drove to Monterey. First it was to a beach house for the weekend, next to a wedding reception at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (they put out tables in the open sea gallery, dim the lights, and serve food and drink; I ate fish), and lastly to Pacific Grove to see overwintering monarch butterflies and the Point Pinos Lighthouse before driving onward to Big Sur where we stayed in a cabin with my parents and sister and took baby Norman to the beach, saw whales, went for walks in the woods, cooked tasty foods, walked on interesting patterned purple sand, built a cozy fire in the woodstove, and took lots of pictures of keyhole rock at Pfeiffer Beach.
Here we are, January 2014, fully ten years since I finished school and packed everything I could into a purple Saturn station wagon and drove myself across the country to Pasadena. Then I had been a few places; now I feel like I know someone who has been just about everywhere I haven't. Then it was just me; now Joy and I have little Norman to keep us company and introduce to the world one day at a time. Then I had everything to learn; nowadays I find myself occupied teaching almost as often as I am learning. The winter break was nice, and now work is getting busy. I've seen project schedules that show what I'll be doing in 2026. Today I bought a new water heater for the house, and I expect it to last until the late 2030s. I spent the afternoon pulling weeds, going out for a walk around the neighborhood, and rigging rock climbing gear to hoist the new water heater to its place above the garage. There is always something exciting to do!
Just returned from our third annual road trip to the north central coast over the winter holidays (2009, 2012, and 2013) we are set for another year, and maybe longer, having taken in our fill of giant redwood trees, wave-pounded beaches, and good food and drink. We bought cider and apples, took 2.5 month old Norman out to nice restaurants for the first time and actually had a positive experience, and did some walks in the woods. I became obsessed with finding a very wide, fine grained old growth wood slab salvaged from a stump or river bottom to hang on our living room wall, but did not have the truck nor the thousand dollars it would cost to bring one home. The hunt continues. I also decided, along the Russian River, that houses among the tall trees are creepy. Ancient redwood forest may be the most peaceful place I know. It is so quiet there, dimly lit and carpeted with ferns and sorrel and ometimes with thickets of huckleberry bushes. I feel calm and safe there and I know that for a thousand years very little has changed. However where people have built dwellings among the tall trees, things are different. I cannot escape a feeling of unease when traveling through a forest where shacks are scattered among the giant trunks and wood smoke hangs in the air. Everything is damp and on its way toward decay. At night, yellow lamp light cuts the darkness eerily here and there. Cars are wedged into parking spaces beside the big trees and shadowy figures slip about. I don't know why I feel this way, but especially after dark I want to get far, far away from these people who live in the woods.
I made cheese for the first time yesterday, and learned these things: 1) it takes a huge amount of milk to get a little cake of cheese; 2) that must be why cheese is somewhat expensive, so now I feel better about snapping up those ten dollar slivers that would make just one and a half grilled sandwiches; 3) an enormous amount of whey liquid is leftover, and since I feel so compelled to waste nothing, this spawns follow-on baking projects to use the whey; 4) even though I made ricotta, the simplest cheese on earth, all this takes a long, long time; 5) I probably won't attempt it again until baby Norman asks Daddy, where does cheese come from?
We went on a day long road trip with baby Norman on Saturday, his longest yet, which he mostly slept through in his cozy carseat. Our first stop was El Molino Central in Sonoma for tasty tamales and chalupas, worth driving two hours for. They grind their corn fresh every day and make everything from scratch. The chalupas are more like what other places call sopes, except they have the toppings of a chalupa made Mexico City style: shredded chicken, some sauce, minced onion, crema, cheese, radish. I bought more food to take home for dinner. Uneasy that my sole source for fantastic tamales is distant and perhaps impermanent, I've embarked on a new project to make a satisfactory fresh masa for tamales myself. This will involve rendering my own pork fat and processing dried corn with alkalai. Did you know that when Europeans neglected to adopt the mesoamerican practice of soaking corn overnight in alkaline water, they brought malnutrition and disease upon themselves? Their grinding technology was superior enough to handle hard dry corn, but without the soaking key vitamins are not made available for digestion and attempts to imitate the corn-based diet so successful in the New World often met unfortunate ends. Our road trip continued to B.R. Cohn where I bought favorite wines and olive oil, and then we visited California's oldest operating cheese factory and watched workers turning out vats of curdled milk. Just up the road at a farm stand I bought a frozen beef brisket just yards from the cow's home pasture. By this time we were hungry again and continued to Tomales Bay for barbecued oysters and chowder. Then, back home for the evening.
At Norman's first Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey was twice as big as he was. However his weight has increased 170% since he was four days old, and he has become too long for several items of clothing. He is six weeks old now. Thawed turkey went on sale Friday so I bought a thirteen pounder (free-range, organic, non-stressed, non-engineered, spoon-fed, etc) at half price to cook myself since it was too good a deal to pass up. I don't even have to wait to defrost it! Also, Joy wants turkey sandwiches and we ate all of Thursday's good slicing meat already at her parents' house. And, in the freezer I have some tasty fig-cranberry sauce made with figs from our tree on the day before Norman was born. The feasting is only beginning!
Norman had many firsts this week: he met his other set of grandparents and aunt, saw his great-grandparents on video chat from Taiwan, and learned to swat at things with his hands. He also went on his first long outing (spanning two diaper changes and two feedings!) and logged about eleven miles riding along in the stroller. I have been taking some time off work, which is so nice because he is growing so quickly. It's amazing what can be made from milk!
I rather like staying at home and cooking, cleaning, taking care of baby Norman who is now 2 weeks old, and working on my usual home improvement projects. Now that we are settled in I will return to the office soon. In my time off when not changing diapers I painted some windows, worked on computer projects, and did a bunch of cooking (things that Joy didn't eat while pregnant: pink juicy beef, rare scallops, runny eggs, alfafa sprouts and deli meat, steamed mussels). The leaves are coming down and need raking. It's still warm enough to go out on walks around the neighborhood with the baby stroller, but Norman sleeps the whole time and we're not sure yet if he knows what trees are.
Meet Norman! Born Thursday, 17 October, he is 7 lb, 19 inches, and nocturnal. Norman and his mother are in excellent health. She is learning how to feed him, he is discovering the sensations of eating, and his father is becoming an expert at dealing with the aftermath of this activity.
It feels like the last week of summer vacation before school starts, except this time instead of math homework and history, I will be changing diapers and doing laundry. We were all ready a week ago and now we've had a nice quiet time with beautiful warm weather and meals with friends and family, mornings puttering around the house, evening movies on the sofa with dinner on the coffee table, and even some last minute productivity like replacing the silicone seal on the chimney top damper and de-cluttering the living room. I got the lawn trimmed, cleaned up the back yard, and stocked the freezer with meals ready to thaw - mostly soups. Joy stretched a patterned fabric on a frame and I hung it up in the baby's room; we are about half way through decorating in there. The bags are packed, the camera battery is charged, and there is nothing more to do except ponder whether this evening will be our last calm one for twenty years, or if tomorrow might be just the same.
I finished my Tazo Chai tea last week and bought a new box of tea bags last night. Whoa- what did they do to the formula? I am a bit behind the times, since it seems that the redesigned packaging and new tea mix has been around possibly for as long as a year, but evidently I'm not the only person to find that first sip from the new box sadly lacking whatever it was that made tazo chai like nothing else one could get in a tea bag from the grocery store. I lamented my loss to everyone we met for half a day or so, sent a message to tazo asking that they consider switching back to the old tea, and then I scrutinized the ingredients list on the box and realized I had everything already in my kitchen: whole spices and black tea from Sri Lanka, and milk and sugar. As I like to say about almost everything: Surely I could make my own from scratch! I did some research on common proportions of each ingredient, crushed the spices in a mortar and toasted them in a pan, added equal parts whole milk and water and heated it gently, added the tea leaves and sugar, continued heating, let it rest a bit, and then strained it to a mug. Wow! So much better! I made more, tweaked the amounts, and it was just as good. Just cardamom, black pepper, star anise, cinnamon bark, cloves, fresh ginger root, black loose leaf tea, whole milk, sugar, and water. How did tazo get it wrong? Too bad for them; I'll be making mine fresh from now on. I even posted a page about my chai from scratch. Visits with friends, fresh chanterelles, and rediscovery of good chai: my weekend is now complete. On Saturday I found beautiful mushrooms at the store for a quarter of the usual price ($40/lb) and I bought a whole pound. We ate chanterelles and egg on a bagel, chanterelles with pasta carbonara, and chanterelles as a side to slow roasted beef with potatoes and carrots. What luck!
Having not written anything new in the last 6 weeks (it's a week into September now) I feel compelled to say something, even if there isn't anything notable to share. I've been completely occupied with scraping wallpaper and paint, and repairing plaster, in baby's bedroom and now it is finally done. We even have the furniture set up, the crib ready, and we've taken a few classes on baby care and birth and feeding. I've got the yard work reasonably under control, and we even have managed to make some time for trips out to dinner and to see friends. Just 3-5 more weeks until full-time parenting! See new photos on "baby" and "house - electrical" pages.
Joy and I finally made it to San Francisco after dark to see the Bay Lights, an art installation on the western span of the Bay Bridge that sends patterns of white light up and down the vertical suspension cables which each carries a string of white LED lights controlled all together - hundreds of thousands of them. We had dinner at Chaya, where we had our post-wedding lunch three years ago in July, and from our table looked out the windows at the bridge. We also met with friends, walked around the city, and made the most of one more fleeting free weekend before baby. I canned the summer's first batch of tomato sauce using fruit from the farmers market. Our tomatoes are still a few weeks from ripe, though the furry critters think they are ready for nibbling so I energized my electric perimeter fence. Tomato sauce from the grocery store is just not the same; I don't know how they fail to make the same flavors because all I use is tomato, onion, garlic, and green bell pepper yet my sauce is rich and sweet like nothing else from a jar. Commercial tomatoes trucked by the ton must be very poor indeed. Our four plants of yellow summer squash have kept us and the neighbors furnished with tens of pounds of squash. I dug some potatoes today. I've been plastering and running electrical wire in the second bedroom, which is nearing completion, and last Tuesday night while Joy was out of town I cut out the last bit of old rusty galvanized steel water pipe supplying the toilet from the crawlspace and spent four hours installing new copper.
Flying back from Boston last weekend (went east for work, got to spend some time with family too!) I was looking out the airplane window, having finished my books and run out of things to do, and in the middle of Nevada I saw a new solar thermal power plant. It was partly completed, with the six hundred foot tall central tower finished and some of the concentrating mirrors installed, enough to get me interested. I did some research: it is a molten salt plant, which is revolutionary because the nitrate salts are maintained in liquid form between 500 and 1000 degrees F which allows generation of high quality hot steam (and power) at any time of day or night from large insulated tanks of stored hot liquid salt. Having solved the challenges of pumping and piping the stuff and preventing freeze-ups, the company responsible is poised to make great contributions to green power. But how do the numbers look? I did the math: These hundred megawatt plants cost a billion dollars each, so with normal inflation and interest rates they take at 25-40 years to break even depending on what the costs of maintenance and refurbishment actually are. By then it will be time for major upgrades if not total replacement. In the end, the venture is only profitable if the price of fossil generation rises significantly in 40 years, which is actually a reasonable bet. I also read about people protesting over beetle habitat loss. Wow, people, don't you think we ought to choose local beetle hardship over poisoning all our air and water with mercury and sulfur and other toxins released from burning oil? Mirror fields are welcome in my back yard. I did some calculations to see if we could mount reflectors on all the roofs in my neighborhood and install one of these, but then I realized the blinding artificial sun where the light is focused would be a problem, and we might also have issues with rogue controllers re-pointing mirror groups and starting fires all over town. Sigh... At least this country has lots of desert.
I found Seattle to be a different sort of place than and others I have visited. Surrounded by water, running up and down hills that make San Francisco look tame, and overgrown with green things and tall conifers, it is urban yet wild, sprawling, confusing in its layout, colorful, and teeming with tourists, shipping cranes, float planes, and tech business. Just outside the city limits I felt like taking a few steps off the road, catching a salmon from a creek, and roasting it on a cedar plank over a fire beside a giant fir tree dripping with moss, while eating handfuls of juicy wild berries. Instead we communed with the natural order of things in a different way, watching the annual solstice parade go by at the Gas Works Park. The park is a fantastic melding of rusted old petrochemical tanks and pipes surrounded by lush green lawns, overlooking the glass and steel spires of downtown just across blue water dotted with boats. The parade aspires to a similar theme, taking aim at the collision of industry and ecology. While suggesting with its improvised floats and marching bands that big industry is destroying the planet, its only proposal is that an appropriate way to counter this is to trade clothes for body paint and circle a hilltop sundial amid a cacophony of drums and horns. In the end we abandoned the crowded streets and sought refuge in an Irish pub in Kirkland where there is shuffleboard and a wonderful corned beef and cabbage potato crepe called a boxty. The next morning, at Pikes Place Market, I bought turkey eggs to settle two questions: 1) yes, eggs can go through airport security in carry-on bags, and 2) no, turkey eggs do not taste at all different from chicken eggs.
Now seems like a good time to start writing here about our latest project: sometime in October, we are expecting a baby! He has been growing quickly and though his mom has had a good experience overall so far, he is really starting to get big which brings its challenges. We are trying to make the most of our quiet weekend mornings, fine dining in the evenings when we can, and other things that are going to become scarce for the next ten years or so. I'm also wrapping up the last of the home improvement projects: the bath tub is getting a new faucet and hand shower sprayer, which required opening up the wall and re-piping, and the baby's room needs plaster and paint. I've also tackled some furniture projects, which led me to pack forty pounds of oak tree (in two big chunks) into our oven last weekend and bake it overnight at low temperature to dry it out. It's part of the new tv stand.
I arrived in Pittsburgh in the middle of the night and drove clear across the city in darkness, so aside from surprisingly heavy traffic at 1am and an abundance of iron bridges I saw little that could help me get to know the place. Then after my meetings I went out for some dinner at a burger place down the road and realized that I am not Pittsburgh. Not this day, at least. There I was dressed in a tailored shirt in a sports bar with dollar pints and dollar slices of pizza and people wearing whatever they had around the house. I was even wearing cufflinks! The hockey game was on and the place was packed. I got a steak sandwich and learned that when I said yes to "everything on the sandwich" that meant they put the fries in the sandwich. I pulled a few out hoping no one would think that was funny and poured out some ketchup for dipping. Fries need ketchup. The rental car place gave me a Prius. It's just what they have for a standard car, I guess, but I felt totally misfit in my neatly ironed slacks walking out to my silver Prius parked in a lot of worn-out old cars that people would fuel with coal if they could. Trains hauling thousands of tons of it passed by my hotel every few hours. I shared the elevator with a man covered in back soot. "I work in a coal fired power plant" he said. "I'll be clean in no time though."
Wow it has been more than a month since I last wrote here! I spent the rest of April finishing the house electrical wiring and passed my final inspection by the city. What a relief it is not to have a permit and inspection schedule hanging over my head! Then I tackled the lawn sprinklers to save the lawn, got the vegetable garden planted, hung photos in our hallway and put up a cloth wall-hanging in the bathroom. In the garage I put up shelves and organized all my tools. I also started doing some baking experiments inspired by the black bread I ate in Iceland in March. It turns out that baking dough for 24 hours at 100 degrees celsius over a steaming water bath results in amazingly flavorful dense black bread - with no colorings or flavorings added. In Iceland, they nestle covered loaf pans into steaming geothermal vents.
In Yosemite the waterfalls are roaring, the weather is perfect, the mosquitoes aren't out, and all the trees have their new leaves which are bright green and spotless, not even dusty yet. We went for the weekend and walked through the giant trees in upper Mariposa Grove on Friday, climbed to the top of Nevada Falls on Saturday, and walked up Tenaya Creek past Mirror Lake on Sunday morning. This was my third time staying in the cozy Lupin Cabin just outside the valley in the quiet community of Foresta, pleasantly away from the bustle of weekend visitors who crowd the roads and trails.
We went to Arizona for the weekend, flying to Tucson on Thursday night and returning from Phoenix on Sunday. On Friday we went to the excellent Desert Museum in Tucson, a botanical garden and zoo with desert animals like bobcats, foxes, a mountain lion, a wolf, bears, birds, and various cute smaller furry creatures as well as snakes, lizards, and fish. They irrigate the landscape enough to have a very good bloom of wildflowers within the gardens despite a lack of rain in the region. Although the winter has been dry we saw some flowers blooming in Saguaro National Park, which has some spectacular forests of tall saguaros. We ate tasty tamales, walked around downtown Tucson in the evening (lots of tattoo shops!), and saw the huge airplane boneyard and aviation museum with dozens of planes on display. It is mind boggling to think of all the engineering that went into each and every one of these now obsolete craft. In Phoenix on Sunday, we hiked Camelback Mtn with crowds of people and then retired to an ice cream shop with a pizza oven for a couple hours. I am glad to be home to cooler, wetter San Francisco!
I am back from a week's trip to Iceland in search of the Northern Lights, and also smoked trout, blue glacier ice, waterfalls, and icebergs on a black gravel beach at sunset. We drove around the whole island, Joy and Sean and Jenn and I, except for the northwestern peninsulas, and on four of eight nights we saw the aurora. Sometimes it was just a green glow on the horizon, but once it was intensely bright and racing across the sky as fast as a jet plane, billowing like a sail, fading in and out from one second to the next and even reverberating like a guitar string. Another night the green rays and curtains covered the whole sky, dim but everywhere at once, fading slowly in and out. Sometimes we even saw red colors. We stayed in cozy cabins, cooking meals with the limited groceries we could procure in the tiny southeastern towns, and other nights we stayed in beautiful guesthouses and dined in popular restaurants. We saw monstrous waterfalls, gravel beaches scoured by gale force winds, and pure white mountain heights rising above red thickets of willow shrubs. There were geysers, craters, boiling pools of mud, sulfurous steam vents, eerie moss-covered lava fields, and a huge fissure where the Atlantic seafloor is spreading and pulling Iceland apart. All of the animals we met were very friendly, and very furry- the herds of Icelandic horses, barns full of sheep, the cows, and the sheepdogs. The driving was easy despite some snow and ice, and the temperature stayed mostly around the freezing point. The diversity of terrain in Iceland is unmatched anywhere else that the aurora is commonly visible and relatively accessible. What's more, all around the island one can imagine being a viking explorer first setting foot on a new land.
Weekends and evenings alike have been consumed lately by the tedium of painting trim and closets in our hallway and front entrance. I took apart all the door knobs and latches, scraped paint, and restored them. I caulked and sanded and washed walls and taped and painted. Through all this the entire contents of the linen closet have been stacked on our sofa, so to watch the television we sit on the floor! But these things are nearly finished, and the bathroom also has most of its finishing touches in place - new shelves, a cover for the air vent, the new laundry rod for hang-drying clothes above the tub. It's starting to feel like this might all be done soon. Our daffodils are blooming in the yard, and I turned under the first planting of fava beans in the back vegetable patch to enrich the soil. They were a couple feet tall already.
In an action-packed weekend, Joy and I flew to Boston overnight Thursday and drove across to New York to visit Grandma and Grandpa, and Robin, Jose, and family; Lisa came up, and my parents too. A 92nd birthday requires special celebrations! Mine won't come until the 2070s, by which time Sean's asteroid mining should be in full production though despite all advancements, offices will still have photocopy machines. On Saturday morning we set out for Manchester, a town repurposed as a shopping center where people live, to visit a particular designer outlet where Joy acquired new clothes and I even found things to buy: bolts of printed fabric which we stretch on frames and hang like pictures in our house. Back home, Joy finally got to meet my uncle Chris and aunt Beth whom I hadn't seen in 8 years despite their place being just a mile away. Later that evening, I recovered from a six-N set at Scrabble with some satisfyingly long words while Joy became stuck with three O's and four I's. The flight back west on Monday took us a third longer than the trip east, against stiff winter winds, unusually long in my experience. I did the math: That means 70 mph headwinds the whole way!
Alison had the excellent idea of taking a tour through San Francisco's Chinatown on Saturday. We never get to be tourists in our own city and it was fun to dedicate a morning to seeing some new things: It was a beautiful sunny day, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get some nice architecture photos. I learned that a great many Chinese immigrants do indeed live in Chinatown, in tiny apartments that are their first stop since arriving. They stay there a while, working hard and saving up to move along to a more affluent place. As a result there is a distinct "locals" scene and diverse shops and services to suit their preferences. At the numerous small fish markets and grocery stores, for example, you can buy fresh fish delivered live daily in a flatbed truck outfitted with twenty square stainless steel tanks. A man with a big net scoops out churning heaps of fish, drives a hundred yards to the next grocery, and stops for another delivery. One fish seller also had fresh turtle meat still in the shell, and alligator legs complete with scaly clawed feet. Customers for these things must be proud to offer their guests something exotic for the novelty of it rather than the taste. A little farther back in one shop were wire cages of live chickens, white fluffy ones and red ones and spotted ones, and squab, and other small fowl. There was a long line of women waiting at the counter to get their feathered dinners, necks snapped, fresh in a bag. Chinatown wasn't built to look like China, but rather to be a place Americans might like to visit. In addition to the Asian markets and the herbal medicine shops preparing colorful prescriptions of strange roots, seeds, and mushrooms, there are many shops selling things to tourists and many restaurants and food counters. I find it interesting how Chinatown succeeds both at being a place locals frequent and a place sought out by tourists (and locals acting like them).
Spent three days seeing Mendocino - drove up through Sonoma the first morning, ate tamales and chalupas at El Molino, bought six bottles of our favorite olive oil at B.R. Cohn, then continued along hwy 128 through apple country. Bought some apples and cider, then tried some beer at the brewery in Booneville. Arrived in Westport at sunset, checked into a bed and breakfast with ocean views from our bed and a popular pub downstairs; ate dinner there, had a relaxing night, then enjoyed warm scones and coffee and fruit delivered to our door at 8am, and fresh crab and cream-cheese omelettes downstairs at 9:00. Saw some whale spouts offshore, walked on a black sand beach, then headed north and picked up a couple of hitchhikers traveling around the country with backpacks, optimism, and not much else. Chatted for an hour or so while driving north where highway 101 temporarily narrows to a country road through untouched old redwood forest a ways north of Leggett after Highway 1 ends and there is no more coast road, just wild country and cliffs and gray water. Left the travelers in Garberville so they could continue on to Eureka, and meandered our way through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park in a light rain. The biggest trees there look like the ones being axed in old black and white photographs from the early 1900s when this coast was entirely employed by the lumber industry. Seven foot wide trees start to look normal in these groves; big ones are ten feet but the biggest of them all had fallen twenty years ago and lay about twelve feet high and three hundred feet long slick with moss. Turned back south, ate ice cream cones in Fort Bragg. Arrived in Mendocino at dusk and walked the town in wet blackness getting ourselves oriented. At a lumber merchant, admired huge reclaimed redwood planks as big as a queen size bed. At a crowded cafe, ate a tasty seafood stew. Built a fire in the iron woodstove in our room and listened to rain pattering on the roof. Ate breakfast the next morning at a sunny table by a cheery fire in the dining room, walked around quaint downtown Mendocino, then drove south to the town of Elk and walked on the beach and bought a tasty sandwich at a deli. Drove inland toward Philo, saw snow covered hills seven thousand feet high off to the northeast, ate our sandwich, and descended to the Anderson Valley. Stopped at an orchard and bought some farm-fresh hard cider. Went up the road to the Navarro tasting room and procured a case of their bottled grape juice, which Joy discovered at dinner in Westport. Drove high into the hills again crossing to the coast and the lighthouse at Point Arena. Continued south until sunset where the Russian River meets the sea, then drove upriver into dense fog to Petaluma for Rosso pizza and mozzarella from the Ramini water buffalo herd in Tomales Bay. Lastly, did some shopping at the outlets in Petaluma before going home.
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