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May. 18th, 2017


Not city living. Not suburban living.

So I mentioned in my previous blog post about moving up to the mountains. I thought I'd describe where I've landed.

Boulder Creek is an oh-so-small, isolated mountain town, located within a redwood forest, just to the east of Big Basin State Park. It started out in the 1860s as a wild and woolly logging town - emphasis on the wild and woolly (back in the day, this wee town contained twenty-six bars and brothels). It's one of four towns that make up San Lorenzo Valley, which runs along the historic lumber route; Boulder Creek is the northernmost and highest elevated of the four towns. These towns are somewhat similar in terms of geographic size and the smallness of their population, but vary in how the population is distributed.

Boulder Creek has a very small town center, essentially about four blocks long. Most of the 4,900 residents live in outlying areas, miles away from the town center. Brookdale, which has an even smaller population of 1,900, will have a sort of town center once the Brookdale Lodge is back up and running; currently, it has the feel of an isolated neighborhood. Ben Lomond is the largest town in terms of population (6,200) and it has one primary and one auxiliary town center. Most folks live fairly close to them, not too far from Highway 9. And although Felton has a population a bit smaller than Boulder Creek, it is almost all town - it even has large chain stores, which are not found in the other three towns. Felton is where you start venturing out of the redwood forest.

In Boulder Creek, if you were to turn anywhere off of Highway 9 outside of town, you'd sense a fairly distinct "summer cabin "je ne sais quoi". And this surmise would be accurate; almost every house in Boulder Creek started out as a summer cabin, mostly built in the 1930s and 40s. A smattering of houses (like mine) were built later, to fill out the various neighborhoods in Boulder Creek when folks started living up there full time. It's fairly entertaining to drive through a neighborhood and count the Sears cabin kits; those are the most common type of house in some neighborhoods. And although many have been augmented over the years, some are fairly unchanged since they were first built, adding to the summer cabin vibe that pervades Boulder Creek.

There are a few things one needs to get used to when living up here:

1. Adjusting to the feeling of being dropped into an episode of Northern Exposure. Boulder Creek is one of those isolated, quirky little towns with colourful townsfolk who all seem to know each other.

2. Learning how to be patient and self-sufficient in the extreme. During this past winter, we spent a lot of time just battening down the hatches and waiting the current storm out. There were days when we could not even leave the house. And other days when we were happy just to be able to get into town for supplies. We also had plenty of opportunities to test out our "repair on the fly" skills.

3. Getting comfortable with carrying items such as a chainsaw in the trunk of the car and learning how to use one. And dealing with the inevitable comments when answering truthfully about what is in that red bag.

4. Planning errands, since windy mountain roads means that a seventeen mile drive to the nearest "big" city - Santa Cruz - will take forty-five minutes each way, if the traffic gods are feeling generous.

5. Re-thinking home utilities. In a city or suburbia, a fireplace is more of a romantic, decorative item. Up here in the mountains, it's how we heat our houses. And more often than not, it's a woodstove, which is much more efficient. Also, we don't get natural gas piped into our houses; we rent large propane tanks and do periodic checks on the fuel level so we know when to call for a fill-up. Also learning how to deal with a septic system during a very wet winter; there are certain things one must forgo or be judicial about at times. Sometimes, big laundry days have to wait.

6. Living in another era. Seriously - this is downtown Boulder Creek:

To a lot of folks, these adjustments are more than they are willing or able to make. This is why, even though Boulder Creek is only about thirty or so miles from Silicon Valley, there are almost no Silicon Valley tech folks living up here. The life IS very different. It is not city living. It is not suburban living. It is remote, very small town mountain living. And it is definitely remote; the Google bus does not make it up here into the mountains (I seriously doubt it could even negotiate Highway 9...) However, I must admit that I really like the life up here. There's a sense of close community that I think can only be found in such places, a quality that even an INTJ like myself can appreciate.

Jan. 12th, 2017



Wow - it HAS been awhile since I've posted here. To tell you the truth, I've been really busy with work projects and moving. It's an aspect of the latter that I want to post about today.

I've swapped just-outside-of-Silicon-Valley-suburban life for a house in the middle of a redwood forest in the Santa Cruz mountains. It's gorgeous here and so peaceful. Part of my impetus to move was that it was getting too hectic and NOISY where I was. I deal with hectic at work and that's fine; I enjoy the challenges. But when I'm home, I want to be away from that sort of atmosphere. And this place is the essence of getting away from it all.

One of the most unexpected pleasant surprises has been my bathtub. Or rather how much I have appreciated it. I have spent most of my adult life taking showers in fiberglass one-piece tub/shower combos with the slight texture on the tub floor, which seem to be ubiquitous to houses and condos built in the last forty years, or occasionally in tiled stalls. I was always slightly dissatisfied with the experience without really knowing why... until I took my first shower in the new house and experienced what I had been missing: a real porcelain tub with a smooth bottom. The only parts of me that come in contact with it are the soles of my feet, yet that small contact is profoundly comforting and viscerally satisfying - and unexpected.

As a rule, I try to appreciate those small pleasures that life hands me. Yet as over time I've become increasingly aware of how I would react, it's nice to know I can still be surprised.

Dec. 15th, 2015


Back from the Big Easy

So, Jack and I decided to take a vacation that didn't involve primitive living conditions or entertaining other people. We hadn't been to New Orleans since 2004 so we felt we were overdue.

If you ever get a chance, GO. New Orleans is an amazing city with a rich, colourful history. And as long as you avoid Bourbon Street, a rich musical history.

Speaking of Bourbon Street, unless you are under twenty-five, like listening to bad covers of "Taking Care of Business" and drinking overpriced drinks surrounded by mobs of very drunk, very loud people, avoid it. Okay - take a quick peek at it just to satisfy your curiosity but honestly, it's where good taste goes to die. It's essentially several blocks of remarkably trashy bars, every single one blaring out very bad canned or live music. Well, there are a couple of "gentlemen's clubs" too - but it's mostly trashy bars. During the day, it's fairly empty, with a few dazed people walking in the street with a "I'm walking down the middle of a street - with a BEER!" look on their faces. It's rather ironic that in a city with such a rich historic and musical history, this street is its most famous landmark. A damn shame, really.

Just a block from Bourbon Street is Royal Street. But aesthetically, it's a world away. This is the street that is populated by talented buskers, playing in a variety of musical genres. I recommend spending at least an afternoon or evening walking down this street listening to the various performers. A really worthwhile way to spend a few hours.

So... about Jack's and my trip. We got there early in the evening on Thursday and grabbed a quick meal at the Gumbo Shop (where I was able to get a spicy, very tasty vegan version of red beans and rice) and then wandering around a bit. We hit the jackpot on the weather - it was unseasonably warm, in the 70s, even in the evenings.

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Dec. 9th, 2015


Twenty statements about life as an INTJ (or, what's life like on your planet?)

1. Depending on the situation, we are either more or less cold-blooded than we appear. To be honest, it's usually more.

2. Pretty much everything is situational with us. Absolutes and black/white thinking are for the weak-minded.

3. If you try that "you're too sensitive" tactic when we call you out for being an asshole, we will laugh at you. Silly person, calling an INTJ sensitive. But it's so cute that you tried.

4. If you ask us what we're feeling at the moment, we wouldn't be able to tell you. And many of us think this ability is almost magical - how do you do it?

5. We don't take things personally. Ever. If you insult us, our response won't be, "you hurt my feelings" but "you're an asshole". And it won't be bravado - that is what we are actually thinking.

6. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, we have emotions. It just that they are not our primary motivator. And we REALLY don't do well with strong emotions. That term "drowning in ________" when used to describe one's feelings must have been invented for us. It's like an alien took over our body and mind - that's how it seems to us.

7. We are strategic, long-range thinkers. We're really, REALLY good at seeing the big picture, particularly when it involves patterns and trends. Pretty much anything we predict will come true in one form or another, if we've put some thought into it. It's our particular superpower - hopefully it makes up for being so socially clueless.

8. 90% of the conversations we have occur inside our heads. We're always second-guessing how a conversation could go or should have gone.

9. If your INTJ employee ever comes to you with a product idea and spec, BUILD THAT PRODUCT. The result will be that you'll be the first to market with a product that will be in demand. Unless your competitor also has an INTJ on their staff, in which case - work quickly.

10. If you are interviewing an INTJ for a job, he or she will be very honest about their abilities. We know what we know and more importantly, what we don't know. And we are unable to bullshit about that. Also, we're not comfortable unless we are subject matter experts. So if you hire an INTJ, he or she will do their best to get to that place as quickly as possible.

11. The best manager for an INTJ is one that is mostly hands-off, will help us minimize how many meetings we attend, checks in every once in awhile to give us the information we need and will either give us regular challenges or green-light our projects. For a manager like that, we will make it our mission to make them - and the company - successful.

12. "But that is the way we've always done it" is the stupidest argument EVER, in our opinion, worthy of oceans of contempt. Don't go there. Really - don't.

13. Most of us are puzzled by the "aura of mystery" that we reportedly have. We think we are straightforward but are apparently difficult to read.

14. Also, our body language doesn't conform to the norms for humans, so trying to figure out what's going on with us based on our body language won't work so well. That must be part of our "aura of mystery".

15. We show that we care by solving problems for our loved ones. Whether they want that problem solved is beside the point. Yes, we do love other people - deeply. We just tend to show it differently than most people.

16. We use mockery as a method of behavior modification.

17. We can become irritated pretty easily, but are very rarely truly angry.

18. Most INTJs, by the time they've hit at least their late twenties, have figured out how to interact with other humans, so are not as awkward on the outside as they feel on the inside. It's learned behavior, though, and does not come naturally. This means that occasional strangeness and awkwardness slips out occasionally. We're usually unaware of it at the time, but will realize it when reviewing that conversation later.

19. Many of us are enthusiastic and skilled storytellers. However, we forget about the potential emotional responses that we might get when telling a sad or horrific tale. For us, anything bad that happens to us usually transmutes into good storytelling fodder fairly quickly. We're not looking for sympathy - we're just telling what we think is an interesting story.

20. We can criticize and praise someone in one sentence. We will be absolutely sincere about both statements. We're not trying to be mean - we're just making statements of fact. In fact, I'm not sure an INTJ can be consciously mean; that would require more savvy with emotions than we have.

Aug. 13th, 2015


Sacred Cow

I'm about to say something that many parents will think is sacrilegious: I think parents should stay away from their children's sporting events. Okay - I've said it.

"WHAAAAT???" you say, "but we're supposed to attend every single sporting event our children participate in. Otherwise we're horrible parents who don't care about our children."

The thing is, I - and many of these parents - are old enough to remember when our sports games were attended by our buddies and very occasionally, a parent or two (usually the ones who had volunteered to drive us to the field or gym that day; and they usually spent the time reading the newspaper or chatting among themselves). It never occurred to us that our parents would even want to watch us, unless our team made it to the finals. They had things to do. And after all, what we were doing was meant for US. We weren't there to perform for our parents - that's what holiday pageants and plays were for. This was our leisure time, with no pressure except to win that game and not to look like a dork in front of our buddies.

That's why I think parents should back away from their kids' games. First, because it's human nature to behave and think differently depending on who you are around. Kids are different around their friends and peers than they are around their parents. And they need to have that time. Second, having a parent watch their kid playing sports turns it from a leisure activity for the kid into a performance for the parents, with added scrutiny and pressure. So it's no longer about the kid. And kids nowadays have gotten so accustomed to this shift that it doesn't even occur to them that this may not be a good thing. And then there are the parents who are either too emotionally invested or are making up for their less-than-stellar sports history by upping the stakes and behaving horribly at games.

It's a damn shame to have witnessed this shift happen. In my perfect world we'd go back to the less pressured kid's-sports-actually-for-the-kids-and-not-their-parents model, but from the looks of things I don't see that happening any time soon.

When I was pondering this subject, it put me in mind of my own youthful coaching career, and my own experience with an over-involved parent.

When I was in high school, I volunteered to be the basketball coach for the fourth grade girls' team. We did reasonably well, winning more games than we lost. And happily, most of the parents didn't interfere. However, there was one glaring exception: Mr. Cervelli, who could be counted on to create a scene at every event he attended. He was always imagining slights against himself and getting in people's faces. His issue with me was that I wasn't in his words, "playing his daughter first-string". As one of the better basketball players, she was already on the court a lot more than the other girls and was very happy about the amount of time she was on the court. But he made it quite clear that his ego wasn't satisfied. I was already keeping her in the game the maximum of time I could without taking another girl out of the game completely, which I was not about to do.

So one afternoon he called to harangue me about this for over an hour. I (surprisingly, given that I was a teenager) kept my cool and told him repeatedly that she was already given "first string" status and that I was not going to take another girl out of the game on his say-so. He must have thought that a fifteen-year-old girl would be an easy target to intimidate, but he was disabused of that notion. I stuck to my guns and he eventually gave up. When I hung up, my mother expressed her astonishment at my uncharacteristic patience and we had a good laugh about it.

Back then, that sort of obnoxiousness was the exception to the rule. Nowadays, it is fairly common. Parents - please don't be that guy. Pretty much every study done on the subject says that this will drive your kids away from their sport. So please do them the favour of backing off and letting them play their game.

Jun. 13th, 2015


What to do with "meh" tomatoes

So... I'm growing tomatoes in pots on one of my decks. And over the years, I've tried various types, with varying levels of success. This year, I found a variety called Patio and added it to my collection. I was pleased with the compactness of the plant and its yield - the pickings for potted tomatoes are rather slim compared to tomatoes I've grown in the ground; and it doesn't seem to matter how properly I water, fertilize, etc. So I waited eagerly for the first few to ripen.

The first few ripened so I picked and added them to our dinner salads. Unfortunately, they rather underwhelmed. They were mealy and mushy and not so tomato-like (kind of like what a "red delicious" is to a real apple). So obviously I couldn't put them in any more salads. So what to do with them? Of course - chutney.

Hot and Spicy Tomato Chutney

1-1/2 cups or so peeled, chopped tomatoes (DO NOT use canned tomatoes)
2 TBSP oil (use a neutral oil - don't use olive oil)
1/2 TSP whole black mustard seeds (if you can't find black mustard seeds, you can omit)
2 dried hot red peppers (those ones that are about 1-1/2 inches long)
1 TSP ginger paste (or grated fresh ginger - don't use dried)
1 TSP garlic paste (or two crushed garlic cloves)
1/2 TSP turmeric
1/4 TSP cayenne pepper
1 TSP cumin
1/2 TSP salt

Mix the tomatoes with the ginger and garlic pastes, turmeric, cayenne, cumin and salt and set aside.

Heat up the oil in a deep pan. When it is hot, throw in the mustard seeds and peppers. Avert your eyes, since the seeds are going to attempt to leap out of the pan; some will succeed. When the peppers swell up a bit, throw in the tomato mixture (again, avert your eyes). Stir and cook on medium heat for about ten to twelve minutes. Let it cool and put it in a jar - it should keep for a week or so.

Mar. 30th, 2015


Homemade English muffins!

I have no excuse for never having made English muffins. None. Should have tried making them years ago.

It started with the purchase of Wilkins and Sons marmalade (delicious, although Jack finds it a bit tart). Naturally, there had to be something to put it on and a crumpet just wouldn't do -- I've tried to like them, but to me there's something not quite right with the texture. So the marmalade vehicle had to be an English muffin. But I could not sully this calibre of marmalade with store-bought muffins.

The first recipe I tried worked beautifully. I found it at https://darthveganblog.wordpress.com/

These were MUCH easier to make than I thought they'd be -- downright easy, in fact.

English Muffins


1 & 1/4 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup warm almond milk
3 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp vegetable shortening (or margarine)
3 cups all-purpose flour + more for dusting
1/2 tsp salt


1. In a bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Let stand five minutes, or until bubbly.

2. Add the almond milk. brown sugar, and shortening. Stir well until combined.

3. Fold in the flour and salt. Knead the dough for 8 minutes, then place in an oiled bowl. Let rise for one hour, or until doubled in size.

4. Punch the dough down. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to half an inch.

5. With a circle cookie cutter or a small bowl or glass, cut out circles in the dough. Re-roll and repeat to use all the dough. I used a crumpet form and was able to get ten muffins from this batch.

6. Let rise for half an hour.

7. Heat a lightly greased pan or griddle on medium-high heat. Cook the muffins about five minutes on each side.

8. Let cool and fork split.

Just take a look at these bad boys:


Feb. 11th, 2015


New Addition to the Household

We always knew that we'd adopt a new kitty when Morgan passed and that we would want another ragamuffin. There was some debate about the timing of a new cat, but we thought that it would take some time to find the kitty we wanted. However, it happened sooner than expected. Upon finding a group that specialized in certain breeds of cat, I learned that a couple of ragamuffins were available - one pretty girl in particular caught my eye. Once we made it through the application process, we drove to Santa Cruz on Sunday to see her at her foster home.

Jack and I took turns spending time with her. She was a bit shy at first, but eventually jumped down into each of our laps and accepted our attention. She turned out to be a very snuggly girl, once she decided that we were worth her time. She was quite young - two years old, which in a ragamuffin is just past kitten-hood. After filling out the adoption form and getting the particulars on her, we took her home.

Like all cats upon entering their new abode, she homed in on our couch and went under it. However, the lure of exploration and laps was too much for her and after only about ten minutes she was out and about. Then she spent the rest of the afternoon on my lap. We've spent the last few days growing accustomed to each other, learning and bonding. And adjusting to a kitty with a whole new set of needs and quirks.

Morgan came to us from the marina where we keep our sailboat. He was middle-aged when we got him and was already partially bonded with us since we made sure he got treats and food whenever we were there. He had been abandoned twice, so it took awhile to sink in that neither he nor we were going anywhere, but once it did, he made it very clear that WE were HIS family. Also, because he had to compete with other cats for food, his meals were of great importance. Wet food was the holy grail and he was quite anxious to get that twice a day. And a treat was anything we handed him - if his family gave it to him, it had great worth. And he was also very much a little gentleman cat, well-behaved and very thoughtful. You could see him figuring out the best way to approach something, like getting up to a place that was beyond his jumping ability.

Freya, on the other hand, is very much a little princess. Ragamuffins take four years to mature and she's just two, so she is an adolescent. So she reacts where Morgan considered - we suspect that her reasoning abilities will improve with age. And if any kitty should be wearing a tiara, it's her; she has a strong will and a somewhat imperious manner. Also, since she's never had to compete for food, she has no issues with it. However, it appears her prior humans fed her dry food only, since she is indifferent to wet food. And to treats as well. This will likely change when she is truly bonded with us and learns what treats represent. It's early days yet; we still have a lot to learn about each other.

These are the resources we used to find Freya:

Pure Breeds Plus Cat Rescue: www.purebreedsplus.org
Kitty Hill Resort for Cats: http://www.kittyhillresort.com


Jan. 16th, 2015


Sandwiches as Comfort Food

Given the past couple of weeks, it's not exactly earth-shattering to admit that comfort food has been much on my mind lately. The most prevalent theories about it involve pleasant associative memories, almost always from childhood. Jack's comfort foods are biscuits, grits and stuffing. They've pretty much stayed the same since childhood. But my comfort foods have changed over the years. My childhood ones were macaroni and cheese and sticky rice. But my adult ones are things I didn't eat as a child: guacamole, bengan bharta and gnocchi.

And really good sandwiches. The sandwiches I ate as a child were the usual sort of thing, involving egg salad, American cheese and/or cold cuts. No real comfort there. But with adulthood came the ability to choose what I ate, so my sandwiches today have nothing at all in common with those I ate as a child. In particular, they have become more indulgent - which is another factor in comfort food. At least it is for me.

A good sandwich is comforting on so many levels. You invent it, you plan it, you assemble and prepare the ingredients, then you build it. The process is as comforting as the consumption. Almost...

Some of my favourite sandwiches:

Toasted tomato - this should really only be made when tomatoes are in season, during the summer. And with locally-grown tomatoes; the mass-produced ones at the supermarket really won't do. Start with toasted sliced sourdough, spread with vegenaise (or mayonnaise), sliced ripe tomatoes, crisp lettuce of choice, salt and pepper.

Simple avocado - a variation on the tomato sandwich, except with avocado instead of tomato and lettuce. Be generous with the avocado.

Portabella and onion - slice one portabella mushroom and one small onion thinly. Saute in olive oil. Spread a small baguette generously with pesto and top with the mushroom mixture.

Assorted fillings - fill a baguette with leftover ratatouille or salade russe.

BBQ tofu - press a block of tofu, then marinate it in BBQ sauce for an hour. Slice it up into eight pieces and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, turning once. Serve in a roll with more sauce. Top with your favourite slaw. Yes, this one is messy. Deal.

Jan. 8th, 2015


Good-bye to an extraordinary kitty

Last Thursday evening, our kitty Morgan puked on the living room rug. Then he puked again. Then a third time. He had been given a special treat for the new year - tuna - and we thought that perhaps it didn't agree with his stomach.

But the next morning, he was walking around hunched over and would not eat. But he was drinking and peeing, so we kept an eye on him for the day. By Friday night, he hadn't improved, so we took him to the emergency room at Adobe Pet Hospital (a place I can recommend in a big way). They prodded him and took blood samples and told us that preliminary tests showed an infection. So they gave him some antibiotics and pain medication and we left with some more antibiotics to give him over the next week. And he seemed to get better. He stopped walking hunching over and started eating - but very little, which we were warned would be the case, due to the antibiotic's effect on the stomach. So we waited and he got a little better, but then he stopped getting better.

Jack took him back to the hospital on Tuesday and came back with the worst possible news: Morgan had, at best, a few days. The likeliest cause was lymphoma; his intestines were in horrible shape and had ruptured and his spleen was in even worse shape. They offered to euthanize him right then, but since Morgan was still alert and didn't appear to be in pain, Jack decided to let him show us when it was time, although he knew it would be a matter of a few days at best. So we spent that night and the next day with him, giving him laps whenever he wanted them and treats as much as he wanted to eat. He snuggled in my lap, looking up at me, blinking slowly and patting my face.

But this morning, he was in a lot of pain. He couldn't stay still. He stumbled around, not sure where he was. And we knew that this was the time. We took him to the hospital and held him, telling him what a good, loved kitty he was, while the vet injected him with two substances. And he went, very quickly.

I've had a number of pets over the course of my life, but he was special. Extraordinary, really. He had none of the aloofness that is typical in cats; he was an extremely snuggly, extremely affectionate lap kitty. At dinner, he would place a paw on Jack's leg or mine, to remind us that a certain kitty was nearby and required a lap when we were done eating. When we'd sit watching TV, usually holding hands, he'd reach over and place his paw over our hands.

He was very much a gentleman, very well-behaved, a gentle soul. Other people told us of how their cats swiped, clawed or bit, destroyed stuff or ran out of the house or fought with the other pets or visitors. We had no such stories. Morgan never really misbehaved, never destroyed anything, never ran outside (he did walk out on the porch once, then mewed softly and went back inside), and was always a good host. Friends would bring their dogs by, and, after touching noses, Morgan would treat them like any other visitor, which is to say politely and graciously.

And he learned how to do tricks. He would sit, shake, sit up and jump through a hoop on command (for treats, of course...) He was very patient when we'd put kitty-sized hats on him. As long as his beloved family was doing the asking, he was okay with it, because it was his family asking. He made it very apparent that his favourite place to be was with his family and as long as he could be with us, he was the happiest kitty in the world.

We were so privileged to have been the family of this extraordinary kitty.


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