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15 November 2018 @ 10:27 am
Welcome to California.
Did you bring your mask?

The closest wildfire to San Jose is hundreds of miles away, but so much smoke has been blown in that the sky is an ugly dirty brownish-orange and it smells like a dying campfire. (At least it did last night when I walked from my car to the house. I haven't been outside since.)  My phone's weather app has warned about unhealthy air quality all week, so I've been carrying a mask around in my purse to put on whenever I go out.

If this is as close as the fires get to San Jose I will be so grateful.  It's such a minor inconvenience compared to the thousands of people who have lost their homes and/or family members in the last week. It's so heartbreaking to see the body count rise every time I check the news. I can't imagine the challenge faced by the people of Paradise: rebuild their town or start over somewhere else? I have no idea what we'd do in their shoes.
04 November 2018 @ 09:52 pm
Mouse-Con is a small, regional Disney fan event. It's nowhere near the scale of D23 Expo; in fact, it's smaller than almost any other convention I've attended. For an event of its size, it manages to get some pretty good speakers, so even though it was at a hotel in Concord this year it still seemed worthwhile to go.

The main attraction was the man behind many of Disneyland's attraction vehicles, Bob Gurr. He was speaking at noon. Due to a mishap with my glasses (the screw on one side popped out, disconnecting the frame and the temple) I was a few minutes late, but it seemed like the presentation was just Bob freewheelin' for an hour, taking questions from the audience and answering them in whatever manner he found appropriate. Sometimes this resulted in a quick dismissal, usually for questions that approached controversial or contemporary topics, but more often Bob would answer with a story from his days working at Disney or on other theme park rides. He spoke proudly of his lack of formal schooling in engineering, explaining that he was free to come up with creative solutions to issues that came up because he didn't know the 'right' way to tackle the problem.
One audience member asked him something to the effect of "What ride do you wish you worked on?" and Bob said that if he'd been born a few decades later, he would have loved to work on Universal Studio's Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction. I can see why he'd pick that one. It's wonderfully immersive and blends screen technology with physical props.

The other presentation we saw was a Vintage Disneyland slideshow by two of the hosts of the Mousetalgia podcast. I love retro slideshows and Jeff and Dave had a good collection of images. We didn't catch the entire talk because the room was a little hard to find, but what we did see was very entertaining. We weren't the only ones who thought so; the room was packed and I ended up sitting on the floor while Sean and Jeannie crammed up against the wall.

After the Mousetalgia talk, we wandered around the dealers' room and caught up with old friends. It was a pleasant afternoon. Between the three of us, I don't think we bought anything except a package of peanuts to snack on. There was some interesting merchandise for sale, but most of it was either overpriced or too worn and ratty to be desirable to anyone but the most nostalgic collector.
One interesting note: there were several authors of Disney-related books and DVDs attending, and for the most part they were all lined up by the doorway. I'm not sure if this was a benefit for them. On the one hand, it gave them visibility as guests walked past them before moving on to registration or leaving the convention, but that location also made them easy to ignore if you weren't interested. I wonder if they would have fared better with their tables in the main dealers area? I wish I knew one of the vending authors because I'd love to know what they thought of the arrangement.
23 May 2018 @ 10:11 pm
Last night, PBS aired the launch special for their The Great American Read initiative. Throughout the summer, PBS is asking Americans to vote for their favorite book from a list of one hundred titles, culled from a survey of people across the country. The winner will be announced sometime in the fall.

As Meredith Viera talked through the one hundred choices, Seanie got to listen to my running commentary on the books I'd read. Here's the full list for your enjoyment. Titles I've read are in bold:

1. 1984 by George Orwell
2. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
3. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

4. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
6. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
7. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
8. Alex Cross Mysteries (series) by James Patterson
9. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
10. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
11. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
12. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
13. Another Country by James Baldwin
14. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
15. Beloved by Toni Morrison
16. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
17. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
18. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
19. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

20. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
21. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
22. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
23. The Chronicles of Narnia (series) by C.S. Lewis

24. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
25. The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah
26. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
27. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

28. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
29. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
30. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
32. Doña Bárbara by Rómulo Gallegos
33. Dune by Frank Herbert
34. Fifty Shades of Grey (series) by E.L. James
35. Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
36. Foundation (series) by Isaac Asimov
37. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
38. Games of Thrones (series) by George R.R. Martin
39. Ghost by Jason Reynolds
40. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

41. The Giver by Lois Lowry
42. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
43. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
44. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
45. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
46. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
47. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

48. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
49. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
50. Harry Potter(series) by J.K. Rowling
51. Hatchet (series) by Gary Paulsen
52. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
53. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
54. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
55. The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins

56. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
57. The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
58. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
59. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
60. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
61. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
62. Left Behind (series) by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
63. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
64. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

65. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
66. Looking for Alaska by John Green
67. The Lord of the Rings (series) by J.R.R. Tolkien
68. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
69. The Martian by Andy Weir
70. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

71. Mind Invaders by Dave Hunt
72. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
73. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
74. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
75. Outlander (series) by Diana Gabaldon
76. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
77. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
78. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
79. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
80. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

81. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
82. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
83. The Shack by William P. Young
84. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

85. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
86. The Stand by Stephen King
87. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
88. Swan Song by Robert McCammon
89. Tales of the City (series) by Armistead Maupin
90. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
91. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

92. This Present Darkness by Frank E. Peretti
93. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
94. Twilight Saga (series) by Stephenie Meyer

95. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
96. The Watchers by Dean Koontz
97. The Wheel of Time (series) by Robert Jordan
98. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
99. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
100. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

I'm tempted to try and see how many of the unread books on the list I can knock out by the time they announce the winner. I mean, some of these I don't think I need to read. I read the first chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey and that was more than enough. The writing is awful. I've seen enough discussion about the series since to know the basic plot. I also saw the movie of Ready Player One and Seanie assures me that since I didn't care for that, I won't like the book. But maybe this list will be the motivation I need to kick a few classics off that I've always meant to get around to, like Hatchet and The Giver and Robert Jordan's series.

I don't know if I can pick a top novel yet, but if I had to narrow it down to my personal top 10 here's what I'd pick:

- A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
- Ghost by Jason Reynolds
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I ended up cutting some books, even though I love them more than books on the list, because they aren't by American writers. In my head, the 'Great American Read' should be set in America or at least written by an American. Sorry Austen, Brontës, Rowling, etc...but I think you'll all be just fine without my little vote.

It was surprisingly difficult to cut Jurassic Park because while it may not be the most literary work, it seems a quintessential American story that captures our cultural zeitgeist so very well. Plus, it's so much fun. I may slip it back in there if I can find the heart to boot something else.

The last book I took off was The Joy Luck Club. I so want the book to be on the list, but I also have to admit that it's been at least fifteen years since I read it and I don't really remember it that well. If I get a chance to re-read the book Amy Tan might very well pop back on the list.
10 December 2017 @ 10:28 am
Every spring and fall, my boss does a book preview where she talks about her favorite new children's titles from the season. It's a ticketed event, and included in the ticket is a list of the books with her notes on each title. She spends several days assembling the list and puts a lot of work into it, so we don't give it away to those who choose not to attend the event.

Last month, a woman e-mailed one of our employees asking for a copy of the list. This woman used to live in the area but has since moved out of state, and for a while this employee would send her copies of the list. However, a pattern emerged: the woman would ask for recommendations and for the list, but as best we can tell she never ordered anything from the store. The employee wasn't getting orders through e-mail in response to her recommendations, and there were no records of the woman buying books through our website or any receipts from shipping packages to her. With no proof of purchase, we declined to send her this year's list, citing the policy only to share it with event attendees.

The woman went nuts. She called several times trying to talk to the employee, and when that didn't work she started asking me to send her the list. She had a whole litany of reasons why we should make an exception: she lived out of state so she OBVIOUSLY couldn't attend the preview, she was a long time customer (fact check: you aren't a customer unless you actually spend money at the establishment), she sends her friends in all the time, she loves my boss' recommendations, she's willing to pay the ticket price, etc and so on.

It escalated on Saturday when I sent a response recommending our online holiday catalog and Book of the Year lists as alternatives to the preview list: in the next twenty-four hours she e-mailed twice and called three times absolutely DESPERATE for this list of titles. The boss said I had given her the answer, so I was free to ignore her, so that's what I've done.

Don't get me wrong, the list of books we create is good, but it's not as if there aren't thousands of other lists to get gift ideas from. Her reaction is mind-boggling, to be honest. If a customer makes an annual holiday purchase someone on staff would recognize her name and some sort of paper trail would exist, so it's pretty clear she's not buying the books from us.

I know some people might think, "It's just a list, why not give it to her in the name of good customer service?" Well, she's not a customer of ours and there is no benefit to us of giving her proprietary information. In fact, to do so would cheapen the gift we give to those loyal customers who do attend the previews.

Ah, well. She's not the only person picking our brains and then running off to Amazon. This time of year brings them out in droves.
06 December 2017 @ 09:58 am
Always get a second opinion, right?

I met with another IT company to get a second bid for our computer upgrades. (I would have done so anyway, but the fact that the first guy I met with disappeared after promising a quote the next day made it quite necessary.) They came highly recommended by my old boss at RHA, and after just a few minutes it became clear that this company better understood a small business like our bookstore. The owner of the company came out and after looking around and asking questions started discussing possible solutions. Some of his observations corroborated the previous company's ideas: the wiring is a hot mess that needs to be cleaned up and/or replaced, our computers are old and possibly failing, and it's going to take a lot of troubleshooting hours to get things running smoothly. But this company was more willing to work with the fact that we (obviously) don't have a lot of money for the project. He broke down the project into what he thought had to be done immediately, what could wait, and what might not be necessary at all. He was upfront about the costs of bringing himself or one of his employees to the site, but suggested that for simple fixes he might be able to teach me or Sean how to do it on one computer and then let us complete the action on the other machines. He also wanted to talk to the company that makes our inventory software so that he could better understand what the store needed - an idea that the other company didn't propose and didn't seem interested in pursuing when I suggested it.

When he left, we had a definite game plan: next week he will stop by with another contractor that does the wiring for his projects so that they can give us an estimate for how much re-networking the whole store would cost. To demonstrate the benefits of this, he drew a map of proposed replacement network with such simplicity that both our bookkeeper and I could understand it. And he was upfront with the cost: from past experience his best guess was that a new network would run us between $1000-$2000, but since it wasn't his area of expertise he could be off. That at least gave us a number to play with.

RHA hires good people so I trust that this company will do a good job, even if they're a little more expensive than other companies out there. The boss wants me to call around and get a few more estimates though, just to make sure we'll be getting the best deal we can.
Met with a professional IT guy today.  I showed him our computers and described what we expected for the project and the approximate timeline we were looking at. His feedback was not too encouraging.  He described our computer upgrade as a "big" project due to the number of machines, the way they're scattered throughout the building, and the absolute rat's nest of cords and wires he'd have to sort through as he worked to get everything up and running.  He highly doubted he'd be able to complete the work in the two-day window proposed by the store owners.

Of course, a large-scale project comes with a matching price tag.  He's e-mailing a quote sometime tonight, but based on his hourly rate I really doubt we'll be able to afford him.  He looked at our computers for about two hours today and couldn't get the printer/copier back online, so tomorrow I'm to look into getting replacement routers from AT&T in hopes that this will kick the network back into submission.

I knew the diagnosis for the main overhaul would not be good, but I hoped fixing the relatively small issue of getting the network running would be easy, that I'd overlooked something stupid and this IT man would swoop in and flip a switch and make it all run again.  I guess life can't always be so simple.
10 August 2017 @ 09:21 am
My grandfather sent me this story back in 2009. At the time, I wasn't very interested in alcohol but I found it a curious little vignette about farming in ye olden times. Now I can't help but share his curiosity about the impact of sorghum vs. molasses on the flavor of moonshine...

Sorghum Syrup, the Long Sweetening for Moonshiners.

We lived at just about the northern edge of the climate where you could grow sugar cane, and we had special techniques for handling the plant through the winter and for growing it. We knew all about sugar cane and making molasses. We also knew that, way back, people in our community grew sorghum, and that, further to the north, people still made syrup from sorghum. It had a tang quite different from regular molasses. I liked that taste and decided I wanted to grow some. I believe the year was 1940, so I got the seed and planted about 1/8 of an acre. It grew beautifully and headed out in early August, so we knew it was time to harvest it and make it into sorghum syrup. We began to get our molasses-making equipment together when Mr. Billy Walker, who also had eaten sorghum in his youth, offered to make it up into syrup for 1/10, one container of each 10. He simply hankered for some old-fashioned sorghum. We took the truckloads of sorghum stalks over to Mr. Walker's and helped him grind the stalks and cook the syrup. It was as good as any sorghum I ever tasted before or since. I had some almost daily until I left home for college in 1941. But the rest of my family did not like sorghum as much as I, so they still had some on hand when sugar-rationing began in WW II. Suddenly one day some Merry Hell moonshiners appeared, asking if we still had sorghum syrup. My brothers were glad to sell the entire supply to them. I have always wondered if moonshine made with sorghum syrup tasted differently, but I never learned.

Some days, I just roll my eyes and laugh in a tired, worn out way. “POTUS said what? How could so many sounds and words fall from his lips yet fail to form coherent sentences?”

Other days, I'm confused and angry. “Where do these ideas come from? How can the other Republicans still listen to this furious ramblings of a sad, tired old man?”

But the last few days, I'm just afraid. We have a man-child who seems dead-set on leading our country into war with a nation led by another baby with no self-control. At some point, if cooler heads don't prevail over tyrants, one of them will snap and launch missiles – probably with nuclear warheads – and then healthcare won't matter so much because we'll all be dead.

First I should clarify that any loss of life due to these two spitting fire and fury at each other would be devastating. Any attack on North or South Korea, Japan, or the United States would be awful. Innocent civilians will be massacred. But I can't help but feel extra nervous because it's possible an attack would hit fairly close to home.

Not to be melodramatic but don't you think Silicon Valley would be a prime target, assuming North Korea has in fact developed weapons that could reach so far? Sure, they would target Guam first since that's one of the closest military bases, and I'm sure most of the firepower would focus on Seoul thanks to proximity and ancient grudges.

But it seems possible that if Kim Jong-un and his advisers want to make a political statement, if they want to strike out at Western culture directly, they might very well turn their attention to California. Silicon Valley drives commerce around the world with its many dot-coms – but drop bombs anywhere in the Bay Area and that could be disrupted. San Francisco, Mountain View, Cupertino, San Jose...all are home to the headquarters of major companies. Looking South, if he wanted to attack American pop culture and our decadent Western lifestyle, Los Angeles would be a perfect target.

Most news reports I've seen don't suggest this area as a primary target. Instead, I've seen suggestions of Seattle, New York City, or (of course) Washington DC. The navy ships in San Diego's harbor seem to be closer to North Korea's sightlines than my hometown. Maybe I'm a little puffed up with my idea of San Jose's importance to the greater world.

And yet...I wonder about it, and if I think about it too long I get a little nervous. I don't stop what I'm doing and I have no plans to change my daily routine, but there's a new little fear niggling at the back of my mind whenever I'm quiet and still enough that it can surface.
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08 August 2017 @ 10:27 pm
I came to work one day and there was a little bag of gummy bears on my desk.
Well, at one point the bag contained an assortment of gummy something, but they'd melted into an amorphous blob. I suspected my boss. She has a weird sense of humor sometimes.

Today I asked her about it.

"Hey boss," I said, "Did you leave these here for me?"

"Oh yes," she said, "You're so sweet and I know you love candy." Then she grinned her most mischievous grin. "I bet you were wondering what weird person would give you something like that."

"I'll tell you what I was really wondering." I hold up the little bag. "This definitely looks like something that came in one of your little packages from the publishers." (She frequently gets advance reader copies of books with little thematically-appropriate presents like candy, trinkets, and small household goods from our sales reps.) "What I really want to know is what book they were promoting with dead gummy bears?"

She cracked up and even after she stopped laughing never told me what the title is. No matter. My mind had already moved on to contemplating what this giant mutant gummy tastes like. I didn't take a bite, but it's only a matter of time before I give way to curiosity.

07 August 2017 @ 09:44 pm
Last Friday I started sneezing like crazy.  It got so bad that I had to take a Benadryl just to stop the sneezing enough that I could sleep.  Ever since, I've had a runny nose, itchy throat, and of course the sneezes.

I wonder what's in the air?  There are a couple of wildfires burning here in California, but none of them are close.  I've never been prone to allergies, but even if I was I'm not sure what I'd be reacting to.  It seems like the wrong time of year for pollen and it happens when I'm indoors, anyway.  But I don't think it's anything inside our home, either, because it also happens at work and at my parents' house.

Whatever it is, I hope it dies down soon.  There's nothing less attractive than a woman with her face constantly scrunched up with a tissue in one hand, on constant alert for the explosion that may or may not come.
08 May 2017 @ 10:21 pm
After dithering and debating for months, Seanie and I finally decided to break down and try Blue Apron. For those who have avoided the ubiquitous ads on social media and every podcast to which I am subscribed, Blue Apron is a subscription service that delivers fresh ingredients to your home, with recipe cards, so that you can retain the joy of cooking while eliminating the stress of grocery shopping.

Or, if you are me and Seanie, you learn how to cook adult recipes instead of our half-assed dinners that consist of one nutritionally unbalanced dish like pasta or curry and rice. For example, tonight's meal - our first one - was Seared Salmon served with a creme fraiche sauce and Roasted Potato Salad with Pickled Mustard Seeds. If we attempted to produce this meal on our own, we would prepare either the salad or the fish - it wouldn't occur to us to attempt both. We would stick to very basic things - no fancy sauce, just salmon filet. Potato salad? You're lucky if we boil some potatoes and pop some shredded cheese on top.

Each recipe comes with prepacked ingredients. You have to provide your own olive oil, salt, and pepper - everything else is in the box. I don't just mean the basic meat and vegetables, either. Mustard seeds? Got it. Cider vinegar? There's a tiny bottle included. It's super handy. If I start noticing that I use an ingredient over and over, I'll invest in a full-sized bottle, but while we're experimenting I don't have to commit to an entire spice rack.

While I was walking home from the bookstore, Seanie prepped the vegetables by cleaning and chopping them. Then we cooked them together. Our kitchen is so small that it's a bit of a tight squeeze to have two chefs at the same time, but we found a rhythm that worked for us. We were able to get everything cooked in under half an hour, and we ended up with two reasonable-looking plates of food.

I was very sad to realize my plate had a tiny chip on its edge.

I really liked both components of the dish. The salmon turned out pretty well - maybe a trifle overcooked, but it had a nice flavor. I was iffy on the sauce, but it paired really nicely with the fish, even toning down the "fishiness" a bit. But the real star was the salad. The lightly pickled shallot and mustard seeds really complimented the kale, and you can't go wrong with roasted potatoes. They're always awesome. There was this great combination of textures, with the crunch of kale and ground pistachio nuts and the soft sweet pickled onions and solid, hearty potatoes. It wasn't difficult to make so I could easily replicate the recipe in the future.

Due to the cost, we don't plan to use Blue Apron every week.  Maybe once a month or so.  Our plan lets us choose three recipes each week, from a total of six, but the choices are somewhat limited.  If I pick one dish with chicken, for example, I might not be able to choose that week's fish entree.   There are some weeks we are skipping because even though we wanted to try 3 or 4 of the dishes, we couldn't toggle the recipes into a combination that excluded a "yucky" recipe.

Our other entrees this week will be Spicy Pepper & Ricotta Calzones with Cucumber Salad and Chicken and Creamy Couscous.  I will report back on the results.
30 April 2017 @ 08:48 pm
Grandpa originally wrote this e-mail on April 30th, 2009. It was a follow-up to some musing on snakes on the farm, continuing his thoughts with another slithery critter.
Thinking back, I wish I'd asked him more questions. I wish I'd asked all four of my grandparents more questions about their childhoods and their lives. Well, at least I have these little e-mail stories...

Snakey folks - continued
I never fished for eels, but my older brother Rudolph did on Clear Creek/OkaBogue. From where the creek rose in out pasture, he went down about twomiles toward Milton where the stream was much larger. There he caught a mudcat, found fresh water muscles, caught an eel, and a lamper eel. We ate all except the lamper eel. I remembered the taste of fresh watermuscles, and have always loved oysters, raw or cooked. We also ate the mudcat and the eel, but I can only remember they tasted fishy. We were afraid of lamper eels and probably confused them with lampreys, a parasitic eel-like fish which now infects all the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, and their tributaries. I looked up Congo eels/lamper eels on Google.com and found they can be bought live for aquariums for $10 each for an 18 inch one. Larger ones are more expensive. They can be eaten, but there is no market for them as food. It is said they have 25 times the amount of DNA as a human. I suppose that means God has them in waiting, ready to mutate into all possible forms, after Armageddon.
(I've been watching the TV series, "Life After People.")
The life cycle of the eel has always fascinated me. How they could be born in the Sargasso Sea and make they way to some remote place like Clear Creek must be one of God's wonders. What attracts them? Do they descend from eels who went there before them? Or do they just go randomly to North America or to Europe or wherever? It is as strange as
the migrations of birds.
12 April 2017 @ 08:41 pm
My dad's been sending out old e-mails that my grandfather wrote in the last decade of his life. Today's story is from 2009, and recalls the various snakes that lived on Grandpa's childhood farm. I always enjoyed hearing his farm stories the most.

Snakey folks of Sullivan's Hollow.

Whether we liked them or not, there were some snakey folks who lived on the Hough farm. We avoided them when we could, but we did have confrontations. To the east of our house, we had the Hollow and sandy hills draining into it. For some reason the copperheads and pigmy rattlers liked the brier patches in the old fields, said cleared and worked by slaves a hundred years earlier.. Perhaps the snakes preyed on the rodents who came at night to eat the fallen berries.
To the west we had the Meadow and its stream of running water. There we encountered cotton-mouth moccasins, perhaps the most deadly of all the snakey folks, and other non-venomous snakes such as the coach whip, black runner, king snake, and chicken snake. The last time we ever went to the Josh Lack swimming hole, we had a great time splashing about for about an hour, then we got out and put on our clothes. As we were doing that, we saw a black cotton-mouth moccasin swim leisurely across the swimming hole. We never went back there.
From time to time we would hear about someone killing a coral snake or a timber rattler, but we did not seem to have any. We also heard of unusual snakes which we never saw, such as hoop snakes. The persistence of such stories in my childhood make me think someone saw snakes in copulation, where they might perform unusual gymnastics. Some of these antics have been filmed in recent years and can be seen on TV. No one knew in my childhood, who could or would tell me, how snakes copulated, but people did claim to have seen hoop snakes.
I believe the pit vipers (pygmy rattlers, copperheads, and cottonmouths) mostly hunted at night when they could use the heat sensing organs of the pits on the sides of their heads. When we encountered them in the daytime, they always seemed sluggish and easily killed. We never got bitten.
The copperhead is a coppery brown snake about four to five feet long. We also called them rattlesnake pilots for historic reasons. If you found a copperhead, said the folklore, you should watch out for rattlesnakes. I think the truth was that they hunted the same prey and wound up in the same brier patches with copperheads. The pygmy rattler was what we found, and they had small rattlers which identified them. They seemed to be nondescript sandy brown no more than 18 inches long. We killed copperheads and pygmy rattlers each year, especially when we gathered wild blackberries.
The cottonmouths in the old Meadow probably crawled up the stream from Clear Creek. Actually the old Meadow was the last definable headwaters for Clear Creek. The Cottonmouth is a black water moccasin, but may live anywhere along the creek bottoms. They seemed to live on frogs, crawfish, and minnows. They were four or five feet long and big around.
We killed one or two each year. On one spring day, we burned off the bank protecting the meadow and disturbed four cottonmouths, apparently still in hibernation. They struggled out of the burning brush and we whacked their heads off with our grubbing hoes.
The coach-whip was a snake half black and half white. It was not poisonous and hunted rodents in high grass, oats, or other grain. They could stand up and look over the tops of the grass to locate their prey when they were close to it. A big snake could stand up four feet in this way, a startling sight if you were a small boy just four feet tall. My
father told the story of cutting oats with a reap-hook, with his sisters following, gathering and tying the oats in bundles. A coach whip reared up in this way just in front of him, and he automatically swiped at him with the reap-hook, taking off his head. But this was an otherwise harmless snake.
Our version of the black bull snake was called the black runner, and it was our most common snake. It was completely harmless and lived on rodents and, I believe, birdÆs eggs. It was an avid tree climber, which I once observed at close range. My three younger brothers, Clifford, Donald, Roland, and I were playing along an old field, barefooted, one day when I stepped on something which squirmed under my foot. I jumped automatically and up came a black runner. It ran up a brush pile, then stretched up a few feet to the first limb of a small oak tree, then up, limb by limb to the top of the tree. We could see it was a black runner and not a cottonmouth. I was upset about being frightened and resolved to get even with that snake. I got a small limb and climbed the tree up to the point where I was about four feet from the snake. My beating limb was about three feet long, just a little short for hitting the snake on the head. I compromised by hitting the limb, hoping to jar the snake loose. Each time I hit the limb, the snake did indeed jar, but a little closer to me. As he got closer, he and I could see each other's thinking. He wanted the trunk of the tree so he could escape downward safely. I could see he was going to use the trunk whether I was there or not. I decided on the OR NOT and scrambled down. Clifford, Donald, and Roland took up a refrain that I was scared of a little black runner. Indeed, they were right. I then threw my stick at the snake and dislodged him and down he came, landing on the brush heap and slithering away in the grass. Clifford, Donald, and Roland all told the story over and over about the day a little black runner frightened the wits out of Granville.
We never killed the King snake, a constrictor which ate rats and other snakes. I do not remember its coloration, but they seemed less afraid of humans than other snakes. They would show up within our barn, or along the fence rows of our fields. They could get six feet long.
We also had a dark-colored snake we called a rat snake, which we allowed to roam in our hayloft and corn crib in search of mice and rats. A larger version we called a chicken snake, which could kill grown chickens. I never knew whether we had two different snakes or just one which was a juvenile and another which was full grown. Our working rule was that we killed any snake near the chicken houses and tolerated any snake in the barn.
When we visited Cliff Hough on the old Hough farm, he had a snake or two which had taken up residence near his house. As a paramedic, he had learned to handle snakes, and had no fear of capturing them and moving them out of his yard. However, we had no such skills in growing up and had no desire for learning them.
But it is interesting to know that snakes we knew on the Hough farm may have descendants there today. They outlasted people.
25 February 2017 @ 12:46 pm
When your co-worker doesn't show up for work, do you:
A/ Call them to see why they're running late
B/ Text them (if that's a better way to communicate)
C/ Text your store manager and then ignore her for an hour when she asks if you've done A or B, only to finally reply that "you didn't have time"

If you only have time for one text, why on Earth wouldn't you text the missing co-worker? She's the one who knows why she isn't there. Me? Trust me, no one tells the boss anything so I wouldn't have a clue. But when I asked her what was going on, she replied within five minutes and we established what had gone wrong in the chain of communication within ten. So if they'd bypassed me, they would have had the situation sorted out before the store was crazy with customers, and a third person working at the store too.

Laying aside that we're all grown adults and don't need to run tattling to teacher, I'm really perplexed as to why they didn't just call her first. That seems so obvious and easy a solution - and what we always did at every previous job I've ever worked.

I guess I should ask the store owners if this was SOP with the previous manager before I get too annoyed, but I get too few days off to have them interrupted by stupid questions that could have been easily resolved without my involvement.
21 February 2017 @ 07:34 pm
"Don't you folks out in California know how to handle a little water?"

Hey, for some folks in other parts of the country, the recent rainfall might be nothing unusual, but for us in San Jose this is a once in a lifetime drenching. (At least one hopes that this isn't a new normal brought about by climate change.) Our infrastructure wasn't designed for such quantities of water.

As I write, several local highways are closed due to flooding. The roads up by Boss #1 are blocked by downed power lines and fallen trees; the other boss has had chunks of road simply washed away in mudslides. Neither of them have been able to get out without taking hours of detours.

The bookstore hasn't fared as well. On Friday night we had crazy leaks in the roof, especially since strong winds had blown the plastic sheeting off the skylights, leaving them exposed. Our matrix printer was soaked, but luckily it dried over the weekend and we've been able to resume using it. Our barcode label printer was not so lucky; it got wet and I think the power was still on, because the electronics are fried. I ordered another barcode printer through eBay and so far we've been unable to get it working with our old MS-DOS computers. A couple of hours each day has been devoted to trying to fix that issue, and it's been such a headache.

At least my corner of the world is so far unaffected, save that a leak on one end of the summer house has made a mess of the cabinetry in there.
15 January 2017 @ 11:47 pm

Took this photo back at the beginning of the month, but at first I wasn't going to post it because it was just a silly selfie while we were waiting for our dinner at Nick the Greek's.  But then I thought, I should share it, because I think it's the first picture of me 'n' Seanie I took in 2017, and aren't we a nice, happy-looking couple.
Also, it's winter and it was sprinkling outside, so we're nice 'n' bundled up.  If we remember to take a similar picture in July, it'll be quite the contrast.
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14 January 2017 @ 11:53 am

Awesome Pack is a monthly subscription box that delivers board games, card games, and other "awesome" entertainment.  I decided earlier this year to end my subscription - my game shelves are fully stocked, and I need to make time to play all the ones I have before acquiring more - so I believe this will be my last box.

One of the drawbacks of Awesome Pack is the box always arrives after the month it's meant to celebrate.  For example, the letter that accompanies this current box has Christmas ornaments decorating the border.  That holiday was several weeks ago, but the box only arrived yesterday morning.  It's a little detail, but I notice it.

3-5 players
In the Ancient Greece, the poleis (city-states) thrived increasing their population and culture, occasionally waging war against each other, erecting buildings and celebrating ceremonies to get the favour of the deities abiding on Mount Olympus. The players will lead one of these city-states (like Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Argos and others) expanding it and worshipping the various gods in order to become the hegemonic power of the Peloponnesus!

This looks great!  I love Greek mythology and I love civilization-building games.  Strategy games are fun, and this looks like it'll be a real challenge.  I know Donna and Kenny will play, and with the connection to Ancient Greece I might even be able to get Jeans interested.

3+ players
This quick-witted word game is a riot of fun!  It's a helter-skelter race in which you must get rid of your cards by calling out answers to teasing topics.  Once the topic has been announced you'll have to think quickly, calling examples that start with the letters on your cards.

I think this is designed to be simple enough that kids can play, but when I see this I think it might be a great bar game.  It's exactly the sort of thing that you can play for as little or as long as you like, and it would get progressively sillier the more spirits imbibed.

NECA Scalers: Rocket Raccoon
Scalers are little decorative plastic figures that you attach to your earbuds or other cords.  They hang there and look cute, I guess.   At 2" tall, I would think that the figure is too big and heavy to wear comfortably on your headphones.  You'd have this golfball sized toy swinging around every time you turn your head, with little pointy edges - potential ouch, don't you think?

Mega Bloks Call of Duty Drone Attack Construction Set
I don't want little toys, but at least I am a fan of Guardians of the Galaxy so at least I can understand how Rocket Raccoon ended up in my box.  But Call of Duty?  Ick.
Don't want.

It is items like this Call of Duty set that soured Awesome Pack for me and contributed to the decision to cancel.  In every feedback survey, I told them "Games Only" and no pop culture-related items.  This information was not retained from one month to the next, and if I missed a feedback survey (or never even received one, which happened in December) suddenly little toys and pop culture items would be back in the box.  It got to be pretty frustrating because other aspects of the subscription were so good.

Curious to learn more about this awesome subscription box? Visit Awesome Pack's website for more details:
11 January 2017 @ 11:44 am
My dad has a listserv that sends out old stories and letters that my grandfather wrote in the last several years of his life. It's always nice to get them and remember him. Of all my grandparents, he was the storyteller.

This morning, a little poem appeared in my inbox. It was written by my dad's mother. When my grandfather sent it out to the family he didn't give a date, so I don't know at what point in her life she wrote it, but I like it.

The wind blew out of the south,
Mussing my hair, caressing my cheek and
Temptingly whispering, Climb over the hills
And see what lies beyond.
I never went to see
But I always wished I had.
09 January 2017 @ 11:31 pm
One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.
- A. A. Milne

(Story of my life.)
06 January 2017 @ 05:58 pm
Throughout the holiday season, as my co-workers and friends caught colds, I'd be warned to take care of myself lest the same thing happen to me. After all, something nasty was going around and taking people out left and right.

"Eh," I'd say, "If I get sick I'll get a day off so, y'know, that's OK with me."

Fate was just waiting to pounce on me for that. She was merciful until the Christmas season was finished, but now I've been struck with a scratchy throat, stuffed up nose, and a total inability to concentrate.

It's not a bad cold (so far) and if I baby myself for the next few days it should resolve pretty quickly, but how inconvenient to get sick now, when Seanie's on the mend from his Christmas cold and we could finally get some work done around the house.

On the bright side, I got to curl up on the couch and watch Sunset Boulevard again. It is such a good movie. The acting, the writing, the way it's shot...just gorgeous.
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