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Snap, crackle, pop isn’t just about cereal

Tweet from @AaronLinguini: “*demon tries to inhabit my body* Demon: OUCH Me: yeah... Demon: WHAT THE HELL Me: I know Demon: EVERYTHING HURTS, WHY?? AND WHATS WRONG WITH THIS SHOULDER??? Me: idk man, can I offer you a mint?”

From Aaron Ansuini (@AaronLinguini). Click to embiggen.

Yeah, I used the graphic recently, but it’s appropriate. I need to do a real NorWesCon review this week, but today we’ll stick to one discovery I made.

On Monday morning, after our fourth night sleeping at the con, my husband was up and had already carried some things out to the car when I woke up. Most other mornings he had gotten up before me, gotten dressed, ran off to do his staff job, and sometimes came back as I was getting moving to see if I wanted to go to breakfast. So Monday was the first morning he was there the entire time I was doing my initial get up and get ready shuffle.

He kept expressing concern, asking if I was all right, a lot during the process. I attributed it to him feeling tired because he never sleeps well away from home, and he had been very busy all weekend. So I thought it was a bit of projection: I didn’t feel quite right, so he assumed I didn’t, either.

But when we were almost done loading the car, he asked again, with a really concerned tone of voice. So I asked him did I look bad? Why was he asked.

“You were complaining a lot while moving around this morning.”

I explained that that was just the usual thing: my joints are always stiff when I first wake up until I’ve been moving around for a while. And I always mutter to myself while doing certain tasks. “I just had that in my hand a minute ago… oh, there you are!” and so on.

“You weren’t just groaning! You were dropped the F-bomb several times”

And I had an epiphany. On weekdays, he leaves for work about three hours before my alarm goes off. Then on weekends, he sleeps in. So he’s almost never around during that time when I’m just getting up and moving. Apparently in the last couple years I’ve gone from just groaning when I reach for something and my shoulder protests. I now mutter bad words along with the groaning.

Now, I probably did it a bit more than usual Monday, because I also don’t sleep very well when I’m not in my own bed, so by the fourth night of sleeping at the hotel, I was also feeling less than fully rested. I was also trying to pack, which meant lifting and moving a lot more things than I’m usually handling during a typical get-up-and-get-ready-for-work routine.

The truth is I am getting older, and parts of my body just don’t work as well as they used to. I own several folding canes and keep them stashed around. This started in the early days of my pre-diabetic treatment. When I started eating a low-carb diet I started having random gout flare-ups where suddenly just trying to walk on whichever foot was having the flare-up was extremely painful. I almost never have random flare-ups any more, thanks to more adjustments to my diet and medications, but some days the ankle that had all the torn tendons a few years ago starts hurting when I put weight on it. Or the knee (in the other leg) that got banged up really bad a couple of different times gets a little unreliable.

Those are more likely to happen in certain kinds of weather, or when there has been a significant weather change. Someone watching might notice me having a slight limp on one side or the other for part of a day, or if it gets bad, I get out one of the canes.

Similarly, because of scar tissue in one inner ear, when there are fast changes in the local barometric pressure, I get to hear all sorts of buzzes and clicks and whistles and pops on one side only. That one can get particularly surreal, since ordinarily that’s the ear I can barely hear anything with.

Of course, I’m not the only person who mutters while doing things. Michael does it, too, and it can get particularly comedic if we’re both hurrying around the house trying to get something done. “What did you say?” “Nothing, just talking to myself.” Over and over and over again.

When we got home and we were both doing it again while unpacking–it was worse because home is much bigger than the hotel room, and so we’re often further apart and in different rooms making it even harder to tell whether the other person is trying to get our attention, or just talking to themself. I had to tease him about it, particularly since today is his birthday. For the next five months, he’s only nine years younger than me, instead of the usual ten.

Catching up with me!

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May your chocolate bunnies never run out!

A bunny!

More bunnies!

Easter is for everyone!

Easter means many things to many people. For instance: On Easter, as on every Sunday, hats have a deep significance for black women.

Or less seriously: 5 ways Easter is much more queer-inclusive then you realize.

Whether you’re celebrating this as a holiday to eat chocolate, or a fertility rite to welcome spring, or a holy holiday, or a day to be out in your community showing your finest hat, or if you just like bunnies, I hope you have a wonderful Easter!

Not to be cliched, but I don’t like Mondays…

“My body is a TEMPLE ancient and crumbling probably cursed or haunted.”

…probably haunted. (click to embiggen)

Most of my adult life I have worked in office jobs where the work week runs from Monday to Friday, and office hours tended to hover around 8-to-5, with some workplaces and some positions have varying amounts of flexibility. I’ve never been a morning person, so whenever possible I try to get my “expected time to arrive at the office” no earlier that 9:30. That usually means I was expected to work later. Of course, like most tech companies, the expectation has become that a worker will be available at times outside of office hours, which is both exploitive and irritating. At my current workplace one of the ways they try to make that less annoying is to give most of us a lot of flexibility.

So, for instance, I currently have two recurring work-from-home days each week: Tuesday and Friday. On a work from home day I can sleep in a little bit, since I don’t need to commute in. It also means that as soon as I sign out and sign-off I’m already home. Yay! We also have the flexibility to call into meetings from pretty much anywhere. And since my group has a daily morning status meeting that I can fully participate in via phone while I’ve riding the bus. On good days, with the meeting goes quickly, we’re usually just wrapping up when my bus gets downtown. One more complicated days, I stay on the call while walking from the bus to the office, and sometimes for a while after I get to my desk.

But, back to the work-from-home days. When I first started having a single work-from-home day a week, my husband’s work schedule was such that I would get up, start making coffee, set up my work computer, sign in, check for urgent emails while my husband was taking his morning shower. Then I’d grab a travel mug, drive him to his workplace and hurry back to our place and settle down to work. The round trip to his workplace was less than 15 minutes, so that was like my morning coffee break. At the end of the day when I picked him up (if it wasn’t one of those days were a work emergency meant I needed to go back and keep working for a while), we could go out to dinner right away.

When his work shift moved to much earlier in the morning, that didn’t work any longer. And then when we moved, it became even less practical.

As it is, he comes home from work in the middle or late part of my work day. And since he often leaves early Friday (because he usually winds up working extra hours earlier in the week and isn’t supposed to log overtime except when told to), his return time on that day is very unpredictable. I therefore have a little game I play against myself. I start checking his location in the Find Friends app on my phone, and when I see he’s left the office, trying to keep tracking him until his bus is almost here. My goal to open the front door just before he gets to it and greet him. I consider that a touchdown and award myself 6 points when I pull it off.

But I also try to head out onto the veranda just before his bus gets to our stop (which I can see through a gap in the trees). If I see his bus pull up, I get an extra point. If I watch him stand at the corner and cross the street, I get another extra point.

This is all very silly, but particularly on stressful work days, just seeing my hubby standing out there on the corner knowing he will be home soon makes me happy.

Whether I manage to time it so that I open the door for him, when he comes in I always say something like “Hello, honey! How was your day?” and he almost always says something like, “Hang on! Let me turn off my headphones. I can’t hear you.” And I don’t mean to repeat this little routine every time—I just in that moment forget that he almost certainly has his headphones on listening to a podcast or an audiobook or music and of course he can’t hear me, because when you’re outside walking along a street or riding in a bus there is so much ambient background noise that you have to have the music turned up a ways to hear it at all.

So, Thursday was not a work from home day. But it was a day where a bunch of things went just a little bit wrong and I wound up working later than usual. Ordinarily when that happens, when I realize that I’m still in the office at a point when I might be walking in the door, I’ll call him to let him know I’m working late.

I didn’t this time. For some reason it didn’t even occur to me that I hadn’t called him until my bus was nearly home—about an hour and a half later than I usually arrive. At that juncture it seemed pointless to call, because I’d be home in just a few minutes. So I got off the bus, waited at the crosswalk, crossed the major arterial, walked up the hill, crossed the more ordinary road, and came around the corner at the driveway into the apartment parking lot and I see my husband standing at the foot of the stairs, looking expectantly my way. He smiled and turned around to go up the stairs just as I raised my hand to wave.

So I crossed the parking lot, climb the stairs, come into the house, and I can hear him talking to me, but I have my headphones on and my phone has been blasting music so I say, “Just a minute. Let me turn off the headphones.” And he starts laughing.

Once i had the headphones off he says, “That’s okay, just consider it payback for all the times you do that to me.” And then he told me how when he got home midafternoon, he put the pork roast we’d talked about making for dinner into the crockpot then took a nap. He woke up at about the time I usually get home, and he checked the Find Friends app and saw that I was still in the office. So he waiting until app showed that I was about halfway home before he started working the side dishes, and he kept monitoring my location. He took the trash out, and since the phone app had indicated I was nearly home, he’d paused at the stairs to watch for me.

I don’t have a point to any of this. I just find myself on Sunday evening, when I probably ought to be working on other things, being annoyed that the weekend is nearly over, and I decided it had been a while since I wrote a blog post that was just about our mundane life.

And there you have it.

Confessions of a bergamot addict

I love Earl Grey Tea. Lots of people who really love tea emphatically do not like Earl Grey–and that’s perfectly fine. We all have different tastes. There are foods other people love that make me want to gag, and I am happy to let them enjoy those foods. Which is to say, this post is not meant to convince other people to like the same tea I do, nor to disparage anyone who doesn’t.

I know that I do not have sophisticated taste in tea. I grew up in rural communities where Lipton Flo-Thru® teabags were considered fancy. Most of the grocery stores seemed to carry black tea blends from Tetley, Red Rose, and Lipton. Occasionally they had Twinings teas, and they were more expensive than the others, so I had heard of and seen Earl Grey tea long before I ever tasted it.

Once I had tasted it, it became my favorite tea for many, many years.

There are various stories about how Earl Grey tea came about. The one that seems least far-fetched is that oil of bergamot was added to black tea in order to counteract the high level of lime that came out of the well at Howick Hall in Northumberland, where C Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, and his wife entertained guests. In 1830 Robert Jackson & Company claimed to be the first to sell the tea after obtaining the recipe from Lord Grey, though written references to “Grey’s Tea” only date back to the 1850s. And the oldest advertisements using the name “Earl Grey’s Mixture” date from some years later, in the 1880s, and from a different tea company entirely, Charlton & Co (which was founded by a former partner of Robert Jackson).

Jackson’s company was later bought by R. Twinings and Company, Limited, and for decades Twinings maintained they were the only company following the original recipe. Until 2011, when they reformulated it (to much protest).

The bergamot orange comes from a citrus tree that is grown commercially in Italy. Like all commercial citrus fruits, it is a hybrid of wild varieties that are now propagated by grafting–in other words, every bergamot tree in the world is a clone of one particular plant.

As I said, I’m something of a bergamot addict, by which I mean that I like many different blends of Earl Grey. The Numi Tea Company, for instance, sells an Aged Earl Grey, which they make by layering bergamot and the tea leaves to age for several weeks. The aged tea has a subtler almost smoky citrus taste to my tongue than the typical Earl Grey. Stash, on the other hand, sells a Double Bergamot Earl Grey, which despite the name all they say is that it has more bergamot oil than their regular Earl Grey. In any case, the citrus taste of this blend is more prominent.

Then there are lavender Earl Greys teas. My favorite, when I can find it, is Revolution’s Earl Grey Lavender. The lavender taste compliments and mellows the citrus, to my tongue. Stash also has a lavender Earl Grey, though the name they market it under is Breakfast in Paris. For some reason they only mention the lavender in small print on the boxes. Stash’s is good, though not quite as brisk to my tongue as Revolution’s version. Revolution’s tea is a blend of black, oolong, and darjeeling teas, which may also effect the flavor. Stash also includes vanilla extract. Who knows.

Stash also makes and Earl Grey Black & Green tea, which is a blend of green tea and black tea with bergamot oil. I happen to like this tea better than the regular Stash Earl Grey, though not as much as the Double Bergamot.

All of these come in tea bags, and as one former co-worker liked to say, American and European tea bags contain the stuff swept up from the floor of the tea aging house. Loose teas are what true tea connoisseurs swear by. And when I make tea from loose leaves the taste does seem stronger than from bags.

Of course, to make it from loose leaves you need to have an infuser. I have a few that are intended to making a single cup, but the issue then is that I have to clean out the used leaves, wet, clumping leaves after making a cup, and I wind up switching back to tea bags for any cup after the first. Until a few weeks ago, where I gave in an bought a small glass infuser pot, that lets me make about four mugs worth of tea at once. So I don’t have to deal with the used leaves after each cup.

Which is a good thing, because my friend, Mark, bought me this very tasty loose leaf Earl Grey for Christmas before last, and I hadn’t been drinking it very fast. And the leaves start going stale after a while. Since getting the infuser pot I’ve been drinking more tea and less coffee on the weekends, and really going through that tin of tea.

Which gives me an excuse to go shopping for more.

If you happen to have any recommendations for loose leaf teas, particularly Earl Grey blends, let me know!

Then we can (virtually) sit down together for a nice cuppa…

Definitely did not dodge the snow and ice

It may not look like a lot, but…

New residents to the Seattle area always get amused when snow is in the forecast. Native Seattlites and long-term residents leave work early, make grocery store runs, and prepare for the worst at any forecast of more than a dusting of snow. “It’s only 2/4/6 inches!” these recent arrivals shout. “You guys are really overreacting.” If those people still live here the following winter, they do not repeat that folly. I grew up in the central Rocky Mountain region, where temperatures of -25ºF were common, where snow was deep enough most Octobers that you had to wear snow boots and a heavy coat to go trick-or-treating as a child, and so forth. So I thought I knew all about snow and cold weather. As a teen-ager when we first moved to western Washington I didn’t get it either.

There are several reasons it is different. First, we just don’t get that much snow here, at all. Maintaining large fleets of snowploughs that only get used about once every three years just doesn’t make sense for most city and county governments. We have plows, but most are the kind that can be attached to generic utility trucks. So they aren’t quick to deploy, and the drivers don’t get much practice most years.

A related issue is that usually we just don’t get that cold. The ground (and especially the asphalt on roads) stays much warmer throughout the winter than at other places. That means that if we get more than a dusting, the first bunch of snowfall immediately melts when it hits the roadway, but then as more snow falls, the asphalt gets cold enough that that melted snow turns into a sheet of ice. Which more snow is falling onto. Anyone who has lived in places that get lots of snow and has driven on it should know that there is a big difference between driving on snow and driving on ice hiding under snow.

Then there is geography. It’s very hilly here. Really hilly. And again because we don’t get freezing weather and snow often, people build houses on hills that in other parts of the country no sane person would. Several of the small towns I lived in back in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska had one or two stretches of road on steep hills. Those roads never had houses or businesses along them, and every winter the city would put up big roadblocks to completely block that section of road until spring. It was a convenient short route during the summer, but the rest of the time it was closed because it is too steep to drive on safely with snow. About 80% of the roads in Seattle are as steep as the hills that used to get blocked off every winter in those small towns.

All of those hills and the many bodies of water mean that we have microclimates. My favorite example was back when I lived near the ship canal. One day I needed to walk up to a friend’s house that was a mere six blocks from my place. Six blocks up a steep hill. It was very cold and raining hard at my place, down at the bottom of the hill, and it looked like a fog bank was engulfing the hill. I started walking. About half way up, I hit the “fog bank” which was actually snow. There was almost an inch of snow at my friend’s place, and it had been snowing for a couple of hours (so she was surprised I had shown up). I picked up the stuff I was supposed to collect and walked back down the hill. It was still raining hard with no sign of snow there, just six blocks away. So you may leave your house one morning thinking you only have rain to deal with on a short drive, and suddenly find yourself slipping and sliding on ice and slush. Probably sliding backward, because you were going uphill…

Because of the microclimates and how easy a very slight shift in the upper atmosphere can flip us between snow, rain, sleet, or freezing rain, we occasionally get situations where the ground and sidewalks are covered in deep mixtures of snow, ice and slush. That is extremely hard to walk on, and your clothes get soaked with barely-not-freezing water. So even if you try to avoid driving, it can be an ordeal just to walk to a nearby store or to get to the nearest bus stop or light rail station.

The sidewalks are particularly bad because while it is the responsibility of property owners to shovel the walks, most people don’t own snow shovels (cf. above mention that we only get significant snow about once every three years)—one of the local news blogs shared a video earlier this week someone posted online of a neighbor shoveling snow using a Swiffer (indoor mopping gadget). When you combine that with how many stretches of sidewalk go past large apartment buildings (whose owners are just as unlikely as individual home owners to own a snow shovel) and how many stretches of road go past green strips and other public property which doesn’t get shoveled (or in my end of the region, how many neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks at all), well, it’s just a mess.

This year’s event has been a combination of several of our worst problems. The first big snowfall a bit over a week ago turned into sheets of ice with snow on top. Arterials were plowed and de-iced, but more snow kept coming, and sides streets all over the region remained icy slip-and-slides of doom. And more snow keeps coming. We get a break and people go out and try to shovel their drives and sidewalks…. and then it snows again. Then we got the rain/snow mix that put heavy ice on power lines and tree branches resulting in 90,000 households (including us) being without most of the night.

For some perspective: in the last 10 days we’ve had 8 times more snow than Boston has all winter. We are already the snowiest February recorded in the area in 35 years. Seatac Airport has broken a record for most snow in a single day set in 1949.

And we don’t know if it is over. Things are melting a bit today. It’s supposed to be much warmer tomorrow, which will cause more melting (at which point more trees will fall as the ground on all those hills I mentioned above turns to mud) and we may get a bit of flooding some places. Then another cold air mass looks to be moving in late Wednesday night, meaning all those wet street will turn to ice again just in time for the Thursday commute… and another wet air mass is coming toward us from the south hitting either late Thursday or early Friday. That might mean more snow. It might mean rain. It might mean freezing rain. It is likely going to mean all three just depending on where you are.

So, fun?

The unending struggle against thermal equilibrium, or, trying to get my coffee just right

© 2014 Gene Breshears

Coffee always helps.

I have a favorite coffee mug. It’s purple and holds a large amount of coffee. It’s a nice, solid mug that isn’t top heavy (a feature that a previous favorite mug did not share, which resulted in a lot of spilled coffee and swearing). You know those markings on the side of most automatic drip coffee carafes that tell you how many cups are in the pot? If my favorite mug is completely empty and I fill it from such a pot, the numbers on the side indicate that I’ve poured out a bit more than four cups from the pot. A standard-ish modern coffee mug usually holds about two cups. So when I said this one is large I meant it.

I like the mug a lot.

There really is only one problem, which I have been dealing with for several years, ever since we bought our current microwave.

This mug (my favorite) and this microwave do not quite get along... © 2019 Gene Breshears

This mug (my favorite) and this microwave do not quite get along…

For various reasons, most mornings when I go to get myself my first cup of coffee at home, there is usually enough cold coffee leftover from the previous day to fill my favorite mug. So I fill the mug and stick it in the microwave and immediately face a dilemma. If I press the 1 minute button on the microwave, by the time it is done, the coffee in the mug will be only barely warmer than tepid. If I select, say, 1 minute and 30 seconds, when I reach for the mug I will find that handle is scalding hot, while the body of the mug is only slightly warm, and the coffee is also only slightly warm. If I select a full two minutes, the coffee itself will be a very nice temperature, but not only with the handle of the mug be too hot to hold, but the body of the mug will also be a warmer than is pleasant to hold.

Exactly why the mug itself heats up more than the coffee in this microwave doesn’t really matter. The thing is, according to the Laws of Thermodynamics, once the mug has reached a point where it is warmer than the coffee, one should need only to wait for a bit, and the mug will cool down while the coffee absorbs some of that heat the mug is losing and warm up. So you would think that the ideal option would be to select the one and a half minute cycle, carefully carry the mug grasping the body and not the too-hot-to-touch handle over to my desk or whatever, and in let’s say five minutes time everything would be perfect.

But it doesn’t work. Most of the mug handle’s heat, instead of going into the rest of the mug and eventually the coffee, seems to mostly go into the air around it. The upshot is that by the time the mug’s handle is cool enough to comfortably grip it, the coffee has cooled down closer to room temperature than the warmth it had before.

Once a fresh pot is made, I have an easier time managing the temperature. Usually the coffee is cold by the time I’ve drank half the mug, so I can top it off from the bot and it reaches a nice warm—not too hot, not tepid. And if can do a little 30 second zap if the coffee is a bit cooler than I like. So long as I don’t let it get back down to room temperature, anyway.

I’m sure there’s some sort of life lesson I should be able to derive from this. It’s like the tiniest annoyance in my life. It’s been on my mind more lately because between one or the other of us being sick and all the weird weather, I’m been working from home a lot more often. And this will surprise some people since I seem to by such a coffee addict, but I almost never make coffee at home on days I go into the office. My first caffeine of the day on those days happens is the free stuff they have in the kitchenette down the hall from my desk.

Ah, well, I’ll just have to soldier on!

The viaduct is being demolished at last — good riddance

This is not how a tunnel boring machine works…

I’ve written a time or two before about the extremely aging elevated highway in Seattle that was severely damaged 18 years ago in a severe earthquake. For the next several years after the quake, state and local governments fought over how to replace the cracked and sinking structure. A deal was reached, laws passed, and the then governor signed it. At the signing ceremony, she said that at the advice of the engineers, no matter how long the replacement tunnel took to build, the highway was definitely coming down no later than 2012…

…and here we are, seven years later, and three weeks ago said highway was finally closed. This week, the tunnel finally opened for traffic. Coincidentally on the first day of real winter weather we got this year. And then the process of taking down the unsafe structure—packing most of the rubble into a much older tunnel that, it turns out, is just as rickety as the old elevated highway and needs to just be filled and sealed—has finally begun.

I have found myself not just biting my tongue a lot reading commentary by some acquaintances about why, oh why, the ugly structure that hasn’t adequately served the region’s transportation needs for the last, oh, 50 years of its existence isn’t being replaced by something even bigger and uglier.

Fortunately, a friend has posted a much more reasoned and comprehensive explanation (and linked to an impressive number of pictures she took at the day this weekend the public was allowed to walk on the old elevated structure and through the new tunnel). So go read Dara’s take on this, including a really nice explanation of the why the highway became obsolete only a few years after being built: So long to the viaduct!

We couldn’t dodge the snow and ice forever, I guess

The snow started coming down earlier than forecast.

While a whole lot of the continent was experiencing freakishly cold tempts thanks to the polar vortex, Seattle had the warmest January on record (after a warmer-than-average but not record-breaking December_. It was freaky. Three of my fuchsias on the veranda was still putting out new blooms in late December, and one of there was still doing so in late January. We had high pollen counts at the end of January that forced me to take the maximum dose of my prescription allergy medicine. It was looking like this was going to be one of those mild Seattle winters where I never got to take a break from the prescription medication at all. I mean, most years I have to take the meds for about 10 months out of the year (and I get so tired of explaining to people that yes, you can have hay fever in November—that’s peak mushroom and toadstool season!).

Then last week the local meteorology professor whose blog I read all the time explained how we might be seeing snow by Sunday, and why even though normally you can’t trust forecasts more than four days out, it was a near certainty that all this week we would have freezing weather.

The last in depth forecast I read on Saturday said that we would get snow, but likely no more than an inch of accumulation. And, because of that warmer than usual December and January, the ground was warmer than usual, so the roads and highways would almost certainly be fine Monday.

Whoops!

The forecast had also said that the snow wouldn’t hit our section of the state until nearly sundown on Sunday. So when I looked out the window Sunday afternoon as I was checking on my Superbowl Chili before 1pm and saw that snow was coming down, I was a bit freaked out.

By sundown Sunday there was more than two inches accumulated outside our place, and the snow was still coming down. Overnight lows were “only” in the low 20s Farenheit, but our power went out at about 5:30 in the morning, and by the time the sun was up enough for me to see outside, it was clear we had more than 5 inches of accumulation. All of the schools in the county closed for the day. The highway patrol as well as the state and city departments of transportation was urging everyone that could avoid driving at all to stay off the roads. It was quite icy.

Our power was restored before noon, which was nice. Because it was getting very windy in the early evening Sunday, I made an extra pot of coffee, because I figured a power outage was more than just possible. So one of the upsides to my morning was that I had coffee to drink while I was getting ready for work. It was cold coffee, but it was coffee. As I checked in at work (thank goodness for full charges on the phone and iPad) pretty much all of my co-workers were staying home either because of the roads or because their kids were home from school.

Another upside to all of this were birds at the bird feeder!

I have written before about how, when an immature Cooper’s Hawk started hanging out on my veranda we went from frequently having crowds of one to two dozen sparrows, chickadees, and juncos at our bird feeder, pecking at seeds that get scattered on the deck by the birds pecking at the feeder, or just hanging out in lines waiting for spots to open up on the feeder to me only very occasionally seeing pairs of birds arrive together, most of the time only willing to peck for seeds on the deck down where they could easily hide behind/between my planters and such.

Well, Sunday afternoon as the snow filled the sky, suddenly I had between four and eight little bird out there at a time. That day they were still doing the buddy system I had noticed before: one will peck for seeds either on the deck or the feeder, while the other perches on a tree branch or in one of my larger lavenders and keep an eye peeled; then they trade places after a couple of minutes. So it was all pairs coming to the veranda, and half of each pair would eat while the other kept watch.

I haven’t seen any sign of the hawk since about a week after Thanksgiving. Since about half of all Cooper’s Hawks migrate, it is possible that she was only in our region for about a month while slowly moving south. It’s also possible that the area (since we are in a city, despite the huge numbers of trees all around) simply didn’t have enough prey to support her long term and she moved elsewhere once our neighborhood was hunted out.

Anyway, since I was home today, and in was a day with lots of conference calls (again, thank goodness for phones with good battery life!) I got to watch the feeder. There is a lot of snow on the deck. So even though I spread a lot of extra seed Sunday afternoon once I realized the cold was driving the birds to be less cautious (I also re-filled the feeder), their only real source of food at there was the feeder itself. And the buddy system doesn’t seem to be quite as much an imperative for them.

Standing very still for many minutes back away from the window, using the zoom, I eventually managed to get a picture with more than one bird in it.

They are very skittish, and every time I tried to ease myself slowly to the window to get pictures, they scattered. I eventually managed to get a picture with two birds at the feeder and one visible on the deck below them. The little birds are so light, they don’t sink into the 4+ inches of snow on the deck!

My boss had been trying to get everyone in the department, even folks that usually work from home full time, to come in for a long whiteboarding/planning session for Tuesday. But when the places she tried to order lunch from all pointed out their delivery was iffy, given how icy the roads are expected to be (and the possibility that many schools would still be closed), she started messaging all of us about rescheduling. Her Wednesday, unfortunately, is completely booked with back-to-back management and cross-department status meetings (and since I’m one of the few other members of our group who also works on every single project {being the only technical writer}, I’m in half of those, too), so the earliest we could reschedule is Thursday. Except all the forecasts are saying (beside the temperatures not getting above freezing the rest of the week) that there will be more snow, and possible worse snow, come Thursday… well, it became obvious we need to do the meeting Tuesday, we’re just going to all be doing it remotely.

Which I’m quite happy about, because the only time I’ve been able to make my feet feel anything other than frozen since this thing started is when I’m under the electric blanket. So I really do not want to spend any time standing on frozen sidewalks waiting for a bus!

Carmeggeddon! Viadoom! (Or maybe not)

Oh, Homer!

A couple weeks ago every local news site, local TV and radio station, and neighborhood blog was filled with dire warnings about how horrible traffic was going to be when the rickety elevated highway (known as the Viaduct) was finally closed and the final work would be done to connect a highway and other roads to our new gigantic tunnel. Because state and local transportation departments were using the term “maximum constraint” some folks have been calling it the Seattle Squeeze.

One of the local stations had a more pessimistic term: Viadoom! They used it in stories leading up to the closure, and during the first two or three business days after the closure the stories were headlined with “Day 1 of Viadoom” and “On Day 2 of Viadoom…”

We are now in week two of the Squeeze and so far, traffic has not been apocalyptically bad. No one wants to be the first reporter or blogger to say those fears were overblown, because the situation could get worse. The current conventional wisdom is the the first week went okay because some people are still on holiday break, many commuters are working from home, others who normally drive have switched to transit and/or biking. But many are convinced that most of those people are either going to get “fed up” with transit or will decide that because traffic has only been a little heavier than normal that there is no problem and they’ll all hop back into their cars.

Maybe they will. But I think the fears were always overwrought. For one, traffic analysis and computer simulations had shown—back when a replacement for the elevated part of the highway was being debated more than ten years ago—that all the traffic could be diverted to surface streets without causing gridlock. The horrible paralyzing gridlock that happens from time to time when there is a serious accident on that highway is because people are caught by surprise and are already on routes feeding to the unexpectedly blocked road when things go bad.

Those simulations also assumed that the number of cars being driven each day would be decreasing (because things were already trending that way). Lots of people were skeptical of that. Some thought the downward trend was temporary or something. Guess what? Single car ridership has declined faster than those simulations assumed. Many more people are already taking transit, carpooling, telecommuting, and so forth than before.

Other folks are focusing on the fact that the replacement tunnel has less capacity that the old viaduct, and that it’s going to be at least a couple more years before we have finished removing the old structure and making street improvements along its old route. There is also a big worry that, because the tunnel will be tolled, too many people will avoid it to avoid the tolls.

Yeah, while construction is disrupting other streets, things will happen. But anyone who has lived or worked in Seattle for any length of time already knows that there are only two seasons here: Rainy Season and Construction Season. We manage to keep getting around during Construction Season.

It’s never pleasant to be stuck in traffic. When traffic becomes persistently bad, people change their behavior. We try to find ways to work around it. We adapt. Well, most of us do. There are those whackos who decide, instead, to file initiatives to try to repeal or financially cripple big transit projects because they are so convinced they have a god-given right to drive an enormous gas-guzzling behemoth all by themselves and dang it, the state should just make the roads wider so they can do things the way they always have. I hate those guys.

I’ve been riding the bus to work for over 30 years. Yes, I have amusing stories to tell of some misadventures and unpleasant people I have encountered on the bus. But those rare times that I have driven instead of taking the bus have also led to stories about misadventures and reckless drivers. Because if you’re in your car, you’re surrounded by people just as much as you would be on the bus—it’s just that each of them is armed with a ton of glass, steel, and composites. And maybe you feel like you’re in control in your car in a way that you aren’t on the bus or train. But if there’s an accident up ahead, and you’re stuck in the middle lane of a long bridge, you don’t have any more control than the passengers in a bus.

Anyway, I think it is mildly funny that, so far, Viadoom hasn’t materialized. The station that was using the term has stopped posting daily stories detailing how the commute went, because each day there has been nothing to report. And really, how many times can you say with a straight face, “None of the bad things we predicted have happened yet, but just you wait!”

So, I’ll keep riding my bus and keeping my fingers crossed.

This isn’t a political post, but this image was too funny not to share

Humpty Dumpty stood on a wall...

Humpty Dumpty stood on a wall…

I’ve got a lot of blog fragments that have been aggregating for a while, mostly about things happening in the mundane side of our lives, rather than having anything to do with writing, or sf/f, or political craziness, and so on. And there will be some who dismiss it as a “what I had for breakfast” thing, but I like to think of is as an “everything but the including the kitchen sink” post. You’ve been warned.

First, Birds: So, the saga of the bird feeder continues. Quick refresher: over a year ago I put up a bird feeder on our veranda in a spot where I could watch birds that visited it from my living room window. We got so many birds coming to the feeder that my husband decided we needed a web cam so I could get pictures more easily and/or check on it from the office. Much to my delight the number of birds kept increasing, we had cool species like Stellar Jays showing up, it was very cool. Until just before Halloween, when the amount of birdseed consumed each day suddenly dropped for, then a few days later I learned why as an immature Cooper’s Hawk landed on my railing. Over the course of the next many weeks I witnessed the hawk snatching chickadees and juncos and sparrows out of midair in the vicinity of the feeder and then all the little birds stopped coming.

The level of birdseed in the feeder didn’t go down between the last time I topped it off just before Thanksgiving up to New Year’s Day. I cleaned out the feeder and tried scattering some feed on the deck and different locations, because I still very occasionally saw little birds on the deck. I cleaned out the feeder and put a very teeny amount of seeds in it.

Since then, I have seen pairs of small birds (usually pairs of juncos, but occasionally a pair of chickadees) show up on the veranda together and they have all adopted a similar strategy: one bird perches in one of my larger lavender plants, or on the branch of a nearby tree, the other hops around on the deck for a couple of minutes picking up seeds. Then the one that has eaten will flit to the spot where the buddy bird as been keeping watch, and the buddy bird flits down to the deck to peck at seeds. They trade off like that, one standing lookout the other eating, a few times before flying away.

Very, very occasionally a pair will take turns at the actual feeder, but it is clear that they all feel safer down on the deck where they have the planters and other things as cover.

I haven’t seen the hawk since late November.

I’ll keep scattering birdseed on the deck for now.

Dining: When we moved from Ballard to Shoreline, we decided to try to make some changes in the way we did things around the house. One of those changes was that I wanted us to sit down and eat one meal together at the table every day. The old place had not had adequate counter space or cabinets, and the way the kitchen was arranged, our table wound up being supplemental counter and storage space. So we almost never could clear it off enough to have a meal at the table. We instead would use the TV trays (or folding tray tables, as some people call them), or just each of us eat separately at our computers.

I admit that one reason that I wanted to make this change was the incredible guilt I felt at the dozens and dozens of tablecloths I found squirreled away in a couple of the closets. Tablecloths that had never been removed from their packaging. At least two of which I recognized as ones that were bought before my late husband, Ray, died. In 1997.

Michael had one change to my original proposal that we start using the tablecloths and eating at the table: he wanted to haul all the vinyl tablecloths to Value Village, and only use actual fabric cloths. Mostly because he just preferred fabric ones. Anyway, we got rid of all the vinyl ones, which left us with only a couple of fabric ones. We have since acquired a number more, some of them I think of as seasonal, some aren’t.

But we have eaten at least one meal at least six days out of every week at the table since moving. And the fact that on weekends we often eat two or three at the table in a single day, I think lets us off the hook for the nights that we go out instead of eating at home.

One of the things that means is that we have to keep at least half the table clear most of the time. That is a bit of a challenge, given that the table is really the only horizontal surface of any size near the front door, but we’ve been doing it.

So far, whenever we are cleaning for company, it never takes more than a few minutes to clear the table, pull off the tablecloth, wipe down the table, and pick out and deploy a clean cloth. And I can’t tell you what kind of happy goosebumps I get every time.

Haunted by Expectations: We have a certain number of habits about how we clean and keep the house that cause the voices of my grandmothers to occasionally admonish me. Both my nice Grandma and evil Grandma had very strong feelings along the lines of “a place for everything and everything in its place” and it’s amazing how much of that stuff got engraved in my neurons.

So, for example, t-shirts and laundry. A few years ago, thanks to a care label that came on some t-shirts we bought on Red Bubble (each with artwork that had be created by friends), when I did laundry I would pull those t-shirts out of the wash while transferring laundry from washer to dryer. Those t-shirts were put on broad hangers and hung on the shower curtain rod to dry.

About six months after I started doing that, I noticed that some other cute graphic t-shirts which we had purchased as a sci fi con around the same time as the bunch from Red Bubble were noticeably much more faded. As in, they looked years older in comparison. So I stopped running any graphic t-shirts in the dryer. They all get pulled out and hung up on the shower curtain.

When I started doing this, Sunday was our laundry day, and the t-shirts were often still damp when we needed to shower Monday morning, so Michael would move all the hangers to the end of the towel rod & take his shower (since he went in to work much earlier than I). And then I would, after finishing my shower, move them all back up to the shower curtain rod and spread them out to finish drying.

At our new place, for various reasons, Friday evening is when I do laundry, and the t-shirts wind up hanging in the bathroom all weekend. If one of us decides we need a shower, me move them, then put them back. Until Monday morning.

Neither of us puts the t-shirts away Monday morning, mind you. We just leave them hanging in a bundle on the towel rod. Michael often chooses one of the shirts hanging there to wear to work that day. While I don’t wear t-shirts to the office, on Monday night, when I come home and peel off the office drag, I’ll pick a t-shirt, sometimes from the ones hanging up, somethings from my drawer, to wear while kicking around the house.

The upshot is that the t-shirts that were washed last laundry day often hang in a bundle on one of the towel rods all week long. Unless one of us is suddenly inspired to put them away, the pile slowly dwindles as we wear some from it, but there are usually still about three hanging on the towel rack by the next Friday evening when I carry up a new pile of damp t-shirts from the laundry room.

Both my Grandmothers would be appalled. My Nice Grandma, if she saw it, would give me that look and ask, “You know, it only takes a couple of minutes to put things away, right?” Whereas my Evil Grandma would say something like, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t expect you to understand how important cleaning is, since your mother was atrociously bad at housekeeping. I remember one time…” and a story implying that my mother was not only insane but also morally corrupt on a Lovecraftian level would follow.

And some mornings while I’m rushing to get ready to work, I hear one of the other of those voices in my head, wanting to know why I don’t just put the t-shirts away.

And while my Nice Grandma’s version of the question does sound perfectly reasonable, we often forget that the inverse of the question is just as reasonable: “What is the harm in leaving them hanging there, clean, dry, and within easy reach, for a few days?”

Yeah, putting them away (folding and separating them into my chest of drawers of Michael’s, putting the empty hangers into the hall closer) is probably only a two-spell-slot task… most mornings I don’t know how many slots I’m going to need that day. And getting myself dressed and out the door with my lunch packed and everything else I need for the day are tasks that much be done. Putting away the t-shirts? Not an imperative.

Some times I realize I have the slots and the time and let’s get this done now. And that’s great. But I have to remember that it is okay to prioritize.

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