Saying Good Bye

Somewhere in the mid-1990s, a little band of stray cats took up residence in my garden. I gave them food and water, and one at a time, was able to put them in carriers to bring to the vet to be "fixed" and vaccinated. The last little guy (for some reason, they were all male) showed up almost a year after the rest, toward the end of his kittenhood. More skittish than the others, he wouldn't let me touch him directly. I had to pet one of the other cats, then he'd sidle up next to the other cat and rub against it, and then I could pet him as long as he didn't look up and see I was touching him.
During Brighter Days in 2006
He never really lost his general distrust of people (probably a good thing, being an outdoor cat), but over time we reached an understanding that I could, for very short periods, scratch his head, and he became comfortable enough to follow me around the garden at a safe distance and meow at me as I worked. I named him Joxer the Mighty, after a tv character who was also a bit of a chicken, but he became my Booboo kitty.

One by one, my feline brood passed on or disappeared and Booboo was the last of the bunch. A friend who rescues cats brought another outdoor cat, Chuck, to keep him company. Things went well until this summer, when Booboo had a tumor removed from his leg. The tumor was not biopsied, but I suspect it was cancerous. Not long after its removal, Booboo lost a lot of weight.  And then he lost his strength, began walking unsteadily and his fur lost its lustre.
Supervising in the Garden, 2007
I decided to bring him indoors when the temperatures dropped and the rains came. Even in his weakened state, he made a couple of runs at the door to try and make it back outside. But in spite of the fact that I was giving him all the food he could eat, it just went right through him, and though I didn't know it at the time, tumors had developed around his abdominal area, and he was probably starving to death. He was in such bad shape, even Piglette didn't growl at him when he took a kibble from her bowl last night (she chases Gigi for even coming near her bowl).
Thin, but still on his feet, November 2012
When I woke up this morning, I found him on the floor, unable to move, and scrambled to bring him to the vet so that he wouldn't suffer. In retrospect, by the time I found him, he was probably beyond suffering, and I'm second guessing my decision to take him to the vet. Maybe it would have been better to wrap him in a blanket and make him as comfortable as possible so he could have passed on at home. I guess I'll never be sure.


Schools or Prisons?

I read this article about where the public education system is headed:


If you live in New York, or a city where this type of system exists or is being considered, I strongly encourage you to contact your city council and school board members to speak out against it, and encourage your neighbors to do so, as well. 

Firstly, schools should be educational institutions, not preparation centers for creating inmates. Police officers (or agents, in this case) are not trained to help kids learn and grow, they are trained to pursue, subdue and incarcerate criminals. In addition, constant police presence and overarching authority over school officials tells students that they are viewed primarily as criminals, and treating kids like criminals doesn't make them better students. 

When kids act up, as they often do, the knee-jerk reaction of someone trained to be an officer is different from a professional trained as an educator. If that officer, who does not understand the ramifications of his or her actions on the long-term development of the child, has authority to override the decision of the educational professional, we lose the kid. We already suffer from brain drain. Americans used to take pride in "thinking outside the box" and innovating, but we now have to import inventors from Asia, the area of the world we once scoffed at for being stringent and constricting. 

Secondly, the schools are not as bad as those who would wish to maintain control would make it seem. The officer interviewed in the article states:

"we have students who don’t want to abide by the rules and regulations"

What he fails to comprehend is that kids test boundaries, it's part of growing up. Sure, you have to dole out punishment on occasion, but you also need to recognize and acknowledge the good and make corrections as necessary, and for eff's sake, you don't punish an honest mistake! No matter how bad things are made out to be, the majority of kids, even at the worst schools, are NOT counterfeiters, smugglers and explosives fabricators. I have been on inner city school campuses and they are not the war zones he makes them out to be. The vast majority, even some that other adults have labeled as "bad", have just been regular kids.

Thirdly, we have become too quick to allow, and even welcome, institutional invasiveness and authoritarianism into our lives in the name of security in this post-911 world. As mentioned in the article, part of the reason this system passed so easily is because some bad incidents allowed feelings of fear to have a disproportionate amount of weight in the decision making process. While those incidents were horrifying, it's necessary to step back and take a wider view. Rather than openly accept such stringent protocols, it will be better in the long run to develop ones that are more appropriate to the situation at-hand.

We need to think first about our students' long-term development and whether we want to raise automatons and fodder for our jails, or productive members of society who will be proactive in keeping this world a healthy, viable place to live. Again, if you live in a city that has these types of protocols in place, or is considering implementing them, please do take a little time to voice concern to your council and school board members.


Bayfront Cleanup

I am not a morning person, but Bertha had asked me to volunteer for this year's Bayfront Cleanup. Bertha has known my dad since childhood, and if say no to Bertha, it makes my dad look bad, which is why I'm now on the board of my neighborhood association. And it's why I tumbled out of my soft, warm bed at 7:30 this morning, still horribly in need of it, then stumbled through the house to feed the animals, threw on the first articles of clothing my fingers touched, splashed some water on my face, used the toilet and was out the door at 8:00.
An hour later, after signing in, wolfing down a free donut and coffee, finding Bertha and the rest of the contingency from my neighborhood, and grabbing gloves and plastic bags, we were in a van headed toward the creek. The portion that runs under a nearby street is an ideal spot for a homeless encampment: a fairly large covered ledge that's sheltered from street and rain; running water (granted, it's cold and none too clean); and public access is blocked by a fence. So it came as no surprise that it actually is frequented by the down and out.
When we arrived, the ledge in the photo above was so covered with bottles, napkins and other trash that the cement underneath wasn't visible. There was also a queen sized mattress.  The photo was taken after a few trash and recycling bags had been filled and dragged up to the street for pick-up. One of the recent inhabitants was (possibly still is) a woman and her children.
Farther downstream, a dam had formed by a couple of branches entangled with quilt, jacket, hose and a couple garbage bags full of items that had been intended for a charity shop. The bags had been taken from donation bins, rummaged through, and the remainder left in and along the creek. We spent what felt like forever untangling, unearthing and dragging the wet, muddy, HEAVY items out of the creek. Those are some of the things we pulled out above before we bagged them up. And guess what? My boots aren't water proof, so I was soaking in microorganism-infested creek water! Next year I'm bringing my own heavy-duty, long gloves and wellies. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and bags and some items were embedded too far in the silt to remove without tools, so a lot of trash stayed where it was. Developing public access to the creek could solve a lot of the problems along it.
Find of the day? A makeshift bong made of plastic bottles and electrical tape. Sadly, when the mayor announced prizes at the after-cleanup lunch for unusual and interesting finds, the bong didn't even receive a mention.
Miss Piggly Wiggly stayed home, because I didn't want to have to clean her up after the clean up. She's just here for Martina.


Sick Day

A Turtle Contemplates Life, North Carolina, 2012

I can count the number of days I have been sick enough as to be utterly useless in my whole life on my fingers and still have a few digits left over. Yet here I lie in bed tapping away at my laptop after having effectively spent the whole day in bed.

I've felt generally drained for the past week, although not actually sick other than developing a sore throat within the last couple of days. Then, last night when I got home from work, I was loopy enough to leave the trunk of my car open all night. I have never even left my car unlocked at night, much less open!

I decided to sleep today away, even though I still feel just general fatigue and not sick-sick. So after dropping the car at the mechanic's shop, running to the bank, hanging the laundry and watering the garden, I grabbed a glass of water and passed out, with my ever faithful Piglette snoring right next to me (her foot or leg is hurt, she needs rest, too!). There was a solid three hours of sleep in there, plus another two in semi-sleep, but I still feel drained. Maybe after a good night's sleep I'll be up for work in the morning...


A Chilly Summer day

View from Chepstow

In the summer of 2008, the company I worked for sent me to Bristol, on the west coast of England, to open a new office and initiate business operations there, because we were THIS CLOSE to obtaining funding. Three months later, I closed the office. Such is the fickleness of start-ups and venture capitalists.

Workaholic that I was, I put in 10 to 12-hour workdays, and often worked 7 days a week. Other than lounging in the lavender steam room and various pools at the Thermae Bath Spa, and a couple of side trips over extended weekends, I didn't get out much. So it came to pass, that the CEO took it upon himself to make me get out for at least one sightseeing trip before I headed back home. We were heading across the bridge to watch whales.

"I love whales, they're so pretty!"
"Not whales, Wales!"
"Yes, exactly."

That's the thing about homophones, isn't it? When you're speaking, you can't tell the difference without context.
View from Caerphilli, low tide

Early one Saturday morning, the CEO, two interns and I squeezed into a car, crossed the bridge and ended up in Yugoslavia. Or so you'd think, because there were suddenly fewer vowels on the street signs. A few miles on was a huge, stone fortress perched high atop a cliff over a river that met the one we'd just crossed, Cas-gwent (Chepstow in English). Several miles south, we ran into another fortification of Norman design, this one with concentric walls. Caerfilli (Caerphilly in English, the only Welsh word I saw that seemed similar to its English translation).
Toodling through the ruins of both fortresses, reading about the military history of the Normans and their conquests and defeats, I couldn't help but think that in this day and age, these massive stone walls in a cool and slightly humid climate would make fantastic wine caves. And they'd be easy to defend!

Just as I was dreaming of my wine cave, some crazy little yellow guy ran into me full force, knocking me down! When my boss tried to pull him off me, the guy hauled off and punched him. Then he knocked down the interns, too, for good measure, before running off and screaming something about lousy 'Murcans. 

"Whoah, was that a banana?"
"Don't be silly, bananas are inanimate, and they wouln't grow in Wales, anyway." 
"Hey, my wallet's missing!"
"Mine, too!"

And that, my friends, is how I, my boss and the two interns, were robbed by an angry little Welsh banana. Pokey Banana has denied all culpability, claiming that area is too far south of his home territory, but he has no alibi for that day...

N.B.: for those who don't know Pokey, he is one of my blogging friends from another site who masquerades as an angry banana.


The Dog (and Cat) Days of Summer

Piglette enjoying the sunshine

... have not yet arrived here in the SF Bay area. Granted, given our latitude and proximity to the sea, temperatures rarely reach extremes, but we usually have an "Indian Summer" around late August/early September. This summer has seemed cooler than in the past. I wear sweaters and long sleeves more often, and heat-loving tomatoes don't seem to be flourishing as they once did.

The veggie garden
Actually, the tomatoes are downright sad. By now, the plants are usually starting to outgrow and tip over their cages, so I have to jerryrig extra support for them. This year? The little yellow pear has two wimpy branches, one of which shot out a dozen sad fruits early on and then turned brown. The glacier has halfway filled a small size cage and is producing a fair number of golden fruits for its size. The paste tomato plant is doing better in size, but the stink bugs went nuts and there's not enough tomato left to eat after cutting away the damaged bits. The paste tomato issue may have more to do with the fact that I have swiss chard running rampant in the garden for the bugs to hide out in, than the weather, but it could be a contributor, somehow.

Gigi thrives in all conditions
Beyond the tomatoes, the bell peppers and summer squash are, as my housemate says, lilliputian. The basil is yellow. And the cucumber plant is a single, tiny vine that has produced only one actual cucumber and three flowers so far.

On the bright side, cooler weather means I don't sweat much riding my bicycle to the accounting gig. Sweat means sticky clothing, even if you change once you get there!

Still, I am hoping for a few nice, warm days here before the coolness of autumn hits.


Planning for the Future

I have been thinking a lot lately about the state of the average American... or the median American... because that person is in a worse position than she was twenty years ago. I was extremely lucky to have paranoid parents who told me I couldn't rely on anyone but myself when it came to securing my future, and started a nest egg for me when I was still a kid, and then an IRA as soon as my wages at their little retail pharmacy were high enough... and forbade me to touch either until I was retired!

Most people are not as lucky as I was, though. According to the 2012 Retirement confidence survey, http://www.ebri.org/surveys/rcs/2012/ 30% of workers have saved less than $1000 for their future, and only 81% of workers with retirement savings plans available to them through their employers actually participate. Since I doubt that 30% of workers are in their first few years in the workforce, those are daunting figures when we consider that Social Security alone isn't enough to get by on even now, and is not guaranteed to exist when I retire, even though it eats up a significant portion of my income (I'm self-employed, so pay more than double the tax). I have friends who have not been able to save and am sure there are others I think are doing okay based on their lifestyles, but who just haven't thought about their futures. So, I thought I'd post some links here that might help with forward thinking.

The Department of the Treasury links to some helpful tools at http://www.choosetosave.org/ including an interactive estimator that helps determine how much you'll need to save based on what you think your needs are http://www.choosetosave.org/ballpark/ (caveat: skip the calculator if seeing how much you need to save will just make you feel sick and hopeless) and a debt management calculator http://www.mindyourfinances.com/calculators/debt-management

Not to be outdone, the Deparment of Labor also has some generic (but useful) suggestions for saving for retirement http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/publications/10_ways_to_prepare.html

For those of you who know me just a little too well, don't laugh when I say that Martha Stewart has what is perhaps an over-simplified, but nonetheless easy-to-use budgeting tool http://images.wholeliving.com/images/content/web/pdfs/2009Q2/bs_0509_expensesworksheet.pdf I think this worksheet can actually be pretty helpful for those of us who do not think about where our money goes. She mentions using credit card statements as reference, but don't forget your bank account and cash. You don't have to account for all cash outlays, just pay attention to how much you take out and book it towards personal or entertainment.

Alternatively, there's always the "pay yourself first" method for those who are free and clear of debt. When you get paid, transfer a set amount or percentage to a separate account that you don't withdraw from. If at the end of the month, you didn't notice any change in your lifestyle from before, you'll probably be okay socking away a little more the next month.

I hope these links are helpful. At the very least, I hope that this post spurs someone who hasn't thought about their future yet into thinking about it.

edit:  Forgot to mention Credit Unions! Unless you make a lot of international transactions, credit unions are often a better choice than commercial banks, primarily because both their borrowing and lending rates tend to be better than banks. They are non-profit entities whose clients are all members, each with a single vote.


Operation Eagle Visit

During the Vietnam era, my hometown adopted A Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles, and, according to the free daily newsrag here, was the only town in the country to hold a parade for returning Vietnam vets in 1972. So today (yesterday, now), the town did a repeat performance for the original parade's 40th anniversary.

Being civic-minded (if activity in those neighborhood groups that give the city council a hard time counts) citizens, and hearing that there was going to be food, Piglette and I strolled downtown to take in the festivities. However, being somewhat late risers, we missed half the parade. We did arrive just in time for Piglette to see horses, though.
And she also got to see the contingency from the local animal shelter. She went nuts for the horses, barking up a storm, and then tried to walk out into the street to greet the dogs. A lot of the day's photos were taken while pulling her back from something.

We arrived at the park, where the post-parade activities were held, just in time to watch them roll up the flag.
It could be my age talking (the older I get, the younger other people look), and you can't tell from this photo, but what struck me about these young men and women is that they are not far from being kids.My perception of what I think a soldier looks like has been skewed by the 30 and 40-something actors who portray them in films. It is sobering to realize that real soldiers resemble the kids playing in my neighbor's yard more than they do middle-aged actors.

It was even more sobering to see the never-ending line for the food. Fortunately, the beer line was short and it was only $5.00 for a Sierra Nevada pale ale! And, the food truck was a clever modified fire truck design, manned by local firefighters.
Piglette and I walked around the park, looking at the booths, greeting ALL the other dogs, watching the entertainment -- the local taiko group, a banjo band, a cover band -- and shaking hands with soldiers. Well, I shook hands, Piglette got a lot of rubs and stories about pets they had back home.

And with the thought of home, Piglette and I headed back to our own, sauntering the long way through downtown, stopping at our favorite places on the way, like Three Bs coffee, where they put smiley faces in my cappuccino and Wisnom's Hardware, where the ladies always have dog biscuits for Piglette, and Donut Delite, where they put extra donuts in my bag. It was a good day to appreciate everyone who makes our lives a little better in their own way. In particular, I appreciate that guy who still loves me, even though I can be broody and sometimes have anger issues and occasionally yell... just occasionally.

The story of how San Mateo came to adopt the Screaming Eagles is a bittersweet one. Sgt Joe Artavia wrote to his sister, Linda, asking if she could convince one of the local cities to adopt his unit. She had his request fulfilled, but two months later, her brother was killed in action. Linda went on to form America Supporting Americans, which works to match sponsors to units.


Screen Shot

One would think that the rambunctiously enthusiastic dog would be the reason I need to replace the screening on my back porch door at regular intervals, but no. The innocent-looking cat that spends most of the day sleeping and her claws are the culprit! I've replaced the screen three times in the last two years, and two of the three times, kitty "klaw" tears were the reason the screen broke. Yes, Piglette did break one when she was a puppy, but she's learned to paw at the door frame instead of the screen (hence the brown spot in the photo - I'd rather have to clean and touch up paint than replace a screen).

So this past weekend, I built a little frame out of scrap wood I have lying around (you'd have to see my scrap wood piles to truly appreciate how much junk my family hoards) that fits inside the bottom portion of the door frame opening. I originally intended for it to divide the door screening into smaller portions, so I'd only have to replace the bottom where Gigi scratches. But now I think plexiglass in the frame is a better long-term option -- sturdier and easier to clean, and the top portion will still be screened for air flow. I just have to figure out how I'd attach the plexiglass.

Unfortunately, I ran out of patience to build another frame for the door on the left, so my doors no longer match. I'd like to think that the effect is whimsical, which suits my personality more, but in my heart I know that's a bald-faced lie!

By the way, it may seem as though I've abandoned my blog, but I try to visit others and say hello or leave a comment or two. It's just been difficult for me to sit down and organize my thoughts into anything writeable for the past year.

First, serving on the board of an animal welfare charity was challenging. Small charities are often led by people who feel strongly about "the cause" but are not necessarily those with strong leadership skills. Personal feelings, rather than duty to put the organization first, have a disproportionate influence on decision-making, which can put the whole organization at risk. Going in, it's easy to think you'll be the one who will be able to use reason to move things in a positive direction. When my one year term came due, I bowed out of a second term.

Dissatisfied with raising heck in the animal welfare domain, I rejoined the ranks of my neighborhood association (I was secretary of the umbrella organization that provided a unified voice for all neighborhood groups in my city, back in the day) and began battling city hall over the implementation of wobblette (can be charged as either an infraction or misdemeanor) statutes, which are based on the wobblers (can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor) in the California state code. The problem is not necessarily in the spirit of the law, but in the letter, which is inadequate (I think) in providing checks and balances in the implementation. The proviso was added that the city attorney prepare an annual report of results and the city attorney promised to provide more detail with regard to how he plans to implement it. A short-term win as long as he remains in that position, but who knows long-term.

Given the last two paragraphs, you'd think there'd be something interesting to write about crazy animal welfare people and potential abuse of power. But the first topic was taboo, because my first responsibility was the welfare of the organization while I was on the board, and writing about it while still caught up in it was a bad idea. The second issue just sucked up a lot of time -- I'm not a lawyer, so had to do a lot of background research around a part-time job and consulting efforts, and maintain communications with the three city council members who bothered to reply, the city attorney and the neighorhood associations. All this said, I am still somewhat at a loss for words in general right now, and though I will be posting on occasion, it won't be regularly.