Thursday, June 13, 2019

Benny

I have very sad news.

Our dear Benny passed at 4:07 AM Monday morning, June 10, of a stroke. It was unexpected, although he was under treatment for hyperthyroidism, and that condition without a doubt is what led to the stroke.

Benny was loved by all who knew him, even those professing a dislike of cats, because he managed to exemplify all the dogly virtues—loyalty, sense of duty, friendliness, affectionateness—while still being 100 per cent cat. He greeted all visitors with a purr and a smile, and if his initial overtures were accepted, he got on their lap, nuzzled them affectionately, and then sat down and amped up his purr to fill the room and move the heart.

All succumbed to Benny’s open, friendly welcome. He was not pushy with them, but he was irresistible nonetheless. People just naturally started petting him; Benny would accept the affection, and return it in kind.

One of my sisters-in-law visits us every year, and she always has pointedly made a good long lap session with Benny a central feature of her visits. And she’s not the only one to have done this. Benny had a fan in all who knew him.

Benny came to us as an adult. He joined our family on September 2, 2010. Based upon his appearance and neighborhood reports, we judged him to be one year old, and officially fixed his birthdate accordingly, but it seems apparent now that he must have been older (although he never showed it). Adam, then seven months old, vetted Benny in fifteen minutes, and from that moment on they were brothers under the fur. I have never witnessed a closer relationship between two cats.


* * *

All cats have an inner Big Cat in them. Simon’s Big Cat, for example, is a lion, as was Adam’s before him. Benny’s Big Cat was a panther. You could see that come out when he was outside. He was sleek, his coat was smooth and it shone in the sun, and his every movement bespoke the panther within.

But he was a kind panther. Benny was an outdoor cat by nature. We rescued him from the outside. He kept appearing in the yard of Lydia’s mom Frances, thin as a rail, for weeks. He was wonderfully sweet, and seemed to make a point of visiting Lydia whenever she was there.

As the weeks passed, she noticed with concern that he was getting thinner and thinner. Lydia asked all around the neighborhood, and everyone said he'd been present for some months, and belonged to no one. So, after verifying this, we took him in.

We soon realized that the reason that he was so thin was because, while he had the big-cat killing instinct, when it came right down to it he had too much love in his heart to administer the fait accompli. I witnessed this just last Friday.

Benny was a sun-worshipper, and he needed to be outside regularly to be happy, so we put him on a harness and a leash and put him outside in the back yard most every non-rainy day.


Pasadena has a deplorable problem with wild coyotes roaming the streets freely, so we always monitored Benny's outside sojourns to keep him safe. Last Friday, I watched him catch a winsome little mouse, and ran out frantically to save the mouse's life.

Benny came up to me, looked into my eyes, then placed the mouse at my feet. The mouse just lay there. While I was touched by the tribute Benny was paying me, I was quite distressed for the mouse.

Then Benny looked down at the mouse, and nudged it with his paw. The mouse squeaked, got up, and scurried away. Benny could not bring himself to kill the mouse, God bless him.

Benny, last Friday, just after he paroled the mouse.

* * *

There is no comfort that I have ever found in a passing. It is the worst part of life. I'd gladly exchange years of my own life to see any of my dear departed before me for one more blessed minute.

But if there is any way to consider the manner of Benny’s passing that might lessen the pain a bit, it is that up to his last day he was happy and vital and keeping on. He went outside, and he played, and he sat on my lap as he loved to do, and he purred up a storm. He made all his days count. He set a good example for us all.

When his time came, he went with dignity, surrounded by those who knew and loved him best.

Benny was a manifest daily presence of God’s love in our lives from the first day to the last, and he will live forever in our hearts. Benny is at the right hand of God now. No, come to think of it, he’s in God’s lap, purring up a storm. And to his right is his pal Adam.

I'll write more about Benny when I can.

* * *

Benny
September 2, 2009 (?) - June 10, 2019

Thursday, May 2, 2019

They Took My Web Site Away

One of the minor disasters that transpired unnoticed during the time of my surgery and the early recovery phase was that my ISP unceremoniously terminated its free Web page support. As a result, the Farm House Journal is currently offline.

To review, the Farm House Journal (FHJ) is the precursor of, and companion to, this blog. I started it in 1999 with no comprehensive plan in mind, and so by the time I approached the end of Chapter IV, in early 2011, it was a chaotic mess, both textually and in terms of Web design.

From chapter to chapter, I would alternate between a present-tense journalistic style and a past-tense narrative style. The page layout also kept changing, sometimes within chapters, and navigation was awkward. Worst of all, I kept falling farther and farther behind in the story.

By the time I started Chapter IV, I had finally figured out what I wanted the FHJ to be, and I resolved to go back and re-write the first three chapters, but I was still clueless regarding how to fix the navigation, and in the event I was far too busy to undertake such a job at the time, because I had at last begun the exterior restoration in earnest.

And so, I started this blog, just to get a fresh start with current events while I figured out how to get the FHJ back on track. Added benefits were much easier and quicker posting, plus the ability to post video. After going on to complete Chapter IV, I just left the Web site to languish, while linking to it from here occasionally.

Once I realized that the FHJ was offline, I at first resolved to get it back up as soon as possible with a new hosting service. When I reviewed it, however, I quickly changed my mind, because aside from its textual and navigational problems, its Web design is fully twenty years out of date.

I created the site at a time when people were still using dial-up modems and CRT monitors with a 4:3 aspect ratio and at best 1280 by 1024 resolution. Moreover, the Web browsers used at the time varied wildly regarding how they interpreted HTML. I thus kept things as simple as possible, so the site would load quickly, with a consistent appearance across all platforms.

The situation now is quite different. Today’s high-resolution, widescreen displays render my 1999 design almost unreadable, with tiny fonts and long, long lines of text. The site is even less readable on cell phones and tablets.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

On the other hand, today's HTML gives one far more control over presentation, with fairly uniform look and feel across all platforms, and virtually everyone is using the latest version of their preferred browser. And by “virtually everyone,” I mean everyone but you, Nik.

And so, the FHJ will remain offline for the time being, while I take this golden opportunity to re-write and redesign it, and redirect the links to it from here. Of course, before I do this, I must learn how to code a modern Web site. This process is likely to take some time.

Please bear with me while I work to get the FHJ back online, and remember in the meantime not to click on any links that go to it. That way lies madness.

* * *

"Non legit illud. Non nimis longum esset."

Friday, April 12, 2019

Trip to El Rancho Grande

Last weekend, we took the pups up to the Rancho to meet with the Hughes Net guy so he could re-align the dish with the satellite. Our satellite connections are our only real ties to the outside world in that remote location, where over-the-air TV signals are non-existent and even mighty Verizon does not reach consistently. Well, we do have a wired telephone line there for emergencies, but who uses land lines anymore on a regular basis except for phone spammers?

It was a phenomenally lovely day there.


The skies were that startlingly deep blue that comes at high altitude, the snow was all gone, and the plants were full of swelling buds.


The pups held their usual jamboree.




As I’ve mentioned, life in a cold-winter environment is brand-new to me, and I was amazed to see that the grass was already greening up. That is, except for in the back.


This is all quite dead because we haven’t had any irrigation in the back since 2017. We’ll be fixing that this year. For now, it’s just that much less to mow.

Another task we had was to turn the water back on to the house. We had to turn it off earlier when the water-softener valve blew out; our plumber up there fixed the leak, but didn’t turn the water back on because he couldn’t get inside the house to check for further leaks.

Of course, when we turned the water back on we did find a leak, but fortunately it was outside the house, and just a trickle, so we were at least able to use the plumbing while we were there.

The third, and most important, task was to replace our flag. The stars and stripes is in abundant evidence in the Mountain Communities.

Another house in our neighborhood.

El Rancho Grande is no exception. One of the things I really liked about the place when we first saw it was the big flagpole in front, with a light that keeps the flag illuminated at night, as per proper flag etiquette. I’ve always wanted such a setup.

We put up a brand-new flag when we moved in, and were surprised to see how quickly it became damaged. We replaced that with a more substantial one. That one got utterly, and shamefully, shredded over the hard winter. So this time we got the most durable flag we could find.


We hope this one will last longer, but if it doesn’t, we’ll just get a bigger one next time. If that doesn’t help, then I guess we’ll have to put a flag order on autoship.

Our neighbor to the west keeps peacocks, and have recently built a pen for them. We love the peacocks; they are beautiful, and full of personality. I couldn’t manage to get a good photo of the pen, because the sun was a bit behind it and I didn’t want to distress them by using the flash, but here’s a bad one.


The peacocks sound like chickens speaking with a foreign accent.

Oh, and while we were up there, I made sure to get a better photo of the Barn.


This will give you a better idea of how big it is, although I didn’t have the right lens with me to give you an accurate idea of just how deep it is. The first owner used to restore Packards in there, and he told me he could fit seven of those big cars, with enough room to work on them all.

You can’t see all the features here, but you can see the nice wood stove, the lumber storage rack behind it, and at the back an attached storage shed. You can also see, in the storage shelves along the left side, a great deal of spare maintenance items for the house.

I’m tempted to remove the dropped ceiling and its attendant support columns, but while this will make the Barn a more inviting space, it will also make it harder to heat in winter. So we’ll see.

* * *

“What this place needs is something to herd, like maybe some big, fluffy llamas!”

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Big Time at The Farm House

My 60th birthday was the Friday before last, and on the next day we had a big party with lots of cousins and friends. I was humbled by the large turnout. Everyone that could be here was here, many coming from a considerable distance. The party was, in effect, the coming-out for the new me. Everyone was pretty worried about me during the long run-up to the surgery, and this was their opportunity to see that I came out okay. As I said, I’m humbled, and grateful.

The following is a brief recap of the proceedings. I’m not going to identify anyone by name, because I didn’t ask permission, and I don’t want to violate anyone’s privacy.

* * *

The interior of the Farm House is still years from being completely restored, and I worry that the unpainted walls and age-dulled woodwork are a bit off-putting for guests. But Wifey did a great deal to spiff up the place and make it more inviting, and I noted that whereas previously people tended to congregate in the kitchen (the only finished room in the house besides the downstairs bath) during parties, this time they distributed themselves throughout all the available rooms and in the gazebo outside (which just got a new canopy and some swell, if dim, color-changing LED lights).


The pups were of necessity banished to the Lounge for most of the proceedings with plenty of treats, and most of the cats absented themselves, but Benny, our goodwill ambassador, was right in the thick of things. He even hung out with the gazebo folk outside for a while, on a short leash because his stomach had been upset and I didn't want him noshing on yard debris.


One of Wifey’s big projects was the completion of the window treatments in the parlor. Window treatments in the Farm House: wow!



Now, lets hope the curtains survive the Pet Division. The sheer panels were under attack from the cats the minute they were up; Wifey was able to repair the damage, but it looks like the sheers will have to be kept pushed back.

I received a great number of very thoughtful gifts, but I must say that my favorite gift came from this guy.


He’s my littlest cousin, and when he came in and saw me, he ran up and gave me a big hug. That made me very happy. We’re really looking forward to watching him grow up; he’s definite MVP material. Here he is with his parents (on the left); they’re doing a great job.


Oh, look, there’s Benny on our friend’s lap, keeping a close eye on the little one. And you can see another recent improvement, a rug. Rugs are a risky proposition in the Farm House; what with all our pets, they never seem to last long. But this is a new type of rug, really more of a tapestry that can be removed from its backing and machine-washed. We have high hopes for it, especially since the pets really seem to appreciate it and have treated it uncommonly well (so far).

The kitchen was the most popular room early on:





Then, it was cake time, and the dining room became the center of activity:




Wait, let’s get in closer on that Happy Birthday sign:


I bet this is the first time such a high number has been used with this sign.

The party eventually ended up in the den, which suited Benny just fine. He wanted to watch the Angels game.


It was a fantastic day, a definite milestone on my way back. It’s a great thing to feel better at 60 than I did at 50, and it’s really icing on the cake to spend the day surrounded by loved ones.


I had so much fun that it’s taken me over a week to recover.

* * *

"Now that the festivities have concluded, how's about whipping up some dinner for my friend and me?
It would be a shame if something happened to your nice new rug."


Friday, March 29, 2019

Our Universe Is Expanding

Wifey and I are a formidable team. We’ve tangled with malefactors more than a few times, and with very few exceptions we’ve always come out on top.

So it was with the two skirmishes with the City that occurred in rapid succession in 2017. Nevertheless, we were left quite angry by the experience. We were fed up with our being repeatedly put on the defensive by an overweening bureaucracy, and by the prospect of its possibly happening again.

And so, as much as we love the Farm House, we began to feel the need to establish a foothold somewhere else, in case the City really began to put on the heat.

We had in mind a place far enough away to provide a significantly different environment, but close enough to be suitable for day trips. We wanted a place large enough for us all to be able to stretch our legs, but modest enough to be affordable.

Early in June 2017, we began to look for such a place. Miraculously, by the ides of June we had found it, and by the end of September it was ours.


You’ll be hearing all about the place in due course, so I’ll just provide a sketch of the place here. It’s on one and five-sixteenths of an acre 5500 feet up, on the slopes of Mt. PiƱos in the San Emigidio Mountains. It is within the boundaries of the Los Padres National Forest, just inside Kern County, 82 miles from the Farm House.


The house is a fairly large, rambling affair, built by the original owner (from whom we purchased it). He started with an A-frame kit cabin, and over the course of the next forty years kept adding rooms periodically. It is solidly, if quirkily, built.

The camera is at eye level here.

The place is indelibly imprinted with the lively personality of the man who built it, about whom you will hear much more in the coming months. He is a remarkable man, energetic and full of whimsy, evidence of which one is liable to find in unexpected places.


He has his own unique way of doing things.


My favorite aspect of the construction is a 1000-square-foot second garage, known as “the Barn,” although it doesn’t look anything like a barn. It is in fact just a very long garage. But what a garage! Its possibilities as a work space, and as a play space, are virtually unlimited. I mean, we could hold a barn dance in there!


The house is bordered on the north and west by a vast meadow that requires a small tractor to mow. Happily, the house came with one, and a nice snowblower as well. Beyond the north meadow is a forested area that slopes down to a creek on the northern border of the property.

The back yard overlooks the Cuddy Valley, which for a long time was cattle country. Even now, cattle graze there during the temperate months of the year.


And speaking of climate, the summers there are much like those in Pasadena, although it is generally somewhat cooler up there. The winters, on the other hand, are much colder. It is liable to snow there at any time from early November to early May.

We christened the place El Rancho Grande, after the song of the same name. For reference, here’s Bing’s hit version of the song:



The name occurred to both Wifey and me simultaneously. It just seems to fit.

For Wifey, El Rancho Grande was just what the doctor ordered. From the first, she positively thrived up there. She would always leave the place feeling renewed in body and spirit.

My reaction to the place was quite the opposite. Although I fell in love with the place at first sight, once the place was ours the name we had given it began to take on for me an ironic and sinister meaning.

As it happened, the acronym of the name, ERG, is also the name of a unit of work or energy. I soon discovered that the place was so large and complex that it required a considerable amount of work to maintain. The scope of the work grew exponentially in my mind once I realized that I knew virtually nothing about the particular maintenance needs of a place situated in a snowy winter environment.

I would thus get to work the second we arrived at the place, but ten minutes later I found myself completely drained of energy and gasping for breath, done for the day. After a few weeks of this, I figured out that I was experiencing altitude sickness up there. I had never gotten it before unless I was up above 10,000 feet, and even then the symptoms were mild and of brief duration.

I began resting for a half-hour after arrival at El Rancho Grande before I did anything else, and that worked for a time. But it caused me some concern nonetheless, and when in time the altitude sickness worsened, both Wifey and I knew something was wrong with me.

This led us to seek out a new doctor, the one who quickly and accurately diagnosed my heart condition.

Thus, while El Rancho Grande was for Wifey just what the doctor ordered, for me it was just what ordered the doctor.

As 2018 wore on, I eventually had to give up the idea of doing any work up at ERG for the time being, and after mid-July I had to stay away completely for a time. We tried again in mid-November, but it was too soon.

After my encouraging physical in early February, we felt that it was safe to try again.  And so, the next Saturday, we went up there. It was a nice sunny day, but there was a blanket of snow on the ground.


That, however, diminished no one’s spirits.


Everything was beautiful,


and a grand time was had by all.


Oh, and the altitude sickness was completely absent. At last, El Rancho Grande is just what the doctor ordered for me as well, because she has ordered me to get plenty of exercise.

* * *

You all are now brought more or less up to date regarding Otis, Wifey & Co. There are still a few blank spaces to fill regarding past events, which I will do as soon as I fill them in for myself, but for the most part I will now be returning to current business.


"Uh. . . hello?"

Oh, wait. I just remembered one small event I failed to mention. On February 4, 2018, Wifey let the dogs out in the morning, as usual, and instead of their going about their business, they made a beeline to the north side of the house and set up an enormous din.

Wifey ran out, and saw the dogs gathered around the base of the big Eastern oak alongside the driveway. She followed their gaze upward and saw a raccoon in the tree.

There is nothing very odd about raccoons in our trees at night, but we haven’t had one there in the daytime since we moved in. Apparently, the raccoon had fallen asleep up there, and failed to wake up in time to get to a dog-free zone.

Although we brought the dogs right back in, and kept them in all day, that poor raccoon stayed there until it was good and dark, although after a while he relaxed and made himself comfortable.

Okay, now it’s back to current business.

* * *

"Thank you."




Thursday, March 28, 2019

Civics Lesson, Part 2

One day in June 2017, we received a certified letter from our good friend, Robespierre Corday. We didn’t need to open it to know that it was another code violation. Our postman advised us he had been delivering many such letters that day on our block, all from the same source.

This code violation concerned our driveway approach. That’s the civil-engineer term for the ramp that gets you from the street, across the parkway and sidewalk, to your driveway. They considered it substandard.

This approach was probably installed when they subdivided the neighborhood in 1911, or not long after. It was originally six feet wide, and was designed to accommodate vehicles weighing a ton or so at the most. It’s only about two inches thick. At some point, it was widened to eight feet, as you can see along the right side. 

Okay, they had a point. The approach had been disintegrating ever since concrete trucks crossed it repeatedly during the heavy construction phase, and since our contractor bailed early, they never got around to fixing it. As we discovered later, the roots of the big pine tree had something to do with the damage as well.

We called Corday, who as before was sincerely sorry to have to cite us, but they had received a complaint and had to investigate it. We didn’t tell him that the postman had outed him, and that we knew that he had gone up and down our block and noted everything citable.

In this part of town, you can’t get a policeman to come unless a violent crime is in progress, but you get to know the code compliance officers by name. Of course, the compliance officers never seem to notice the City’s own code violations, which are legion.

It would in fact have been imprudent for us to tell him that we knew the truth of the matter. No need to get his back up. Not that you can’t fight City Hall, but this fight would be so messy and expensive that any victory would be a Pyrrhic one. Forget it, Otis; it’s Pasadena.

Besides, we did clearly need a new approach. This citation at least had a valid basis, irrespective of its origin. And so, we immediately set out to correct the violation with all due speed.

The first contractor we auditioned was a referral from a landscape-architect friend, so we knew that he was qualified to do the work. He gave us a quote that did not include the acquisition of permits, advising us that it was considerably cheaper for us to get them.

He didn't know, as we were soon to learn, that as of 2017 the City requires that the contractor obtain the permits. Because, you know, the City just hates to deal with actual taxpayers face-to-face. Plus, contractors are such generous campaign donors. In Pasadena, you can represent yourself in court, but not at the planning office.

In any event, the quote was so insanely high that it was clear that the contractor did not want the job. So we got more quotes, and chose one that seemed the most qualified. They set up an initial meeting with the Public Works inspector, who has charge of such work.

Now, the City is supposed to vet the contractor to ensure he is qualified to perform the work in the City. That is their justification for requiring the contractor to obtain the permits; this is supposed to protect the homeowner, ensuring that the work is done professionally and ethically, in a timely manner.

But the City, ever disingenuous, doesn’t really bother to vet the contractor. They just send the inspector out. The contractor and a few of his men arrived early for the meeting, and were already demolishing the old approach before I even knew they were there.

I considered myself fully prepared to deal with the inspector. I was already quite familiar with the particular code requirements for new driveway approaches in Bungalow Heaven, having discussed them at length with the head of the Cultural Heritage Commission in the early days of the heavy construction phase.

The design of our new driveway approach had to match the appearance of the original. The curb on each side must curve at the same level to meet the sidewalk, the ramp must be divided into roughly-equilateral rectangles, and the surface of the concrete must be washed when still wet to blend in with the weathered appearance of the existing century-old concrete work. This was precisely what we wanted, so I expected no controversy in the matter.

In the event, when the inspector arrived he got right to business, and dictated in no uncertain terms an approach thoroughly modern in appearance. When I brought up, gently, the particular requirements for our nieghborhood, he emphatically disagreed, stating flatly that every new approach in the City must be constructed precisely as he described.

What followed next was the most intense hour of negotiation I have yet endured. Now, we do happen to have a professional negotiator in our household, but I am decidedly not that person. Nevertheless, I had the facts of the matter at hand, and my cause was righteous, so I jumped right in with both feet.

Happily, I kept my righteous anger well in check, and the inspector was a reasonable man, so in the end I got just what I and the Commission wanted. By the time our negotiation was completed, so was the demolition of the old approach, and the meeting ended with cordiality all around. The contractor departed with the promise that he’d get started in a day or two.

Now, you all just know that he didn’t, right? Well, you are correct. I won’t sport with your patience by giving you a blow-by-blow account of the next few months. Let it suffice to say that the contractor was in fact not approved by the City, for the simple reason that he was apparently not certified by the State to do concrete work.

And for all that time, getting in and out of our driveway was something of an expedition.


After this photo was taken, I re-graded the approach, taking out the rocks and adding some dirt from our ample supply in the back yard, because the tires on Wifey’s car are expensive.

We did eventually get the work done to our satisfaction:


It’s a luxurious ten feet wide (the inspector had wanted twelve!), and it’s six inches thick, strong enough to take concrete trucks. Plus, it’s a huge upgrade in appearance.


So once again, all’s well that ends well, and it’s now a lot less of an adventure to get in and out of the driveway.

* * *