Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Puppy update...

Puppy update...  A couple of milestones in the past few days.

First, while Mako and Cabo still largely behave like puppies, they look like little dogs.  So we're changing their category to "doglet".

Second, Cabo - that fierce little doglet - tracked, attacked, killed, and tried to eat her first vole.  We got it away from her before she swallowed it, and fulsomely rewarded her.  Good doglet!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Yesterday morning Debbie and I made an early morning trip out to Hardware Ranch, looking for wildlife.  In order to leave early, I went out before sunrise, when it was just light enough to see (and I have great night vision), to move hand lines (irrigation pipes).  These three strings of hand lines belong to my friend and neighbor Tim D., who asked me to move them for him while he was on a trip to Montana with his son.  The three strings have a total of 18 pipes in them, mostly 40' long with a few shorter ones.  In all three strings, the job was the same: one at a time unhook and pick up the pipes, move them 30' to the next location, put them down and hook them up.  There are always a bunch of small challenges – pipes that are jammed such that they're hard to unhook, pipes that are bent and hard to hook up, getting the pipes in exactly the right place, and so on.  There's nothing really hard about the job, either physically or mentally, but still it requires one's full attention – you can't do that work well while daydreaming about something else.  You can, however, take a few moments here and there to look around you at the beautiful early morning scenery, which I did.  I particularly love the play of the early morning light on the mountaintops to our west, which occurs long before the sun rises from behind the mountains to light the valley floor.

After I finished moving the hand lines, around 7 am, Debbie and I took off.  It was a lovely morning, clear and crisp, and we were nearly the only ones on the road.  That meant we could easily dawdle wherever we felt like dawdling, to gawk at whatever was gawkable.  We made generous use of this opportunity :)

We saw several deer, but mainly we saw birds.  Lots of birds!  The ones I recall include a male Bullock's Oriole feeding a juvenile, lots of Cedar Waxwings (especially up at Hardware Ranch itself), four juvenile Robins taking a bath in the stream, a single Lazuli Bunting (photo at right, not mine), a juvenile swallow sitting on a fence post just a few feet from us, a Sandhill Crane pair with a juvenile, and a warbler that was a bright yellow-green.  That's quite a lot of sightings for one little trip where we never even left the car!

Yesterday was Pioneer Day, a Utah state holiday, though today is when it's generally observed.  The Boy Scouts came early this morning to plant a flag by our driveway, and all the local roads are now festooned with flags just like it in nearly every driveway.  The Boy Scouts charge a nominal fee for this service, but if you multiply that by how many households participate, you'll see that they're raising a substantial fund.  This patriotic spirit is so different than what we saw in San Diego, and I'm sure it's the same in every big city in the land.  You'd feel odd there if you were to put up a flag on the patriotic holidays.  It's basically the complete opposite here, where you'd feel odd if you didn't.

Today the Federal Express man delivered a big box with a pair of chairs destined for our sun room.  Debbie's been busy collecting furnishings while we wait for the room to be built :)   They're made of cast aluminum, so they're strong and lightweight (and also weatherproof, though that doesn't really matter in the sun room).  Naturally they were a kit :)  I spent an hour or so barking my knuckles while wielding a pair of open end wrenches to bolt it all together.  The chairs look nicely made, and strong.  The swivel and rocker mechanisms work great.  The seats are nice and wide, and the cushions are comfortable.  About my only complaint is that the chairs are an inch or so lower to the ground than I'd prefer (and I have short, stubby little legs!).  Right now the chairs are on our second floor, awaiting completion of their new home...

BLTs, again...

BLTs, again...  Those BLTs we had the other day were so good that we decided on a repeat performance.  Everything was the same except for how I cooked the bacon – I tried a technique I'd heard about: baking the bacon in the oven.  Bottom line: I don't think we'll ever cook bacon any other way again!  I used a aluminum cookie sheet, lined it with aluminum foil, and baked the bacon in a 400° oven.  The bacon was thick-cut, and I cooked it for 14 minutes until my eyeballs said it was done.  All the strips were identically cooked, which was already much better than stove-top.  I didn't have to turn over the bacon, and the cleanup was a breeze.  No more stove-top bacon for us!


Saturday, July 23, 2016

A pleasant surprise...

A pleasant surprise...  A few days ago I ordered an automatic door closer for my office door.  The main goal was to make sure the door always remained shut on the air conditioned space (the rest of the shed's second floor is a veritable blast furnace in the summer).  A secondary goal was to ensure that the door never slammed shut too hard, as the acoustic panels mounted to my ceiling with magnets can be jostled loose if the building shakes too much.

So I chose a well-reviewed model (photo at right) and looked over the reviews.  A surprising number of them mentioned challenges in installing the unit – nothing that reflected on the quality of the unit itself, just that it was tricky and time-consuming (one to two hours).  I really didn't see any reason that it would be, but I steeled myself for the challenge UPS was going to deliver.

I received it yesterday, and installed it this afternoon.  The instructions were crystal clear.  It comes with a paper template that was easy to use, and was spot on.  I drilled six pilot holes, spun in six screws, mounted the arm, adjusted it, and voila! ... I had a door closer.  Total elapsed time: 12 minutes.  Challenge level (1-10 scale): 1.5.  Which leads to a ponder: who the heck are those people who wrote the reviews that had me a bit concerned about how hard this would be? 

One lesson here: when I read in Amazon reviews that installation or assembly was “challenging”, I'm going to be a bit more skeptical of that than I have been :)

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Well, the extra dirt didn't all get cleaned up, as I suspected :)  To be fair, though, most of it is cleaned up – and I'm promised final cleanup on Monday.

I've been trying for nearly a year now to get a contractor (who shall remain unnamed) to install sprinklers in our yard.  We're also potentially interested in “fixing” our lawn, which in the areas immediately around the house is quite a mess.  There are lots of holes, it's far from flat, and in some places there are more weeds than grass – and where there's more grass, most if it is fast-growing native grass that looks more like a hay field than a lawn.  This unnamed contractor keeps promising to get going on our project, but at this point I've given up.  So I got a reference to another contractor, and he will be here on Monday to scope out the job.  If that doesn't scare him away, maybe we'll have some action this year (which is my goal).

Someday we'll probably have a straightforward project around our place, but ... the sprinkler system we need is not that project.  One complication is that a nice, paved driveway separates our lawn into two sections, and we don't want to dig up the driveway.  We have a solution for that, though: the 8" diameter Paradise water feed goes under the driveway now, and we will no longer need it after this project is finished – so we can use that as a tunnel to get the sprinkler water and wires through.  Another complication is our need to deal with highly variable pressure from the Paradise water feed.  The flow rate is generally fine, but the pressure often dips too low to reliably run sprinklers.  The new contractor instantly recommended a holding tank and pump solution: a standard and reliable way to handle the problem.  Finally, because Paradise water is full of all sorts of junk including weed seeds, we need a filter system to keep all that off the lawn.  The new contractor has a favorite solution for this, using water filters from an Israeli firm.  They're easy to clean, he tells me, which is music to my ears.  So I have hope :)

Yesterday I made lunch for Debbie and I: a BLT for her and a turkey sandwich for my own.  She pronounced the BLT “best BLT evah!”, so today she sent me out to buy the necessary ingredients for a repeat performance.  My turkey sandwich, using turkey ends from Lower's, was outstanding.  Today we're going to make an outing to the Maddox drive-in, as a treat for both of us.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  The construction effort is progressing, albeit more slowly than we would like.  The current work involves removing about 10 cubic yards of soil that was dug out for the foundations of our mud room and our sun room.  They're planning to be done with that today, but I suspect they will not.  Jim J. (our contractor) came over today to talk doors: he had some details from the factory on just what doors we could possibly have made, and this required a bit of compromise (nothing we really object to) for two of our doors.  Naturally those were the two we asked for really odd things on :)  Jim also told me to expect some lumber to show up soon, as they're just about ready to build the floors.

Yesterday evening the low sun angle made a pretty scene in the trees next to our shed.  My brother Scott tells me they're some kind of cherry, with this bright red foliage.  Some photos:


This morning, bright and early, we drove up to the Logan Regional hospital for Debbie to take her first hydrotherapy session.  The pool there is very much like the one shown at right.  The floor of the pool is a treadmill, and the floor can be arbitrarily raised (right up to even with the pool's edges) or lowered (to 7' deep).  The walls of the pool are festooned with cameras which can be selected for viewing on a big monitor.  This lets both the patient and the therapist see exactly what's happening.  Getting Debbie into the pool could hardly be any easier: the therapist raised the floor all the way up, we wheeled her onto the (now dry) pool floor, she stood up (holding onto those rails) and the therapist lowered her down into the water.  By adjusting her depth, he could precisely control how much weight she was actually putting on her surgical leg – and she got to practice walking while only putting a small fraction of her total weight onto that leg.  The session went well, especially in that she increased her range of motion by 5°!  A few more sessions like that and she'll have full range of motion back!

It's really hard to beat...

It's really hard to beat ... meeting up with old friends, which is what we did for part of yesterday.  Despite our sketchy appearance, the folks at Jack's Wood Fired Pizza let us in for lunch (trade was slow, admittedly).  For those of who don't know us, that's Debbie and I in the lower row.  Left-to-right in the upper row is Doug W. (whom I've known for over 25 years – he and I worked together at Stac Electronics), his sister Marilyn (who lives fairly close to us, in Ogden), and Doug's wife Dee.  As always, their visit was too short for us – but it was really nice to see them again.  Doug gets up here to northern Utah a couple times a year, mainly for church-related activities, and Dee often comes with him for activities of her own.  We have some hope of seeing them once in a while :)

Yesterday was also a big day for Debbie: this was her first time out to a restaurant since her injury in late May.  Jack's was a great selection for that outing, with their delicious soups and pizzas, and this time complete with great company!

If you're wondering who took the photo, it was our waiter.  He told me that he took two photos, in case one didn't turn out.  In fact he took four, all just a fraction of a second apart.  I suspect he's not an iPhone expert :)

Quote of the day...

Quote of the day...  From Ace:
People are so horrifically stupid that I cannot wait until the aliens come and kill us all. I'll actually be on their side. When they show up, I'm going to sneak towards their space armada and offer my services as a behind-the-lines saboteur and quisling.
I know exactly how he feels...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I don't need no steenking recipes!

I don't need no steenking recipes!  Quite a few years ago I started asking my mom for recipes for the dishes I liked so much.  Many – perhaps most – of the recipes I asked for elicited the same answer: “I don’t have a recipe for that!”  For example, I love the doughy dinner rolls she made, and that's what she said when I asked for that recipe.

Finally, after many entreaties, she finally agreed to write down a recipe for those dinner rolls.  This was in the mid-'80s.  When I got the recipe, it was a list of ingredients – without amounts – and some very vague directions like “bake at medium until done”.  I didn't even bother trying with that recipe :)

But the next time she came out to California to visit us, I figured I had a foolproof scheme: I'd ask her to make the rolls while I watched and recorded what she did.  How could that fail?

It did, though, and fairly spectacularly.  The first problem was that she didn't measure anything, literally – she took out a mixing bowl and threw in flour and the other ingredients until it “looked right”.  I had no clue how much of anything she'd put in.  Then while she was mixing and kneading, she added more random quantities.  Even that wasn't the end, though: when she put it in the oven, she checked it periodically and changed the temperature while it was baking.  Again, those adjustments were based on how it looked.  At that point, I simply gave up.

Years later, she started writing down some actual recipes and passing them along, including those dinner rolls.  I tried making some of those recipes, with results that were dubious at best.  I like to think of myself as a reasonably competent cook, but there's no way I could make something like dinner rolls without a recipe – and no way I could tell by how the dough looked that it needed, say, a touch more salt.

In the '90s, on another of her visits to us, I talked with mom about that seat-of-the-pants cooking style.  She told me that she was taught to cook that way.  She had recipes, but considered them just guidelines and starting points – that “obviously” you'd have to adjust them on the fly to make them work right.  I think she pitied me for my inability to understand directions like “until it looks right” :)

I now have a pile of recipes from her.  But I have little hope of ever recreating the dishes as she made them...

Jupiter, from “below”...

Jupiter, from “below” ... where “below” means looking straight at Jupiter's south pole.  It's an old photo, made when Cassini passed by Jupiter on it's way to Saturn in 2008.  Old, but beautiful!

Debbie update...

Debbie update...  She's now into her 7th week of recovery, and on her 6 week followup the surgeon declared her bone growth “as expected”.  That means, most likely, that the combination of vitamin D3 and calcium supplements she's taking are fixing the symptom of whatever the underlying cause of her osteoporosis is.

Yesterday she had a doctor's appointment (with our GP) to review the latest (third) round of blood test results.  It was all good.  To review, her initial blood tests (with blood drawn while she was still in the hospital) came back with abnormalities in vitamin D, parathyroid activity, liver function, and a couple of other less important (or relevant) issues.  The second round, three weeks ago, came back with everything good except some liver function concerns.  This latest round, with blood drawn this past Friday, came back completely normal.

In addition, the doctor told us that all indications are that the really bad possibilities are not present.  Primarily these are multiple myeloma, osteomalacia, and Paget disease.  In addition, a relatively easily remedied cause is also not present: hyperparathyroidism.  These all have been ruled out by a combination of X-rays and blood work.  She (our GP) is going to have a radiologist review the X-rays to double-check, and they drew more blood yesterday for some more sensitive tests to double-check on the negative results here.  We should know all these results by Friday, but we're expecting them to verify the initial findings.

That means the endocrinologist will be the key to finding out what the underlying cause of her osteoporosis is.  There are many potential causes, some reversible, others not.  In all cases, some combination of calcium supplements, vitamin D3 supplements, exercise, and drugs can improve her bone density.  Exactly how much improvement is uncertain at this point – to some extent it depends on the underlying cause, and to a large extent it depends on her diligence in following the regimen prescribed.  Those calcium supplements are no fun to take, and of course the exercise will be a lot of work.  Until her bone density improves, the doctor has forbidden any high-impact activity (including running), and any activity that carries with it a risk of falling.

You may be wondering, as we have been, why her osteoporosis wasn't detected earlier.  There are two fundamental possibilities here.  The first possibility is that its onset was so fast that it occurred since her most recent injury.  The second is that all of the surgeons (three surgeons on multiple occasions each) she's seen in the past three and a half years just plain missed it, while the current surgeon picked up on it from the initial X-rays.  Debbie last had a bone density test done in 2012, and that came back well into the normal range.  The test she had done a couple weeks ago came back with “moderately severe” osteoporosis.  Some of the underlying causes can be fast acting, so it's possible that no diagnosis was missed anywhere – but it seems more likely to us that one or more of the surgeons missed the call.  If that's the case, Debbie's latest injury might have been avoided...

In addition, yesterday Debbie had a physical therapy evaluation appointment.  She had two main goals for that appointment: getting advice on improving her range of motion in both knees, and getting cleared for hydrotherapy.  I had an additional goal: to get her some element of independence.  Up until yesterday she has been completely dependent on me for even the most basic things (like getting into or out of bed).  I know this has been frustrating for her, and it's also very different than the recovery for her past injuries, where she was fairly independent quite quickly.

The physical therapist did an outstanding job on all of our goals, and most especially on the one of achieving some independence.  When we got home, Debbie was immediately able to do several things she formerly needed my help on completely on her own.  I stood by to make sure she was safe, and I'll continue to do that until she's confident – but I have no doubt that in a day or two she'll be doing it all on her own easily.  Hooray!