Thursday, June 30, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  I'm writing this in my office, which is at a lovely 70°F, while right outside my office door it's 107°F.  This is because Ryan Osborne and his crew from Leading Edge came out today and installed my new split-system air conditioner.  It's a Pioneer model I chose for the combination of good reviews and quiet operation.  It works great, easily cooling my office to the desired temperature.  The photo at right shows the inside part of the split system; the other part is about twice this size and is hanging on the outside wall, out of sight.  I can scarcely believe how quiet it is, too – the inside unit is just barely audible if everything else in my office is silent, and the outside unit I can't hear at all.  Woo hoo!

Meanwhile, Jim Johnson and the crew from Cache Homes were busy doing the demolition work that is the first phase of our current construction project.  At right you can see one of them at work with a jackhammer, trying to reduce our former front porch to manageable chunks.  We all got surprised by what a solid job was done on that porch – about 5 yards of concrete poured as a single giant piece.  Someone wasn't scrimping on concrete :)

A little later, excavation work started for the foundation of our sun room.  Late yesterday afternoon, this same area started flooding with water after the loader drover over it.  We figured out that there was a 2" PVC line feeding an old (and defunct) irrigation system.  The loader's weight split the line.  Jim dug it out in an area beyond any excavation he was planning, and early this morning I capped it off.  This afternoon, the excavation began in earnest, as you can see at left.  The first bit of work is to clear around the basement casements, because the old steel casements are being replaced with larger concrete boxes.  One of these will be used to let our cats move between the sun room and their current home in our basement.

The Flag...

The Flag...  A few years ago, mom undertook one of her last big crafts projects: making a Revolutionary War flag from an old section of picket fence.  That flag is now installed on our shed, as you can see at right (click to embiggen).

At left is a reproduction of an authentic Revolutionary War flag.  You can see that she did a good job of duplicating it!

When I received the flag, it was in perfect condition.  My sister Holly and her husband Warren packed it into the POD full of my mom's stuff they shipped out here.  There were two eye hooks screwed into the back, near the top of it.  I'm guessing it was hung like a picture, on a wire from a single nail or screw.  I didn't dare do something as simple as that, as we frequently get fairly strong winds.  So I screwed two more eye hooks into the bottom, and then put four “L” hooks into the side of the shed, so that each would engage an eye hook.  That took some careful measuring!  It all worked on the first try, though – I just sat the flag's eye hooks down onto the “L” hooks, and now it's not going anywhere.

I'll remember mom every time I walk out to my shed now...

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Kindnesses and gifts...

Kindnesses and gifts...  My brother Scott tells this story:
One of the most unusual, in fact probably extremely rare styles of giving that Mom had was her special and surprising way of being very generous with her heart to complete strangers.

Extremely early in the morning or when the timing was right she would go all out creating a half dozen or more of these huge unbelievably gorgeous custom bouquets made of fresh cuttings of various extra pretty flowers, shrubs and trees found all around our 12 acre nursery ( which no longer exists ). Each bouquet would weigh a hefty 5 to 10 pounds each. Most of these plant materials were unusual and extremely hard to find. She'd keep them fresh longer by making sure that the base of the cuttings stayed moist. Each one of these bouquets could easily sell for $150 each today. Once she had these carefully packed in the trunk of her car she would go out to quite a few garage or yard sales. She'd usually search for low cost little treasures that would make nice presents for her friends, great tiny things that would help her with her crafting or perhaps an aqua colored glass object to add to her aqua colored glass collection.

During this shopping adventure and right before leaving a yard sale - if anyone gave her a real authentic smile, was very polite, helpful or any kind of positive behavior she would open up the trunk of her car and pull out one of these bouquets and give it to this nice person along with her healthy smile. I've personally witnessed seeing the look of shock on the faces of these lucky recipients, as well as hearing their responses and seeing tears of joy rolling down their cheeks. Some of them would ask something like "What did I do to deserve this?".  My Mom would answer: " Because of your beautiful smile and personality" or something just as wonderful.
I'm ashamed of myself for not having thought to write about this aspect of mom's character.  My only defense is that we saw this side of her so much that ... I tended to think it was normal.

I'll add to Scott's story by pointing out that many times her “gift” was just some simple and kind words.  There are so many times that I witnessed this that it's hard to pick out just one to relate – but remember, please, that this sort of thing happened very often with her.  On one of her visits to us in California, mom, dad, Debbie and I all went out to one of our favorite Thai restaurants, on Orange Avenue in Coronado.  The hostess and waiter was a woman perhaps 40 years old, Thai, who spoke English well, but with an attractive Thai accent.  She was very attentive to us during our meal, and helped mom and dad (then unfamiliar with Thai food) choose appropriate items from the menu.  During all of this, she maintained a calm, professional demeanor.  At the end of our meal, my mom told her, very directly, that her service to us had been spectacularly good, and that her voice was so attractive that my mom would like to listen to it all day long.  Our waitress' face lit up like she'd just won the lottery – she was transformed.  Ten minutes later, as we left the restaurant, she was talking with the owner and still beaming.

Mom often said something along the lines of “You never know if you’ll have another chance – so if someone deserves some praise, give it to them right now!”  She truly lived by that maxim; on some days she left a trail of cheer and smiles behind her everywhere she went.  I try to do the same, very much following her example, as do my siblings...

Construction has started!

Construction has started!  We've been waiting for this day for quite a while.  There are three new pieces of our house being tacked on this summer.  First, we're putting in a roofed deck with a built-in grill.  Second, a sun room, about 12' x 14', outside our bedroom.  This will be an aluminum-framed all-glass room on the east side of our house, with a clear shot of the southern sun.  Finally, there will be a mud room, about 12' x 10', on the front of our house. 

The first step is demolition of existing concrete slabs, removal of two steel casements, and excavation of the area underneath the sun room and mud room (preparatory to pouring foundations).  The demo work is mainly being done by Matt and his big ol' loader.  Matt seems to enjoy thumping concrete slabs to break them :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Fish Thermidor...

Fish Thermidor...  This is the first in a series of posts I'm making to publish my mom's recipes.  The origin of the dish's name is interesting – it involves the French revolution!

Reading this recipe brought back some sweet, sweet memories for me.  I loved my mom's fish thermidor, and because she didn't make it very often, it was always a real treat when she did.  I haven't tried making this myself (in fact, until this afternoon I'd never even seen the recipe before), but it looks pretty straightforward.  It also looks like it would work with just about any kind of fish...
Elinor Dilatush's Fish Thermidor

12 small onions
1 lb. fish fillets
l/2c milk
1/2 c light cream
3 T soft butter
3 T flour
1/2 c grated Swiss cheese
1 t salt
pepper to taste
3 T lemon juice
soft bread crumbs
poultry seasoning

Peel onions and cook covered in 1/2 inch boiling salted water 25 minutes.  Drain and place in greased casserole. While onions are cooking sprinkle the fish with pepper and cut into serving size pieces. Because flounder today is much smaller than years ago and this is an old recipe - I changed way of preparing. Combine milk and cream and bring to gentle boil.  Blend soft butter and flour and stir a little of the hot milk into butter/flour mixture - then add mix into hot milk stir constantly until thickened.  Add cheese and some pepper to taste, cook until cheese melts, stir in lemon juice.  Place pieces of fish on top of onions - gently pour sauce over all.  Top with soft crumbs mixed with seasoning and sprinkle with paprika.  Put in 500°F preheated oven for 10 - 12 minutes.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Religious – but not moral – self-determination...

Religious – but not moral – self-determination...  When I was a child still living at home, I never had any clear understanding of what my parents' religious beliefs were.  In hindsight that seems rather remarkable – not the sort of thing that happens by accident.  In addition, I know something now that I didn't know as a child: our parents were determined not to indoctrinate us with any particular religious belief.  I know this from conversations I had (separately) with both my mom and my dad.

Growing up, I had the vague notion that mom had some sort of Christian faith.  This notion came more from inference than from anything she overtly professed.  For instance, she urged me at one point to attend Sunday school with my cousin (whose family was very religious).  Another time, she expressed some concern that we were growing up without exposure to the Bible.  We owned a Bible, with the family tree inscribed in it, but I never saw either mom or dad reading from it, and certainly they never read from it to us.  Other than those vague sorts of things, religion never really came up at home.  My dad was less ambiguous – he fairly frequently mocked religious people, most especially those who wore their religion on their sleeve, but didn't have the morality to match their talk.  I was pretty certain that dad didn't hold any religious beliefs (Christian or otherwise).

I remember eating dinner at my cousin's house when I was quite young, and being admonished to “wait for grace” when I started to dig into the plate set before me.  Saying grace before a meal was a new ritual for me.  Later I discovered that many of my friends' families had a similar habit – even though they never did so at lunch when we were in school.  Encountering this ritual was the first recollection I have of running into the actual practice of religion.

After that meal at my Uncle Donald's house, I asked mom why they said grace before the meal.  I can still remember her reaction to that: her face had various emotions playing over it, but what she said was “They’re giving thanks to God for the meal they are about to eat.” – the straightforward answer.  Naturally, my response was to ask why they would do such a thing, and what did God have to do with it?  I think mom was sorry she started down that path :)  But she tried hard to give me a direct and unbiased answer.  I don't remember her exact words any more, but I came away from that conversation with an understanding that many people believed there was a divine being, called God, who created the world and everything in it, and that it was incumbent upon them to worship and honor this God.  Furthermore, these people believed that their soul lived on after their bodies died, and where their soul lived (heaven or hell) depended on one's behavior and faith during life.

One thing I did not walk away with: any sense at all that my mom thought such beliefs were right or wrong.  When I asked, she said: “That’s something you’ll have to make up your own mind about.”

That, I know, is an unusual stance for any parent to take.  But that's exactly the stance they did take, and (much later) I discovered that it was very deliberate.  My dad was an atheist (though I didn't know this until the '90s!), and mom an agnostic (I didn't know that for certain until the '80s).  My dad was fairly certain in his own beliefs, my mom much less so.   Something they shared: a determination to not indoctrinate their kids with their own beliefs.  They wanted us to make up our own minds on the subject.  My dad expressed this most clearly to me in a talk we had on one of our many trips together.  He recollected how before they were even married, he and mom talked about their shared belief that kids should be free to explore their religious inclinations on their own, without having their parents' beliefs crammed down their little throats –  or even used to influence them.  I don't know how common such a parental stance is, but I don't know anyone else whose parents shared it.  Most parents seem to consider it a duty of theirs to inculcate their children in their own religious beliefs, and indeed many religions feature such inculcation as a fundamental parental responsibility.

But that stance was specific to religious beliefs, and most definitely not the case with regard to moral beliefs.  Both mom and dad had very well-formed moral senses, centered on honesty and charitable behavior (they subscribed enthusiastically to the Golden Rule).  We were not left to our own devices on a moral code – they spent a lot of time and effort molding us to share their version of morality.  I think they succeeded in this reasonably well.

I found out just yesterday that my brother Scott shares my own reaction to our parents' decision not to indoctrinate us on religion: we are both profoundly grateful to them for the gift of letting us decide for ourselves what we believed.  My own questions about religion (and the question of whether a god or gods existed at all) sent me on a quest that lasted some fifteen years.  My starting point was simple enough: I didn't understand why so many people believed in the existence of a god.  I think this derived from the simple fact that my parents never told me that gods existed – had they done so when I was very young, I'm pretty sure I'd have grown up believing that blindly.  My quest led me to extensive reading about dozens of religions, including all the “mainstream” religions.  I read a dozen or so English versions of the Bible (some quite different than others), the Koran (in English translation, of course), the Torah, and quite a few other texts relevant to other religions.  I went to several church services, including Protestant, Catholic, and Episcopal churches.  I've been in prayer meetings in a mosque, several synagogues, visited a Buddhist monastery, talked with a master at a Shinto temple, and much more.  Mom (especially) and dad encouraged me in these explorations, which I suspect is an uncommon thing.  More recently, having moved into an area where the vast majority of the population are members of the LDS church (Mormons), I've read the Book of Mormon and several other books about the LDS church, the better to understand my neighbors and new friends.  Had I been indoctrinated by my parents into their chosen religion (or absence of it), I doubt I would ever have undertaken this quest – most likely, I would simply have assumed that my parents were right (and that the parents of those who were members of other religions were wrong).  My life has been much richer for having made this investigation – not only did I finally make up my own mind, but I now have a reasonably well-informed appreciation of many religions, and of religiosity in general.

And I have that gift of self-determination from mom and dad to thank for it...

Sad duties...

Sad duties...  This morning I went through some of my mother's belongings, things that had been in her luggage when she traveled from Virginia to Utah about a month ago.  Mostly it's perfectly ordinary stuff that wouldn't mean much to anyone outside my immediate family – some cups, a little stuffed bear, her wallet and purse, a pillow, and so on.  But to any of her children, many of these ordinary items are suffused with a “mom” aura, as they are things we'd seen her use or appreciate many times.  One such item that got to me was a collection of plastic discs designed to hold hands of cards.  The only time I've ever seen or used such things was when I was playing cards with mom.

So I have a case of the sads this morning...

Puppy update...

Puppy update...  The little monsters (Mako and Cabo) are two very spoiled and happy little puppies.  They're growing quickly; Mako is approaching 30 pounds, and Cabo is around 25.  They play just as roughly as they did a few weeks ago, but now they're more dangerous – they have larger, sharper teeth, more mass, and a lot more muscle.  We've started just a teensy bit of training, for recall (that is, to get them to come to us when we call their name).  The little stinkers figured out very quickly that when we have treats on our person (which they can easily smell), all they have to do is run back and forth between us to get their tummies full of goodies.  I'm not sure we're actually training them for the right thing :)

I had them outside yesterday for a bit of a photo session.  As usual, you can click on any of the thumbnails to embiggen them.  First Mako:

Then Cabo:

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Never give up...

Never give up...

So sad...

So sad...  The graph at right (click to embiggen; source) jibes with my own experiences hiring people here in the U.S. vs. in Estonia and Russia.  I still remember my utter shock when I first evaluated potential employees in Estonia, back in '93 – their superior math and science knowledge, in particular, were simply stunning when compared with typical American candidates.

A few years ago, I sent the video at left to a friend of mine in Estonia.  His response?  He was positive it was a put-on, that those couldn't be real people randomly interviewed on the street.  No adult, he said, could really be that ignorant.

Oh, yes they could...

Learning to read...

Learning to read...  I started reading at a very young age, and a large part of the credit for that goes to my mom.  I have no memory at all of my earliest brushes with reading, just stories about it that mom told me years later. 

According to her, when I was three (but nearly four), she was reading a kid's story out loud to me, and I asked her how she was doing that.  She sat me in her lap, put the book down in front of me, and started pointing to the words as she read them.  After that, I apparently insisted on her doing that whenever she read to me; for some reason the act of reading fascinated the young me.  Mom told me that by the time we'd read a few books like this, I was recognizing many words – and learning how to pronounce them from their spelling.  She didn't use any sort of method or curriculum to teach me, just the examples and practice – and lots of encouragement.  We had several hundred books at home, many of them inherited from my paternal grandparents.  Many of these books were aimed at children or juveniles (such as the Uncle Wiggly series by Howard Garis, and the Dr. Doolittle series by Hugh Lofting).  By the time I entered first grade (I never went to kindergarten; back then parents had the choice of skipping it), I was reading books on my own.

Mom told me that she tried the same thing with my brother Scott and my sister Holly, but neither of them (as toddlers) had the same interest in it that I did.  Both are avid readers as adults, but they didn't start as young as I did.

My own memories of reading when young start when I was seven or eight years old.  I have two very clear memories of reading at that age.

The first was reading novels from the Reader's Digest Condensed Books that my parents were buying almost from their outset in 1950.  We had dozens of these books on our shelves, and each of them contained about five novels (and sometimes, non-fiction).  These were my introduction to adult literature.  Their shorter length and dumbed-down vocabulary were absolutely perfect for me at that time.  When I first started reading them, mom would check the novels first to make sure I wasn't reading something she thought I shouldn't.  Then she discovered that prohibiting a particular volume just made me want to read it more – so she gave up :)  There were quite a few occasions when she had some conversations with me that were very awkward for her, when I started asking about things I'd read in the novels.  She consistently encouraged me to read them, though.  I devoured those books; by the time I was about ten I'd read every one we owned, and longed for more.

The second clear memory was when I was eight years old, not long after my birthday, and mom coming home from a yard sale with a complete copy of the World Book Encyclopedia from the early '50s, in great condition.  She was very excited about it, as she hoped it was something I would be able to learn from.  I don't think she expected what my reaction was: I was determined to read the entire thing.  I did, too, though it took me several years to do it.  I spent a lot of time with a dictionary by my side while I did that, and I remember sometimes having to read whole sets of articles that cross-referenced each other.  That was a real challenge for the small me!  All through that period, my mom was encouraging me to keep at it.  Of course I couldn't assimilate all that knowledge to be found in those volumes, but the breadth of exposure to ideas and facts that reading gave me has benefited me for my entire life.  I remember that period as transformative for me, most especially for the introduction to science, math, technology, and history those volumes gave me.  They also introduced me to the very idea of learning from books (sans teacher), and that's something I've been doing all my life since then.

I never would have done that reading without my mom's help and prodding – and without that reading, I'm certain my life would have taken a very different course...

Update 6/27/2016: My brother Scott emailed me with this:
You were probably 4 or 5 when you could read a lot. I wanted to be like you and I tried reading but every book I tried was boring as hell except for science fiction. When I was 5 or 6 years old I read Jules Verne's 'Mysterious Island'. It was a spine tingling sensational experience for me. I felt like I was there with the characters exploring that island and meeting Captain Nemo. It was a real joy for me to read this book even though I was a very slow reader, and that's when I got hooked on reading which for me was mostly cartoons, comic books and science fiction. So when I wasn't drawing or working on the farm (90% of my spare time) - I would read. I remember bragging about how young I was when I read that book as I was proud as heck with myself for accomplishing this at this age as soon as I put the book down.  That was a fat book.

You know you're having a bad day...

You know you're having a bad day ... when you make a network cable that tests bad (one open conductor), so you replace both ends – and it still tests bad!  That's exactly what just happened to me.  I couldn't believe it when the cable tested bad after replacing both new ends I'd just installed.  I tracked it down: there was actually a flaw in the cable itself, a place where one conductor got kinked and broke.

First time that has ever happened to me, in over 50 years of building electronic gear.

That cable was “proudly” made in the U.S., too...