Adventures in the enchanted land

Not all enchantments are good and adventures generally mean the gods will test you before any rewards are given. That was certainly true this last weekend with our adventure to New Mexico. There were moments of great joy; but also moments of despair were nothing seemed to be quite right. The first clue to our tests began when Bob called to confirm hotel reservations as we were leaving for the airport. And the hotel told us “We were bumped from our hotel room; but not to worry. When we arrived, they would take us to another hotel.”

Arriving in Albuquerque at midnight was eerie; an empty airport has a disturbing feel. We tried to take a taxi instead of calling the hotel shuttle and waiting. The taxi driver refused to take us. Called the hotel and their first response was “the shuttle stopped at 10 pm”. Bob persevered on the phone. After learning our names, they did send out the hotel shuttle who took us to the promised second hotel. There the gods demanded payment causing a large bag with about 10 dollars worth of quarters to break and roll all over the ground. Eventually we pass the hurdles and made it to the front desk. More confusion when they could not find a reservation and claimed they were full. But eventually all got sorted out and the first hotel paid Thursday night’s bill.

On Friday, trials continued. Bob was feeling a bit sick. At breakfast on Friday, I spilled coffee, burned toast, and poured waffle batter all over the self-service counter. Then we changed hotel rooms. The hotel was trying to be nice; they gave us a poolside room. Well, an indoor pool side room on the third floor is an interesting experience. All the heat and humidity rises up from the pool. Add in no direct window to the outside and you have a very surreal hotel room. At least it was clean and neat. I like the low end hotels – you get empty refrigerators, microwaves, coffee pots, laundry facilities, and free breakfasts. Much better than those fancy ones where the fridges have motion sensors on the overpriced contents and charge you 15 dollars to empty the fridge. But then we got to spend a great afternoon with Liz—Lunch and Old Town.

The next day was Take your parents to work day. Really great visiting Sandia National Labs. Lots of cool stuff.  Besides seeing all the labs where Liz works; we got to see a Z-Machine.  What is a Z-Machine, well I had to look up the definition.   From webpage

“Sandia’s Z machine is the world’s most powerful and efficient laboratory radiation source. It uses high magnetic fields associated with high electrical currents to produce high temperatures, high pressures, and powerful X-rays for research in high energy density science. The Z machine creates conditions found nowhere else on Earth. Z is part of Sandia’s Pulsed Power program, which began in the 1960s.”

And there are lots of really interesting photos / descriptions on the sandia websites.  Take a look.  For example, a robot that can literally turn on a dime because it is smaller than a dime.

One bad part of the tour was spraining my ankle.  So afterwards we went to Liz’s apartment where she had an ace bandage.  Got some great photos of her room; it’s the nicest dorm I’ve ever seen.  Second bad part was getting a call from the hotel asking if we were staying Saturday night.  We called, they said OK.  Both of us were glad to see our suitcases were still in the bedroom.

The next day adventures continued.  We got to the airport several hours early only to find that our plane was an hour late arriving (Fog in San Francisco).  That meant we missed our connection in LAX.  We did get booked on the 7:30 pm plane (the next one after the 4 pm plane).  But that plane broke down in San Luis Obispo.  So the airline called in a third plane from Yuma, Arizona.  We did finally make it home at a semi-reasonable time on Sunday evening.  Long hard trip, but I enjoyed it.

Below are a series of pictures in random order from the trip. Enjoy.  First is a Store window in Old Town.


Tree in old towntree

Greetings from a rescue turtle in old town


waiting for bagswaiting


window in church in old town.  it’s a moon map; but I don’t know how to read the green portions.


view over the wing






airport1 airport1_blog vblog_climbers1



this could be a great painting someday

bob_rest_paint2 bob_rest_paitn1 burts insideairport_blog license lizbed lizbobcar lizcloset lizdesk lizdoor lizdormbuilding lizkitchen lizlivingroom poochparkcing selfies stairs

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Happy Autumn Equinox — it’s the official beginning of Fall.  Tonight we celebrate.  A fire, perhaps marshmallows, and a nice warm evening outside.  Plus I’ll write a long blog post about the last weekend spent in the land of enchantment.  Tried to write one this morning; but made the mistake of opening too many pictures at once.  Hung the computer, which took an hour to recover.

For a good description of the equinox, see the washington post article.


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Writing Assignemnt

Hi all, the first class assignment for one of my two classes that started yesterday was writing 20 minutes stream of consciousness. And the post it. Here’s the class homework.

Damm, I am already behind. Can I drop this class? It is only tuesday, the second day of the class and I am three writing assignments behind. Plus another class. I knew it was insanity to take two classes while working full time. What I didn’t plan on was having an extreme heat storm and lots of extra work duties. So many work duties that next week I will probably volunteer for the extra overtime before it becomes mandatory. Earn a thousand dollars and get brownie points at work versus an extra couple of weekends. Tough choice, the time is hard to replace. And how am I going to get time to do the blogging.

Speaking of heat, a co-worker heard me talking with Bob about rain. I was incredulous, it was hot and sunny in 4S ranch. Someone else had just measured the temperature from their car at 105 degrees. But Bob told me it was raining and the co-worker verified as I found out later. He stopped by to tell me that there was a rain cloud positioned over San Marcos and Vista. I think he wanted it to rain locally as a possible way of lowering the outside temperature. But it didn’t and he was happy to concur that humidity when the rain stopped and sun resumed would be awful. It was. I came home to a hot wet driveway later in the evening.

Speaking of coming home. Elly was waiting for me. In fact she walked in front of the car as I was coming down the steep driveway. Stopped and asked for help. Bob came and let her into the front seat. For the last month or so, Elly has been coming outside to meet me. What she loves to do is hope in the car for a ride during the last 20 to 100 feet of driveway. So tonight she got about 5 feet of driveway, but it was air-conditioned. And she got a few pets from me. Tradition was satisfied. So after hoping out of the car, she went into the backyard under the illusion that it was cooler outside. Maybe a degree or two, but not much more than that. You have to understand that is not normal behavior. She generally wants to come into the kitchen and ensure that I don’t give the cats too much attentions.

The guidelines for this exercise say 20 minutes of stream of conciousness, but it’s only been 10 minutes. Should I cheat on the exercise or keep writing> Anyone who knows me knows that I will keep writing. I am too honest for my own good. But tonight I’m tempted to cheat… what next?

Time for a bit more whiskey. As some of you may know, we recently visited scotland. One of the must do things I wanted to try was whiskey tasting. But it didn’t quite work out that way. We did one whiskey tasting in Edinburgh at a pub. But it wasn’t the same as visiting a brewery, no a distillery, and tasting whiskey after a tour. We didn’t get the chance to do that. Bought my dad some wonderful expensive whiskey; but didn’t get myself anything.

So I’ve been trying whiskeys since returning home. Have bought three different bottles, two good ones including a bottle from Oban, and one cheap one from trader joes. Now by cheap whiskey, I mean the trader joes single malt high quality whiskey where we don’t know the origin. That is different from the rot-gut cheap blended whiskeys. Oban was great because we got to visit the town and I had a lot of fun that day. But I think I like the cheap whiskey best. I like the burn as it goes down the throat. Smooth whiskeys, ones that don’t have that burn, are too easy to drink.That’s good for Bob, I am a cheap date.

ONly have a couple minutes before this writing assignment is done. So I am going to talk about heat measurements based on cat length. For the last few days, it has been three cats at plus four feet in length. That means really really hot. Sophia is the hold out, she likes hot weather. And normal cat stretching is about 3 feet in length. A cat who measures 3.5 feet sleeping indicates the weather is hotter than normal, good for cat stretching. When the cats are sleeping in curled up balls, that means the temperature is ok, probably somewhere in the 70’s or 60’s if it seems cold. Below 60 degrees and you start seeing cats sleeping next to other animals — cats, dogs, or humans. And if the cats are sleeping under blankets, then it is COLD. Of course Sophia is the exception, she always wants to sleep with me. If it is cold, I am her heater. And if it is hot, I am her cooling device. UGHH!!!!! I HATE HOT CATS WHEN IT IS 95 DEGREES WITH 90 PERCENT HUMIDITY.

YES! THE 20 minute writing assignment is over. Onto the next homework assignment.

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Hot Days, 4 foot cats

It’s been hot, really hot, here in Vista. And the cats show it….they stretch and sleep and stretch some more. I swear three feet of normal cat has stretched out to at least four feet. Are they happy, I don’t know. Sophia is as cuddly as usual, wanting nothing more than sitting on me; the more skin contact the better. UGGHHH!!!!! It’s hot and I am miserable. I do not want or need extra cat heat. And I am surprised if I feel cool to her. But the hot weather does make it possible to get stretch cat photos. Enjoy.








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quick amusing notes

Was just at Lowe’s where they had no cashiers working.  A long line of people with two self service machines.  Watched one man hassle with scanning large pieces of lumber because there were no hand held devices either.  When it came my turn, they wanted me to scan a special bar for the paint.  Since I had no idea what this special bar was at the time, I declined to scan it.  Later when putting the paint in the car, realized the special bar must have been the strip on the top of the can.

Does Lowe’s really want me to turn a can of paint upside down at their scanning station?  Imagine the mess created if the top came off the can of paint.   There is not much time before the paint covers a large surface area.  Bob suggested that the best way might be grabbing a dustpan or a hose to cordon off that paint.  And I don’t even want to think about cleaning it out of the cracks. At that point, I would be like “There is a spill here, can you get someone over to clean it up?”  Wonder if I would get a new set of clothes out of them to replace the paint covered ones?

There is an art festival in downtown Vista today.  Someone had a lot of fun putting up signs like “tearable puns”, “trolls looking for a home” and “Found Cat”.  The found cat poster showed a black and white skunk with text detailing how to pick up Stinky.  I’ll see it later today when I meet friends for dinner and an art class.

Bob thought he would conserve water by sharing a shower last night.  Boy was he surprised to learn I was taking a literal cold shower.

Went out for breakfast this morning with Bob, Mary, and Elly.  Curbside was busy; lots of dogs outside.  So Elly got excited.  She was a real stinker; kept wanting to bark.  Like having ill-mannered little kids, Bob and I spent breakfast time taking turns with eating and walking the dog.

Charlie is really hard on the hair bands.  He’s managed to steal most of a new package from me.  It’s hot, too hot for down hair.  So this morning, I was reduced to using a hair stick instead of a hairband.

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Dog Park; Kids constrained

Hot, sticky, and a wonderful day. I slept in and DID NOT go visit Allan’s Alley for breakfast. What a horrible person, I broke 20 years of Friday morning tradition to sleep an extra 30 minutes. A good way to start the day. Then before coffee; Bob, Elly, and myself; went to the dog park. I love this park, they fence the kids and let the dogs run free. Elly had a wonderful time, racing around and enjoying a dog party. The only thing that bothered her was my pace. Instead of keeping up with the pack (Bob, Elly, Myself, and any other dogs she considers friendly); I walked slowly taking lots of photos. Elly would run up with Bob and then go back and find me. Back and forth, multiple laps. She was tired; but content at the end of the visit.plant

The light was wonderful. As always, I took lots of scenery pictures. Not so many good dog photos; they were moving too fast. But you can get a sense of the dog party from this shot in the parking lot.

dogsThe park caters to dogs. At the water fountain, there is a bowl full of water. It’s chained to the fountain and they put bricks to keep the ground under the bowl from getting too muddy.waterAnd they have lots of signs talking about doggy type things – bags, poop, and rattlesnakes.signOf course the kids need to be kept safe; but they get some very interesting looking play equipment.plgroundBut the best part for me are the plants and photo opportunities. I love taking pictures of trees. tree2   tree1

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Random Tidbits

Last night we had a possible near miss. There were loud rustlings in the brush outside our garage, some big animal. At that moment we realized Sophia was outside. Called her and she came in with a fluffy tail, scared. Then we realized that Charlie also had busted out. Did the dinner call and he came. But we think it might have been a coyote or a big possum. And if it was a coyote, then we got lucky.

There is a lawmaker from Missouri who is my new hero — NOT! He’s suing the government who provides his health insurance because it includes contraception. And he claims it violates his religious beliefs to have contraception available to his ADULT daughters who are still on his health plan. Come on, would you want your dad controlling your medical needs as an adult? I would not. And I don’t even want the responsibility over my daughters choices once they become adults. If they can’t make good decisions then I failed in my job as a parent. What ever happened the christian belief I was taught of turning the other cheek and doing to others as you would have done to you. If you don’t want a service, don’t use it. But don’t try to tell me I cannot because you don’t.

Apple killed the IPOD. Now there are no big storage, portable, easy to use music devices. I can only hope that someone else comes along and makes a great replacement with two improvements. First, it used drag and drop for managing music, no more itunes. Second, you can sort on the music device, by date, size, track number, or other criteria. Third, it has a better connector than the flimsy 30 pin connectors. Four, lots and lots of storage for my music. I like carrying a large library with me. Finally, hours and hours of play time. Ok, that is more than two improvements, but with those changes I would be the first to buy one; even if it cost a lot of money.

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A good day followed by insanity

Today was great day, despite having to work. Got some really good tips on finding the next better job internally at work. Have been training a new person who is doing great at her job. Got more work which is good for job security. Of course, it seems like I have too much work, but thats much better than too little work. Learned that a good friend has job suggestions for Liz. Talked with Maggie who is coming out for XMAS at winter break. Since I am paying for Liz and Kate’s plane tickets at thanksgiving, it seems only fair to pay for her ticket at year end. And that made Maggie really happy. Heard from the guys in scotland that they received their unexpected but much appreciated tee shirts. And had a good art class at lunch. And of course, I did get some work done in the short periods between everything else. Essentially nine hours worth of work since that’s what I am getting paid for. Although I am really glad we don’t track time by the minute.

At lunch time there was a demo / tutorial on water color pencils. At work, we have created a new club “creative collections” where crafty type people (all women at the moment but men are welcome) get together to share our love of art and hand crafts. Monthly meetings vary between tutorials done by members or show and tell type sessions. Best of all, we did the formal paperwork and now my workplace pays for supplies on the tutorials. Past lessons had been sewing, beading, show and tell, and general gossip. The club started because a woman at work wanted some friends who enjoyed doing cross stitch at lunch time at work. Well those of us willing to do the work are running the club and hosting the tutorials. Which means that this month, another woman named Carolyn and myself, got to take a road trip down to Blick Art Supplies and buy some water color pencils on company money. Yeah. I get to try the different brands of these expensive pencils. And today Carolyn hosted a lesson on how to draw an apple using the colored pencils. The lesson was very successful although I don’t have anything to show for it. After the lesson, all three sets of club pencils were checked out. And my artwork along with Carolyn’s were taken as examples for those who missed the lunch lesson. I will get it back and now I am inspired to do more artwork.

So here is where the insanity arrives. I signed up for two new writing / blogging classes starting next week. 30 days worth of prompts, no home work on weekends. So weekends can be used for catching up on assignments. I’ll use robinesworld.wordpress.blogspot for storytelling and to do an art journal. Its going to be a very busy month. But all in a good cause. Hopefully I will learn more about writing and more about art during that month. And hopefully I have lots of fun doing it. Even if there are days where I curse at my insanity–signing up for two classes while working full time. And lets not even talk about the art electronics classes I am supposed to be planning and teaching. Wish me luck.

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Clouds, a moon, and friends

Its been hot recently. Really, really hot which means I melt and very few blog posts get written. It is so hot that even Elly and Charlie don’t get into too much trouble. Here they are sleeping on the hot kitchen floor. You can see they are good friends.

But last night had a couple of extraordinary events. First was a beautiful cloud, glowing a bright yellow in the evening. So bright and beautiful that I came home, ignored all the animals, and took a photo. Then a few minutes later, it was even better with more colors. And then it disappeared.


The clouds were followed by the Harvest Moon. Nice full moon, but nothing spectacular.


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Random Notes about cats and dogs

The cats have been thirsty recently. So we have had a rash of cats on the fish tanks….


But charlie has to be different


More cat adventures….
We went out for pizza the other night and brought home leftovers. The next day, Charlie got into the box and helped himself to the hawaiian pizza. When Bob found him, he was sitting on one piece carefully picking canadian bacon of the other.

All three cats got flea medication. Sophie and Sally both run at the snick sound made by opening a tube. Charlie wasn’t suspicious about the sound, but he did run when he realized something was getting dabbed on his back.

Sophia won the bed battle. If she’s on the bed, Elly thinks twice before getting on the bed.

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Porch Revived

Owning a home is an expensive hobby; the only thing more expensive in my mind are children. And like children, homes come with large ugly bills such as the one coming due on our front porch. It needs to be replaced. I would love to build a big new different porch, but thats way beyond our budget. So Bob has been doing the best at patching. And thanks to him, this bill can be postponed a few more years.






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Wicked Wine Run

Finally someone came up with a running raced perfect for me–The Wicked Wine Run. Two options, a 5K or 1K race. As you run the course, various wine tasting stations appear. Everyone is supposed to wear outrageous costumes and they throw in free food. Sounds like fun, unfortunately it happened last month. But perhaps next year I can do it.

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Movies, Food, and Art…enjoying life

Rotten tomatoes and all those critics are wrong, both Bob and I enjoyed the movie “The Giver”. Although the book is excellent and better than the movie, some elements became stronger with visualization. For example, I had never imagined a society as oppressive and overseeing as that one despite reading the book multiple times. I had never thought about the pressures put on The Giver, the one teaching the Receiver. The level of surveillance in that society is disturbing. But more disturbing is how soon we might arrive at that level of control. We have cameras everywhere. We have monitoring devices in the cars with talk that soon the insurance companies will penalize us for not sharing that data. We freely give away information about our shopping habits at every store. Now in the movie the information was gathered, but not used. But the same applies to the NSA records leaked by Edward Snowden.

The movie “The One-Hundred Foot Journey” was a lot more fun to see. Had a good time seeing a low key, nice gentle story about families, cooking, and relationships with Mary. I liked the story about a family moving to southern france and opening a restaurant. That is something I would like to do–move to France and sell cookies. Bob says no way, he doesn’t want to move.

Have been going out for some great meals. Perhaps too many. On Thursday, breakfast at curbside. Thursday night, dinner from Yellow Deli and beer at Mother Earth. We had planned on eating there, it turns out the restaurant is dog friendly. But Elly wasn’t well enough behaved. Friday morning, breakfast at Allan’s Alley. After eating there for 20+ years, it’s expected….”if it’s Friday, then we eat allans. On Saturday it is curbside.” And yes we did eat at curbside on Saturday morning. And we had lunch on Friday at Yellow Deli — second time Elly went home in disgrace. Bob came back and we then had a good lunch. Pictures below. But that’s not all. On Saturday, we also went out to Stone Ale Brewery for beer. On Sunday, it was breakfast at home followed by wine at 50 barrels. I had 2 free glasses, we couldn’t let them go to waste. On monday, it was a relief to eat at home. But overall, many great meals with family. Lots of laugh. Life doesn’t get much better.

Speaking of cooking. I made a soup with existing ingredients (i.e. refrigerator review) that Bob described as hot and spicy, sweet and sour, sort of oriental chicken soup with icky greens. I liked it even if he didn’t and it was healthy. But the cookies later on made up for it. First attempt at the breton galletes. It’s a thin crisp butter cookie that is not too sweet and a bit salty. Add on some salted carmel and the results are good. Tomorrow night, I’ll try again with some chocolate to make a carmel, chocolate cookie. And then as a finale, we had great whiskey from Oban in Scotland. We actually went there; but didn’t tour the distillery.

Sometimes its better to enjoy life as it happens. And I’ve been doing just that, spending time laughing with family and friends. Unfortunately Poor Elly missed some of those good times and spent hours in the kitchen in disgrace. Perhaps we should enroll her in doggy manners classes.





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Newspapers and other things

The concept of paying up front for something once seems to have disappeared from our society. Instead, the new purchasing model is automatic subscription. If you read the fine print of these contracts, it states the price doubles in the second year and they will not notify you about renewing the subscription. Everyone wants you to sign up for these contracts — a gym membership, the wine club at 50 barrels, netflix, tracfone, and many other services. If you don’t then you cannot enjoy these services. Of course the vendors love it. But I hate it. It is easy to end up with several hundred dollars in bills every month just because you wanted something somewhere along the line.

So today, I added to my annual bills by doing something I never like doing — signed up for an online subscription. I love the washington post and have no problems with paying for one year. But now I am committed to endless renewals without notification unless I do something. It is written in the fine print of the contract you have to accept. The choice is stark–read the newspaper or not. But I have now put an automated notice in my calendar to about the automatic renewal for next year so I can have the decision to spend money or not. And I will enjoy the newspaper.

As a bonus today, I have some pictures from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis to share from my IPAD. Enjoy. The first is Bob and Kate in a restaurant. Great food, but the fact we were hungry may have helped. Second is the dining room in the house we rented. Third is some pastries my mom bought in Stornoway. Yumm.




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Damm Dog and Damm Cats

Who would think that the dog sleeping so happily in the picture below could be a problem. Well that’s Elly storing up energy for some nighttime adventures. She’s decided that barking at shadows in the middle of the night is a great game. Not only is there fun to be had with the barking, but then I get up make her go back to bed. ATTENTION, YEAH!!!!!

And then the cats get into the act. They all want attention. And with Kate spending many nights at her grandmothers house, I get all of them. So they come over, one at a time, and demand attention too. No wonder I’m a tired wretch on this monday morning. And they look so peaceful sitting on the table where cats are not supposed to be.


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Take Your Parents to Work Day

In an ironic twist of fate, Bob and I signed up for the “Take your parents to work day” AKA Family Day at Sandia National Labs. The invitation came from Liz who is pleased to show off her work place. Plus she knows I’ve always thought the national engineering research labs would be a great place to work. The irony comes from the fact that Liz has visited three different engineering firms ( BAE Systems, Northrop, and Raytheon) as a child attending “Take your child to work” events.
In other news, everyone survived their first week back at work. Kate started her last year of school on Monday. She’s a senior now; only 8 more months of mandatory school for her. She’s not happy; but it’s a hard schedule with all honors classes. For a kid that says she HATES science, the class selection is puzzling—calculus, physics, environmental science, economics, English, and being a teaching assistant for a chemistry teacher. My mother in law, Mary, has gotten a job working at the local elementary school as a kindergarten noon duty. Two hours a day and she loves it. And Bob had his first teaching gig in the classroom with robotics. That
is going to be a hard assignment, the kids all have attitudes.
I’ve been home for a week and immediately returned to work. Very depressing; the same problems I had left still were there waiting for me. Plus a few extras. Good for job security; not so great for the soul. But I will also be teaching at the sculpture academy and that should be fun. This weekend I’ll start working on my classes for the fall semester. As I may have mentioned, I am teaching artists how to add electronics, lights, robots, and motion into their artwork. It’s an interesting to teach these people how to build, use, and program computers without using any of the scary technical words. We build things and I show them how to modify a basic design. So far; lots of enthusiasm from the artists. Big challenge for me since I’m redesigning the education process. This weekend, I’m going to pull together a project teaching them how to set up a simple lighting circuit for the September class. In future classes; we will add a computer that lets the artist control the lights. Another class will focus on using sensors to make things happen like turning on electronic sounds or lights. Final class in December will be building an interactive light display. I THINK. We will see what reality is after getting those lesson plans finished.

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Its Raining in San Diego

Last night we had a lightening storm. Couldn’t hear any thunder and didn’t see any rain. I kept waking up and wondering what the bright flashes were. This morning, all was answered. We have a glorious mix of lightening, thunder, rain, clouds, and blue skies. Hope it rains lots. Only bummer was for Kate who had to change her outfit for the weather.


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Brittany Flowers for Painting

Last night I was dreaming about Brittany, France.  In particular of brick walls and beautiful pink hydrangeas.  These came from a picture I put on my work computer desktop.  It’s a picture I want to paint.  But before I can start; need to have a free weekend for cleaning the art studio downstairs.  So instead, I use software for playing with the picture.

Here’s the original picture


One of the things I want to do is change the picture — take out some of the plant on the left and make it taller.  Clean up the house a bit, simplify the background and add more ocean.  I can do some cropping, but the adding will have to be done using imagination and oil paints.  I can use the software to blur the data and add more color variations in a filter called oil painting.



and then I can play with just the flowers, looking at how the picture might appear without the house and beach behind.  Here’s the cropped original


and here are a couple variations of the oil painting algorithm and cropping.


and even closer details


So in a month or two, I’ll have some actual paintings to show off.  Can’t wait to get started.


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early morning hot dog

Its hot here. Ugly sticky hot weather. Wunderunderground says the current temperature is 67 degrees with 94 percent humidity at 6 am. And predicting temperatures in the high seventies. I don’t believe the temperature readings since it feels a lot hotter inside our house. Here is Elly’s assessment of the weather.


Yesterday, it was in the high 90’s and still humid. Of course, Bob and I decided to have a barbecue, cooking outside would be better than inside. Bought some baby back ribs, came home and actually read the recipes. The ribs had to be oven cooked for at least 2.5 hours, the peach pie needed an hour cooking, the sauce needed 1.5 hours cooking. But the left over pie crust cookies only took 15 minutes. Result — the oven was on and the house really hot all afternoon. But dinner was great. And having hot sticky weather almost makes me want to go back to work. First day of a 5 day work week. And first day of school for Kate. And first week for Bob’s robot classes. Wish us all luck.

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Salted Breton Caramels

One of the foods I enjoyed in Brittany were the salted caramels. I had heard about them because of a NY Times article earlier this year:


Today, I opened a box of cookies called “tartellettes caramel chocolat” and remembered why they were so good. That led to the search for recipes since I won’t be able to buy them easily here in San Diego.


The cleanest recipe I found came from the website


The recipe for salted butter caramel

- 300g sugar
– 80g salted butter
– 25cl whipped cream
– 2 tablespoons of water
– a pinch of sea salt.

In a heavy-based large saucepan, dissolve the sugar in two tablespoons of water over a very low heat (it is recommended that you leave the sugar mixture sit for a very long time so that the caramel is smooth).

When the mixture starts to darken, stir it frequently until a soft and smooth caramel is obtained. Add the cream. It is essential that it is set over a low heat. When the caramel is very smooth and clear, allow it to cool down slightly before adding the chopped-up butter and a sprinkling of sea salt. To finish, pour into a glass jar.

And finally, the perfect way to end a beautiful, sunny day holidaying along France’s west coast, consists of a stop off at La Fraiseraie. Everyone should savour the taste of this ice-cream parlour’s salted butter caramel flavour at least once in their lives. The taste is unparalleled and perhaps only equaled by La Fraiseraie’s strawberry, raspberry or passion fruit flavours!


A great looking collection of recipes (albeit in french) can be found


Some other recipes that sound fantastic come from



Breton pastry with salted caramel apples

Breton pastry is a delicious cross between shortbread and sponge cake, which originated in Brittany in north-western France. It takes less time to make than other pastries because it requires no chilling or resting; just make and bake. There are so many options for topping this versatile biscuit; this recipe for salted caramel apples is incredibly easy, and the spicy apple flavour works well with the pastry’s buttery richness.

Simple Breton pastry make a lovely spongy base for these salted caramel apples. Photo: Marcel Aucar


For salted caramel apples

2 cups granulated sugar

120g unsalted butter, at room temperature, diced

1 cup thickened cream, at room temperature

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground allspice

pinch ground nutmeg

1 tsp fleur de sel (or any other flaky sea salt)

5 granny smith or fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into 2cm-thick slices

For Breton pastry

4 egg yolks

175g castor sugar

160g butter, softened

220g  plain flour

8g baking powder


For salted caramel apples

Pour the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a heavy, two to three-litre saucepan. Heat over medium-high, whisking gently as it begins to melt. The sugar will begin to form clumps, which will melt away as you whisk.

When the sugar turns a deep amber colour, add the butter and whisk, being careful to not get burnt if it spits.

Add the cream, spices and salt. Mix until well incorporated.

Add the apples and cook gently for five minutes or until the fruit has softened. Let cool slightly, then serve on the Breton pastry with a scoop of creme fraiche.

For the pastry

Place yolks in a electric mixer fitted with a whisk and begin whisking on high speed. Add the sugar gradually and continue whisking until pale and creamy.

In a separate bowl, beat butter until smooth. Turn speed down to low and add the butter to the mixer, one-quarter at a time, whisking well between each addition but not so much as to deflate the yolk mixture.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift in the flour and baking powder. Using a rubber spatula, work the flour in gently until well combined. Scrape the contents of the bowl onto a work surface and bring the dough together, making sure not to overwork it.

The pastry is ready to use either to line tart rings or rolled out to make biscuits. Spray 5cm tart rings with canola oil and dust with flour. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Gently press pastry into the ring, pressing it to the edges to form a border around the edge.

Bake in a 165C oven for 15-18 minutes, or until the pastries have puffed up and are golden-brown. The pastry shrinks slightly as it cools. Place on a rack to cool before adding topping.

Frank’s tips
The excess uncooked pastry can be frozen and kept for up to three weeks before being thawed and cooked.

Alternative topping suggestions for Breton pastry: Chocolate mousse with roasted figs, crushed summer berries, or lemon verbena panna cotta.


And another salted caramel recipe is:

Salted butter caramels

Caroline Velik


These caramels can be made with any type of sugar and butter, although the flavour is better with quality ingredients.

Photo: Marina Oliphant


375g raw castor sugar

250g good-quality salted butter, diced and chilled, plus extra for greasing

5 tbsp creme fraiche

Sea salt flakes to garnish


Grease and line a 20-centimetre square slice tin with baking paper. In a heavy-based saucepan, place the sugar over a medium heat. Cook to quite a dark caramel. Turn the heat down low and carefully add the butter, a few cubes at a time, making sure it is all incorporated before adding more.

Stir in creme fraiche and continue to cook until thickened (118C on a digital or sugar thermometer). Pour into tray and sprinkle over salt flakes. Allow to cool, then refrigerate until set. Cut into squares to serve.


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Happy Cat, Happy Dog

The animals are delighted to have us home. In particular, Sophia has become my shadow. She’s either on me or sleeping right next to me every second I am at home. Although she looks totally relaxed and asleep, if I were to leave the room she would follow.


Charlie is a bit more aloof, but he also sticks close. He pretends to be disinterested and then starts begging for treats.


Elly is perhaps the happiest animal. She loves having her routines like breakfast at curbside cafe resume. After breakfast, she always gets a treat — a bit of egg, banana, or something else. Given her preference, she would choose bacon every time. Tomatos are OK, but never eaten if there is the possibility of something better.


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Home from Vacation — What’s Next?

Walking into work after a vacation is always hard. Walking into work almost two months of vacation felt like a prison sentence until I entered the first door and heard the first hello of the day. My coworkers were all glad to see me; there were many warm greetings during the day. Even got assigned decent tasks, not just the left over scutwork often given to those not present at key meetings. It made me very happy to return. It is a pleasure to be wanted.
So the long planned trip is now over. Hard to believe, I’m not sure what the best part was although I think it involves food: baguettes hot from the oven, ripe tomatoes in all colors bursting with flavor; incredible whiskey tastings, steak and ale pies, lentil soup, and lamb chops. Meals with family filled with conversation and laughter. We did things separately and then met over food. Thats not a bad way to live.
And now the next chapter begins. Kate will be a senior in high school. Liz is a senior in college. And Maggie will be finishing her masters degree this year; so there are three graduation ceremonies coming next spring. Both Bob and I will be teaching electronics and robotics to non-technical students. Bob will be working with high school kids associated with the juvenile hall schools in San Diego and I’ll be working with artists. Both of us will need to be adaptable, flexible, and willing to try lots of different things because the classical scientific hard class approach will NOT work with these audiences. They want to learn, but have a different viewpoint and education style than the typical NERD. And ordinary life will continue — work, art, family, house, pets, bills, and other standard aspects of life.
The blogs will continue also. This one, RobinesWorld, will cover the small things in life that make me happy. The plan is to publish a short post every day or so. This forces me to keep writing every day and helps me focus on how good things are. This blog is lots of fun to write.
My other blog, Dragon Cat Lives, will have the longer photo essays based on events in Europe. My goal is to post at least one story a week, but focus on writing, editing, photo selection, and photo processing. Put a lot more work into polishing the stories. For this blog in particular; I want feedback and critiques. Is the writing good or does it need something more? Do the photos work with the text? Are the stories interesting? What can I do to make them better?

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thinking in the box

Please excuse the blogging silence; I’ve have been and will continue to be on vacation until August 15.  You can check out my vacation blog at

In the meantime; enjoy this comic.


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Post 500

And I don’t even have much to say despite the evidence of 500 posts.  Been traveling, so you can catch up on travel stories at my blog  Finally got internet; but it’s a bit dicey.  Here’s a picture of my internet access point in France.  Yep, that’s right; we sit in a chair and borrow the neighbor’s internet.  Any kind of weather and the service goes down.  Actually the view from there is beautiful.  What I see from that chair is in the photo that follows.  We are in a form of paradise.  And I’ll have some more posts with stories in the next few days.

internet access point


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Well it was a couple weeks ago that we decided not to celebrate birthdays. Life has been strange; a huge gaping hole in the family structure that was David. But I did get one birthday greeting that was somewhat big data type disturbing. Google displayed artwork just for me. I know they have all kinds of data; but still it’s unnerving when they use it. Even in a positive manner.


Also checked my horoscopes for that day. Lets talk about mixed positive signals. Can learn helpful skills; but expect to have to redo work. New skills; how to arrange a funeral and juggle 10 million travel details at the same time. I was told to keep a secret journal. Wonder if a public travel blog counts? And I need to redefine the game. Well that happened today when I left work and won’t be back for 6.5 weeks. Was asked why I bothered going into the plant on the thursday before an off friday. Well it will be a good day to check email, not get much done, and then leave for a 3 day weekend. I’ll bring a variety of candy and cookies to share with the co-workers and catch up on the gossip. That should make the following monday more tolerable for returning to real work.

So here are the horoscopes:

IF JUNE 17 IS YOUR BIRTHDAY: Your next4-6 weeks might be notable for inspiration and astute business tactics, flavored by contact with groups of people who find you fascinating. You can make quite a bit of progress with your career and financial aspirations if you focus on getting ahead and make key decisions now. Even so, there may be time for a little romance or an enjoyable vacation. Plan ahead so you won’t need to make crucial changes or new starts in September or November, when your judgment and your luck are on a downward spiral.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): You can learn by rote or just take notes. Your ability to absorb helpful information is heightened, so this is a good day to accept every opportunity to dive into a new study or learn a new skill.

GEMINI. (May 20 – June 20): Mercury reenters your sign. Expect to resend, reapply, or review business that you thought was taken care of. It’s a pain-in-the-derriere, but you’ll be glad you did.

Gemini (May 21-June 20): Today is a 7 — Words come easily with Mercury backing into your sign. Keep a secret journal. Research and investigations lead to confidential information. Discuss options, and let go of worries you can’t impact. Redefine the game

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New Blog for my trip

In just a few days, Kate and I leave for Europe.  A fantastic trip, we two women will be renting a house in France for a month where the focus is learning to live in another country.  In which I cannot speak the language.  Kate has three years of high school french; so we will see how much she has learned.  At the end of July; we meet up with Bob and my parents for some traveling around Scotland and London.  It’s going to be a great trip.

And during that trip; I plan on taking lots of photos as well as doing lots of writing.  And the trip is big enough to require it’s own blog.  I don’t want to clutter this collection of dinner time stories with travel details.    I’ll be doing some cross posting as well as continuing with the small stories about life on a daily basis here.  But if you want the travel pictures and adventure stories; look at dragon cat lives.  So check out my new blog “Dragon Cat Lives” at


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cat proofing

Bob and Charlie have a friendly competition. Charlie wants to jump on top of the china closet in our kitchen. There he sits, six feet up; surveying his realm. Bob hates this behavior and tries constantly to stop him. The latest approach is using barriers. Lovely, interesting, artistic barriers. They add a quirky note to my kitchen. And most interestingly; they don’t work. Charlie still jumps.


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Limited Shanty Town Success

Well the cat enclosure has had limited success. ON the plus side, Charlie loves his new room. And he shares it willingly with Sophia. But Sally does not seem to use it. I’ve seen Charlie try to roll Sally while she’s out there. Now Sally is a mean old lady and willing to stand her ground on important things like being first to eat from the fresh dry cat food. But she’s not standing up for her rights to use the new cat cage. And that means we can’t put all the litter boxes outside yet. Perhaps in another couple of weeks. And the ants love the food / water bowls put outside. So there’s another problem that needs fixing. But I have a couple pictures of cats actually using their enclosure. Enjoy the photos.



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Successful Foraging for Shoes

When woman has 4E width feet; shoe shopping is an exercise in frustration.  No cute sandals for those with wide feet.  One goes and looks at the cute shoes; sighs; and then goes to buy the ugliest, most expensive, and uncomfortable shoes existing.   In fact, I didn’t even know that shoes could be comfortable until in my late 30’s.  I would always go barefoot or wear tennis shoes with holes on the sides.  So with an upcoming trip to Europe; I’ve been stressing about shoes.

But miracles have occurred and I have 5 new pairs of comfortable shoes.  Bought another pair of the standard Birkenstock sandals with extra holes added by the shoemaker for wide feet.  Then my mom was able to buy some comfortable and not ugly sandals via mail-order; so I got two pairs (black and gray).  I bought a new pair of flip-flops from the men’s department.  And then today; I found a pair of 4E width tennis shoes; again from the men’s section of famous footwear. Hurrah!!!!! I have comfortable shoes.  Perfect for lots of walking in Europe.

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Shanty Town Reaction and other small news bits

Well the cats, Sophie and Sally, are ok with the new enclosure. Charlie loves his new room. He goes in and out, in and out, all day long. Interestingly, all the cats still prefer sleeping on our bed to spending time outdoors at night. They might be going out for a few minutes here and there; just to check out the world. But I am not aware of it; whenever I wake up in the middle of the night the cat lumps are still there.

Elly has developed a couple of really bad habits. First she is jumping on some people; usually me or my mother in law. I know that it is because she is excited; but I don’t like it. She’s big and can knock someone down. The second bad habit is getting up in the middle of the night to bark at things. Of course; the night before we got the cage built; she had a good reason. Charlie and Sophia busted out of through the kitchen window and were galavanting outside at 2 am. But most nights, it’s just plain annoying. I have to get up; tell the dog to get back into bed. And of course, what she tries to do is get into my spot on the bed. So, I forsee some training for Elly in the near future.

That’s OK, because we think she will make an excellent therapy dog. While David was at the nursing home; she was allowed to come visit. And she loved it; seeing new people and getting petted makes that dog happy. It was interesting how the presence of dogs seemed to perk up the residents. Many of them loved to pet the dogs. And all Elly needs (besides a really good temperament) is her canine good citizen award. Of course, not many dogs can reach that goal. But we think she can do it.

Family has been coming from all over for the funeral tomorrow. Liz came home last Friday. Garrett, my brother-in-law arrived on Tuesday. His daughter, Jennifer, arrives tonight. My parents arrive tonight. Maggie can’t come home. She’s got to do her research this summer or she won’t get her masters thesis done. And if you leave bugs in the field unattended, evidently bad things can happen. I don’t really want to know what those bugs do to get into trouble; but I hear involves ending up with many more pests than one wants.

Tonight my parents arrive and we probably will go to 50 barrels for wine and cheese. Maybe even ask the girls to deliver dinner. My New Years resolution was to get out with friends at least once a month. So I joined the wineclub at this local winery. They buy grapes in Northern California, bring them down to Vista, and make the wine right on Main Street in the tasting room. The wine club membership gives me 2 wine tastings or 2 glasses of wine per month. And so every month I have to meet someone at the winery. So far; it’s been good. And I’ve met a number of friends there. Tonight it will be my folks who are intrigued by a dog friendly wine establishment. They will bring Sadie, their dog. I’m not sure if Elly will be invited or not.

Today is the big potluck at work. And yep; I’m organizing it. It’s not hard; lots and lots of people get invited. Either you bring a dish or give me 10 bucks. And then I go shopping with other peoples money. We get to spend about 200 bucks at a really good local deli; buying hot food. Plus another 100 bucks at costco; buying sandwiches and other stuff. The trick is to not get worked up about what people are bringing. All I want to know is are you bringing a yummy surprise or giving me money. And with the money; I do write down the names until the last day. But I don’t worry about checking these names. Last night I floated about 40 dollars; will probably get it back today. And if I get more (very likely) then someone gets to buy donuts or bagels as a surprise in a few weeks. All the potlucks in the past have had lots and lots of leftovers. The best trick of all is announcing clean up policies. Anyone who helps with cleanup gets to take home leftovers. So today, some lucky soul will get half a sliced ham; another 1-2 pounds of sliced cheese and yet another person might get enough hot dish leftovers to have a dinner for two. Everything disappears in 5 minutes. It’s beautiful. With 10 people cleaning I don’t really have to do much work. Its fun and I need something fun. Tomorrow is the funeral and no one is looking forward to that. But it’s good that it will be done soon. Arranging funerals is an interesting sales process; really slick, and not fun. But that’s another story for another day.

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Shanty Town

It’s official; we live in a shanty town. Yep; we built a shanty right next to our front door. The idea was to (1) move the litter boxes outside and (2) give the cats a safe place to play outside. A big 15 foot by five foot structure; six feet tall. It’s not yet furnished; but already the cats are interested in the space. Once it gets finished; the cats will be able to go outside day or night. Here’s the work in progress; more details will follow in a few days.





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Sad News

Lots of things are going on; not all of them good. My father in law died last Thursday afternoon. He’s been suffering from Alzheimer’s for years. A fall in the middle of the night last month hastened his departure. A simple fall combined with anti-blood clotting medication lead to a huge leg injury requiring skilled nursing. Then Alzheimer’s disease left him lost, confused, scared, and delusional. He was a bad patient; much of that exacerbated by the disease.

Alzheimer’s is a really cruel disease. Patients lose their internal clock, staying awake at all hours of the days and nights. Often the worst traits are amplified by the disease. And this combined with sundowners; a period of confusion occuring while the sun is setting can lead to violence in about half of all Alzheimer’s patients. And as the mind fails, the newest memories start fading. I think this terrifies the patients who know they are loosing their minds. And terrified people will do anything to try and bring sanity to their lives. But they don’t know how to anymore. For David, at the end, he considered Buffalo New York to be his home; a place he lived in between the ages of 2 and 4. But he never forgot those that he loved most — his wife and my three daughters.

The care demands are overwhelming. A 1-2 minute attention span along with the need to be careful with a leg wound meant he had to have someone with him 24 hours a day And either the family does it at a huge personal cost or you pay large sums of money. Night nurses run about 250 dollars a day in addition to the nursing home costs. And insurance does not pay for any of that care. We, the family, paid both types of costs; there was no choice. The disease or some complication will always kill these patients; the only question is how long will it take. As a family member; you can only watch the patient slip away; yet there is little time to mourn because the immediate care demands are so big. Bob and Mary (his mom) were incredible caregivers. They both showed great tenderness and compassion. Taking care of David was so hard, I am not sure I could have done the task. Instead, my job was being alert, continue working, helping provide information for decisions, and listening to both of them talk.

David went fast; as if he knew the fall would kill him. And now we are dealing with funerals and a lot of other details necessary as part of our society–legal and personal. The full impact of his absence will take a while to before I fully acknowledge it. And it’s much rougher for Bob and my daughters because they have known him and lived with or near him for all their lives. I don’t even want to think about how Mary must be feeling to loose a husband after 62 years of marriage.

The memorial service is on Friday morning. David was a good man. We will miss him.


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Tomorrow is Friday the 13th and a full moon. That won’t happen again until 2049

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Elly Selfies




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Fungible Birthdays

Bob and I decided that we no longer want birthdays in June. Nor are we celebrating fathers day this June. There will be no celebrations, no cake, no presents, and no parties in June this year. Instead, I’m using hard won learning from my days as a florist’s daughter “All holidays are fungible”. Life is too busy, uncertain, and overwhelming at the moment; so birthdays are being postponed. September seems like a good month; we could celebrate it along with the equinox. Or my mom suggested coming up on October 4th when she’s hosting a barn party. Imagine 100 strangers all singing Happy Birthday to us. Its got interesting possibilities albeit a bit scary. So we can have fun planning something fun this fall. Will let you know.

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Piano Recital

Last week was the last recital held at the piano warehouse.  For the last 12 years, we have attended piano recitals there every June and December.  It was a family tradition. First Maggie , then Kate did the recitals; never together.   Now the store is closed.  No longer can the kids play on a piano worth 85,000 dollars.  Kate had the prime spot on the program — last student to play.  And for the first time ever, I took pictures.  Here’s Kate at the piano and below is a link to my first published video.


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Great Election Logos and other thoughts

Yesterday was voting day. I voted, but for once didn’t do the research. Too much has been going on in life. And that meant I cheated and used a voting guide from the San Diego Free Press. They had a great logo: “Bad Politicians are elected by good people who don’t vote.” It is so true, almost no one voted yesterday. You can find them at:


Other brief good news. Kate is taking after her mother. She’s learned how to burn a grilled cheese sandwich and even improved on my burned cheese by doing both sides. Still needs to learn the perfect scraping technique but a few more sandwiches will give her lots of practice. Keep up the good work Kate!

I found a lost earring today. When I got sick a month ago, it happened fast. Started feeling bad at work. Went to my car and thought about calling home. Drove home and thought about getting off the freeway and calling for help. Made it home and immediately went to bed feeling bad. Several days later remembered the earrings; one was lost. And they were brand new pink flamingo earrings from the wild animal park. Oh well. But today, a miracle occurred. Sitting next to the toaster at work was my earring. So now I have a pair of earrings that makes me laugh.

Had an unexpected job interview today. Joined a mentoring program at work, mostly so I could meet some senior level people from other departments who could help me find a different job. Well my mentor, a chief engineer, has decided that the mentoring I need is help finding a new job. And with a couple of short email introductions; I now have job interviews inside Northrop. Amazing difference, 27 applications for internal jobs and I can’t make it through the automated sorting machines. My resume is too wierd; I’ve been the jack of all trades. Motto “Have Charge Number, Will Do Work”. So today one guy sent me a meeting notice for the interview. 10 minutes long, I think it went well. I hope it went well. Being a UCLA graduate is a good thing. No jobs at the immeditate time; but that’s ok because I’m leaving for a 6 week vacation in a few weeks. Next week, I have a second interview. Again; it got set up right after my mentor sent an email asking for it. Wow, that’s good connections. I’m lucky.

Mitzi it totally into cat treat time. She loves catfood. And she understands the phrase cat treat time. That means going outside, waiting a few minutes, and then coming back inside to like the plates. The cry “Sally, Sophie, Charrrliieee” brings 3 uptailed cats running into the kitchen. We had junk food for those cats today. Premium Canned Cat Food, don’t ask what is inside. Nice stinky pate; the cats all loved it. Here they are, chowing down dinner.


Another week of drugs. Another week before going out in the sun. But I am showing progress. Am actually wearing shoes for the first time in a month. OK shoes is a nice description for the birkenstock sandals; but that is an improvement. For all of May, I was wearing flip flops. And even back at wok although technically they are prohibited. I was getting away with it because I had been on medical leave.

On the not so good side; I am working overtime at my request. The extra money will be nice and needed. Plus it earns me brownie points with my team as I get extra stuff done before a crush of work in July. But that’s less free time. And we need the money because of medical bills. Bob’s dad is still really sick. He’s a difficult alzhiemers patient who also needs lots of skilled nursing. His needs are way beyond anything the family can provide. So that means big bills for the immediate future. Bob and his mom are working really hard to take care of him even in the hospital. Bob also is worried about some unusual pains and will be tested for polyups or tumors on his kidney next week. So he may not be going on vacation this summer. But Kate and I will go no matter what. The time is just too hard to come by; I won’t get an opportunity like this for years. And Kate is growing up, in a year or so; she will be moving out of the house and it will be too late. But there is still time for lots to happen. And perhaps all will get resolved within the next week or too. I can be an optimist and dreamer. So I’ll dream about everything getting settled in the near future. Wish me luck.

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Small Amusements in the Life of Charlie

Charlie is now just over one year in age. In Human terms, this cat is like teenage boy looking for trouble or at least something amusing. After all there are screen windows to climb, dogs to harass; kitchens tables for sleeping; and an endless amount of stuff to check out. In the pictures below, charlie is playing with a big KONG; the dog toy that is almost indestructible. It turns out this can be a satisfying cat toy; excellent for raking the back claws over a heavy ball.



Bob and Charlie have been having a war over his climbing on top of a china cabinet in the kitchen. Charlie loves to leap up onto the cabinet (about 6 feet in the air) from the table, a chair, the counter, or any other possible perch. I don’t think he’s done a leap from the floor; but I wouldn’t put it past him. Anyway, it drives Bob crazy. Charlie is scratching the wood; so Bob has been building a barrier by putting stuff on the top of the cabinet. This morning, Charlie leaped past an empty 5 gallon bottle; knocking it on the floor. He looks so proud of himself.


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Getting Hives

This morning Bob and I were talking about going to the wild animal park recently renamed the San Diego Safari Adventure. There is a new tiger exhibit that is supposed to be fantastic. Put in the pine tree forest, there are many viewing areas so you can actually see the tigers. For years, it was always a rare event to see them in their original exhibit. Bob once saw a rabbit get into the exhibit. From the underbrush, a tiger sprang out and captured that rabbit; good snack for the tiger. But he said that until the tiger moved, he had no idea that was where the tiger was hiding.

So as part of this great adventure with two bacterial infections, I’m taking sulfa antibiotics. And before going to visit the park, thought I would check why the doctor said don’t go out in the sunlight. Well, it turns out these drugs can cause photosensitivity. Basically even a brief exposure to sunlight can cause hives. And I got them. Very Very Itchy Hives which spread all over the body. I had been thinking my hives was the result of stress and bad shampoo. But now I’m convinced that I experienced this photosensitivity. It’s horrible; so a trip to the wild animal park is not on my todo list. Wonder if there are any good movies playing?

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Cat treat time

Ok, in my house we have cat treat time. That’s when the three cats get their dinner — yucky canned stuff of some kind. Tonight is was human grade ham chunks in water. Last night it was something called potted meat, again human grade. I’ve stopped buying the canned catfood because the cats are rejecting about half of the cans. And they use to eat them like kids eat candy — wonder if the quality of canned catfood has declined in the last couple of years? But that’s off topic.

Every night, the cats get their dinner about 8 or 9 pm. The idea is that they all come running for the cry “Sally, Sophie, Charrrrrrlieeee”. And the dogs know what cat treat time means. Before I do the call; they get sent out side with the instructions “Its cat treat time, outside”. And both Mitzi and Elle go very happily. Then I call cats — 3 sets of up tails come running. Cats get their dinner. Then they play musical plates as everyone checks all plates to ensure no one got anything special. When the cats finish dinner, then the dogs get to lick the plates. Sometimes they get lucky. Woe betides any cat who gets in the way of dogs checking leftovers from a cats dinner. Well Mitzi has learned that cat treat time can be fun. And now she’s the first one at the door; beating Elly to the good plates every night.

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running in circles

Do you ever have those days where it feels like your running in circles or on a big wheel. Well for this particular human; those kinds of days are really frustrating. That was yesterday when one boss decided that 4 weeks of work could be replicated in 4 hours so that I could change the format and make things look prettier. Guess what, it didn’t work. So today I get to go announce defeat and propose doing something different.

But did you know that mice actually like to run on those wheels for fun? Yep; it’s true. A scientist did a study putting a wheel outside and filming who came to visit. A large number of neighborhood wild mice came and ran on the wheel; something like the gym rats who go every day to use the treadmills or elipticals. Check out the video at this NY Times article.

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Dishwasher Disaster

Last weekend (I think Friday night; but it’s a blur) I created a mess. Not a little mess, but a big giant mess. Had a full dishwasher. Had a pan where the beans had burned at the bottom of the pan. Put some dish soap in the pan and left it to soak. Went outside and chased dogs. Mitzi, my in-laws dog, and Elly have been feeling neglected. No trips to the beach, no long walks; just boring stay at home and get in trouble routine. So they were acting up: racing around the yard and barking like crazy. At one point, they managed to spook charlie sitting in the window. He jumped, hit the pot full of dish soap. It landed in the dishwasher. So after getting the dogs in, I picked up the pot and started the machine. Only I forgot about the dish soap. And you can probably guess what happened next — a kitchen full of suds. Monumental amounts of bubbles pouring out of the washer and onto the floor. Good thing I have a sense of humor; even as I was cleaning the mess; I could laugh. Too bad I didn’t get a picture.

But I do have a couple of nice animal pictures to share. Snack time is always important in my house. Dogs, cats, any stray animals around know that the word “SNACK” means really good treats. And they all line up for their share as you can see in the photo below. Elly and Charlie play together lots; anytime they get bored. One of their favorite games is what I call lazy batting. Elly puts her paw on charlie; he batts her; elly moves the paw. Repeat as desired. And the final picture shows how friendly Charlie and Sophia are. In this picture they are resting on top of the very clean sweater. Of course, they like to shed hair on dark colored objects.




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Life Happens

Recently life have been overwhelming-good and bad. Just when it seems one crisis or challenge is addressed, two or three more issues arrive. There are lots of terms for this: “Sea Change in Life”, “Bad Luck”, “Growth Opportunities”, and my favorite “Shit Happens”. Coping with these events has left me exhausted; no energy for blogging. More blogs will come; I miss the chance to tell stories. But it might be a bit irregular for the next couple of weeks. And there are some great stories to be told.

Thank goodness for really good drugs and antibiotics. Without them; I would not be getting healthy. They do make me sick to my stomach; but that’s good for the diet. And 6 weeks of this medicine regime is enough to actually change eating habits. Probably have lost 10-15 pounds already and will probably continue to lose weight. So that is a bonus; but I don’t recommend getting both bronchitis and cellulitus at the same time as a weight loss program. The combination of two bacterial infections can really kick butt. It’s exhausting and painful. At one point I was using crutches since my leg was swollen and painful.

It is amazing both how much use these crutches have gotten and how quickly the rubber / plastic rots. I got these last year with knee injury. Used them for a couple of months while healing. Then Kate had ankle problem as well as a knee problem so she used them a couple of times. Then David, my father in law wanted them for a while although I don’t think he actually used them. Finally a couple of weeks ago; I pulled them out and noticed that the arm hand rests are rotted. Wonder if they sell replacements or would bicycle handlebar tape work well.

Did return to work last week. That was good. And I didn’t have to use any vacation time; so this summers vacation is still happening. Very rewarding was the response from my co-workers. First question was how am I? Second question was are you still going to be going on vacation? It turns out that being sick for a couple weeks meant I was eligible for disability, thus no PTO. It also means there is no paycheck for a couple of weeks; but luckily there is an emergency fund in the bank. So we can manage for a few weeks.

Couple of interesting stories about money management this week. First was a week ago–all the cars needed gas. I had no cash. Tried using the debit; bad PIN number. Repeat process, same result. Tried using a credit card. Ok for the first car, but the second one got the credit card denied. Called the credit union and found that my cards had been flagged for fraud. Explained my sorry situation to the nice lady on the phone and eventually had her laughing. She helped me get everything straight. And then this last weekend, I tried transferring money from one credit union to another. The system took two withdrawals from one bank and then made five deposits to the next. At this point I’m ahead thousands of dollars. But on tuesday after the holiday, I”ll have to call the bank and make sure everything gets straightened out. Too bad, it would be nice to keep the money.

Couple other good things happened over the last few weeks. The California sculpture academy got a grant. A big grant, well big by our standards, not big by many standards. It’s to create some classes for veterans suffering from PTSD. A similar program exists up in Orange County at one of the community colleges. Some veterans were taking the ceramics classes for about 6 months and then were able to move onto creating a new life for themselves. The time spent working with their hands to create beautiful new objects seemed to help them cope with terrors in their minds. So now CSA has a grant to start a similar program casting bronze face masks or hands. I want to grow that grant, but unfortunately stood up a couple of people while out on sick leave. So there is more work to reestablish those contacts.

The second good thing is that I got into a mentor / protogee program and am now paired with a chief engineer for the next year. Get a chance to broaden my connections and learn more about different jobs. Have a great job–good work, good coworkers for the most part, some great bosses, and lots of job security. But I’m bored; the work is too easy. So the chance for learning new stuff is really great.

But right now it seems almost too much good news. I’m overwhelmed. Bob’s dad has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for years. One and a half weeks ago, he took a fall; jumped from stage 4 or 5 up to 6-7 overnight. The scale runs from 1 – minor memory loss to 7-total memory loss as well as bad control of a body. He’s a frail scared old man who doesn’t really recognize me anymore and who wants 100% attention 24 hours a day. It’s killing the family and the options are not great. I get so angry that he can’t be left alone for even 5 minutes and yet. Bob shows amazing tenderness to his dad, I don’t have it in me to do that level of care. Maybe it’s because it’s not my dad; but I don’t want to wipe his butt. And I don’t have the touch for calming him down when he gets frantic and tries to do something that will hurt himself. It’s really hard, especially on Bob and his mom as they try to cover 24 hour shifts without help.

Who knows what’s happening over the next few weeks; but it will be a soap opera. Keep watching this blog; I will post some more stories.

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Listing of old posts

Just learned how to create a table of contents. Check out the page “old posts”.
All 470 posts (with more coming). And over time; I’ll figure out how to organize that data better. Have fun reading.

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New Camera, New Software, A study in possibilities

Warning — this is a fairly long post with lots of pictures

Got a new camera, something I’ve wanted for years. The new technology is really impressive. When I started as a cartographer / engineer years ago; digital cameras were really expensive and special. We felt lucky to get pictures that were a 1024×1024 pixels wide because each pixel meant a separate lens element. The cameras cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; of course these were special ones used to take pictures from airplanes. At that time, 10 meters or 30 feet per pixel was considered good. Now we look at free pictures in google earth good enough to identify people.

My small handheld camera represents the best of that technology. Yes it was inexpensive; but takes great quality pictures. Lots of options; I can take panorama’s, various filters, automatic or manual mode, movies and more with a small device about the size of a deck of cards. And it only cost 200 dollars.

But this camera interacts with my PC, not the IPAD. I’ve gotten used to working with Snapseed—it’s quick and easy to use. And with it; I can do lots of different things with my photos; enhancing them to better tell a story. Well there is no easy equivalent for Snapseed on the PC. The PC version of the software is a bit more powerful than the IPAD version and a bit more difficult to use. Plus it costs 149 dollars in the US. And right now I’m broke because we are paying for the trip to Europe. So I’m not buying new software.

Luckily there is a fantastic public domain package called GIMP. You can read about it at:

Started in the mid-90’s; this package has an incredible set of tools. And it’s not that hard to use. I began playing with a single image and with that created a series of very artistic images. The blowup images are snapshots of image portions at 100%

Here’s the original


First thing I did was rotate the image and play with the brightness, saturation, and color functions. All the other pictures started with this one. Not perfect—it’s going to take a while before I’m comfortable with these tools. But you can see how the image is not as washed out and has more vibrant colors. Take a look in particular at the blowup section because there are a lot of interesting changes coming.



Now I play with the RGB color schemes. While it is possible to create very dramatic changes; I wanted something a bit more subtle.

crutches_edited2 blowup3

Next was an artistic filter “The VanGogh Effect”. No one confesses to understanding what the code does. Probably could figure it out as it is sort of an intriguing problem. But it’s not worth the effort for me.

crutches_edited3 blowup4

Here’s an edge following algorithm. I’m not sure which one. But the basic idea is that the software identifies edges of features based on differences between values of adjacent pixels.

crutches_edited4 blowup5

And here is the impressionistic painting filter plus some other stuff. Don’t know what the algorithm does; but I like the effectds.

crutches_edited5 blowup5

Here’s a threshold filter. What that means is that every value below a set point is set to black and everything above is set to white. One uses a slider to adjust the threshold point.

crutches_edited6 blowup7

Next we use on of the glass or water filters. I can’t remember the name. But the effects are stunning. The second blowup was at 50% of the original images – needed to show the plant leaves.

crutches_edited8  blowup8 blowup9e

Insert crutches_edited8.jpg and blowup_8 & 9


The next one is another line following algorithm along with a few color changes. You can actually see the pixelization in the blowup photo. And you can see why a high quality, high pixel count image is useful – it makes it easier to identify unique objects.


blowup 10

The next image is a grayscale version of the RGB image. Useful for understanding how to do shading.




And the last image was using the emboss function. I like this picture.



The possibilities for artistic creation are fantastic although there is a learning curve. It’s a real image processing package with all the fancy filters. I can do anything I want with it – extract features like buildings or people, enhance various features, clip and paste pieces into layers after playing with the software. I do recommend trying the software –after all it’s free.


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Fire Pictures

Everyone has probably heard about the fires in San Diego.  Its been an interesting couple of days.  Not only really hot (100+ degrees with lows of 89 in the night) but windy with howling winds that sap the water from everything.  Add in a batch of fires and life becomes interesting.  At one point we were surrounded by 11 different fires– Carlsbad, Oceanside, Camp Pendleton; Fallbrook, Bonsall at old highway 395, Escondido, and San Marcos. And it looks like the worst is over for most of the fires.  The big concern is still the fire by Cal State San Marcos moving over the hill towards Escondido and Highway 15.

But overall; I’m lucky.  My house was in the middle.  We could see the plumes of smoke; but the winds kept the smoke away from our house.  There is still a layer of ash covering everything; it feels gritty.  My hair, eyes, face, and feet all feel dirty and the air hurts when I breath.  But it’s mild compared to places five miles away where people were evacuated.   I was able to get a couple of photos today of the smoke from the fire burning off of College Blvd and the San Luis Rey river.   Three miles as the crow flies from Gparent’s Lewis’s house or 5 miles of driving.

photo2 photo


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too much sugar

Ever wondered how much sugar is in a softdrink or other common food products?  Bob and I were discussing this since blood sugar problems seem to be so common now.  And we found that had some excellent graphics.  Upsetting, there are now some foods I love that I should probably not eat because they have too much sugar.  Won’t describe them; I suggest you visit the website for full effect.


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Zebra pen and other notes

Wow, for the first time in WEEKS, I feel alive. I know I’m going to be healthy again and soon. It’s a wonderful feeling. I’ve been on heavy duty antibiotics for the last couple of weeks and tomorrow I start a new set of antibiotics. Bronchitis is almost gone — only a little bit of a cough left and it is easy to breath. Cellulitus is getting better; but much slower. The expectation is that the second set of antibiotics will finally kill off the bacterial infection. Still have a swollen leg that needs to be propped up; but I’m getting medicine to help with the swelling and itching. HURRAHH!!

And best of all, I”m regaining an interest in all kinds of things. Made a skirt this week. Half of it was handsewn since I’ve had to prop a leg up. Wanted to make a flirty longer skirt with godets. Godets are those black triangles at the bottom of the skirt in the picture below. They add width at the bottom making the skirt flare. Originally the skirt was going to be all black. I was making up the pattern as I went along. Unfortunately the first time I tried to put a godet in the black skirt; everything got screwed up. Since everything was handsewn; it took forever. And since I wasn’t feeling great; my reactions were extreme. I threw the skirt into a bag and was going to throw it away. But then boredom got to me and I realized there was a nice piece of green fabric that would let me restart. So the black skirt got cut into large black triangles. Was making a six gore skirt; but only had enough black fabric to make 5 triangles. That meant sewing scraps into the sixth triangle. Hopefully no one will notice that it’s pieced. I’ll put that in the back. Still haven’t finished the skirt; need to get some safety pins to feed elastic through the waistband. I”m not satisfied with my work; but this will be a great skirt for travel. Made of rayon; it’s going to be wash and drip dry. Although I do need to Iron it at least once; making sure the seams lie flat. Will have to try this pattern again and then I’ll write it up and post it for you all to try.


To draw the pattern, I needed a new tool to create digital drawings. So I got a new app for my IPAD — inkist. It looks like a lot of fun to learn and easy. A great way to practice drawing with a zebra pen on the IPAD. Now a zebra pen is a very nice expensive tool that Bob bought for me. He actually bought two and kept one for himself. It’s got a pen on one side and a little pointing / drawing tool for touch screens on the end. Usually I’m one who loses things. But in this case; Bob lost his pen. He’s been walking around for days muttering “where is that pen” and asking if anyone had used it. Well last night he found it. Only it’s not very usable anymore because it had been barbecued. Proof below.


Over the last week, I’ve been enjoying watching television. Prior to that; I enjoyed sleeping 18 hours a day. But after a week or so; even sleeping becomes hard and TV becomes a great escape. Watched many episodes of the Tudors on Netflix and have been captivated by the both the women’s dresses and their hairstyles. I love fancy ballgowns and hairstyles; perhaps someday I’ll get a chance to wear a fancy dress like those in the movies. In this show, there were many fancy braided hairstyles. Kate cut her hair; so I can’t practice on her. But maybe; if I’m lucky she will practice on my hair. Here’s a photo of one of the braids.


There are a couple of great lunar events over the next couple of weeks. First is a full moon tonight; the full flower moon. As always; it’s a wonderful feeling to sit outside and watch it rise; perhaps with a glass of wine. But the real event happens on Friday Night, May 23rd and Saturday morning, May 24th. There is going to be a new meteor shower that may just turn into a meteor shower. NASA is predicting several hundred meteors per hour and perhaps thousands per hour. It’s the start of the Memorial Day weekend, so camping spots will be at a premium. But if you can get to a place outside without lights; it’s well worth taking a watch. Hopefully there is no fog here in Southern California. And if anyone gets some amazing pictures — share them with me. We’ll try; but I”m not very skilled at night photos.

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No Sweetee Bunny Honey’s

For the last weekend, Maggie and her friend Josh came to visit. It was a short visit; but great to see them.  And I think they had a good time as well.  Mags arrives on Wednesday night.  Josh arrived early Friday morning.  He was supposed to come into LAX; but his plane got canceled.  And since we were sending them to Disneyland; Josh was determined to make it down to visit.

So they asked if anyone wanted to get on the John Wayne airport plane which was leaving in a couple minutes.  Josh asked how close it was to disneyland.  When they said only a couple miles; he took the plane.  Now Maggie had gone out for breakfast with us to Allan’s alley–a family favorite and tradition for years.  Every Friday almost without fail; we eat breakfast there.  So Maggie is leaving for the drive up to LAX when she gets a text from Josh saying he was coming into John Wayne airport.  She comes back into the restaurant and asks how to get there.  When we tell her it’s 53 miles from Vista; she was delighted.  Good start to a magical day for those two.

Before they left on Sunday; we went down to Mother Earth and had beer and pizza for dinner.  I was able to get a few family photos which are at the bottom of this post.  All had fun until it was time to drive them down to the airport.  Bob convinced Kate she could do the driving (it’s good practice for her).  But her response was:

“No Sweetee Bunny Honey’s; we are just dropping you off at the airport and leaving.”

This was a true statement by Kate.

P1000094 P1000106 P1000112 P1000118

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For Mother’s Day, Bob bought me a new camera. Yeah! I’ve been wanting a nice small camera for years. And this one has a special preview screen for taking selfies. You know, those pictures people take of themselves. Well, there was lots of discussion about my never using that feature. And just because everyone said I wouldn’t; I did take a selfie. Charlie helped.


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