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Archive for the ‘Daily Living’ Category

For the first six years that I’ve lived in the Seattle area, I’ve had to drive to work. It was simply too far to walk as it would have taken 1.5 – 2 hours every day to get in. But in 2013 we moved closer to work and since then I’ve been able to walk. It takes between 20 and 30 minutes depending upon what building I am working in (the company moves us around a lot). I walk almost every day except when (a) it’s pouring rain in the winter (or snowing), or (b) it’s really cold, or (c) I have to go somewhere before or after work. So, basically I’d been walking to work for about 4 years.

However, earlier this year the company temporarily moved my team to downtown Bellevue, a distance of about 5 miles. This is too far to walk, it would take me two hours both ways so I had to drive in.

I was ambivalent about moving to a high rise in downtown Bellevue, but it turned out that I liked it for the most part. I could listen to the radio on the way in and the way home, and I liked being in the middle of all the action in downtown (there are lots of good restaurants around there, as well as being across the street from a shopping mall). I think most people enjoyed working in the downtown office, including myself.

The drawback was that I missed walking into work. I would deliberately park further away while working downtown so I still had to walk about 10 minutes to get to my office (if I took the stairs to the 11th floor). And, if I wanted to walk during the day, I had to motivate myself to do it during a break in the middle of the day, which I didn’t always do.

After moving back to the main campus, I started walking to work again. I realized that I really missed those early and late walks because I would listen to podcasts on the way. I never did that while driving to work, and only once in a while did it when going for a mid-afternoon walk or in the evening when I would try to catch up on my 10,000 steps. Not only that, but walking to work – depending on the building I am in – is a “free” 6000-7500 steps because it’s part of my daily commute of 20-30 minutes. When driving to work, it took 30 minutes but I would only get about 1000 steps each way, so I had to make them up in the evening somehow.

This is now part of the problem of living and working where I am living and working. I like walking to work because it’s decent exercise that I would otherwise struggle to get. It’s close by so if I ever have to drive, it takes less than 10 minutes; if I have to walk, it takes about 30 minutes.

If I want to switch jobs, my commute will increase as I will either have to drive or take the bus (or both). That means it will, once again, be more difficult to get my daily step count. And if I had to commute into Seattle, it would take me more than 30 minutes to get in, probably 45 minutes at a minimum. In rain, it would probably take 60-90 minutes.

I am fortunate that I enjoy doing what I’m doing, but on the other hand I sometimes wonder if I should try something different just for a change of pace. I hear all the time that it’s unusual for someone to stay in the same job for decades, yet that’s what I have done for the past 13.5 years. But I don’t want to extend my commute because a long commute time is one of the biggest causes of life-dissatisfaction. I’ve driven across the bridges in this city during rush hour, and it’s not fun. Even on the bus, it sucks the life out of your day.

But for now, I guess I’ll sit back and enjoy the ride.

I mean walk.

 

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Today, I turned 39.

I know a lot of people start freaking out about the passage of time, and getting older and whatnot, especially as 40 years of age approaches. And sometimes, I do too.

But for the most part I don’t.

My birthday was lower-key this year than in years previous. We were a little tight for time. I had to go to church to run the lights, and afterwards the wife and I went to Costco to get groceries (we’re real swingers here, doing responsible things and all).

We came home to put stuff away, and saw that the guy who was doing some work on our bathroom was gone. So, after quickly changing clothes, we headed off for lunch in Seattle to the restaurant of my choice – Cafe Turko!

You may recall that we went there last year for my birthday, although that was a Saturday evening and this was a Sunday afternoon. Since we went last year, we hadn’t returned. It’s not that easy for us to get to due to Seattle traffic, the only exception to this is on weekends.

Just like last year, we started off with the rainbow hummus which has four kinds – regular, sweet potato, beet, and olive (or something green, it may not have been olive). The wife then got a Turkish black tea and some lentil soup, while I got some lamb dish with rice and salad. For dessert, I got a Turkish coffee and some havlah with chocolate on it.

Speaking of havlah, it’s an eastern European powdery-dessert dish that the wife and I really like. But no one else seems to. I’m not sure why that is.

We came home, and an hour or two later I had to head off again to help out with a youth group where I am one of the assistants. Finally, I returned home where we relaxed a little bit while the sun went down on my 39th birthday.

As for next year, my 40th, what will I do? I’m not sure. I was thinking of having a big party but I’ve realized that December is not a good month for a birthday. On weekends, people are either out visiting family, or doing office Christmas parties, or going to friends’ parties, or doing church events. That means they are typically booked up which means that I’d be (probably) out of luck next year with respect to scheduling unless I promised a massively great party (note: I am not a good party planner).

But it doesn’t matter. The fact is I am another year older, and I’ve enjoyed the past 365 days. I discovered I like wine much more than I used to; my neck pain has reduced; and I even got a promotion at work. So it’s not all bad.

And, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next year holds.

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About two years ago, we got another cat, Zelda. She was a kitten, about 3 months old. We brought her home and our other cat Ruby did not like her at all. There was hissing, and growling, and frequent beatings. Ruby does not like other cats in the house, and this little intruder needed to be gone, and pronto.

We’ve now had both cats for two years, and now they both more or less co-exist. As long as Zelda stays out of Ruby’s face, it’s fine. They can sleep 6 inches apart from each other, and there’s no hissing.

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It’s only when Zelda gets really close to Ruby – face to face – that Ruby hisses or sometimes swats.

But here’s the thing – Zelda gets in Ruby’s face all the time. In face, one of Zelda’s favorite games is one she invented, it’s called “Beat up Ruby.” The way it works is she walks over to Ruby and tries to tackle her, succeeding about half the time. That’s it. No other rules. Ruby hates this game and hisses at Zelda every time, but it doesn’t stop Zelda from trying to play it almost every day.

Ruby has figured out that Zelda likes this game, so she often walks around Zelda because she knows she might get tackled. That usually works. But it’s also not when Zelda attacks; instead, Zelda attacks at inopportune times, usually out of the blue. A common tactic is the sneak attack when in the morning, Ruby is sleeping on the bed and Zelda walks in, jumps up, and pounces on her. Oh, there’s lots of hissing (from one cat)!

Earlier this year, I took a picture of a faceoff. You can see that Zelda is about to tackle Ruby, and Ruby knows it. She lays back, paws up, ears pointing backward, ready to defend herself. In this case, Zelda abstained from going in for the pounce.

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But another time, I was able to take a series of pictures of Zelda beating Ruby up. This lasted about 3 seconds.

It starts with a face-off:

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Then Zelda pounced and they separated:

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They split apart:

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The sync up and fight again:

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And then it ended with another staredown, with Zelda finally backing down:

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Zelda is having a great time with this, but Ruby not so much.

Still, it’s entertaining to watch. Ruby has never fully gotten over the fact that there’s another cat in the house, but she has decided to live by the non-aggression treaty.

She just can’t understand why the other one keeps breaking it.

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This past Thursday, I took part in the Seattle Stair Climb challenge for Cystic Fibrosis. This is a charitable fundraiser that raises funds to fight Cystic Fibrosis; two of my friends (who are married to each other) have a son with the disease, and so I decided to give some money to charity and take part in the cause.

That’s me below, the only one without a team T-shirt as I only signed up the day of the challenge, although I had been thinking about it for a couple of weeks.

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I hadn’t done a charitable event like this before – no runs for charity, no bike rides, no anything. At least, not in the past few years.

This one was a simple stair climb down in Seattle. You climb all 56 floors, bottom to top, to complete the event.

I figured I could do it; I occasionally climb all 28 floors bottom-to-top in the building where I work in Bellevue, so I figured this would take me a little more than twice as long. As it turned out, it only took 50% longer as the distance between each floor was smaller (that is, in the building at work, there are more stairs between floors than this one).

Still, on the way up I never stopped but I was breathing hard when I got to the top. When I reached the 55th floor, I “sprinted” the rest of the way. That is, I tried to go as fast as I could. My legs felt like rubber and I wasn’t moving quick at all, but I finished in 11 minutes and 52 seconds. That was good for 55th out of 171 total participants. In my age group (30-39), I finished 15th out of 33 people, so about in the middle.

I don’t know all that much about Cystic Fibrosis (I had to read about it), but it’s a disease that affects the lungs and your body produces too much mucous, and it is genetic (both parents must be a carrier of the gene). I know even less about research for a cure, but it sounds like technology such as CRISPR, which allow you to edit your genes or DNA, may be promising.

As difficult as the challenge was, I had a good time and felt like it was important to support my friends as they struggle through this challenge.

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The wife and I have done a ton of renovations to real estate this year:

  • The wife replaced the bathtub walls and counter in her rental condo
  • I replaced the tub and tub-walls in my rental condo
  • We replaced the master bedroom’s bathroom in the house where we are living
  • The wife’s parents sold a house and the wife is acting as the power of attorney, and had to oversee a whole bunch of required upgrades before we could sell
  • I am on the Board of my condo association, so not only do I manage my own property but help manage the entire complex
  • We are looking to do some more renovation work of the main bathroom in the house where are living, not mention fixing up some drainage issues (and not to mention taking care of another drainage problem earlier this year, as well as adding insulation to the undercarriage of the house)

Whew. That’s a lot of work.

However, what I’ve found is that I’ve gotten good at noticing when something is done well and when it’s done cheaply, and not been impressed with expensive housing.

Across the street from Microsoft, there’s a $1.7 million house for sale. It sold last year, and the wife and I went to look at it. At the time, we were like “Wow! This is a nice place! We’ll never afford it of course, it’s way too much money.”

But this year it was up for sale again. The previous owner who bought the year before had to move back to the east coast, and put it on the market for $100k above last year’s price. The wife and I went to check it out again.

We were not impressed.

While some parts of the house were nice, the walls had been drawn on by kids and it wasn’t totally cleaned up. The master bathroom was nice, but it gigantic. It was the size of a large bedroom, and the walk-in closet the size of a small bedroom. I said to myself “What a waste of space.”

But it’s not just that, the other bathrooms had cheap plastic tubs installed. The counters were okay, but just… okay. Indeed, most of the house was adequate, but for $1.7 million I expected way more. We remodeled our own bathroom this year and were trying to keep costs down, and all bathrooms in this $1.7 million house – except the main one – were no nicer than our new one.

Even now when the wife and I go snooping in open houses during the summer or fall, we’ve started getting pretty good at seeing if something is well-built or not. And there’s a lot of overpriced junk out there. It’s pretty clear that real estate prices are driven primarily by location, and not by quality. This is doubly true in Seattle where houses go for even more than they do on the east side of the lake.

I feel like if I wanted to go into real estate development, I could be pretty good at it since I have some experience at it now. For sure, I’d need to get a lot more training under my belt, but if I’ve gotten this far just doing it haphazardly, I could become a real expert if I did it full time.

Of course, if I get a degree in diplomacy, when exactly when I have time for that?

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The wife and I hand wash our dishes.

This means that instead of using the dishwasher, we pop them in the sink and do them by hand. I don’t mind doing this, it only adds perhaps 10-15 minutes to clean up. Plus, the dishwater often leaves ugly water stains which don’t come off.

The drawback of hand washing dishes is that we break a lot of them. I’ve broken several plates and glasses, and so has the wife. But it accelerated this past week.

I was washing a plate in the sink when it slipped out of my hand and fell against the bottom of the sink. It didn’t drop far, maybe 3 inches. But it left a chip and a crack in the side of it, rendering it unusable because it could cut you if you weren’t careful (most people won’t be careful).

Then a few days later, I was washing a wine glass. We had bought two inexpensive wine glasses from an estate sale a few weeks ago to replace the previous wine glasses that we had broken. Well, the wife broke one of those. So anyhow, I had the other wine glass in the sink and was washing a frying pan. It slipped out of my hand and landed on the wine glass, breaking it.

Argh!

The next day I decided to head down to the store to pick up two new wine glasses to replace the pair that we had broken. I went after work and had my backpack with me. I bought the two glasses and the clerk wrapped them in paper and put them in a shopping back (I didn’t put them in my backpack). I headed to my car and tossed in my backpack. I then got into the car, and brought the other bag into the car… and whacked the bag of wine glasses against the side of the car, breaking one.

I had broken yet another wine glass on the very same day I bought it!

Argh, again!

Washing dishes by hand is getting more and more inconvenient the more clumsy I get.

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Some time ago, we discovered that our garage door opener wasn’t working. I tried to debug it, but was unable to. My ladder didn’t go high enough and I didn’t have the right tools.

Some time later, a handyman came by to inspect it. I showed him that neither the remote control opener, nor the button connected to the garage door opener, was working. He checked the electrical power and it was working, so the diagnosis was that the garage door opener motor was dead and we’d have to get a new one.

The handyman got a new one from the store but was unable to install it himself, but I said “No problem, we’ll get someone else to do it.” I secretly thought I could do it myself.

I never did it, though, as I didn’t have time.

Fast forward to today, and we’re getting our master bathroom remodeled. One of the tasks we asked one of the guys to do was to replace the garage door opener. So, this weekend, me and one of the contractors proceeded to try to fix it.

We already had the new garage door opener sitting in the garage, and I thought it would be a matter of snapping off the old one, and snapping in a new one.

Nope.

It turns out we had to disassemble the entire garage door opener – disconnect the power, take down the motor, take down the chains, take down the steel bar that connects to the door, remove the brackets connecting the bar to the wall as well as bar to the door… everything.

It was not fast work. We removed it piece by piece, and I got to use a bunch of tools I had in the garage (my ratchet set came in handy). I also had to make a couple of runs to Home Depot because some of the required pieces were not sent with the opener.

Six hours later (3 hours yesterday, and 3 hours today) we are almost finished. We just have to install a couple of motion sensors. That will complete tomorrow.

However, the uber point I am making is that I was completely wrong in my estimation that it would only take an hour or two to replace the opener. I was so very, very wrong, I couldn’t have been wronger if my name was W. Wrongie McWrongenstein.

Even though I am good at programming and abstract concepts, and not too bad at mechanical engineering, this was beyond my ability. As straightforward as the installation now was in hindsight, at the time I would have been perplexed; my patience would have grown too thin, and I also probably would have broken a whole bunch of things, too.

What I have discovered about house repair is that it is really difficult to gain all the necessary expertise yourself to maintain your own place. Basic yardwork you can do, and maybe even weeding, and maybe even painting, and maybe even gardening. But you can’t possibly know how to do all the plumbing yourself. Or electrical. Or insulation. Or structural remodeling. Or any number of tasks. You have to do it fulltime to gain the necessary expertise.

Why does that matter?

Because amateur work looks like amateurs did it. In the house we’re living in, it’s clear that amateurs did a lot of the work, and the quality is obvious. For example, the insulation in the attic was too thin, it was installed as a cost-saving measure, and it allowed rodents to get in. We remodeled the house before we moved in, but saved costs. The paint on the house interior is not that great, it scuffs up super easily. It seems like it’s just a single coat.

If I were to do all this stuff myself, it would be just as poor quality. The paint strokes would be obvious. The flooring would be uneven. The fence wouldn’t be straight. And on and on and on.

That’s why you should never buy your kids a house if they couldn’t afford it on their own. If they can’t afford the maintenance if they were to buy it on their own, they wouldn’t be able to afford it if you were to gift it to them. And that means either they’d do an amateur job and it would show, or they wouldn’t do it at all and the house would deteriorate.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Time off for jury duty

At the end of last month, and the start of this month, I was called in for jury duty. I had already deferred it once, so I had to go in this time.

I had to get up early, and I took the bus downtown to be there at 8 am. Normally, I don’t start work until a bit after 9 am. So, this was much earlier.

I got down there, went through a security screening and went to the jury room where I checked in and got my badge. I had to fill in some survey, and I told them that I took the bus downtown because they were going to reimburse me.

The King County Courthouse is a pretty nice building, but it’s in a slightly sketchier area of the city, Pioneer Square. It’s not that sketchy, but there are a lot of homeless people around and they regularly hang around.

Anyhow, I was waiting in the jury room with about 100 other people. Some were there from a case that started on the Monday of that week (I went down on Wednesday). They played a video explaining the justice process, and then I waited some more.

After more waiting, another judge or lawyer or something came in and explained the process. They then started sorting people out and the first set of people from the previous case was called out.

After more waiting, they started calling people up to the next jury. My name was called, so I grabbed my stuff and up we went to the floors above. We were led into a weird order from 1 to 53 and then brought into the court room where we saw the judge, bailiff (who explained everything to us about the process), a security guard, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the defendant.

This is when it began. The trial goes through a process called de jure. The lawyers explained what the charge was but then started talking a bunch of theoretical statements about the law in general, and how they might relate to the facts of the case.

The way it used to work is that each lawyer would have three minutes to talk to each member of the potential audience pool, all 53 of us. That could take 53 x 6 = 318 minutes, = 5 hours and 18 minutes.

That would be miserable, but it’s the old way.

The new way is for the prosecutor and defense attorney to talk about hypotheticals and ask the potential jury pool questions. “Juror 32, what do you think about ‘x’ ?” It was a lot like a talk show.

They asked about potential conflicts of interest, and what people thought about various things as they might relate to the case.

Some people were dismissed because they had ties to the prosecutor (they knew him), or the judge (they knew her), or they had scheduling conflicts that would cause “undo hardship.” Some people piped up and said they just didn’t want to serve, and some got dismissed but not all.

That reduced the pool from 53 to around 40. Of those, 13 would be chosen (12 jurors plus an alternate). Each lawyer gets to dismiss 7 jurors each. People would be dismissed, and we’d all get up and shift to fill in seats. The prosecutor and defense attorney make their decisions based upon the responses that jurors make, or based upon reactions that they make in response to questions.

The people in the lower numbers will end up on the jury if they aren’t initially dismissed because they start out in the jury box. The people in the benches only end up there if enough people ahead of them get dismissed.

I was the last person selected to be on the jury.

We were sworn in on a Thursday at around 3:45 pm, and then dismissed for the weekend (there is no trial on Fridays, only [potential] jury deliberations). We were told not to read up or do any research on the case.

And with that, I left to go home. The trial would start on Monday.

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For several months now, I had been thinking about taking an online course about art.

For you see, I started reading a couple of books about art. I had by Rick Steves about art history, then I picked up another book from Half Price Books, and then I watched numerous videos on Khan Academy about art. It was fascinating.

But recently, I’ve been getting flyers in the mail from The Great Courses, and one of the courses was called How to Look at and Understand Great Art:

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This is a 36-lecture series, and I am currently on episode 8. I come home and after eating, cleaning up, and exercising, I like to watch a video. This doesn’t happen every day, but it happens often enough.

The course costs around $200, but I got it on sale for something like $30. That’s about $1/lesson, which is a fantastic deal.

It starts off on the basics about composition, color, balance, lines, and perspective. These are all things I may have learned at one point but have long since forgotten. Or, I picked up bits and pieces when I was reading other books on how to make good designs in presentations. But this course brings it all together.

It’s even made abstract art a bit easier to understand.

I’m looking forward to making my way through the rest of it so that next time I go to an art museum – any museum – I will have a new level of appreciation.

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I’ve wanted a second mural for several months now, and this past month the wife finally let me get another one.

It had been rolling around in my head a long time what I wanted to get, and we finally came up with the below:

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I think this is a fantastic mural!

We went through a lot of different options but ultimately we went with a variation of a painting in the Louvre by Giovanni de Panini. The dimensions had to be modified to fit our wall to make it more rectangular instead of the square that is the original:

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2. We removed a bunch of the neoclassical themes from Panini’s painting, I thought it was a little over-the-top. You can see that there is statue after statue, and painting after painting, of Greek thinkers and symbols.

Yeah, that was too much.

3. The painting on our wall is not of neoclassical images but instead of various places that we have been to. These are anachronisms, that is, there’s no way the people in the painting could have been to those locations.

The idea of inserting anachronisms comes from Raphael’s "The School of Athens".

There are plenty of anachronisms in this painting. So instead of a ton of neoclassical references, there are medieval references (left side of mural):

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…but also places that the artist would never have been to (right side of mural):

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4. In Panini’s original painting, the people are no one special (as far as I know). In this one, they’ve been replaced by well known Enlightenment thinkers, or scientists. Starting from the left:

  • Isaac Newton, known for his three laws of motion
  • Albert Einstein, known for his work on the photoelectric effect and theory of relativity
  • John Locke, known for his work on theory of government in that it exists to protect the natural rights of humanity (life, liberty, and property – rephrased to "pursuit of happiness in the US Constitution)
  • Adam Smith (standing in front of Lock), known for his work on the moral philosophy of free markets
  • It’s supposed to be Baron de Montesqueue, known for his work on the separation of powers in government to prevent one branch of government from becoming too powerful (thus countering Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan); except that it’s actually John Stuart Mill, known for his work on the moral philosophy of utilitarianism

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5. Finally, our cats said they both wanted to be in the painting. So, we obliged:

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Good stuff!

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Last month, I was watching the last episode the year of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. His final segment was a tribute to the year 2016 as a year-in-review, but it was good riddance to 2016 as the video was a bunch of people swearing at the past year.

Similarly, on other friends’ Facebook wall, I see a lot of people complaining about the year 2016 and how it was a dumpster fire, a complete train wreck.

Well, I don’t align with that at all. The reason people complain about 2016 is for three reasons:

1. Brexit

This happened in June, and it got the political year off to a shaky start. Yet, if you were one of the 52% of British people [1] who voted for it, you’re quite pleased with this result so you don’t think this is a problem at all.

2. Donald Trump getting elected President of the United States

This came as a shock to many, including myself, and I wasn’t happy about it. But I’m now only slightly negative-neutral.

But if you were one of the 46% of Americans [2] who voted for Trump, you’re not disappointed at all in this result. In fact, you’re quite happy.

3. A bunch of musicians and entertainers who were famous in the 70’s and 80’s died

Yes, there were lots of entertainers who passed away this year, but that happens every year. We all get older, it’s an inevitability. I don’t have any particular affinity to any of these singers or actors, other than Alan Thicke. And I bet that a lot of people have the same view as me, too. They’re just not that attached to famous celebrities.

But for me, 2016 wasn’t all that bad. What can I name off the top of my head?

Even though we got a second cat last year, the fighting lasted a long time. Now, Esmerelda and Ruby get along…most of the time.

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In terms of travel, the wife an I visited Germany this past year, along with a quick side trip to Luxembourg, and also to Austria.

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And then later on in the year, we went to France:

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We also made a trip to the Canadian Rockies in the summer:

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We made a trip up to Kelowna, B.C., to visit relatives:

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– We also did a handful of quick trips to places within a day’s drive of where we live

– Besides that, we also had my aunt and uncle come down and visit us in March, and again in June, and then my parents came out to visit in October.

– Financially, we did okay this year. We paid off the mortgage on the condo I bought in 2008, meaning that we are completely debt free as of this past September. That means my rental property is now cashflow positive.

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– I maxed out my 401k this year for the first time, and my company also now matches it 50 cents on the dollar. I also contributed the max amount to my traditional IRA. That means for the first time ever, I contributed the maximum amount to my deferred contribution retirement plans [3].

– The wife and I celebrated our five year anniversary. We’re still together!

(The below picture was taken in Kelowna, a couple of weeks before our actual anniversary).

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– I didn’t have any hip surgeries this year. That’s a good thing (the one drawback of the year is that my neck is more sore than it was at the start of the year).

– We had plenty of good food this year, trying out a couple of new restaurants and having a great culinary experience in Paris, and Germany. We discovered a Polish restaurant in Seattle, and an amazing Afghan restaurant here in Bellevue. I also discovered rainbow hummus at my favorite Turkish restaurant.

– I discovered I really like German beer

– I got my US citizenship in January!

– I went hiking at Mt Dickerman which is in the north/central Cascade mountains. Last time I did this hike in 2011, I nearly died. This time around I took a friend and I found it wasn’t that difficult… although maybe that’s because he was going slow.

– Professionally, while I didn’t get a promotion (yet again), I did get quite a few things accomplished and am seen as a leading expert in my field.

I also volunteered to become a backup board member of M3AAWG (an anti-abuse working group), and take on the vice-chair role of the Auth Indicators Working Group, and group dedicated to #MakeEmailGreatAgain.

– The wife did a bunch of hiking without me in eastern Oregon

– The wife’s dad (my father-in-law) did a round-the-world cruise. 104 days to visit a ton of places

* * * * * * * * * *

So you see, while everyone else is complaining about how awful 2016 was, my experience not only did not align with that, it was the exact opposite.

I’m not sure how 2017 can top 2016, but I wasn’t sure how 2015 could have been topped, either.

But we’re going to give it a shot.


[1] Technically a voter in the United Kingdom, not just a British person since Britain is only England, Scotland, and Wales

[2] Actually, 46% of people who voted. Voter turnaround was less than 60% of the voting-eligible population

[3] Not counting the magic of doing a backdoor Roth

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For the past week, I’ve been fighting a cold. Last Wednesday I woke up with a sore throat. It wasn’t that bad and I went into work, and overall I wasn’t feeling too bad until Saturday evening, and this carried through to Monday when I was coughing, sneezing, and my nose was running.

Still, I felt okay enough to go in. However, over the past two years I’ve changed my “working while sick” strategy. I  used to power through it and just be miserable the entire day, but still go into work. Now, I decide to work from home so I don’t infect others. Even though I can be self-contained, I don’t want to spread my germs to the kitchen, bathroom, the hallways, etc. No one likes to be sick, and I think it’s a courtesy to ensure no one else gets sick, either.

[Incidentally, that’s the same reason I get the flu shot; while I may not need the shot, I could spread the disease to someone else with a weaker immune system.

Also incidentally, when work goes to open-office space instead of private offices, I am worried about how much easier sickness is going to spread when people who are ill come in and there are fewer barriers to germs spreading.

Anyhow…]

I came home from work Monday morning suspecting I’d be feeling worse the next day. So I brought home all the equipment I needed to work from home the next day – audio headset, cable to VPN into the office… and that’s it.

The next morning, I set up office in the dining room. At the dining table, I just set up my laptop, got out a mouse, and then headed upstairs to get an old magic close-up mat to act as a mousepad. The dining table is not a good surface to work on.

One thing I didn’t count on were the cats. They decided that they were happy I was home. Within 20 minutes, Zelda (the younger cat) decided she wanted attention. She jumped up onto the dining table and sat on the mousepad:

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I picked her up and put her on the floor 4 (!) separate times, and each time she jumped back up. Eventually she crawled across the front of the computer and laid across my arm while I was typing.

Zelda!

That’s unusual because Zelda isn’t normally that cuddly.

Eventually she moved on and I got work done (I was surprisingly efficient that day).

But two hours later, Ruby showed up wanting some attention. She jumped up on the dining table, and laid down on the mousepad.

Ruby!

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She stayed there for a while, too.

This one didn’t surprise me, because Ruby likes to cuddle with people.

But eventually, she got tired and moved on and I was able to get some more work done.

And then, two hours later, Zelda showed up again wanting attention. She kept jumping on the table, shoving her head into my hand. She crawled onto the mousepad, laying down on my other arm as I was typing. She was saying “Give me some attention again!”

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I picked her up and put her down a couple of times, but when this one wants attention, she wants it.

I gave up trying to put her back down, and accepted that she was going to shove her head, and back, in my face for the next few minutes.

Eventually she had her fill and moved on.

Two hours later, Ruby returned. She, too, wanted some more attention. She came down to the dining room, jumped up on the table, and said “Hello, pay attention to me!”

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Now, both of these cats know they are not supposed to jump on the kitchen table. Occasionally they do it anyhow.

Usually it’s because they are snoopy, but on a day like today (or rather, the day I was working from home), it’s because they want some attention.

So I gave it to them. I guess their plan worked.

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It’s been about 9 months since we got Esmerelda (Zelda), a young kitten that we brought home to go with our existing cat Ruby.

I wrote about her personality back in January. To summarize, at the time I said she was Vocal (completely true), Active, Playful, Likes being held (completely true) and Needy (unbelievably true). She liked to be near your face and would climb over her littermates to do it.

Well, that was then and this is now.

Zelda is still Active and Playful, but she no longer likes being held, and she is no longer needy. If I am in the living room, she used to come and sit on my lap. She doesn’t do it anymore. Similarly, she used to have to be around us all the time but now she is quite independent and is fully capable of hanging out by herself. Indeed, there are a lot of evenings where I don’t see her at all until later on.

 

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But there’s one thing that Zelda doesn’t seem to like – not knowing where people are in the house. If I ever go to the bathroom and close the door so she can’t get in, she’ll sit outside the door and even meow sometimes. She also does this with the wife. If you (that is, the wife’s mother) ever locks her in a bedroom somewhere, she’ll start meowing within 60 seconds. Ruby, by contrast, just hangs out by herself and is perfectly fine.

In fact, one day I went outside into the back yard and started working at trimming some trees. Zelda came downstairs, walked around the basement (the screen door was closed but the glass door was open) and started meowing. Not just meowing, but MEOW’ing. “MEOW! MEOW! MEOW!” Over and over again!

I had to walk over there and say “Zelda! I’m right here!” I then opened the door and gave her a rub-down. After that she was fine.

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That’s not the first time. One time, me and Ruby were upstairs in the bedroom and I was working on something magical. Zelda was downstairs in the basement or living room and started meowing. “MEOW! MEOW! MEOW!” I then called out “Zelda! We’re up here!”

I waited, and 15 seconds later Zelda walked in and flopped down on the carpet, content that she had found everyone.

So while she doesn’t like to be held anymore (she actively resists it) and she isn’t all that needy, she’s still vocal under a few circumstances.

She’s growing up, but not quite.

 

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Yesterday, the wife and I went hiking to Indian Bar, a 15-mile, 4250 foot elevation gain on the south side of Mt. Rainier, about a 2.5 hour drive from where we live. That was a difficult hike, 15 miles isn’t easy and with all the elevation gain, we were glad to be done.

The road to Mt. Rainier is paved the entire way. However, the route is not fast because you pass by several towns along the way and the max speed limit is 35-45 miles per hour (mph) most of the way, with short sections at 50 mph.

But once you get past some of the towns, there’s about 40 miles of wilderness driving where the road is only a single lane. Because the road is windy with lots of turns and twists, it’s hard to pass cars in front of you.

And this is where we encountered this dangerous driver.

We were coming back from the hike, leaving around 6:45 pm. We had to come down from the entry way (road #1), then take a road to the main connecting road (#2), and then connect again with the low-speed highway leading up to the freeway (road #3). It was on road #2 that we met this weird driver.

We came to a row of five cars in front of us, with a red car (a Toyota Corolla) in front of us. This is the driver that was driving erratically.

For you see, he was holding up all the cars behind him. He was driving 5-10 minutes below the speed limit the entire time, and I could tell that each of the three cars in front of me were frustrated. They kept pulling out to pass but couldn’t because of the double-lines preventing passing, and winding roads that don’t provide enough visual range to see if it’s safe to pass.

This guy would speed up and slow down, speed up and slow down. He did this over and over. I kept having to tap my brakes again, as did all the cars in front of me. Eventually the row of four cars behind him became a row of 8 cars behind him.

And he continued to go below the speed limit, and continued to cause everyone behind him to tap his brakes.

Now, this road to Mt. Rainier is a winding road and it’s hard to pass, but there are lots of places to pull over. It’s a touristy area and a hiking area so there are lots of places to park on the side of the road, or pull over if you’re moving slowly. This is on either side of the road.

This guy passed 10 different pullouts on the side of the road, and pulled out into exactly zero of them. He was clearly 100% oblivious to the fact that he was being a bad, inconsiderate driver. He just kept driving along, driving poorly, causing the rest of us to keep second guessing what he was going to do next. When I go slow, I will pull over and give other drivers a chance to pass. Not this guy, he just kept right on going, dangerously holding up the flow of driving with his erratic style.

This continued for about 20 miles. Maybe even 25.

Finally, finally we hit a clear stretch. The first car passed. The second one did, too. Then the third. Then we passed. And all the cars behind us, too. I didn’t get a good look at the driver because I was focusing on passing him, I accelerated a lot because as I said, it’s not easy to pass on this road.

After we settled back into our lane, everything went much smoother. We travelled at a much higher speed but it was much safer; there was no slow down and speed up, and there was no brake tapping. I wasn’t worried about crashing into the car in front of me anymore, I could actually concentrate on driving instead of wondering why the lead car was so bad at this task.

It was so much better. I calmed down and breathed a sigh of relief.

So that’s what we did yesterday.

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The past few days, we’ve had a chunk of home repairs or upgrades that we’ve had to look at. It’s basic maintenance but it also needs to be done:

  1. Dead car battery – A couple of weeks ago I left the lights on in one of our cars. This car does not go “ding, ding, ding” when you leave them on and take the keys out of the ignition, a serious design flaw. But to be fair, the car is a little old (so why don’t we upgrade it?).

    Anyhow, I successfully gave it a jump start a couple of weeks ago but this past week it was completely dead. No jump starting would help. Rather than have it towed and bring it to a garage to change it, I decided I was going to change it myself. I looked it up on the Internet and it seemed straightforward. I headed down to the store, had the staff get me the correct battery, then went home to change it. I took of the cables, unscrewed the various pieces screws holding it together (and wished I had a socket set), swapped in the new battery, refastened everything, tested it and it worked! Success!

    I was proud of myself.

    I then took the old battery back to the store where I got the new one wherein they gave me a refund of $20.

  2. Analysis of a bathroom upgrade – The wife wants to redo the bathroom in our bedroom; I hesitate to call it the master bathroom because it’s not big. We had a guy come this past weekend and take a look at it, getting an estimate of what it would take to replace the shower and maybe change out the mirrors (and subsequently change the sink/structure the sink is in).

    After we had him take a look at the main bathroom about changing the tiling in the tub (and possibly changing the tub), and we also had him look at the downstairs bathroom which is the smallest of all. We’re thinking (but not seriously[?]) about putting in a fuller bathroom, maybe just a shower, so if we ever want to do AirBNB with our house, the basement could be entirely self-contained if we also put in a toaster, microwave, and sink.

    This project is expensive, it’s not at the top of the list.

  3. Yet another plumbing problem –  We discovered today that we had a drainage problem in our house. When the tub in the main bathroom would run for only a few moments, the kitchen sink (not bathroom sink) would start to back up. Uh oh. I surmised that the two go to a common drain, but since the kitchen sink is lower than the bathroom tub, when it backs up it is the first to see the backed up water.

    I hate plumbing problems because nothing I ever do works. I took the kitchen drains off and ran a 20-foot snake all the way as far as it went and tried cleaning it out. I withdrew it, reattached the pipes, and ran the tub. Nope, still backed up. I had to call a plumber.

    He came and ran his professional snake, attached to a machine, and cleaned it out. We did some testing with the tub and a bunch of water backed up, spilling water everywhere. Oops. He ran it again and this time it worked. $217 and an hour-and-a-half later, the drain works fine.

    This process of me trying it first and not working, and then having to call a plumber, is the same thing that happened before a couple of years ago. I don’t know why the pipes clog like this, but clog they do.

  4. Yard cleanup – We don’t always do a great job of maintaining the back yard. It tends to get overgrown with weeds and stuff. It’s a job I don’t enjoy doing, and the problem is that if I did do it, it hurts my back. Hours of desk job work has made my upper back, neck, mid-back, shoulders, and lower back susceptible to pain. I know when I have to rake leaves, I feel it in my hips after a while.

    So, we had the yard people come a couple of times, do a mediocre job, and remove all of the junk. I don’t know what the charge for this was but it’s several hundred dollars.

  5. Yard prettying up – Hot on the heels of #4, we recently had some landscapers come and lay mulch down. Mulch, if you don’t know what it is, is a bunch of wood-chip like material that you can lay down around the dirt parts of your grounds. It adds “character” to the look of your house so it doesn’t look so unkempt.

    We had it put in a couple of weeks ago, and it actually looks pretty good. I’m happy with this. I don’t know what the charge for this was either, but it’s several hundred dollars, too. Somewhere between one and two thousand.

  6. Replacing the back fence – Last November during a windstorm, two panels of the fence between the back neighbor fell down. The panels next to that had fallen down two years prior. The neighbor and I decided to leave it for a few months and finally revisited it this past month (or was it June? I forget). Anyhow, rather than replace only those panels, we decided to replace the entire fence to improve its total lifespan.

    Several hundred dollars later and this job is done, too.

  7. Repaving the driveway – The wife is not satisfied with the quality of the asphalt on our driveway. I will admit that compared to some of our neighbors, it doesn’t look that good. It’s cracked in some places, but overall is in okay shape. We had someone take a look and give us an estimate of how much it will cost to repour to make it look nice. The estimate came back at $12,000 or so. Ergo, we’re putting that off.

Those are all the things we did just in the past month. But earlier in the year, we had a couple of other things looked at:

  1. Replace the insulation in the attic – We redid the insulation in the attic, basically doubling the thickness. We also had some insulation in the garage removed because it was falling down. That ran us about $3500. We thought that it would make the house a lot warmer and lower the heating bill, but I didn’t notice that much difference.

  2. Looked into solar panels – Solar panels are becoming more and more popular in the US due to the drop in how much it costs to install them, increases in efficiency, and tax credits you get for installing them. Even though Seattle is rainy for several months a year, it’s sunny in the summer and parts of the fall. And it’s not like we get no sunny days in the winter. During the summer, you can sell back any extra energy you generate back to the power company so over the course of the year, your electric (but not gas) bill can become almost even… even in Seattle. Of course, that’s not the most likely scenario but it’s possible to lower your bill.

    We had someone come in and analyze our house, and it’s not an ideal candidate. You need a house with a roof that is primarily south or west facing. Ours is mostly east/west, but not enough west to make it cost efficient at this time.

    So, that was out.

  3. Got another couch – We decided it was time to get a new couch. The wife and I search high and low for a new one and we finally found one we liked. I think it could have been better (we’re looking for a place like that AirBNB we stayed at in Krakow, Poland; and Vienna, Austria) but this one is good, too.

    We thought we were going to get rid of the old couch, but never did. We ended up keeping it and putting it in a different place in the living room.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some other stuff, too, but you can see we’ve been making strategic upgrades the place we are living. I still feel like we have a long way to go. I used to think that we were a couple of deadbeat residents of the house we live in, but now that I look it over I see we’ve done quite a bit.

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For many years, the wife and I have lived in Seattle and sweated it out during the summer. You may think “Are Seattle summers hot enough to need air conditioning?”

For many years, the answer was no. Seattle does get hot summers (30 degrees Celsius) for 1, 2, or even 3 weeks at a time. But for years that wasn’t that common. Most people in Seattle just lived with the discomfort because summers didn’t get that hot and it didn’t last all that long. Furthermore, for ourselves, we lived in the ground floor of a condo and that stays a lot cooler anyway.

Well, a couple of years ago we moved into the house we’re living in now. That was in September and I noticed that it was warm. The next year, 2014, was too hot. Our bedroom is upstairs and we had to sleep with a fan on all night because it was too hot there. Then, in 2015, it was just as bad and the entire summer I threatened to get an air conditioner but we never did. I figured we could tough it out, and we did. But it sucked.

Well, this year, this past May, we got a portable air conditioner from Costco. It’s a big and heavy thing, and you have to vent it out the window. But, we took it upstairs and while it’s a bit loud, it works great.

Seattle didn’t really have warm weather this year for long stretches until the third week in July. We were thinking to ourselves “Yeah, we got this $450 air conditioner and it’s not even hot.”

Well, it’s hot now. And we do use it, and it’s fantastic. I say to wife “Why didn’t we do this earlier? I don’t want to have to sweat so much!”

Because we bought it two months ago, we were prepared for the hot summer weather when it came. We planned ahead on that one.

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Well, this is weird.

For many months now, after we got our new cat Esmerelda (Zelda), our first cat Ruby has hissed and growled at her. Over time she got better such that they could be near each other so long as Zelda stayed out of her face, but Ruby would never go over to Zelda first. Instead, she’d be like “You can stay over there and that’s fine. But breach the line and you’ll get a beating!”

And so it’s been that way for a while.

But recently, Ruby has been treating Zelda differently. She’s been invading Zelda’s space and not growling, beating, or whacking her. In fact, the other day, Zelda was looking out the window and Ruby walked up and sat down beside her, 1/4 inch away. After a while she got up and walked around the room, and then returned to the window. She sat down next to Zelda and was touching her!

I was shocked.

I took a picture (see below).

I don’t know what these cats are up to, but I don’t trust them.

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The two cats of ours – Ruby and Esmerelda – are a couple of sleepy heads, like all cats are. But the two of them have different habits.

Both cats will sleep in the bedroom at night. However, Ruby (the fuzzy orange one) will usually sleep on a chair off to the side and will jump onto the bed in the middle of the night and sleep by my feet. She loves to sleep by my feet. She doesn’t put up with movement, though. If I nudge her or roll around, she jumps off. She says “NO MOVING!” That one has no patience for anything else.

Esmerelda (Zelda), by contrast, likes to sleep between either me or the wife. Or, sometimes she’ll sleep on me, or sometimes on the wife. Most days when I wake up, Esmerelda is on the bed between us, frequently all stretched out. Ruby, on the other hand, is only sometimes on the bed.

The one thing that they both have in common is that they like to sleep on me from time to time. Ruby will only sleep by my feet, but Zelda will sleep on my lap. When we first got Zelda, Ruby would steer clear. But now, so long as Zelda stays out of her face, Ruby will tolerate her just fine.

Sometimes in the middle of the night Zelda will get a whacking and I’ll wake up, but for the most part it’s okay.

They both like being our cats.

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Introducing Esmerelda!

As I type this, I have one cat sitting in my lap and the other one sitting by my feet.

We have a new cat!

Esmerelda! Or Zelda for short.

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We got her in December, and at the time she was 3 months old, according to her papers. She seems to be quite a large cat for 4 1/2 months old (the age she is now), we’re hoping that she doesn’t get too big.

When I went down to the cat shelter to pick up a kitten, I had five criteria:

  1. Preferably a female cat (male cats spray unless you fix them early but even then… and I wanted to cut down the risk)

  2. Short haired cat so we don’t have to get her shaved every 3-4 months the way we do for Ruby

  3. Couldn’t be a black cat on its lower body so if it ever gets poop stuck on, it’s easy to see

  4. Couldn’t be a fraidy cat

  5. Needed to be a kitten so we could work with it (nothing against older cats, but the ones we looked at weren’t suitable for Ruby because we wanted her to be able to play with the new cat)

Esmerelda fit all of those criteria. In fact, she was the only kitten there that did. The others were either the wrong color, wrong gender, or wrong length of hair.

The cat shelter had a profile of her when I picked her up, and it said she was Vocal (completely true), Active, Playful, Likes behind held (completely true), and Needy (unbelievably true). The description said that she likes to be near your face, and she would climb all over her littermates if that’s what it took to get there.

When I first took her home, the first couple of days she walked around the house meowing. But since then she has calmed down as she has adjusted to her surroundings.

Ruby, on the other hand, did not have an easy adjustment. As a matter of fact, she did nothing but growl at her, and hiss, and swat. In fact, the first day or two, I couldn’t even pet or touch Ruby without first washing my hands or changing my clothes. She hated her that much.

Over time, Ruby has grudgingly accepted her presence, sort of. Ruby is still friendly and her usual curious self whenever Esmerelda is not around. But when she is around, she wants her to keep her distance otherwise Ruby will hiss or swat. In other words “Stay out of my face!”

The below picture is blurry (my phone is not great), but it’s taken one second after Ruby laid a swat down on Zelda. Whack! Whack! Whack!

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Zelda loves playing with Ruby, but the feeling is not mutual. Here, Zelda is throwing her paws at Ruby and Ruby is swatting back, hissing and growling.

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Ruby does seem to have a case of bipolar, however. There are many times when the two of them will touch noses and walk away with nothing happening. Indeed, they can sit side-by-side sometimes and co-exist just fine. The below picture, one cat is in a box. There are a couple of inches away from each other, but the box extends forward (due to the angle you can’t see it) so they can’t see each other.

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Ruby also does play with Zelda. They’ll chase each other up and down the hall, with Ruby hissing the whole way. She also pounced on Zelda one day, realized she was too close and inhaled her smell, then growled, hissed, and jumped away (she freaked out Zelda with her pounce; but freaked herself out, too).

But Zelda also loves to sleep near Ruby, at least when they are on the bed or the couch (and one of me or the wife is there, too). Here’s the two of them where Zelda crawled up to her and started to sleep. Ruby wasn’t happy, but she was also too lazy to move. If Zelda gets any closer, Ruby hisses or growls, and then jumps away. Or swats.

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So you see, they can co-exist. Ruby is kind of grumpy and ornery half the time when Zelda is around, but the other half she is okay. When Zelda is not around, Ruby more or less reverts back to her old self.

Zelda loves to sit on me, especially when I am trying to eat at the table. She definitely meets the definition of needy.

So, that’s what has bee up at our house over the past few weeks.

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Our cat Ruby is a smart cat.

This past year, we started letting the cat sleep in our bedroom overnight. The wife finally broke down and let her do it. Previously, we (mostly the wife) used to kick the cat out overnight and let her in the next morning. But not anymore.

The reason she kicked the cat out is because sometimes (frequently) during the middle of the night, or early in the morning (5 am to 6 am) the cat would jump onto the bed and walk across our heads, waking us up. The wife would say “Ruby! Stop it!” and boot her out.

But now, the cat doesn’t do that anymore.

Instead, the cat has figured something out.

For you see, what the cat does is sleep on the chair across from our bed. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that she goes in and out of our bedroom overnight to eat. But she doesn’t jump on the bed randomly anymore asking for food.

At first, what she started to do was come to my side of the bed around 7:15 am and meow right by my head, waking me up. She wouldn’t go over to the wife, only to me because she figured out that I get up first.

Now, she stopped doing that. What she does instead is wait until the alarm on my phone goes off. When that happens, she jumps on the bed and walks by my head (the wife’s too). Often, I hit snooze on the phone. When it goes off again 9 minutes later, the cat meows and jumps on the bed again, saying “Get up!” In effect, she has figured out that the phone alarm means that I will get up, so she encourages me to get up, come downstairs, and feed her.

And I usually do.

So now, she doesn’t jump across our heads as much in the middle of the night like she did before. Instead, she is learning to be much more effective in getting us (me) to move.

Smart cat.

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