Archive Page 3

Baby time

Fun with cribs

The blog has been a bit quiet, because Sara and I have two crazy kids. Ashton, at 20 months, loves himself. Brennan, now 3 months, when not sleeping, drinking, and many other less pleasant -ings, does this.


Finally after 445 days, with the addition of two new bookcases…

… we are unpacked!

White stuff falling from the sky…

Followers of this blog will have noticed that there hasn’t been much to follow. So this picture may amuse you…


Almost, but not quite, snow on the ground.

… while you contemplate asking me about Mlle. Modiste, moving to Mount Hermon, preparing to be a dad, various Christmas concerts, trying to sell a house, forming a start up and how many cookies I ate at the cookie party.

Short break

After The Quaker Girl closed at the end of July, we took a long weekend in a secluded home in Midpines (near Mariposa) and Yosemite.

The only gold near the upper Merced

There wasn’t any gold in the places we were allowed to look. I think it’s just to attract the tourists.

We did, however, spend a lot of time in the hammock, the hot tub and on the couch
at the cabin.

Kwik-E-Mart out of Buzz

The Mountain View Kwik-E-Mart is expecting a new shipment of Buzz Cola on Wednesday. Squishees still available. Krusty-O status unknown.

Crowds at the Kwik-E-Mart

Italy retro-diary: day 8

We had to be up fairly early today, because after chocolate-milk-fortified breakfast I needed to retrieve the car so we could get to Panzano by noon. Given our tribulations thus far with driving, we weren’t sure how much time to allow. But as it happened, I was able to find the underground parking garage without too much trouble (though it wasn’t much more visible in the daylight) and navigate my way back to the hotel to pick up Sara and our bags. Now that we had a feel for getting in to cities, getting out was accomplished without too much drama. Here’s the secret: find a large road on the map, get to it and try very hard to stay on it. It was tricky, but we navigated a main road to the river, and then we were able to count bridges. (Mostly: we were still off by one.)

Once out of the city, the roads make a bit more sense, and we got to Panzano easily enough. There are only 3 roads in Panzano, but we still couldn’t find our B&B, the the locals pointed us in various directions. It was actually in a field, about one mile down a mud road, but Fagiolari was definitely worth finding. We checked in with the housekeeper, dropped our bags off, took a couple of photos and then went through the winding countryside to Siena for the rest of the day.

Our bedroom with the ‘cat window’ at Fagiolari.

Siena is almost like a smaller, quieter Florence. It doesn’t have the big draws, and is very compact, but does have a dimished tourist presence, which was welcome. Using our ever-improving knowledge of driving, we picked one of the many diversely orientated “Centro” arrows to follow and crossed our fingers. We could tell we were getting close when we spotted lots of complicated car prohibition signs right where we wanted to go. Luckily, we found a strange parking garage in the side of a hill, and ambled into town. I say strange, because the attendants, after cheerily waving us in, handed us a number and told us to go to the second floor. All the parking spaces there had numbers, so we diddled around, could not quite get into number we were handed, so parked nearby. We figured we could use the excuse, “We’re foreign!” if questions arose. The English instructions on the ticket said to leave the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked; which we ignored.

Imagine a gigantic, steep sided dessert bowl. Now build a stone city there. That’s what we found: very narrow, very inclined, very tall streets, but opening into a wonderful semi-circular piazza in the middle. So one minute you’re walking in this maze:

The narrow streets of Siena

and the next you find your breath taken away by this.

The Piazza del Campo in Siena

We also had to compare the Duomo with Florence’s. Verdict: not as big, but the huge music books make up for it. There were four areas to see though: the dungeon (interesting discovery, but not much to see), the lower chapel, the main area (the floor was interesting) and the museum next door.

Siena's Duomo

The museum would have been interesting, but lunch was [not] pressing and there were a lot of stairs. I climbed to the top of the ruined arch to see the full spectacular view. Sara, in deference to a few hundred years of staircase advances made since construction, opted stay where the handrails were.

We took lunch on the Piazza (where else?) and had mediocre sandwiches and excellent gelato. There was a neat pen store on the way back to the car, and at the parking lot we paid the attendant, and he gave us a funny squarish coin. We found out that it operated the exit barrier, so everything worked out.

Our next foray was to Cortona. The only reason for this was because we had seen the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, and thought it might be interesting. It was, but was also very small—enough to walk around in a half hour. It was getting late, and very little was open. Not even restaurants! Cortona is perched on a rather pointy hill, so it’s streets are even narrower than Siena’s.

The (back) streets of Cortona.

Now our quest was for dinner. Basically, we drove around, mostly randomly, first towards Arezzo, then back to Siena, with the hope of finding Panzano again. Arezzo was also closed for winter, but we did find a restaurant off the main track. We think it was probably in Lucignano, but we’re not quite sure. Anyway, we managed to find the freeway from Siena to Florence, and the tiny cut-off dirt track back to Panzano, and the mud lane back to Fagiolari where we flopped into bed, exhausted.

Pilgrim 1994(?)–2007

Pilgrim arrived at a neighbor’s house around Thanksgiving in 1999. They could not find his owner, so they named him Pilgrim and asked around the houses. Pilgrim came to live with me in December of 1999.

He loved racing people up the stairs and had a disdain for cat toys other than string. When I woke up he would be stretched out along my legs. In the winter he would snuggle up inside the covers.

Over the last year he suffered gradual kidney failure, and finally became very weak. He was a good cat. R.I.P.

Springtime flowers…

Since Iolanthe closed (to great reviews, though mostly by the cast) Sara’s been busy in the garden planting flowers. So I planted a lamp post in the front yard and installed irrigation. To retalliate, she erected a gazebo in the back yard and removed the hedge. Now I have to figure out how to get more irrigation to the new flowers. It looks very pretty with the new patio furniture, which Pilgrim likes too.

Pilgrim's take on the new patio furniture (just after cast party)

We’re busy getting ready for the end of season concert with the chorale, which will be Carmina Burana (the one that always turns up in movies when something big is happening). A lot of people have sung it before so it’s already sounding pretty good. Our choir will be about 150-strong on May 11th.

I’ll post a picture of fairy wings in action, when I can find one. In the meantime, here’s 18 of them.

How would you like a pop-up fairy member?

Also, the transformer for the lamp post (24VAC) makes a high pitch whining noise at about 1kHz, and prevents the garage door from opening. To counter this I put a ferrite core around one of the wires, but with 3.5 turns it got too hot to touch! Back to 1.5 turns and it’s a little cooler, but the system is still radiating a lot of RF. I’m thinking I’ll have to find some braid and shield the cable to where it goes underground. And put the transformer in a soundproof metal box. Bwa-ha-ha!

The new lamp post guarding the new flowers

Still thinking about the yard, our cherry tree, after putting on a spectacular show, has decided that trunks are optional and so it will fall down soon. I’m hoping that the city permit I applied for a month ago will get here before someone sneezes nearby.

Bye-bye cherry tree.

Italy retro-diary: day 7

There comes a time in everyone’s vacation when one must put down the camera and go shopping. My breakfast supplemented with chocolate milk had given me great strength for my first quest: power adaptors. While most hotels in Rome had had euro-style power outlets, we were now in real Italy, where they use Italian sockets; and we were running pretty low on camera and phone juice. Sara had to sort out some sheet music with Amazon, so I ventured out through the streets of Florence.

The mobile phone store was pretty busy, but didn’t have as much as the Termini store. (And all the really neat Samsung phone were only tri-band: not great here.) I also wondered down to the Mercato to see what they had. Answer: lots, but not what I was looking for. Eventually I found a health-food-and-hardware store tucked down a tiny alley, and picked up a few adaptors.

But I had to show Sara the Mercato, so after midday we strolled the mile or so down to the market. Unfortunately, the food court had closed for the day, but the whole of the district’s streets were lined with hundreds of stalls. They sold ties, scarves, leather jackets, little leather things, and not a lot else. This lack of selection made for excellent pricing competition though, and I picked up 3 (very good quality) ties for €10, and some local scarves for gifts. Sara also picked up a smart scarf which she wore a lot; and then lead me back to the vinegar store. We spent so much money there that we had to buy a little more so that we could get the VAT tax form. It took a long time to fill in (apparently each vinegar and trinket has its own tax rate, depending on how luxurious it is) but that also gave us the opportunity to find out that the storekeeper was another ex-pat English woman (like our hotel manager). Florence seems to be a popular career destination. In the end we never used the tax form because:

  • The tax refund office in the gigantic Amsterdam Airport on the way back was tiny, with a long line.
  • You have to present the merchandise you purchased in sealed condition to the officer.
  • All liquids (i.e., vinegar) must be in checked luggage.
  • You cannot quickly uncheck checked luggage amd recheck it.
  • We had to remove the packaging to fit the stuff in our bags anyway.

So much for that. But the balsamic was excellent.

Anyway, we were tired, loaded with goodies and Sara was coming down with something, so we went back to the hotel and read. Later on I went for take out, finding a Greek hole-in-the-wall with some excellent donner kebabs (for me) and chicken & potatoes (for Sara). I’ve been in the US so long I’d almost forgotten what real donner tastes like (we only have gyros here). Mmm.

Italy retro-diary: day 6

We awoke hungry, to a brisk morning. This was our view out of the window.

View out of hotel window: Florence

In actuality, it was quite a bit prettier, because there was a balcony with potted plants and steam pipes on. The Hotel Cellai, while not quite living up to the photographs on their web site, was nonetheless a pretty neat place. And breakfast was nearly as good as in Rome, but the setting was much nicer. Since we were running a bit behind, we had the front desk call us a taxi. I had barely turned around when it arrived outside, and we jumped in to go to the offices.

Not any old office, of course, but The Ufizzi. The offices of the old Medici family, now housing a bunch of pictures, including the Birth of Venus (Botticelli), numerous Annunciations (da Vinci et al) and Madonna of the Harpies (Sarto). We dutifully wondered round, admiring the stirring artworks, and feeling much better about ourselves culturally. I should mention a tip for the off-season here: reservations are recommended during the summer, but they cost €8 at the reservations door instead of the €6.50 at the regular door. We didn’t know this until after we had trekked around the courtyard past the vacant entrance to the reservations desk and back again. We also rediscovered that monster art galleries are very hard on the feet, and this one was up a lot of stairs. The Uffizi also has the strangest and most wonderful restrooms: at the end of a long, secret basement crypt tunnel, there is an expansive marble-tiled bathroom.

Just outside was Palazzo Vecchio and the rather nifty Piazza della Signoria. It had a copy of Michelangelo’s David, as well as some sculptures of early italian baseball players and escape artists. Or something like that.

Clockwise: early Italian baseball, the Palazzo Vecchio (and David), view of the Duomo from the Ufizzi rooftop pizzaria, the Duomo entrance, Basilica d

We ate lunch in a pleasant tourist pizzeria behind the Uffizi, and despite the faces made by nearby gargoyles, quite enjoyed it. (The waiter was quite apologetic as he kept forgetting our water every time he walked past.)

Our feet were still sore from being cultured, so we ambled around and found the Duomo. I don’t think you could build a cathedral like that today: not the cost aspect, but the critics would tear it down visually before anyone could appreciate it. And it is quite a sight—if it were an html tag, it would be a <blink>. It’s impressive and subdued on the inside though: mostly empty and the antethesis of St. Peter’s gaud.

Walking slowly back, we stopped, or rather Sara stopped, at the Balsamic Vinegar store. I’ve never seen her so excited, brooding over the 6-year or 36-year vintages. Fascinating. Anyway, lured by the the tempting delights of a nap, I prised her away and back to the hotel. Well, almost. We had to stop and see the real Michelangelo’s David, now housed in a hard-to-find museum where photography was not allowed. It was the only thing really worth seeing there. Back at the hotel, I finished my prequel-to-the-next-book part of my book and investigated the ethernet cable in the lobby. It had Internet. It was good.

In the evening we wondered around town a bit, down to the river, over the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and more Piazzas. We ended up by the Mercato Centrale and ate at a cafe on the square. The only other people nearby were two Americans, who were having a great girls’ vacation in Germany, and thought it would be fun to have a day-flight to Florence. They were somewhat regretting the “one hour flight with three hour waits”, but seemed cheerful despite that, and got more cheerful as the wine went down.

Inside a hole by the road, we found a supermarket, where we discovered interesting things like healthy cereal, chocolate milk powder and Fanta. Buoyed by our fortunes, we watched the colonel give the weather report and went to sleep.