Every puddle a book, every turd a story

The Whizzers of Oz…
Puddles and turds, oh my…

Such explorers dogs are… Every time the red heads leave the Endurance for a walk, Pepita dashes out, reading the neighborhood nose to ground. Someone aptly coined the expression “reading the newspaper” and that’s exactly what she does.

Reading the paper
Reading the paper

Hmmm. A middle-aged shepherd mix with a diet slightly too high on protein, suffering from abandonment anxiety and an imperceptible limp in the right hind leg, stopped right here 6 days ago. His owner feeds him table scraps at times, real refried beans mashed in bacon grease, not the canned stuff. But the dog food itself is mostly dried stuff, from a poorly sealed bag making it too soft.

All this and more from a desiccated turd on a sun burnt patch of grass. Sherlock Holmes got nothing on this hound. Much like people have done on the Internet, dogs who never see one another communicate without really interacting, but absolutely need their olfactory landscape like we do good books and foods.

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At the Lime Ridge open space, Pepita stopped dead in her tracks. Could it be? This patch of dead grass around this fire hydrant..! Oh the rich, full characters, their histories,diets and desires! The stories may well be familiar, but they offer all the comfort and affection of a certain edition of “the Count of Monte Cristo” with just a touch of excitement.

You must remember this,
Louis Armstrong was misinformed,
A piss is more than just a piss…

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Caturday: Gimme shelter

Something a little different for this edition of Caturday, wherein we transform the Endurance into more of a shelter…

Well, we weren’t ready, really. We figured that once the crew of the Endurance diminished through -ahem- natural attrition (old age), we could consider the addition of a canine member to the 26 foot craft. Naturally, life works on a different schedule. I was at work a few days ago when I heard dispatch over the radio directing people to an area East of the property pronto. I was third to arrive and found out someone had disposed of a puppy in a dumpster. Yeah, that was about as bad as it sounds.

The infamous recycling dumpster
The infamous recycling dumpster

Whatever their reasons might have been, this was on Labor Day and the trash was going to be picked up early, so it’s not hard to imagine what might have happened if someone had not reported seeing it happen from a distance and called us when they did.

The three of us debated what to do for about six minutes. Four minutes in, the question was who does the pup go home with? Texts were sent, calls placed, and I drew the short straw. Rode the motorcycle thirty miles back to the Endurance, picked up Rudha-an and the Lander, drove back to work and picked up the scared little beastie. The nugget, as we got to call her at first, is a pretty healthy looking Daschund-Beagle mix with a red coat.

The Nugget, as we called her at that point
The Nugget, as we called her at that point

First thing we ordered was a crate, so she and the catonauts could walk around without… Cross-cultural misshaps. A harness and leash allow us to take her for walks, and on those days when temperatures rise above 100 degrees, we pile up in the Lander for a short drive to our local arboretum.

Yes, this is Rudha-an and the pooch at the arboretum
Yes, this is Rudha-an and the pooch at the arboretum

There, the nugget can romp on the shady patches of grass, track through dead leaves and all that good stuff while we keep an eye out for snakes and other dogs. We also started basic obedience training, especially since we found out at the vet that she is neither spayed nor chipped.
After that, we had to find her a name and settled on Pepita, the “little pumpkin seed”, and on those days when the yipping and rambunctiousness get to be a bit much, PITA for short.

Pepita taking a rest after going for a walk
Pepita taking a rest after going for a walk

Naturally, this has been somewhat of a shock to the system for the pointy eared people, who originally executed a strategic retreat under the couch.
By now, they spend more time lounging in view, on the back of the couch or at a window, and occasionally onto the bed when Pepita is in her crate. Tito is much less disturbed than the other two. He has come as close to withing two feet from the pup despite her growling. Tito moves slowly, isn’t fluffed up and doesn’t tense up in fear when we pick him up. By now he is the one she is most accustomed to seeing, and I think he will be key in bridging “cultures”, our ambassador Tito.

Front to back, Tito, Titanescu, and Miss Jenny
Front to back, Tito, Titanescu, and Miss Jenny

Despite the original protests (Attica! Attica! Attica!) all the cats are managing to eat, drink and continue to use the litter box. As for Pepita, she hasn’t had an “accident” indoors, managing to do her business during one of her walks.

This will take time, just as the cats were still getting used to life in the trailer, but we can cautiously say so far, so good.

Miss Jenny and Titanescu having a snuggle
Miss Jenny and Titanescu having a snuggle

Tito spent a couple hours sleeping under covers in bed with me yesterday, while Jenny parked in her spot on the pillows between my head and the wall.

Titanescu comes out more often as well, but wants nothing to do with “собака” (the dog) yet. She barks, he hisses. Still, “war is more than just a bark away” at this point…


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John Muir’s farmhouse in Martinez, CA

I’m one of those people who posts or more often re-posts pictures of beautiful scenery on Facebook, from National Parks to gardens and villages in bucolic settings. In fact these pictures are everywhere to be found, from web pages to commercials, because truth be told we can’t get enough. They are just about as universal as John Muir’s name and yet, many people do not connect it to the man and his legacy. Maybe it is this familiarity with the name that is partly to blame for this ignorance.

John Muir
John Muir
John Muir's home located in Martinez, CA. It was built by his father-in-law, Dr. John Strentzel
John Muir’s home located in Martinez, CA. It was built by his father-in-law, Dr. John Strentzel

I read yet another article today about oceans’ levels rising as a result of climate change, which included two videos depicting such changes as Icelandic glaciers melting and oceans’ temperature changes over the course of the last fifteen years. I’ve got a pocket French dictionary somewhere that I bought almost exactly forty years ago. Fifteen years. Some social mores don’t evolve that fast.

In the midst of one of the cruelest fire seasons, and before another El Nino reshapes the aftermath, I am still  optimistic about what conservation efforts at every level will achieve. Almost 120 tears ago outside his house in Martinez, Muir planted a Sequoia sapling which has been suffering from a vascular disease caused by a fungus. But while it may eventually perish, the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive successfully cloned it to ensure its re-incarnation when the time comes.

The giant sequoia (tallest tree) planted by John Muir near his home.
The giant sequoia (tallest tree in photo) planted by John Muir near his home.

The same goes for great ideas, great notions such as those Muir worked hard at expressing. I think one of his greatest notions had to do with his own path. He chose to do what he loved and became a major voice for conservancy, heard well beyond these borders. He could well have been successful exploring industrial pursuits and accumulated wealth, but ultimately his chosen works benefited many more people, in ways some haven’t yet discovered.

Rudha-an here is a slideshow of the rest of the site.


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Caturday: learning how to cat

Miracles of miracles, Titanescu continues to grace us (occasionally and when the stars are properly aligned) with grooming and purrs. It’s a low sound, somewhat uneven and with breaks in-between, an unfamiliar language to him like broken English.

You can hear it in the evening mostly when ambient noise is low, making  me wonder if he manages to purr now and then throughout the day without us hearing. It’s so quiet you can’t feel it as you pet him. Although truth be told, you have to pet Titanescu very lightly. And only in certain spots. The rest of him is a mine field.

But he does like to rub his cheeks on hands and fingers, even grabbing a hand with a surprisingly strong paw to do so. On a more serious note, we are watching him very closely for potential signs of dementia: the other night, he sat on the table where Rudha-an was working on TARS (her laptop), when without warning, cobra-like, he lunged twice and bit her head. Why? No reason. What movie is playing through his head?

And hey, here’s something else he’s discovered: how to be extra annoying in the morning demanding noms. He’s found a hollow partition next to Rudha-an’s pillow set, and he hits it repeatedly with his (again: surprisingly strong) paw making it sound like someone was pounding at the trailer…
Whatever is going on, that cat has real style. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

Titanescu attempting to do the sexy stretch
Titanescu attempting to do the sexy stretch
Miss Jenny
Miss Jenny
Tito
Tito


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Caturday: we’re nearing Fall

Lately, Titanescu has been staking his claim for my lap and attentions more and more firmly. He will not let either Tito or Jenny come near once he’s settled next to me on the bed. It’s a pain at times, but I feel he’s making up for a lifetime of denied affection and confirmed betrayal, having been returned twice after failed adoptions. Wonder what’s it like to be him?

I don’t know, but for some reason, this brought up some thoughts about what it felt like to lose our Burmese, The Boober and our Sphynx, Mazuzu Whang (Kitsy) to disease. That choking, gut-wrenching sorrow without a name. I think there came a time for them when they were ready to go and I know this brought me back, I was going to say ‘reduced’, to childhood with all its uncertainties.

The Boober
The Boober
Mazuzu Whang aka Kitsy
Mazuzu Whang aka Kitsy

But one thing I know without a doubt: while we use generic terms of affection such as kneading, bunting, head-bonking and cheek rubbing each cat does it in their own personal way. And each one of us knows those subtleties are only shared with one human. For myself, what made me break down saying goodbye wasn’t regret, it was being unable to take away their pain any other way. The Boober’s last days, he was unable to sleep on the bed period, and I tried sleeping on the kitchen floor to get close to him. He would come over and try to settle next to me but then the racking cough would start and he would keep pacing restlessly. He couldn’t purr without starting to cough painfully.
Mazuzu, Kitsy, was continuing to waste away,most of his personality seemingly gone, all his energy spent listlessly trying to keep alive.

After all they gave and showed, all I could do was to pet them on the steel exam table until they stopped breathing. No miracles. But no betrayal either.The comfort may be the certainty they knew they were loved, perhaps it’s not all that bad.

Now here are the pointy eared people

Titanescu

Miss Jenny
Miss Jenny
Tito
Tito


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Caturday: the look of love

It’s true I like talking about Titanescu’s grumpiness and occasional slap-fest, but I also enjoy our cats’ expressions of affection, which are many.  Tito loves to press against us with his forehead, and I’ve had him settle on my lap many times, kneading his way to sleep.
Often, he’ll want me to stand right next to him at his food bowl, just so his butt contacts my leg as he eats, as though he wants me to look over him when he does.

I also often pick him up and he rubs his cheeks allover my face with a low purr.
Tito has just begun playing fetch again, a sure sign he’s getting more comfortable in the trailer. He is perched on the back of the sofa slow-blinking at me as I type.

c Tito

Miss Jenny still spends most of her time under the couch, but comes out to greet me when I get home, her tail twitching and her half-closed eyes staring at me.  In the morning, part of her begging routine also includes her rubbing her cheeks against my face and licking my head while purring loudly. I also occasionally get love-bites on the skull.
Without rodents readily available, I sometimes find the odd cat toy she leaves for me on my side of the bed by the pillow. Between Jenny and Tito, we sometimes have “trill-fests”, vocalizing at each other happily.

b Jenny

As to Titan, he’s been displaying his affections more since the move, mostly in the way he welcomes me back from work, rubbing against my legs, raising his head to meet my hand for scritches and rubbing his cheeks against fingers. He’ll also perch on the middle level of the cat tower to get pettings, but ONLY on the top of his head or his cheeks.
Speaking of cheeks, he often pauses before going under covers at night, with his butt inches from my face and his bunny tail raised up to give me the wink. And he doesn’t paw furiously at the blankets any more when he wants under.Now he just stands there patiently, or lightly digs at me. He likes to take hold of an arm or a hand and groom it before going to sleep with his head on it.

c Titan


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Breaking orbit: the Lander’s maiden run

Research paid off. It paid off by making the quest for a new vehicle much simpler and affordable. Once we decided on the attributes we needed, the features and niceties would just be icing on the cake so to speak. I’ve never been a fan of SUVs but there is one thing they helped improve, at least in my opinion, and that is useable inside space.

Our Mercury had a lot of room out front and in the trunk. But leg room in the back seat was airline tight. Vehicles such as the Honda Element and the Scion Xb, which came after the SUV craze of the 90’s, are limos by comparison to the Merc: you can easily cross your legs without touching the back of either front seat. As compact as these cars are on the outside, they are rangy where it matters.

Other than usable space, other parameters we used were:
– Reliability
– Economy
– Functionality (with an eye towards the comfort and safety of the Catonauts)
But I won’t bore you with what brands and models we put on our short list… A few days ago, Rudha-an put together a list of local dealers to visit based on the size and variety of used inventory.

At the end of a long day, we almost passed on the last dealer. As it happens, that is where we found our “Lander One”, a Mazda CX-7. Appropriately, I thought, the brand’s name is derived from a deity’s: Ahura Mazda, god of wisdom, intelligence and harmony in ancient Western Asian civilizations.
Just as Mercury, god of communication, business and travelers, inspired the other car brand.

Mazda 004

From there, differences are notable and interesting: while both vehicles weigh nearly the same, close to 4000 pounds, the Mazda’s engine is half that of the Mercury. a 2.3 liter four cylinder motor, versus a 4.6 liter V8. The Mazda moves its mass with help from a turbocharger and a six speed automatic transmission. With the rear seats folded down, its cargo capacity exceeds the Mercury’s. In terms of economy, the Mercury had better gas mileage on the freeway as long as it was flat. But the Mazda’s more frugal in town and combined driving. It also fit well within our budget limit of $10.000 or less.

Mazda 001

As for insurance, full coverage cost us hundreds less than what we were quoted for a Hyundai Sonata sedan of the same year.
We expect several years of service out of it.

Mazda 002

It also has a moon-roof, which comes in handy when my head gets too big…

We took the Lander on its maiden trip up Mount Diablo, a very scenic drive requiring some concentration due to tight turns on narrow roads, shared with the occasional pick up truck and bicyclist. It performed flawlessly, being easier to handle on its shorter wheelbase and tighter turning radius, as well as its excellent brakes and suspension. Mission Control approves, and we expect the Catonauts to do the same.

Mazda 005

What a view
What a view

And we found it in one day..!


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Caturday: black is the new orange

A very cool thing happened last weekend while Titanescu cuddled up to me. He likes to sleep with us and “drape” his upper body on an arm to soak up warmth. But last Sunday night, while he was close enough to lick my  forehead, I heard him purr for the first time.
It was low, uneven and lasted for less than half a minute, but we now know he can actually purr..!

Gratifying and wonderful as it is, there are other ways in which he shows us how comfortable he is here. The way he soaks up sunlight and enjoys a light breeze in his fur at the screen door, the way he spends several minutes rubbing against my ankles when I return from work, or the way he demands to be fed, especially in the morning.

We’re more and more familiar with the Marshal’s voice. There’s always been  trampling, pawing, some biting and hitting, but lately there are also  commands delivered not in a plaintive tone like Miss Jenny’s, or Tito’s happy “Mee!” sounds.  It sounds like this:

Вы…
Вы. Вставай.
Прогулка в кладовую настоящее . Сделай это.
Перейти к кладовой , получить две банки . Не один, два .
Слейте первый банку в моей чаше , я получудругой рядом .
Получить. До .

You…
You. Get up.
Walk to the pantry now. Do it.
Go to the pantry, get two cans. Not one, two.
Empty the first can in my bowl, I’ll get to the other next.
Get. Up.

If you disappear in the bathroom, he’ll try to pull it off its hinges like he did yesterday morning when Rudha-an decided on a pit stop BEFORE filling his bowl.

Is it because living in a smaller space brings up prison – I mean shelter behavior?

Another thing. Perhaps someone will have suggestions for treats to give Titanescu, something tasty maybe, but I don’t think he’s ever getting catnip again, unless by accident. We relented after giving some to Jenny, and as soon as he snorted some, the old P&P reared its ugly head: Paranoia and Psychosis turned him into a hissing and striking cobra, foul spit and all.

Now, sure, most of the time he is content to cuddle and get scritches, especially when we have company (funny, that). We know he can be a sweet cat, and that he is capable of purring.
But we have also seen the other side of the Black Rainbow.

Now it’s time for the pointy eared people to shine.

Tito in the window. He likes to watch the birds
Tito in the window. He likes to watch the birds
 Miss Jenny wasn't interested in the photo session.
Miss Jenny wasn’t interested in the photo session.
Titan and his stinkeye soaking up a sunbeam
Titan and his stinkeye soaking up a sunbeam

Ah, yes. Love nips from a cheetah


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Requiem for a car: Mercury dropping

Our Mercury Grand Marquis is finally being retired after six years of service and exploration. A mechanical vessel of a bygone era, a sturdy vehicle short on electronics but safe and comfortable. It’s been argued it was too big a vehicle for the dense, hostile environments of the San Francisco Bay Area, but smaller cars don’t fare any better.

The Mercury in better times
The Mercury in better times

While the Mercury was parked on the street, the driver side front marker light was hit. This was fixed. It happened again within 6 months. This time, we let it be and I patched up the damage with aluminum tape. One night, a hostile life-form (an angry homeless dude) ambled down the street kicking cars. The result: dented rear passenger side door. But the worst came after Saint Patrick’s day…

This lovely shot is brought to you by idiots that don't know how to parallel park.  This is round two for this part of the car.
This lovely shot is brought to you by idiots that don’t know how to parallel park. This is round two for this part of the car.
Right above the door handle is where the angry homeless guy kicked it. We got lucky. The other cars lost side mirrors to go with the dents.
Right above the door handle is where the angry homeless guy kicked it. We got lucky. The other cars lost side mirrors to go with the dents.

All holidays are just an occasion to get good and drunk, evidently. Aside from erratic drivers running red lights, swerving and speeding, even parking carries its own risks. About four blocks from our apartment, one street has a particularly odd parking configuration: perpendicular to the curb one side, parallel on the other. The Mercury was hit there on the past, which left a crease on the driver side front wheel well. But can lightning strike twice in the same place, really?

Since the crease was vertical, it was probably a small pickup that hit it.
Since the crease was vertical, it was probably a small pickup that hit it.

Well, I should have known better after what happened to the marker light. The drinking does not start on Saint Patrick’s day. It starts before, spikes during and slowly returns to usual levels of consumption after.

I found an impact on the front of the car that was bad enough to push the body  panels, right front fender and hood, out of alignment. I would need a pry bar to open the hood and then, I’d probably be unable to get it shut again.

The final hit. You can see that the corner of the hood is lifted off kilter.
The final hit. You can see that the corner of the hood is lifted off kilter.

This was three months before our move out of San Francisco, just as the Endurance program planning was ramping up. The check engine light was coming on intermittently because of a bad valve, the brake light was on permanently, probably because the rotors were not turned at the shop. Not dangerous but annoying.

Bear in mind, we had not yet really begun the search for the Endurance, nor the search for a place to dock it. We had a lot of ground to cover and a damaged vehicle to do it in. Would it last?

Of course, it did. It took us to the Central Valley looking for trailers, to the East Bay looking at RV parks and shuttled our belongings to and from storage once we found the Endurance. It continued commuting to work, It did everything. In better times, it took us from Pinnacles National Monument to Yosemite, from ocean beach to mountain ridge. Now it’s time for it to return to the Universe one last time, its metal and plastic separating to be reformed and perhaps see the road again. I hope so.

Farewell you good old car. Farewell
Farewell you good old car. Farewell

The Mercury carried the Catonauts to the Endurance, their new home. Without it… Well who knows?


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One drive through the cuckoo’s nest

Part of the planning that went into moving into a travel trailer involved a choice of vehicles. Being a borderline gear-head, that excited me. Not a lot mind, because that’d mean dealing with car salesmen but still… Our current set of wheels is not much longer for this world, thanks to San Francisco traffic and drivers who can’t park without hitting other cars, and hard. I’d been going back and forth between a car or a truck, maybe even an SUV.

At one point I had a kind of epiphany and figured a small station wagon would do us fine, and it would be a good vehicle for Rudha-an to practice driving again. I looked at second generation Saturn wagons because of price, availability, reliability, size and cargo capacity as well as fuel economy. I figured I needed something that could get up to 35 miles per gallon on the highway to keep expenses down. Quickly enough, I found one on Craigslist, on a dealer’s lot in Fremont and so, hi-ho on the way we went.

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