Annual New Year's Survey!

I'm a little later than usual with this survey, but I've been working on it, and I guess I'd better hurry up and get it posted before we get any deeper into 2020.

1) What did you do in 2019 that you'd never done before?
Got married! Changed my legal name! Went on a honeymoon! Got in a high-speed car crash! (Went spinning the wrong way across a freeway!) Seriously contemplated having a mastectomy! Some of these things were vastly more fun than others of these things.

2) Was 2019 a good year for you?
The first half was significantly better than the second half. But overall, yes.

3) What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?
A cancer-free year and the election of Elizabeth Warren as our next president. (Sadly, that last one is looking less and less likely by the day, so I guess I should also specify that I'll settle for Anybody but Trump. My second choice is Bernie Sanders, and my third choice is Anybody but Biden and Trump.) I might also like to buy a brand-new house, but I'm willing to hold off on that if the right one doesn't present itself. Selling my current house is pretty important though; even if we don't get around to buying a new one, I'd at least like to finish moving into Barry's current house while we shop for a better one to move into together.

I'd like to note that I did get in 2019 the most important things I was actively wishing for a year ago, including a marriage certificate and impeachment. I was also wishing for a different president, but no such luck yet on that front. (Grrrrrrr to the United States Senate.)

4) What was your favorite moment of 2019?
Holding Barry's hand while stepping out the front door of our friends' house at the moment our wedding ceremony began, when I couldn't see our family and friends properly because my eyes suddenly filled up with happy tears.

5) What was your least favorite moment of 2019?
Being informed that I had breast cancer all over again.

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Arizona! Day 4: Grand Canyon

It's time for me to hurry up and finish writing about our Arizona vacation two months ago, so I can move on to writing about other things! So here we go on Day 4, the final day.

On Tuesday morning, December 18, Barry and I woke up in the AirBnB we had spent the night at, just outside of Flagstaff. It was called the Mod Lodge. The blurb about it on the AirBnB site reads, in part, as follows:
The big red house at the base of the San Francisco Peaks contains within its walls Mudshark Recording Studios, the oldest running recording studio in Flagstaff in action since the mid 1970s. This historic Northern Arizona landmark was started by Phil Gall and has been recording local and regional artists for over 30 years! There are many tales in local folklore of visits to the studio by members of the Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead to Steve Miller and Linda Ronstadt.

It's a family's house but also doubles as a recording studio and has apparently been used by fairly prominent musicians for many decades. The original owner died recently, but the new owners are carrying on the business. The man of the house told us that he has worked for years with Tony Visconti, David Bowie's producer. Upon hearing that I'm a huge David Bowie fan, he told us some stories about Tony Visconti and some stories that Tony Visconti had told him about David Bowie. Mainly he told one story about how, in 1974, Tony Visconti and David Bowie and John Lennon were together in a room (John Lennon was a guest songwriter/backing vocalist on David Bowie's song "Fame" at the time) and David Bowie warned Tony Visconti not to mention Paul McCartney because it would set off John Lennon ranting about how angry he was at Paul McCartney. But Tony Visconti had recently produced Paul McCartney's album with Wings and was really angry because Paul McCartney hadn't credited him properly on the liner notes but had just printed "Thanks, Tony," with no last name and no indication of what Tony's role had been. So Tony Visconti complained to John Lennon about Paul McCartney doing that. And then John Lennon jumped up and said he'd been working on a song that had been reminding him of when he and Paul were kids and he'd been thinking of inviting Paul to work on it with him, but now that Tony Visconti had reminded him of what a jerk Paul was, he'd decided again not to invite Paul to work on anything with him ever again. And so David Bowie told Tony Visconti, "You just prevented the Beatles from getting back together!" and continued to blame Tony Visconti forever afterward for having prevented the Beatles from getting back together.

He told us that story just before we left. I guess I'm getting a little ahead of myself, though, because I should start with when we woke up. This was the view from the enclosed patio adjacent to our room.

Mod Lodge AirBnB

Mod Lodge AirBnB

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Arizona! Day 3: OdySea Aquarium and Lowell Observatory

On Monday morning, December 17, we were still in our hotel room when Barry got a phone call from OdySea Aquarium in the desert. Barry had bought us tickets to go there on Sunday, but since the open hours listed on Google were not accurate, we did not arrive until after it was closed for the day. Barry had then inquired about whether we could exchange our unused Sunday tickets for Monday tickets. They called him back Monday morning to say yes, we could get in on Monday with our unused Sunday tickets.

So, after helping ourselves to another elaborate and delicious buffet breakfast at our hotel and packing all our stuff into the rental car (because we would not be coming back to this hotel the next night), we drove to Scottsdale to visit the aquarium. OdySea Aquarium in the Desert could equally well be called OdySea Aquarium in a Shopping Mall. It was an anchor store of a large mall. There were kids sitting on Santa's lap and kids playing in a pile of snow that had been manufactured for them with a snow machine or perhaps hauled down from Flagstaff. There was a candy shop that we walked through, though we didn't end up buying any candy. There was also a place called Butterfly Wonderland that I decided we should visit if or when we go back to Arizona again. We looked around its gift shop, but the full Butterfly Wonderland experience was quite expensive, and we didn't have enough free time to spend there to justify the money.

Mostly we just spent our time at the aquarium. We saw fish! We even petted a lot of the fish. Or at least I did. Barry is more fish-averse and only petted a couple of them. But here is Barry petting a fish.

Barry at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

And here I am petting a ray.

me at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

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Arizona! Day 2: Riparian Preserve and Superstition Mountains

Since our hotel room didn't have a refrigerator, we ended up not being able to eat the food we had brought back there from dinner at the Desert Botanical Garden; we were too stuffed to eat any more of it until the next morning, when it would no longer have been safe to eat.

The hotel did, however, serve quite a good breakfast buffet of its own. A lot of hotels claim to serve breakfast buffets but make only the minimal effort to technically qualify as providing a "breakfast" "buffet." This one did the job properly though, with everything from cereal to waffles to bagels to muffins to a choice of red or green apples, plus a wide variety of spreads (peanut butter, jelly, butter, strawberry cream cheese . . .) and beverages (orange juice, coffee, milk . . .) We were quite satisfied.

Our first stop on Sunday morning, December 16, was the next used bookstore, the Bookmans in Mesa. As at the Bookmans in Phoenix, I read some riveting first pages in the autobiography section but then tore myself away and restricted my actual purchases to the fiction section. This time I picked up three books: Intrusions by Ursula Hegi, The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls, and Miss Grief and Other Stories by Constance Fenimore Woolson. I first discovered Jeanette Walls via her autobiography, which is much in the same genre of the autobiographies I was passing over during this trip. However, I don't remember disliking her by the end of it, and in any case, what I bought by her this time was fiction. I haven't read the latter two books I got from the Mesa Bookmans, but I did read Intrusions and enjoyed it very much. Intrusions is a novel into which the author keeps intruding to tell about her experience of writing the novel, and the characters, in turn, keep intruding into the author's life. It was published in 1981, and it felt to me very much a novel of 1981, with a distinctly 1981 tone to its feminist take on the difficulty of trying to raise children and also have a career. It felt very dated and very second-wave, but it was also brilliantly written, and I greatly admired the writing skill that went into it.

This second Bookmans declined to buy any of the books that Barry hadn't been able to sell to the first Bookmans. But Barry still had store credit left from the first Bookmans and used that to buy my three books for me.

Then we went to look at Barry's childhood home in Gilbert. Barry stopped the car by the curb, and we just sat and looked at it for a minute or two. Then we moved on again. We also stopped to look at the nearby canal. Then we stopped at a CVS pharmacy to buy some bottled water in preparation for a hike.

The hike was at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. This reserve is located very close to Barry's childhood home, but it wasn't there when Barry lived there. Barry's dad said it used to be a water treatment plant back then. But now it's a scenic natural preserve with numerous ponds - though a few of the ponds were drained of water when we were there. There was a long, winding bridge over a corner of one of the ponds that allowed us to get close to the ducks gathered there.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert

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Arizona! Day 1: Desert Botanical Garden

So, Barry and I went to Arizona! We came back a month ago already, but it's taken me this long to write up the trip. And even now, I'm only writing up one day at a time from our four-day trip. The rest is coming soon . . . I hope. Wedding planning is keeping us busy! Wedding planning is now my all-purpose excuse for all delays in all things. Possibly including delays in wedding planning itself.

Barry grew up in Gilbert, a suburb of Phoenix that was somewhat out in the middle of nowhere at the time (in the '80s and '90s), but that now blends seamlessly into the Phoenix metropolitan area. He lived there until he went away to attend college at U.C. Irvine. I grew up in the Sacramento area and had never been to Arizona in my life, so we had been vaguely talking for a long time about Barry taking me to see the area where he grew up. The trip needed to happen in winter, because it is 120 °F in the Phoenix area in the summer, and we wanted to be able to walk around outside without dying of heatstroke. We had decided sometime early in 2018 that this winter would be the time for such a trip. On Sunday, November 11, as I was leaving Barry's house after a weekend we spent there together, I mentioned to Barry that I had some vacation time to use up before the end of the calendar year and that it would therefore be convenient for me if we could take that Arizona trip before the end of the calendar year - especially so I could save my 2019 vacation time for honeymooning instead.

I mentioned that in Barry's driveway, just minutes before I left. Only one hour later, when I arrived at my own house, there was an email already awaiting me from Barry in which he had already planned out our entire Arizona trip, including plane tickets, hotels, restaurants, hikes . . . he'd already worked out a detailed schedule for everything we would see and do on each day we were there. I was extremely impressed by how quickly he'd managed to plan such a detailed itinerary. Oh, and then there was the fact that his itinerary called for visiting not one, not two, but three different used bookstores in the course of our four-day trip. "They're not just any used bookstores," he insisted. They were Bookmans Entertainment Exchanges, an apparently quite important phenomenon from Barry's childhood, and it was apparently quite important to him for us to visit not only the Phoenix one but also the Mesa one and also the Flagstaff one. Clearly there are reasons why this guy is the right person for my English-major self to marry.

Barry's itinerary also called for making two separate trips to the same botanical garden on the same day - once in daylight and once after dark. Even being as much a gardener as I am, I thought this seemed a bit much. This fiancé of mine can be rather eccentric! But if Barry wanted to spend that much time with the same set of plants, far be it from me to tell him that plants are boring and we should hurry up and go do something else already. So I just told him he was rather strange and then cheerfully agreed to go along with his strange itinerary.

So, on Saturday, December 15, we got up at 5:30 a.m. to head to the airport. It was the first time I had boarded an airplane since I was thirteen . . . 29 years ago. My first taste of the post-9/11 airport experience. And once we were finally in the air, I could see the ground for more of the flight than I remember being able to do when I was thirteen. My memory of flying to Washington, D.C., when I was thirteen, is of being able to see the ground only for a short period just after takeoff and a short period just before landing; I recall the view being obscured by clouds for virtually all the middle of the country. This time, though, the skies were clear for a larger percentage of the trip. And Barry gave me the window seat so I could see as much as possible!

Here is the view from the plane window while we were still sitting on the ground at the Sacramento International Airport.

Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

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Yosemite, and We're Engaged!

Barry and I went to Yosemite for the second time this year, from October 28 to 31. A certain exciting moment happened there, which I already gave away in the title of this post, but I'm going to try to stick to narrating this in chronological order.

So, I sort of decided in advance of this trip that I really wanted to get engaged during it, and I was probably going to be pretty seriously disappointed if I didn't get engaged during it. This was obviously problematic, because setting up an arbitrary deadline that required Barry's involvement and not even telling Barry about said deadline was clearly unfair to Barry. I tried to prepare some ways I'd be able to stop myself from being disappointed, but I had a feeling I'd probably still end up feeling disappointed anyway. So, taking a different tack, I tried to give Barry some advance warning. In a way, I already had: we'd agreed about two years ago on a time frame that we both felt would be an appropriate point for getting married ("in the third year of our relationship") and we'd arrived at that time frame; we'd subsequently agreed that we both wanted to wait for our most sickly and elderly pets to die first, and they both had died; we'd discussed engagement rings and I'd picked one out and told Barry about it a month or two earlier; we'd made several preliminary house-shopping trips; and I'd asked Barry, on one of the occasions when he was at my house earlier this fall, whether - since there is significant stuff I want to do to my house before we sell it - we could get married first and deal with house buying-and-selling afterward, and he'd said yes. So all signs were that we weren't on wildly different pages. But I still hadn't gotten Barry to specify what he wanted as an engagement ring, nor had he even gotten around to figuring out what size he wears. So it was hard to see how I could prepare a magnificent proposal for him when I couldn't possibly present him with a perfect ring. Also, frankly, it's very confusing to try to subvert the patriarchy by, if you are a woman, getting down on one knee before a man. It's just a weirdly submissive-seeming position to try to claim as a feminist act, you know? So I resorted instead to just dropping an inordinate number of hints, while also feeling bad about only communicating through hints, because in general I'm a great believer in just being bluntly direct about everything so as not to run any risk of misunderstandings.

This is why, on the weekend before our Yosemite trip, when I was saying goodbye to Barry in his driveway, I mentioned to him that according to the Internet being sprayed by the mist of Bridalveil Fall is supposed to improve your chances of getting married, and suggested that maybe I should take him to Bridalveil Fall while we were there. Then I also told him that if he really wanted to get me to stop looking at houses for a while (since we weren't really ready to buy yet), getting me focused on planning a wedding would probably be the one thing that would achieve that.

"So much pressure!" Barry replied, grinning. He must have gotten the hint, because apparently it was the day after that conversation that he placed the order for the engagement ring I'd told him some weeks earlier that I wanted.

And then it was the following Sunday morning, and we were stuffing everything into Barry's truck to go to Yosemite. I had printed out a bunch of directions to all sorts of places in and around Yosemite - more places than I really thought we were likely to have time to see - as backups in case the GPS on Barry's cell phone let us down. Barry had purchased some new rectangular bins to pack our equipment into, and he took a few minutes to work out the quirks of how to stack them and lash them to his truck's ladder rack so as to maintain a clear line of sight for himself. Then we were on the road! We listened to the mix tape I'd made a few trips ago, for our trip to Howard Creek Ranch Inn in 2017, of my favorite songs from various eras of my life; and we alternated it with some podcasts Barry wanted to listen to - primarily one called My Brother, My Brother, and Me, which involves three brothers intentionally dispensing bad advice to people. We stopped in the small town of Mariposa, where I bought Barry some gas, and then we entered Yosemite via the Arch Rock Entrance. We set up camp at the site I'd reserved for us, North Pines Site 103. There was a motorhome adjacent to us on one side, which was kind of nice because the people generally stayed inside it where we didn't see them, and there was a family of four from some European country on the other side of us, with children aged about one and four years old, speaking a language that resembled German but probably wasn't quite German. The one-year-old was a bit loud for a person in general, but probably rather quiet for a one-year-old. Here is our campsite, with Barry's yellow and black bins, my camp stove, and Barry's tent.

North Pines Site 103

Our campsite was directly on the Merced River, near the bridge over the river. You can see the bridge a bit at the left side of the photo above, but you can see it better in the photo below, which shows the view from right next to our tent.

Merced River from North Pines Site 103

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Br*tt K*vanaugh

Research has repeatedly shown that ethnically and otherwise diverse teams are better than homogeneous teams at challenging each other's perspectives and thoroughly weighing all the data to arrive at the best possible decisions. (If you're not familiar with the data, run a Google search on "diverse teams research.")

The Republican Party right now is severely lacking in diversity. That is why the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee have been and still are being incredibly slow to realize they should not confirm Brett Kavanaugh. I'm still not sure whether they will figure it out in time; they may indeed go ahead and confirm him. But because they are such an all-white, all-male club, if they do confirm him, they will do so without properly grasping the full consequences of doing so.

Simply put, it is practically impossible to imagine the Supreme Court continuing to be regarded as a legitimate authority worthy of respect by anything more than 50% of the nation's population. We already have Clarence Thomas, credibly accused of workplace harassment by Anita Hill, and we already have Neil Gorsuch, whose seat should properly have gone to Merrick Garland. That these things have been, to a certain degree, accepted may lead some people to conclude, wrongly, that confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh will also be accepted, even after - what, five now? six? - reported separate incidents of him committing sexually assault. But the difference here is the critical mass to alter the decision-making. With Kavanaugh on the court, the court will be ruling in an extreme far-right way on virtually every case that comes before it. And although that would still upset every left-leaning American even if Kavanaugh were the choir boy he pretended to be on Fox News, being upset by the outcomes of court cases doesn't always lead to considering the court itself illegitimate. What will indeed lead to a good 50% of Americans considering the court illegitimate is the combination of both constant far-right court verdicts and the knowledge that at least two of the justices have been credibly accused of sex crimes plus an additional seat on the court was stolen from Merrick Garland. With all of those factors added together, it will be completely impossible for the court to retain anything resembling its former sheen of legitimacy.

Knowing this doesn't solve the problem, of course. Having 50% of Americans cease to regard the Supreme Court a legitimate doesn't somehow automatically strip the court of its legal power. But it will be a major change that the nation will have to grapple with for quite some time. And the Republican senators who will make the decision about whether to confirm Kavanaugh or not do not even see it coming.
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The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

I am now the answer to life, the universe, and everything! That started a week ago. But I've been neglecting LiveJournal for a while now, so I'm going to try to catch up a bit on the backlog before I write about birthday-related activities.

So, spring happened. I wrote about the garden tour already, but I haven't yet gotten around to posting this picture Barry took of me in his back yard in early May.

me in Barry's back yard, May 2018

In addition to all the plant reproduction that tends to happen in spring, there also tends to be quite a bit of feline reproduction in the spring. Accordingly, Barry has lately taken in a long succession of foster kittens. The first one, in June, was a grey/brown tabby who needed to be "socialized" because he was terrified of everyone. I named him Bolt, after the brown tabby in Neko Atsume, and also because, at first, he wanted to bolt away from us at every opportunity. But we successfully socialized him in no time. Here I am with Bolt.

me with Bolt, June 2018

me with Bolt, June 2018

The next one was a gray-and-white kitten whom I named Rascal, after the similarly colored kitten in Neko Atsume. Barry took in Rascal in late June and returned him to the shelter in early July. Rascal was also on the shy side at first, but not quite as shy as Bolt. He didn't initially act like a rascal, but he kind of grew into his name during his two weeks at Barry's house.

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The next two were littermates, two brothers whom Barry fostered together. These two were probably in the most desperate need of "socializing," because whereas Bolt and Rascal had initially just cowered from us, the first time I tried to pick up one of these two, I got my hand sliced up by the claws of a very panicked kitten. One of these two was a long-haired, mostly white kitten with a line of striped brown patches down his back and an eye infection that Barry needed to keep medicating. I named this one Garland, because the line of brown patches down his back reminded me of a garland. We also joked about calling him Merrick, for should-have-been Supreme Court Justice Merrick Garland, but by the end of his stay with us, I had decided instead that his full name was Sir Garland Floofkitten.

Barry named Garland's littermate Kefka, because apparently Garland and Kefka were two villains in the Final Fantasy video game series. Kefka was the more powerful villain, and this seemed appropriate to me, since Kefka was the kitten who had sliced up my hand when we first met. Kefka was mostly a brown tabby, but with white paws and a white front/underside. Kefka's tabby bits had an unusual pattern; he was a ticked tabby rather than the more common mackerel tabby.

They were both adorable, and of all the kittens Barry has fostered, these two were the ones I've been most tempted to adopt. Alas, there are no open slots for more cats in our lives, since Barry already has three cats and I have one who is already upset enough about sharing me with Barry's three.

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Speaking of Barry's cats, here are a couple of pictures of Barry's oldest cat, Jazz, on my lap.

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And just so my own cat doesn't feel neglected . . . here is Stardust.

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We also did various other stuff during the spring. We went to a friend's college graduation party; she acquired a degree in statistics from the University of California at Davis. We went to various board-game parties and to a friend's birthday party that was held in a board-game store. My mom had a birthday too, and Barry and I walked down to a creek in my parents' neighborhood with my family. We celebrated Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day and my brother's birthday. Barry cooked a bunch of meals for my family on those occasions.

And then there was my birthday. For this occasion, Barry not only cooked dinner (a Japanese dish called oyakodon, meaning "chicken-and-egg rice bowl," which went over quite well with my family of generally rather unadventurous eaters) and supplied birthday cake; he also brought a ladder and level to my parents' house and installed lights and a longer pull-chain on one of my parents' ceiling fans, used the level to straighten a tapestry that has been hanging crookedly on my parents' wall for years, and took measurements to laser-cut a decorative windowshade for the hemicircular window in my parents' bedroom, where my mom has for years been trying to block out the light with an ugly and irregularly cut piece of cardboard because she couldn't find anything for sale in the necessary half-circle shape.

And then there were the presents! Barry and I stopped by the Marysville Peach Festival on our way out of town, and Barry bought me a bottle of peach-infused honey and a bag of orange-zest-dipped cashew nuts there. At my parents' house, I received the following:

  • the YA novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (from my parents)
  • the novel Noonday by Pat Barker (from Barry)
  • the novel Sweet and Sour Milk by Nuruddin Farah (from my parents)
  • the play The Rez Sisters by Tomson Highway (from my brother)
  • the novel Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (from my parents)
  • the short-story collection How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer (from my parents)
  • the graphic novel My Boyfriend Is a Bear by Pamela Ribon and Cat Faris (from Barry)
  • the essay collection Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia by Gore Vidal (from my parents)
  • the memoir Educated by Tara Westover (from my parents)
  • one pair of red and white running socks (from my parents)
  • one pair of yellow and black running socks (from my parents)
  • one purple, grey, and pink water bottle with attached running belt (from my parents)
  • six pairs of blue and green gardening gloves (from my parents)
  • the wide-brimmed blue sun hat you'll see in photographs below (from my parents)
  • eight stretchy silicone airtight lids for pots, pans, and jars (from Barry)
  • a valve handle for my outdoor faucet that has been missing the knob to turn the water on with ever since I bought my house six years ago (from Barry)
  • a Roomba (from Barry)

So far, I've finished reading the YA novel and the graphic novel, started reading the play, drank from the water bottle, wore the hat, started up the Roomba, and eaten some of the cashews and honey. Good progress!

I scheduled a four-day weekend to celebrate my birthday. We spent Friday at the Peach Festival and my parents' house. On Saturday we packed lunches and drove to a swimming hole on Rock Creek, near the town of Storrie. This trip did not go as well as I had hoped. I had learned about the swimming hole in a book I own, which included a rock-climbing icon next to the entry for Rock Creek, but which did not say anything in the text about the swimming hole requiring difficult or dangerous climbing to get to. When we arrived, however, I was immediately intimidated. Usually I find that the easiest way to get to a swimming hole in a creek without any terribly difficult climbing is to get in upstream or downstream and wade through the creek to get to the spot I want. As long as I stay in the water, there's never any great height for me to risk falling from. But in this case, the entire width of the creek was blocked off by huge boulders, with no gaps for me to wedge between them. So the only way to cross was high up in the air. My sense of balance has never been great (I've never even learned to ride a bicycle!), and I did not have great confidence in the traction of the water shoes I was wearing.

There were three routes to choose from. The first one was a slanting rock ledge, maybe thirty feet above the ground, with some cables attached to a portion of it, and a rickety, angled wooden ladder leading down from the cables. We saw that route first. Barry looked it over and said he could probably make it but I wouldn't want to. I didn't even bother looking at that route from up very closely, but from what I saw of it, I'm pretty sure I would have felt a need for cables much sooner than the cables actually started.

A second route consisted of climbing over various boulders. Barry started to lead me along that route, but when we got to a substantial gap between boulders high over the water, he asked if I wanted to turn back, and I said yes. Again, he thought he could make it himself, but he correctly guessed that I would be more intimidated.

 The third route was another slanting, slippery rock precipice, but shorter and lower down, and without any cables. This one was about ten feet above the water, and it seemed be the favored route for six-year-olds, whose parents stood at either end or halfway along, reaching out to help them along. However much help they got, however, Barry and I both thought it was crazy to put small children at this much risk of terrible falls. And unfortunately I, being an adult, would have been much harder to catch than the six-year-olds if I fell.

Barry decided to take the cable route and see how things looked on the other side. In the meantime, I decided to stand around looking intimidated and asking people which route was the easiest. There was general agreement that the cable route was the hardest and that all of the routes were very hard. There was not much consensus about which route was the least hard.

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Feeling that all three routes were too dangerous for me, I opted to try to create a fourth route. I waded across the bit of water you can see above, to skip the slanting, slippery precipice. However, that left me at the bottom of the opposite end of the slanting precipice, with my way forward blocked by boulders. If I could have just gotten up the slant at that one spot I'd have been at the swimming hole. And there were things there for other people to hold onto, so they wouldn't be precariously balanced anymore, so I thought they would be able to help me up. But even when someone did reach down to try to help me up, it was just too steep for me to get up out of the water. So I gave up. I told the man trying to help me that I was giving up, and I asked him to pass on a message to Barry on the other side, asking Barry to come back for me. Barry received the message and became convinced I had suffered broken bones. He returned via the second route, climbing over the boulders, and was relieved to find out that I had merely chickened out and not injured myself.

Then we drove a little way back downstream to a different parking area to find a spot where the water was easier to access. My book about swimming holes mentioned this place too, but it directed us to walk on a path that we ended up deciding not to attempt, for fear of more dangerous routes. Even in the spot where we ended up stopping, we still had to ask some passersby for help at one point, when I couldn't get up a certain rock and Barry's shoes didn't have enough traction on the slippery slope for him to pull me up by himself. And somewhere along the way, I ended up pulling a rib muscle and smashing one of my toenails (my toenail has been blue ever since and will probably fall off eventually; my pulled muscle hasn't healed yet either). Although Barry was more capable of handling the climb than I was, he also regarded the routes as unappealingly dangerous and would prefer to avoid such places in the future. In short, Rock Creek is not worth ever going back to!

Nevertheless, once we finally found a safe spot to hang out, we did have quite a nice little swim. We ate our lunches by the water and then stripped down to our swimsuits. I washed out my skirt and laid it out to dry on a rock, because it had been significantly muddied when I had to slide down a steep rock on my backside. Then I floated on my back, and Barry climbed down a small waterfall and back up again. The water was not as freezing as it had been at the swimming hole on Cherokee Creek where I took him last summer, and I was pleased that he was more willing to get in the water here because of that. He still has a significantly lower tolerance of cold water than me, but this may be related to the fact that he grew up in Phoenix. I advised him that he would adjust to the water temperature if he stayed in the water for sixty seconds, and he tried it and said this was accurate.

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That was on Saturday. On Sunday we were sore. Especially I was sore, because of my pulled muscle in my right rib area and my smashed right second toe. But Barry said he had some mildly sore muscles also. We spent Sunday at my house. Barry looked at my broken outdoor lamp and said he will install a new one for me next time he's here. Then we played the "I Know What I Want" scenario in the board game Fog of Love. We flipped cards to determine each of our genders, but I ended up female, and Barry ended up male. I worked as a florist, until I quit that job halfway through the game and moved to another city to become a pilot. I was a daredevil yet also a worrywart. I was also a workaholic. I named myself Jill. Barry named himself Anton; he was a Russian chef and hated children. He even hated having children eat at his restaurant. We met at a childfree speed-dating service, which I attended because my devotion to my florist shop did not leave me any time for having children. But my aunt became convinced that his name meant he was a follower of Anton LaVey, and she started spreading rumors on Facebook that he was a satanist. I telephoned her and screamed at her, and this upset Anton, because he wanted to have a calm conversation with her about it.

The goal we both chose to strive for was to be equal partners in the relationship, but Barry won the game with this goal, whereas I did not have quite enough relationship satisfaction to win. I could have had enough relationship satisfaction if I had chosen to cheat on Anton, but then our relationship satisfaction would have been too unequal for us to succeed at being equal partners, so then neither of us would have won. Besides, I didn't want to cheat on him. Though it did turn out, at the end of the game, that Anton was being a bit dishonest with me; he had claimed to be older than he really was, because he thought I would like him better if he were older.

Anyway, then came Monday - the final day of my four-day birthday weekend. On Monday we drove to the small town of La Porte, California (population 26), to tour the Gold Rush-era ghost towns in the area. I had already taken this tour once before, in 2013, with Susan, while she was sneaking around behind my back to flirt with someone else. But it was my idea - I found the directions and suggested it - and I wanted to go back, this time with someone emotionally and morally functional. So we went! We took my car. It was nearly 20 miles of driving on rough dirt roads; it might have been worth taking Barry's pickup truck instead. But we managed in my car. The first stop was some old mine tailings.

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Next, we stopped at the bridge over Slate Creek. We stripped down to swimsuits again and waded over to two short waterfalls. This place is amazing! The rocks are amazing swirls of color in amazingly billowy shapes.

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Then we saw some ruins of old ghost towns!

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Our last stop on the dirt roads was at Cedar Creek Ravine. Here we ran into an older couple who turned out to live in my area, in Yuba City. They were camping at one of the nearby campgrounds and had come to Cedar Creek Ravine to pan for gold. They had a pickup truck, and they warned us that the road ahead had been torn up by logging trucks and was too rough for my car. We didn't have much left we were planning to see anyway, so we took their advice and returned the same way we had come. First, though, we went swimming!

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There was only one thing on our Monday trip that didn't go quite perfectly, and that was my car. Just as we were almost out of the dirt roads, my car started having problems. I'd had to keep it in first gear on all the dirt roads, to get traction on unpaved hills. When we were about two miles short of returning to pavement, I found that I was having to absolutely floor the gas pedal to keep the car moving forward. And the "Check Engine Soon" warning light on my dashboard started intermittently lighting up and then shutting off again. The car kept moving, albeit slowly, but eventually the "Check Engine Soon" warning light stayed steadily lit. This worried us enough that we returned to Marysville a little sooner than we otherwise might have, opting not to explore the nearby Little Grass Valley Reservoir. We did stop for a delicious lunch on the way home though, at a cafe called One-Eyed Jack's, in the town of Clipper Mills. Barry stayed the night at my house, and when I dropped my car off for repair on Tuesday morning, he drove me back to my house in his truck. My car was diagnosed with a misfiring #3 sparkplug and repaired for $150, and then all was well again.

Whew! It's been a great birthday adventure. I have the best boyfriend! He makes my time with him amazing.


Going Native Garden Tour

Barry and I hosted a garden tour!

Gardens Gone Native Tour (April 14)

Back around last November or so, Barry and I signed up to put his house on the Gardens Gone Native Tour, an annual native plant garden tour in the Sacramento area that happens every April. (My own house is too far out in the middle of nowhere to be eligible for the tour.) We had been intending to sign up since the previous spring, and planning to get various garden-improvement projects done over the summer, but the time sneaked up on us as time tends to do. We didn't get much garden-improvement done over the summer. But we signed up for the tour anyway, in November. A woman came out in early December to look at the garden; I wasn't there at the time, but Barry said she was enthusiastic about the plants but recommended that we install more paths for people to walk on and maybe collect a few pictures showing earlier versions of the garden and wildlife seen in the garden. All right, we can get around to that before April, right?

Well, very soon it was March, and I was rather frightened by how much wasn't done. We had bought some pavers in January and February to lay more paths, but I hadn't actually laid all the pavers, because there were plants in the area where the pavers needed to be laid, and I wanted to take the time to transplant the plants elsewhere. Alas, many native annuals do not transplant very well, especially if they're dug up from the ground rather than tapped carefully out of a pot, so my time-consuming efforts at transplanting them were largely wasted. So by early March, I gave up on further transplantation attempts and asked Barry to lay the rest of the pavers without attempting to save any more plants. (I asked Barry to do it because it pained me too much, emotionally, to ruthlessly murder so many plants myself.) I focused my own efforts on frantically pulling a hundred thousand weeds (cheeseweed, chickweed, bur clover, sourgrass, I could go on . . .) and was forced to admit to myself that I couldn't finish that either. There would have to be weeds there on tour day. So as tour day approached, I increasingly focused my weeding on the most visible areas, around paths, and on trying to create a new dirt path or two, in addition to the paver paths. Meanwhile, all the paver paths had vanished under floppy mounds of flowers, and even the formal cement walkway leading to Barry's front door became virtually unwalkable as flowers flopped onto it from both sides. Barry said he figured he could use an electric hedge trimmer to carve out the paths again on the day before the tour. But California poppies and other floppy annual wildflowers are not a hedge; if you trim a bunch of them back, the ones next to those just flop over to replace them. It's very difficult to carve out a path without ruining the look of the place. Rather than using an electric hedge trimmer, I decided to carve out the paths myself during the several days immediately preceding the tour. I removed an incredibly huge volume of plant material that week that wasn't even weeds - it was all very desirable flowers, but there just simply wasn't going to be room for people to walk unless we removed all those flowers. So I gritted my teeth and got it done.

Meanwhile, Barry had his own major preparations to make. He was laser-engraving 150 aluminum signs to label all the plants in the garden! I sent him the information I wanted on each sign and told him how many signs to make for each species, and he made me 150 beautiful aluminum signs like the one you see below. (You can hire him to make some for you too, if you want!)

Phyla nodiflora sign

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Anniversary Hike

On April 3, for the second anniversary of our first date, Barry and I decided to go on a hike to Pierce Canyon Falls. Well, first we decided to go on a hike, then we each separately found our way to this page about the Pierce Canyon Falls hike and each separately thought this would be a good hike to go on. So we went on it! We took the day off work and set out with our hiking boots on, my camera around my neck, and our backpacks filled with water, sandwiches, crackers, some miner's lettuce from my home vegetable garden, and a chopped carrot from Barry's home vegetable garden.

The web page's description of the trail was not as clear as it should have been. It should have mentioned that the trail has very little shade, the falls is usually bone dry even in early spring, and when the falls is bone dry, there's no clear indicator of when you've gone past it, so you end up hiking significantly farther than the 6 miles you had planned on. We hiked 7.6 miles and did not find any waterfall. It was rather exhausting. Even so, the scenery was beautiful, and of course, I had a fantastic boyfriend with me.

My relationship with Barry has never been anything but wonderful, yet I feel as if it's somehow managed to get even better since our Yosemite trip. I mean, the Yosemite trip itself - the fun we had during it - was part of that, but then the way Barry took care of me when I came down with the flu at Yosemite was another part of that, and then ever since - while I was recovering from the flu and then preparing for the Gardens Gone Native Tour that we signed up to put Barry's house on - it's just been absolutely continually reinforced for me that Barry really goes to continually amazing lengths to support me in basically every possible way. So I've been feeling even more grateful toward him lately than usual, but I haven't necessarily been spending as much time focused on him as I could be, while busily trying to perfect his yard. So it was important to me that I should mark the beginning of our third year together by taking the day off work and also off gardening to focus more on him for the day. He made it particularly easy to do that, though, by wanting to do something so much fun as hiking through beautiful California wilderness.

We started off with a 45-minute drive through farmlands and small towns to the town of Guinda. Shortly after passing a corner store with a mural of Mickey Mouse on its outer wall exhorting customers, "Please don't pee on the building!" we arrived at the end of the road, where Barry pulled off onto the shoulder (which was basically a ditch; it was mildly difficult to get his truck back out of there when we left) and parked. On foot, we pushed our way through a couple of gates that were set up to block cars. There was some farm equipment at one point along the path that was making musical sounds as the wind blew through the pipes. That was rather charming. There was also a creek that ran alongside the trail at various points.


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