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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Yosemite and the Flu

We went camping in Yosemite National Park in the snow! And it was amazing!

And then I got the flu! And it was terrible! And it still is terrible!

But the unifying link is that Barry was fantastic in both situations.

We left for Yosemite on Sunday, February 25. We'd made the reservations back in December; it was my idea, and Barry had to be talked into it a bit at first. Then we'd spent December, January, and early February buying a lot of warm clothes to prepare for the trip, and worrying about whether we'd freeze to death. I started tracking weather reports from Yosemite Valley (it's important to search specifically for Yosemite Valley, because the weather in other parts of Yosemite can be very different) and following webcams that showed views from near our campground. I had reserved campsite #1 in Upper Pines Campground in Yosemite Valley. A week before the trip, I packed my pets and most of my camping stuff into my car and went to Barry's house, so Barry and I could spend the subsequent week packing whatever was left to be packed (most notably, Barry's clothes and all our food) together at his house. In the final week, I read on an official Yosemite blog that people hiking at middle elevations in Yosemite should wear ice cleats, so Barry mail-ordered us some last-minute ice cleats. A few days after that, Yosemite announced that it was closing the Mist Trail for the winter - it turns out they normally do this every winter, but they hadn't done it this week until a few days before our visit because they hadn't gotten much snow at all this winter until a few days before our visit. The Mist Trail, otherwise known as the trail up Nevada-Vernal Falls, was the main trail I had been planning to hike on with Barry, so having to cancel that hike derailed my plans significantly. There was a detour available that would still have allowed us to see the tops of both Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, but it was a substantially longer hike, and I felt that if we were going to make such a long hike, it ought not to be just for the sake of seeing something that we'd be able to see on a much shorter hike if the weather were different. So I just brought a list with us of various possible hikes and figured we'd decide after we got there exactly what we felt like doing.

We packed the car on Saturday night with everything but the ice chest and Barry's hydration pack, which he wanted to fill before we left "so we'll have something to drink if you flip the car on an icy road and we're stranded." Then we got on the road first thing Sunday morning, leaving the pets in the care of Barry's parents. We took Highway 140 to the Arch Rock entrance because it's the lowest-lying entrance and therefore least likely to require putting snow chains on the car. (The entrance that I'm more used to taking is the Big Oak Flat entrance on Highway 120, which would have been a shorter drive.) The drive on Highway 140 was remarkably uneventful; compared to the steep cliffs on Highway 120, this seemed like a leisurely stroll, even when there did end up being a little snow and ice on the roads. Barry later commented that it had been a relaxing drive. We stopped for gas in Mariposa and began seeing snow on the roads almost immediately afterward: I pointed out snow on the distant mountaintops and a second later realized there was also snow by the side of the road.

We arrived in Upper Pines at about 1:30, only to discover that someone else's tent (but not their vehicle) was still in campsite #1. Campsite #1's inhabitants were supposed to have left by noon, but they had not. We flagged down a park ranger for help and got reassigned to campsite #111. I was a bit irritated about this, because I had spent time looking at the campground map back in December and trying to pick out the nicest campsite for us, and I had specifically preferred #1 because it had few neighbors and was located just across the road from the river. "Campsite #111 is actually, in my opinion, a little better of a campsite," said the ranger. I think he just uses that line to placate everyone, because I couldn't see anything distinctive about #111 at all. But it wasn't worth arguing over, so we accepted #111. It did at least feature a substantial piece of ground that was not covered by snow, so we pitched our tent in that spot.

Because hey, that was the other big surprise upon first arrival: The majority of the campground was covered with snow! For months, I'd been reading web pages of tips for winter camping but blithely disregarding all tips about pitching a tent in snow, because I didn't think there would be snow in the campground. I thought we'd have to drive uphill a bit to find snow. Even though the webcam view from near the campground did start showing some snow on the ground a few days before our arrival, the webcam hadn't made it look like a large amount of snow, and I figured it would all be melted away before we got there. Well, it was a considerably larger amount of snow than I had thought. Even so, we still didn't really need any snow-specific camping techniques. The ground was still accessible through the snow, so we drove our tent stakes into the ground as usual, unpacked our stuff, and set up our camp. I spent time duct-taping mylar blankets to the inside of our tent to reflect our body heat back to us, because a tip on the Internet had said this would help keep us warm. It turned out to be awfully difficult to get the Mylar blankets to stay up, and I'm not at all sure whether they made any difference for keeping us warm. Just laying one over the top of us would probably have done as much good with less trouble.

Our campsite, February 2018

Slightly shaken by the discovery of just how much snow there was, but also excited about the snow, and pleased about having successfully set up our campsite, we walked to the nearest shuttle stop to have a look around the rest of the park.

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Christmas/New Year's Celebrations

2017 was an exhausting year for me at work. December was the only chance I got to take many vacation days, so I took off every Friday in December and also the whole week between Christmas and New Year's. I wish I felt more recovered than I do, but I guess I am somewhat recovered.

On Friday, December 15, we started off my last three-day weekend by attending a British panto-style performance of Beowulf at a theater in West Sacramento. It did a rather amazing job of completely altering the tone of the original epic (turning the story into a farce) while still somehow remaining mostly faithful to the original plot structure. They did add a love interest for Beowulf (King Hrothgar had a daughter named Hrothmund, who incidentally had neon blue hair) and made up a second, even more unlikely romance between Grendel's mother (a monster in the original epic poem, and the dame of the panto, played by a man in drag with blue lipstick and some monstrous garb) and Beowulf's assistant, Wiglaff (a man in the original epic poem, and the boy of the panto, played by a woman in drag). In the panto version, Grendel's mother revealed that the dragon was Grendel's father. In the panto version, Beowulf was ridiculously bad at talking to women and therefore began his romance with Hrothmund by pelting her with terrible pickup lines until he eventually found some sufficiently inoffensive ones that she was inexplicably won over. And in the panto version, Beowulf only died temporarily, being soon resurrected through the power of Hrothmund's singing. Also, in the panto version, the entire cast sang a version of Prince's song "1999" with the lyrics altered: "One thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time/So tonight we're gonna party like it's 999." Then they enlisted the audience in pelting the dragon with hollow plastic balls until we defeated it. It was a good time, and I was glad I had bought tickets.

Two days before Christmas, Barry and I helped my now-former lodger and her boyfriend move in together (and thus, helped her move out of my house). No more lodger! Barry asked me whether I'm feeling happy to be rid of her or sad to lose the rental income. I'm feeling neutral. The amount of rent I was charging her was the appropriate amount to compensate me for the amount that she inconvenienced me. She didn't inconvenience me very significantly, and the amount of rent she brought in was about equally not very significant to me, so it doesn't make a very significant difference in my life whether she lives there or not. She and I saw remarkably little of each other anyway, because she worked the night shift most of the time, and our weekends were on different days. This was the first time in my life I've ever had a platonic, non-family-member roommate, and it will probably also be the last time, but it was a pretty good experience, and I certainly don't regret having tried it.

Earlier this fall, we applied this fall to add Barry's house to the Gardens Gone Native garden tour this spring. A woman came over in mid-December to photograph the garden. I wasn't there at the time (she came on a day when I was working), but Barry showed her around. She suggested that the garden should have more paths so people will know where to step. Having attended the garden tour last year, I was very much aware already that the garden has far fewer paths than most gardens on the tour and knew that we will need to add at least a little more of a path, so I'd been thinking about what would look good. I think square exposed aggregate pavers will best pick up the pattern of the exposed-aggregate sidewalk along one side of Barry's house. So Barry and I went to Home Depot together and looked at stepping-stones for his yard. Home Depot only had round exposed-aggregate pavers and square other types of pavers, so Barry researched and located a better source for the type of pavers I want. We hope to buy some soon.

While we were at Home Depot, Barry bought some bolts he needed and two more trailing rosemary plants for me to plant in the three big planter boxes he built. I also recently mail-ordered some other non-native food plants and planted them in those planter boxes: twelve lettuce plants, six cilantro plants, two broccoli plants, and two chives plants. Barry's food garden is looking really good, although the actual harvest doesn't always amount to all that much compared to how promising the plants look.

Barry and I were also very busy preparing for Christmas this year. Barry always has a bit of a Christmas rush on his lasersmithing products. This year, he also volunteered to make Christmas dinner for my family, and he practiced making it ahead of time just for the two of us during the three-day weekend of December 15-17. It turned out exquisitely both times. He made sous vide tri-tip (which he cooked in, of all places, an ice chest), as well as corn casserole, mashed potatoes with vegetarian gravy, and glazed carrots; I made garlic bread. We invited his parents to join us at my parents' house, and his parents brought lasagna. For dessert, Barry's parents bought chocolate cake, my mother made brownies, and Barry made Bananas Foster. Both dinner and dessert ended up being a huge amount of food - all of it delicious, so I would have liked to just keep eating and eating, but I was soon stuffed.

The various dietary restrictions for the various parents were a bit complex to navigate. In the future we should remember not to buy pre-seasoned meat for family dinners, because it has too much salt in it for my mother to be allowed to eat very much of it. And the vegetarian gravy, because it used soy sauce in lieu of meat to accommodate Barry's parents' vegetarian diet, also had too much salt for my mother.

Anyway, it was a good Christmas. Barry brought a bunch of board games to play with our families, but we ended up not having any time to play any of them. We used up all the available time cooking and exchanging gifts. Barry gave me a bunch of different-colored elastic cinch belts that I'd asked for (in lavender, teal, white, and navy blue), a hori-hori knife, some non-tying alternative shoelaces for my running shoes (in neon yellow and royal purple), some cocoa and a "hug mug" for drinking hot chocolate from, some chocolate candy, some lasercut wooden dividers I'd asked him to make for my silverware drawer, and a cardboard starship Enterprise (original NCC-1701 model) from the board game Star Trek: Panic. He also gave Boston some sweet potato-wrapped dog biscuits and Stardust some cat treats. I gave him a bunch of exotic candy types I found at Grocery Outlet, some flannel-lined and fleece-lined pants for our upcoming Yosemite trip, and three dress shirts: one that's mostly white with blue floral patterns like old china on the sleeves, pocket, and other trim; one bowling shirt in sky blue and white, and one solid reddish-purple shirt.

Other presents I received included the following:
  • royal blue running socks (from my parents)
  • royal blue garden clogs (from my parents)
  • green, blue, and purple gardening gloves (from my parents)
  • dish towels with stripes and pictures of striped cats</i> (from my Aunt Kitty)
  • a scented candle and scented face lotion (from Barry's parents)
  • the novel Blow Your House Down by Pat Barker (from my parents)
  • the novel The Joke by Milan Kundera (from my brother)
  • the novel Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (from my parents)
  • the novel The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (from my parents)
  • the novel The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu, translated by Cyril Birch (from my parents)
  • the memoir Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi (from my parents)

And then we spent five days and four nights at a New Year's party in Santa Rosa. Barry's friend Corey bought a house in Santa Rosa this summer, for several million dollars - a house of more than 7,000 square feet, on six acres, adjacent to a lake in one direction and with a view of the city skyline in another direction, located behind not just one but two separate gates to keep out riffraff. All the doors in the house are about twelve feet high. The master bathroom looks like a palace, and the master bedroom's walk-in closet is an entire room and has a built-in island in the middle of it. The two shiny Porsches take up only a small portion of the six-car garage. The main kitchen contains two dishwashers, two sinks, two refrigerators, and so on, but there's a second kitchen upstairs and a third kitchen in the back yard. There's also a fireplace in the front yard and a firepit in the back yard. The back yard also features a swimming pool, a hot tub, a bocce ball court, and an outdoor TV mounted on the wall. One of the seven and a half baths in the house is located next to the pool and has an exterior door.

And it all could have burned down very shortly after Corey bought it, when so much of the rest of Santa Rosa burned down. But this house narrowly escaped the fires, and so Corey had a party. There were 27 of us at the party, so some people did end up in sleeping bags on the floor, but Barry and I got a bedroom of our own - the largest one, I think, other than of course the master bedroom suite. Barry was a sort of co-host of the party, because Barry suggested the idea and helped organize it and got to invite his entire social circle, including many people who had never met Corey before. In fact, rather more of the people at the party were from Barry's social circle and not Corey's than were from Corey's social circle and not Barry's. But a large number were in the overlapping social circles, having already met both Barry and Corey.

Anyway, it was a five-day board-gaming party, so we pretended it was a small gaming convention, and someone even created plastic photo ID cards on little lanyards for everyone. Barry created, at Corey's suggestion, a "vendor hall" to sell his lasersmithing merchandise, including some convention-related swag (engraved with the fictional convention name and the year 2018).

There was a ton of food, and much of it was interestingly unusual. Corey made a turducken dinner one night but otherwise declared the event a pot luck and asked everyone to bring food. Everyone did bring food, a whole lot of it. One of Barry's friends from grad school brought an immersion circulator and made sous vide steak several times, much like Barry had made on Christmas. Barry was planning to make Bananas Foster again, but he got caught up in playing board games and never quite got around to it. Meanwhile, one of the few guests who arrived as early as we did is a professional cake decorator and spent a long time making a huge and very fancy cake designed to look like the game board and game pieces of the board game Takenoko. I'm not familiar with the game, but the cake was very impressive, and it was interesting to watch her make it. It was made of a bunch of different hexagons of different cake flavors (white, chocolate, and strawberry) with sheets of different-colored chocolate folded over it as frosting - she said she used chocolate because it was easier to work with than fondant, but it didn't look like chocolate: it came in colors such as green, yellow, and pink. There were pictures pressed into the top surface somehow or other, and then tall stacks of edible game pieces placed on top of that.

Corey also had a fridge stocked with bizarre sodas. Over the course of the five days, I had a Peanut Butter and Jelly soda, a Bubble Gum soda, and a Sweet Corn soda. Barry had a Praline Cream soda, a Teriyaki Beef Jerky soda, a Prickly Pear soda, and a Celery soda. He tasted all of mine, and I tasted all of his except the Teriyaki Beef Jerky soda. We agreed that the Praline Cream soda tasted best. Barry said the Teriyaki Beef Jerky soda tasted worst. Someone else tried a Teriyaki Beef Jerky soda and decided that although it tasted awful by itself and didn't taste much like Teriyaki Beef Jerky, it did pair well with actual Teriyaki Beef Jerky.

One of the most popular games at the party was one called Fog of Love that Barry bought recently and started playing with me in the weeks preceding the party. It's a two-player game in which the two players to pretend to be two fictional people who are dating each other. They make up names and personalities (the personalities are based partly on cards selected at the start of the game), introduce themselves to each other under their new names, and tell each other, improv-style, about their personalities. They then have a bunch of dating conversations that are partly guided by scripts on randomly drawn cards. The players can play as any combination of genders. I've played it four times now, always with Barry. The first time, we were a gay male couple: I was a firefighter named Truman, and Barry was a fashion designer named Pat, and we were on a first date. The first date ended up including some excursions that made no sense on a first date, like spending a weekend at a cabin in the woods, but anyway, overall, the date (which seemed more like an entire relationship) went pretty well. The next time around, we played as a lesbian couple: I was a police officer named Serena, and Barry was a baker named Lisa, and we had been high school sweethearts. A card prompted us to discuss whether we had ever broken up: I said we hadn't, but Lisa said we had, although only for five minutes. She seemed, however, to have somehow had some sort of sexual experience with someone else during those five minutes, because another card informed us that I had found a sex tape showing her with someone else, and she said it was from those five minutes. Yet another card prompted me to confess that I was secretly older than I had pretended to be; I managed to avoid playing that card, though, because I would have had to have been a cop posing as a high school student and having a relationship with an actual student, and that seemed a bit much for me. Instead, I introduced Lisa to my gorgeous friend Alex and waited to see what would happen. Lisa proceeded to cheat on me with my gorgeous friend Alex. The game went seriously south for me at that point.

We played both of those Fog of Love games prior to the five-day New Year's party, but we played two more Fog of Love games during the New Year's party. In the first of those two, I was Prince William Robert, the heir to the (alternate-universe) British throne, and Barry was Quarrel (pronounced "Carol[e]"), a woman who worked as a wedding planner. We were giving our relationship a year to see how things went, but before the year was over, I suggested that we open up a joint bank account, and I put all my royal money into the joint account, giving her full access to it. Then my best friend died, and then it turned out she'd been cheating on me with my best friend, and then it turned out she was also cheating on me with a bunch of other people, and then she drained our joint bank account and ran off with all my royal money. This made a great story to tell to the other guests at the New Year's party. I was a bit miffed about being cheated on for two games in a row, though. I demanded a rematch a couple of days later. This time, I was a criminal named Moe (I named myself Moe after Corey's hairless cat) and Barry was a female florist named Bella (he named himself Bella after Corey's dog). Moe and Bella ended up having a great relationship, because Bella converted to a life of crime to be a good partner to Moe (and also because, despite being a criminal, my character was somehow a very honest, kind, and generally good-citizen type, if only because those were the cards I happened to draw). There was no cheating this time around, although Moe had one secret: he was pretending to be older than he really was. I told Barry, after the game was over, that I'd drawn a card that gave me a chance to cheat on him but I hadn't used it, and he said he'd drawn a card that gave him a chance to cheat on me also and he hadn't used it either. We were trying our best to get married in that game - it's fairly easy to propose and get engaged in the game, but considerably more difficult to actually get married. Bella proposed to Moe, and Moe accepted, and then we both tried to draw as many cards as we could from the "serious" deck because that was where the wedding ceremony was. At the end of the game, the wedding ceremony card was left on the very top of the deck; we could have drawn it and gotten married if only we could have agreed on one additional question. The additional question that tripped us up was the question of what should be done with the toilet seat. Bella was a submissive sort and encouraged Moe to do what he wanted, so Moe said the toilet seat should always be left up, but what Bella had meant was that the toilet seat should always be left however we had used it. This was enough of a difference of opinion that it prevented us from getting married.

Many other pairs of people also played this game together at the New Year's party, including at least one pair of ostensibly straight men, who played as a lesbian couple. It was entertaining to watch.

I tried to keep track of all the games I played. I think this is a complete list:
  • Star Trek: Panic: Barry and I successfully completed two missions, rescuing a disabled ship and defeating an Orion vessel.
  • Paradox: My recently ex-lodger and her boyfriend gave this to Barry as a Christmas present. It involves making rows of matching-colored objects. I played it with Barry, Scott, and John. John won, I was second, Barry was third, and Scott was fourth.
  • Sea of Clouds: This is a pirate-themed game. I defeated Barry, 57 to 41.
  • The Fox in the Forest: This is a trick-taking card game for two players. Barry defeated me.
  • DropMix: This game is played with a smartphone plugged into an electronic device that senses DropMix music cards. Each card plays the vocal track or certain instruments from a given song, and the cards can be combined to make an odd combination of various songs. There are competitive and cooperative versions of the game. Barry and I played this game competitively several times (we each won at least once), and we also played a cooperative version once.
  • Terraforming Mars: I had played this once before, with Barry, without using the option to play as specific corporations (you can choose whether or not to draw cards of corporations and play with the special abilities of a particular corporation) and finished in a virtual tie with him - I think he defeated me by only one point. At the New Year's party, we played it with Dave and Gabe and used the option to play as specific corporations. Barry won, followed by Dave, then me, then Gabe.
  • Crokinole: This is basically a sports game for non-athletes. It's two-player fingersports: you use your fingers to try to aim disks at other disks across a circular board. I started playing it with Tim, who was also new to the game, and we both played from a farther-forward line than is usually allowed, because the instructions suggested that newbies should do this to avoid being hopelessly frustrated. I was in the lead against Tim after three rounds, but we got interrupted before finishing the game. Later I played a full game with Barry, in which Barry played from the farther-back line while I played from the farther-forward line. It started out as a fair fight in the early rounds, but I ended up winning fairly decisively. We decided that in the next game, we should both play from the farther-back line, but Barry should play by tournament rules and I shouldn't. This should give me a somewhat smaller advantage over him. We didn't play a second game at the New Year's party, but Barry informed me that he owns his own specially crafted, one-of-a-kind, designer Crokinole board. His Crokinole board is purple and is named Violetta.
  • Web of Gold: This was one of Barry's favorite games during his childhood. Every player plays as two characters at once: a gold miner and a venomous spider. Your gold miner must find gold and bring the gold back home; your venomous spider can spin webs to trap, bite, and kill the other gold miners. Unfortunately, finding gold involves a lot of random rolls of the dice, so it's easy to get a string of terrible luck. I played it with Barry, John, Charlene, Charlene's husband Carlos, and Barry's grad-school friend Cheryl. Charlene and Carlos took early and commanding leads over the rest of us, and Charlene won.
  • Shakespeare: This is a game about competing theater companies that are each trying to put on the best Shakespeare play. Disappointingly, putting on the best Shakespeare play seems to be measured simply by investing money wisely in expensive props and actors. Confusingly, the actors don't even have to all be playing characters from the same play. I asked Barry to play this game with me, but I ended up not liking the game that much. Barry defeated me.
  • Twilight Imperium: This is Barry's favorite game. It is usually played with about six players and usually takes an entire day to finish. I started playing a scaled-down, three-player version of it with Barry and Rebecka, but we stopped after three hours and didn't finish the game. You each play as one of various alien species that all have different special abilities. I was playing the Emirates of Hacan, Barry was playing the Federation of Sol, and Rebecka was playing the Xxcha Kingdom. We each took over various planets, but the main prize to be taken was the planet of Mecatol Rex. I took Mecatol Rex first. Barry battled me for it and won but took a lot more damage in the fight than he had expected. Barry and I were about evenly matched and both had a large lead over Rebecka. I was preparing to re-invade Mecatol Rex and battle for it again when we stopped playing.

Barry played many more games than I did. He played so many that he hardly got any sleep: one night he came to bed at 5:45 a.m. and set an alarm to wake himself up at 10:00 a.m. so he wouldn't miss either the evening board games or the morning board games. This was only a little more extreme than what he did on all the other nights we were there.

We had a white elephant gift exchange in which all the gifts were board games. I didn't have any board games suitable for giving away, but Barry had three of them, so he supplied Rebecka and me with gifts to give away. When it was his turn to choose a gift for himself, he chose to steal the game Ladies and Gentlemen. When it was my turn, I stole Ladies and Gentlemen from Barry because that made it twice-stolen and therefore no longer stealable. Barry then tried for various other games and had them stolen from him before he eventually ended up with a game called Circus Flohcati.

On New Year's Eve, we all went outside and watched the ball drop on the TV mounted to an exterior wall. Some people made s'mores over the firepit. Barry and I had already made s'mores a couple of days earlier and didn't feel a need to do it again. Someone handed out tiny, celebratory "poppers" on which you pull a string to make a popping noise. Various people expressed concern that Richard was drunk. Jordan expressed an intention to go get drunk with Richard. Barry poured sips of champagne into plastic cups for various non-drunk people and himself. I poured apple cider into a plastic cup for myself. We kissed and toasted and walked around the side of the house to watch fireworks along the skyline.

Welcome, 2018.

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Me with Moe the hairless cat.

Moe and me

Boston, and Various Less Important Things

My dog, Boston, is dying.

Boston and my cat, Stardust, had their annual vet appointment three weeks ago, on Saturday, August 12. Stardust continues to weigh more than ever each year; she's now 14 and a half pounds but seems healthy aside from being rather rounder than the vet would prefer. Boston weighed 52 pounds, which was exactly the same as she had weighed every year for the past five years. However, Boston needed to be scheduled for getting her teeth cleaned, and because she's getting old and has had urinary incontinence for the past year, the vet wanted to do blood tests and a urine culture on her first to make sure she didn't have any health conditions that might make it dangerous to anesthetize her for dental work. Well, the blood test results came back showing elevated liver enzymes. The vet said sometimes dogs just have temporarily elevated liver enzymes because they ate some bad food or something, but it could also be a sign of something more serious, like Cushing's syndrome (although if that were the issue, Boston would likely be overweight, which she wasn't) or liver tumors (although if that were the issue, Boston would likely be losing weight, which she wasn't). Although Boston had no other symptoms, Boston's age (which is uncertain, but she is at least eleven and a half) made the vet more inclined to suspect serious health problems, so she wanted to do an ultrasound on Boston to check for liver tumors.

Well, this past Saturday, September 2, I brought Boston in for her ultrasound. When I checked her in, the receptionist asked me to weigh her again, on the same scale I had weighed her on exactly three weeks earlier. I was shocked to find that Boston weighed only 46 pounds this time. When we got in to see the vet, the vet asked me whether Boston had been eating less than usual or more than usual. I said, well, in the past she has usually left a bit of food uneaten in her dish every day - that is why her weight has been perfectly stable for years, because she always eats just exactly the amount she needs to eat and leaves any excess in her dish - but lately she has been eating all the food in her dish. The vet wrote that down, and we waited in line for an ultrasound (there were two other dogs who needed to go ahead of us because they were getting ultrasounds as part of preparation for surgery). I didn't get to go with Boston for the ultrasound, but when the veterinary assistants brought her back out to me, they said she was extremely eager to return to me. Then Boston and I were called back in to talk to the vet again.

The vet said that Boston has a liver tumor that is "larger than a softball but smaller than a volleyball." There is only one tumor, not multiple tumors, so it may not be cancer, but it is still going to kill her, because it is reducing her liver function and pressing up against her gall bladder. The vet said it might or might not be possible to surgically remove the tumor, but even if the tumor were surgically removed, it would be likely to grow back. Also, the vet said that one of her own dogs had a similar liver tumor, definitely benign in her case, at about the same age as Boston, and the vet had her dog's tumor surgically removed, but the dog died a year later anyway - not from the tumor, but from other old-age health problems. Surgery for Boston, if it is even possible at all, would be expensive and unpleasant for Boston and would also run some risk of killing Boston, because it is dangerous to anesthetize her when her liver isn't working right and therefore might not process the anesthetic adequately.

I said, very slowly, "My . . first . . . inclination . . . is . . . not . . . to . . . intervene . . . because . . . she is an old dog . . . and it might not prolong her life all that much . . ."

The vet seemed to find that an entirely reasonable decision. She let me know that if I want to consult with a surgeon to discuss whether or not it's even possible to remove a tumor that is so large and so closely pressed up against so many vital organs, she can certainly make an appointment for me to discuss it, but even if it is possible to remove it, it could easily end up just causing Boston suffering and not prolonging her life significantly. So I am pretty sure I am going to just to let Boston live out her remaining life without attempting any surgical interventions.

The vet said Boston is still feeling pretty good right now and doesn't realize she's sick, although I assume she probably realizes she's been hungry lately. The vet advised me to just let her eat as much food as she wants from now on, because the tumor will cause her to need a lot of food. Also, Boston does not have to get her teeth cleaned after all, because anesthetizing her would be unsafe, and because she isn't going to live long enough for her teeth to start bothering her. The vet thinks she won't live more than a year and could die as soon as within a couple of months. I'm just supposed to keep an eye on her and see if she still seems to be enjoying life, and when she no longer seems able to enjoy life anymore, then I should bring her in to be euthanized.

It was a great stroke of good luck that her annual vet visit happened to fall when it did and happened to lead to the blood tests that it did, because if the timing had been any different, Boston could have lost an even more devastating amount of weight before I even realized anything was wrong. The fact that she lost 11.5% of her body weight in only three weeks gives me the sense that this tumor could kill her incredibly fast.

I have a lot of feelings about this. I'm extremely upset, but also pretty sure that I'm not nearly as devastated as I would be if it were Stardust who was dying. I never set out to be a dog owner, and I've never felt I'm really cut out for solo dog ownership. I've just been muddling through it because Boston was very tolerant of my failings and I figured that despite my failings, Boston is probably better off with me than she would be with a whole bunch of bickering other dogs in my creepy ex's household. I will never be a dog person, and I'm not at all sure I will ever own a dog again, but to the extent that any dog can ever be right for me, I think Boston has been the right dog for me. But it just isn't the same as with Stardust, whom I intentionally set out to adopt, and fawned over and photographed obsessively from her earliest kittenhood and have generally felt pretty confident that I was an ideal match for.

Boston apparently spent the earliest known years of her life being abused by dogfighters. She was brought in to one vet's office twice to be sewn back together after having been very badly torn up by other dogs. The second time she was brought in to the same vet's office in such bad condition, the vet told the owner that he had to give Boston up or else they would report him to the SPCA for dogfighting. (I'm not sure why the vet's office couldn't do both, but I guess this way the owner still agreed to pay for having Boston sewed back together again.) The story as I heard it, or the best guess at the story, although I'm not sure how such things are guessed at, is that Boston was probably not particularly being trained for dogfighting herself, but rather was being offered up to the owner's other dogs as a practice victim, badly outnumbered and outmatched and set up in advance to badly lose every fight. In any case, it was not a good life for her, and although her fur hides her scars well, I'm told that her whole body is heavily crisscrossed by scars under her fur. My ex, Susan, saw her after the second surgery and said she had a ton of stitches everywhere. Also, for as long as I've known Boston, one of Boston's ears has had very limited range of motion because of injuries - her right ear is frequently perked up, but her left ear can't perk up and only swivels from back to front.

Anyway, a vet tech at the vet's office that confiscated Boston from the dogfighting owner brought Boston home to recover from surgery. Then the vet tech asked Susan to watch Boston for a few days, because the vet tech lived next door to Susan and was in the process of moving to a new address. And then the vet tech apparently just skipped town and never came back to pick Boston up. Less than two months later, Susan started dating me, and Susan said she wasn't really bonding with Boston. So Boston bonded with me instead. And then when Susan finished wasting six years of my life and getting me into major financial entanglements like buying a house together while assuring me that she regarded us as being already "as good as married" despite the lack of legal recognition and yet then sneaking around behind my back with another woman . . . then she said, oh, Boston wouldn't get along well with this other woman's dogs, so I would have to keep Boston. And then a few months later it apparently struck her that maybe dumping Boston on me wasn't very considerate (a remarkable breakthrough since it doesn't seem to have ever struck her that sneaking around behind my back with another woman wasn't very considerate, or that moving in practically next door to me with that other woman a few months later wasn't very considerate - but perhaps she is more able to comprehend the importance of considering Boston's rights and needs than the importance of considering mine), so she offered to take Boston. But there was no reason to believe Boston's chances of getting along with the other woman's dogs had suddenly improved any, and Boston seemed happy enough to stay where she was, so I kept Boston.

The thing is, Boston hasn't ever been really intentionally adopted as a pet by anyone in her life. Boston was adopted by a dog-fighter to be a practice victim rather than a pet. She was confiscated by a vet's office and a vet tech took her home for a while but then dumped her on Susan. Susan kept her for longer but then dumped her on me. And I've kept her the longest of anyone in her life. And yet I never set out to be a sole owner of a dog, and I do not consider myself particularly good at being the sole owner of a dog, and I do not consider myself a dog person.

Boston has suffered through an awful lot of rotten luck in her life. I do think, however, that if she would talk, she would say that I have given her a pretty good life. And I would say in return that she has been a pretty good dog, the best dog for me personally that I am ever likely to find. I just have never been so confident that I was the best person she could have found. But I was the best person she actually did find, and I guess that has been enough in Boston's eyes.

While writing this I managed to work myself into an hour-long shrieking-and-sobbing-at-the-top-of-my-lungs fit, to the point that even Stardust eventually got concerned (Stardust is not at all the kind of cat to whom concern for others comes easily) and started meowing questioningly at me and eventually even came over and jumped on the bed and rubbed against me a little, although it must be said that since she stayed only just barely within arm's reach and then left entirely after less than ten minutes, she does not get particularly high marks for her rather half-hearted attempt at comforting me. Then I thought that surely Boston herself could probably hear me from outside and was probably concerned for me herself, so I went to the back door and turned on the light to look out. But Boston is lying stretched out on the lawn, not more than fifteen feet from where I was shrieking but seemingly oblivious. She didn't even move when I turned on the light. Well, I've had the sense that her hearing hasn't been particularly good for the past year or so, so she might simply be able to sleep through any noise these days. And I gave her a big, fancy meal of canned dog food a couple of hours ago, so maybe she needs to sleep that off.

I guess that is enough to write about Boston and her impending death for now. There were other things I wanted to write about. It's just that that one kind of superseded the others. Hmm.

My lodger moved back in yesterday, after a month away at her boyfriend's house while recovering from knee surgery. When I told Barry she was moving back in, he said, sounding slightly surprised, "So the arrangement is working for you, then?" And I said basically yes, it's working well enough. She's very polite, and when she's working the night shift as she'll be doing for the foreseeable future now, I hardly even see her, so having her here doesn't really have much effect on me other than me needing to leave some space for her in the refrigerator and freezer, give up a room in the house to her, and be quiet during the daytime - though I would pretty much always be quiet during the daytime anyway, since why would I have any reason to be loud when there's no one here to talk to? (Well, it's good she wasn't home during my crying fit, though.) She is not much company, but she is polite and causes no problems and pays rent, so I have nothing to complain about.

I spent Labor Day weekend at Barry's house. I brought the Labyrinth board game that he gave me for my birthday, and we played it for the first time. It is a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players; since we were playing the 2-player version, we each played two characters. I played Sarah and Ludo, while Barry played Hoggle and Sir Didymus. Our goal was to rescue Sarah's little brother, Toby, from Jareth, the Goblin King. Mostly it involved an awful lot of dice-rolling, trying to defeat various obstacles that the Goblin King placed in our path by rolling higher numbers with our own dice than with the Goblin King's dice. I thought this made for rather dull game play, but I do have to acknowledge that it was very faithful to the movie. I did at one point draw a card that required Barry to quiz me on the call-and-response lyrics to the David Bowie song "Magic Dance":

Barry: You remind me of the babe.
Me: What babe?
Barry: The babe with the power.
Me: What power?
Barry: The power of voodoo.
Me: Who do?
Barry: You do.
Me: Do what?
Barry: Remind me of the babe.
I passed, and eventually we defeated the Goblin King together - well, all of us except Hoggle, one of Barry's characters who fell into the Bog of Eternal Stench partway through the game and smelled bad forever after and therefore couldn't stay with the rest of the group. So Hoggle lagged behind, but it didn't matter, because the rest of us defeated the Goblin King and rescued Toby. Barry asked what I wanted my little brother back for anyway. I said, well, Barry is a little brother too. Perhaps I just had to defeat the Goblin King to get Barry.

We also played Code Names: Duet for the first time. And also for the second, third, fourth, fifth . . . perhaps ten times? It didn't take long to play, and we kept losing, so we kept playing again in hopes that we would eventually win. It is a cooperative game, so the only options were that we could both lose or we could both win. We eventually gave up without ever winning. The game is played with a bunch of cards that have words on them, and each player has to give one-word clues to try to get the other player to spot the randomly assigned winning words. We both had trouble coming up with good one-word clues or guessing each other's one-word clues, but in the final couple of games I was particularly bad at it. Barry gave me "accelerator" as a clue to try to get me to guess two cards reading "floor" and "coast," but I wasn't thinking of those meanings of "floor" or "coast," so instead I guessed "memory" (a memory accelerator is a computer thing, you can Google it) and "break" (because it is pronounced the same way as "brake" and I thought Barry might be intentionally playing with homonyms). And then, in the final game, I gave "annoying" as a clue because I wanted Barry to guess four cards reading "salad," "troll," "quack," and "hit," but I overlooked the fact that two other cards reading "sand" and "volume" could also be readily classified as "annoying" and both would cause us to lose the game immediately. Barry's first guess was "sand," so we lost.

I planted some more plants at Barry's house - another purple tree collard to go with the existing two, a couple of new strawberry plants, a new type of native sunflower, a small native checkermallow, and a native scarlet beardtongue. And I harvested the ripe chili peppers from the 'Super' chili pepper plant I planted there. Barry was afraid to eat the chili peppers because they're supposed to be so hot, so I suggest dehydrating them and powdering them to use as seasoning. Barry dehydrated them in his toaster oven and then powdered them with a mortar and pestle, and I transferred the resulting powder into a spice jar. It didn't end up being a very large amount of powder, but I suppose it doesn't need to be. I also noticed that one of Barry's tomato plants has small green fruits on it, and there is a honeydew melon plant in bloom, and a couple of pumpkin plants in bloom.

Barry said he was annoyed with a sunflower plant that was blocking the passage around the corner of his house. I had already chopped down one of its stems in July to clear the passage, but a new stem had fallen into the way since then. I told him he could feel free to chop the plant down himself. He went and got a sword from his garage and started to swordfight it. "This probably isn't the most effective tool," he noted, which was a huge understatement, "but it's a fun tool!" Boston and I watched the show with amusement. After the fight was over, I got out a proper pruning tool and used it to neaten up the remains.

Barry did quite a praiseworthy job of producing new and interesting dinners while I was in a weekend-long "I have no idea what kind of food I might want to eat right now" funk. On one of the days, I brought him some herbs from the garden - basil, oregano, thyme, and sage - and he made them into a scrambled-egg sandwich (well, he omitted the sage because he said it didn't fit).

We finished watching Battlestar Galactica on Saturday and started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Sunday. We've both seen Star Trek: The Next Generation before, but it and Star Trek: Deep Space Nineare the only two Star Trek TV series that we haven't yet watched together, with each other. We also talked about new shows to watch. I'm a bit frustrated by the long wait for new episodes of several shows we've been watching - Transparent, Humans, and Sense8 - although with Sense8, we already know that all the new material we'll ever get is one finale to somehow wrap up all the loose plot threads from the canceled show. Barry is interested in starting to watch The Tick, and I am interested in watching at least one episode of Steven Universe.

Also I watched while Barry started playing Uncharted: The Lost Legacy on his Playstation. He had been saving it to play it while I was there to watch, as I also watched him play Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Although I wouldn't call its script great literature, it is pretty good as video game storytelling goes. First of all, the storyline is centered around two women, and the art depicts them as normal humans rather than exaggerated sex objects, and they have individual personalities with character development. This video game totally passes the Bechdel test! On the other hand, the wildly unrealistic game mechanics still have these women perpetually narrowly escaping death by grabbing onto cliffs and ledges, supporting their entire body weight with one hand while also bleeding from numerous bullet wounds. It's not at all believable, but it's the same way the male characters are portrayed, so hey, at least it's not sexist.

Oh, and I introduced Barry to Craigslistlieder and Facsimile for Flute and Lawyer, two musical compositions of which performances are available on YouTube. I learned about both of them via dcjaywalk's LiveJournal.

Also I got to wear two brand-new dresses for the first time. One is red and white, and the other - the one I like best - is pink and yellow plaid. Barry called the pink and yellow plaid one my "Starburst dress" and said that looking at me in it made him think of a pack of Starburst candy. I think this is a fine effect for me to have. (It's this dress, but with sleeves.)

So that was this past weekend. In addition to this past weekend, I still need to write about the past two visits before then. Barry was away for two weekends, visiting his brother in Austin and then selling his lasersmith wares at Gen Con in Indianapolis. He returned home on August 18 and promptly came over to my house the next day. I spent pretty much all of August working on creating and lasagna mulching new flower beds in my front yard for several hours each night after dark when it got cool enough for me to be able to work, and I did not make an exception that night - I told Barry I would be digging for several hours during his visit, and he could join me or not, as he liked. He did join me for a little over an hour, and did some very fast digging, much faster than mine, but then he exhausted himself and had to go inside and lie down.

On the following weekend, he stayed at his house without me on Saturday to have a board-game party for the most exciting of the new games he bought at Gen Con, Twilight Imperium 4. I had been considering participating in the game, but I had too much work to do, so I stayed at my own house. Barry came to my house after the game and stayed through Monday evening. Once again, after the sun went down each night, I spent several hours digging and placing cardboard for my new flower beds. This time around, though, I found ways to make better use of Barry's talents by asking him to spend that time doing other outdoor tasks that I didn't know how to do myself. He fixed a whole bunch of my sprinkler heads that had stopped rising or swiveling or spraying properly, and he fixed my back gate latch in which the screws had been perpetually re-loosening themselves for years. He repositioned the latch to stop putting unsustainable pressure on the screws. The result looks a little odd, but it works much better than before.

At one point while Barry was here, Stardust curled up next to me on my living-room couch and was very cute, until I made the mistake of trying to pet her. This turned out to be not at all acceptable to her, and she immediately ran away. I asked Barry whether he ever has this problem with his cats. He said no, he only has the problem that when Jazz is curled up adorably next to him and he tries to pet her, she becomes determined to climb onto his lap when he doesn't want her there. He then questioned whether Stardust is really my cat. She is definitely my cat, but she only tends to show it in negative ways. For example, although she has taken to Barry infinitely better than she ever took to Susan (because she is a cat of fine judgment, clearly), one of the times when Barry picked her up during this visit, Stardust was not in the mood and made her displeasure known. Barry hastily put her down and remarked regretfully that that interaction had not gone well. I said that when I have an interaction with her that doesn't go well, I have to watch out for my ankles afterward, because usually the moment I put her down while she's in an angry mood, she will turn and chase me around the room, tackling my ankles and biting at them. She's not sure enough of Barry yet to tackle his ankles. She only bites at his fingers when she's sitting above his head, looking down at him from atop a tall bookcase. This is how I know she's my cat: because I am the one she's most comfortable attacking. Well, at least she doesn't pee on my stuff or intentionally wake me up early like Jazz does to Barry. She has some redeeming qualities.

Stardust is getting old. Boston is probably about the same age as Stardust but has apparently about finished getting old. Jazz is actually the oldest of any of them, by quite a bit, but I guess she's likely to outlive Boston. What is a tumor "larger than a softball but smaller than a volleyball" doing in Boston's liver? Doesn't it know that it's not wanted or needed there? What is the deal with liver tumors in general? Liver tumors killed David Bowie. Now one of them is going to kill Boston, too? I want to get a voodoo doll shaped like a tumor and stick pins in it to cause harm to tumors. I don't know what else to do.

Here is Boston in Barry's yard on Sunday, next to the remains of the sunflower that Barry defeated in a swordfight. With, as always, one ear unable to perk up. Boston is eleven and a half, or possibly somewhat older; I don't know how long she lived with the dogfighting owner, only that she was an adult when she was rescued from there. Usually vets estimate adult animals' ages by their teeth. Boston's teeth were already terrible when she was rescued, but it seems unlikely she could have survived for all that long there, so her teeth (and the rest of her) may have been prematurely aged by the extreme stress. Anyway, she is at least eleven and a half, and probably not all that much older. She is a good doggie.

Boston in Barry's yard, September 2017
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Four-Day Fourth of July Weekend with Barry

Friday was scheduled to be my last day at work before being laid off, but on Friday I accepted a new job, so I headed to Barry's house in a very good mood to spend my four-day Fourth of July weekend with Barry. My lodger was also spending the four-day weekend out of town, at her boyfriend's house, so I didn't have a pet-sitter handy; therefore, I taped some pee pads into the back seat of my car for Boston (she's incontinent on most car rides these days) and brought her along with me to Barry's house. I also brought three loaves of frozen bread dough (we made two loaves over the course of the weekend, although one of the loaves we made was from the remains of an identical package already at Barry's house), a bag of barbecue potato chips, a loaf of pumpernickel bread, two bags of Muenster cheese, and a big package of thinly sliced turkey sandwich meat. The last three items, I brought simply because I happened to have recently made a sandwich out of them and mentioned it to Barry via instant message, and Barry had said it sounded good, and he did not have the ingredients on hand to make an identical sandwich, so I decided I would bring them with me and make him an identical sandwich.

Upon arrival at Barry's house, I found Barry's pickup truck parked diagonally across two spaces of his three-car driveway, and the back of his truck filled with a mix of 50% dirt/50% compost to fill up the third planter box that Barry recently built. He had parked the truck diagonally for easier wheelbarrow access. I put Boston in Barry's back yard and went inside to eat a delicious dinner of Pasta-Roni and some side dish that we both seem to have forgotten the precise identity of. We also watched some Battlestar Galactica.

On Saturday morning, Barry made waffles, and then we tied Boston to the roof rack of Barry's truck while we filled up the planter box with the soil mixture from Barry's truck. Barry did all the wheeling of the wheelbarrow over to the planter box and dumping its contents into the planter box; I stayed at the truck, where we had two shovels, and we both shoveled the soil into the wheelbarrow until we got the truck emptied out. When the truck was fully emptied out, the planter box still wasn't as full as I wanted, so I drove to Home Depot and bought a big bag of some more dirt, plus a bag of mulch to spread on top of it, and some plants to put in the new planter. I bought a variety pack of six eggplants, a variety pack of six bell peppers, one prostrate rosemary plant, and two chili peppers. After I got them planted, I showed Barry the labels from the plants. He was freaked out by the ghost pepper and showed me a YouTube video of some guy eating a tiny piece of a ghost pepper and moaning a bunch and then deciding he needed to go to the hospital. I agreed to unplant the ghost pepper. We both were kind of disturbed to discover that Home Depot would sell such things without some sort of biohazard warning label.

I chatted with Mikie for a bit, updating him on my new job, while Mikie was attending the World Pride celebration in Madrid and while I was watching Barry shoot zombies in a PlayStation game called Killing Floor 2. I also set out a loaf of frozen bread dough to thaw and rise.

Then Barry got a call from the Yolo County animal shelter about a new pair of foster kittens, and we went to pick them up together. They are about eight weeks old - old enough to be adopted - but they've contracted the cat flu and need to be in foster care until they recover. One is a medium-haired calico girl, and the other is a short-haired grey tabby boy. We immediately started calling them Fluffy and Not Fluffy, respectively, but it soon became clear that they had such starkly obvious personality differences that it seemed a shame to name them only by their appearances. Fluffy looks far sicker, appearance-wise, because the nictitating membrane on one of her eyes is constantly closed and protruding slightly (which tends to happen in response to any eye injury; it can be the feline equivalent of a black eye). However, she is very active, like any healthy kitten, and she starts purring instantly at the slightest petting. Not Fluffy, on the other hand, looks pretty healthy (he had a visibly runny nose for the first day but looks fine now), but he is the most sedate and immobile kitten I've ever seen; he spends pretty nearly 100% of his time sitting, usually in kitty loaf position, with all four paws hidden underneath him. The only movement I've seen from him has been just walking a few steps between his food dish and his cat bed, not running around pouncing on things like kittens normally do (and like his sister does). Also, we couldn't get any purr out of him for days! It took until Monday (the third day we had him) before I finally managed to coax him into purring. After that I was able to get him to purr fairly reliably; however, it always took several minutes of petting to coax him into purring, whereas his sister would always purr instantly at the first touch. So we decided that Fluffy's full name is Fluffy Active Purr Paws, and Not Fluffy's full name is Not Fluffy Not Active No Purr No Paws (because usually none of his paws are visible). I suggested just calling him Not for short.

Both of them wanted nothing to do with food for the first 24 hours or so. The animal shelter staff had told us that the kittens didn't seem to be eating, and that it might be because their noses were so stuffed up that they probably had trouble smelling the food. Barry gave them a dish full of canned food, a dish full of dry food, and some treats, in hopes that they might find something to their liking.

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Here they both are on my lap on Saturday, the day we got them. They are in characteristic positions here, with Fluffy standing up and responding to petting, and Not sitting down, largely ignoring his surroundings.

me with Fluffy and Not

For dinner Saturday night, Barry made cacio e pepe, which he proudly assured me was authentically Italian. It was delightful. We ate it with homemade bread, while we finished watching Season 1 of Battlestar Galactica. Barry says there are board games for each season of Battlestar Galactica, and we are now at the right point to play the first of them.

On Sunday morning, we found that the kittens didn't seem to have touched any of their food. Barry placed Fluffy in front of the dish of canned food and managed to induce her to start eating some of it. Not continued to refuse food for a while longer. We had seen Fluffy drinking water even before we coaxed her into eating food, but we weren't certain whether Not had drunk any water. I started to worry that his motionlessness might mean he was more seriously ill than Fluffy and maybe even at risk of dying. I put him on my lap and started petting him, and got him to start leaning his face to one side as I petted his cheek. Then I asked Barry to pass me the water dish, and I held the water dish in front of his face and petted his cheek so that he leaned his face practically right into the water. His whiskers got wet, and then he finally started drinking. Hooray! A little later, I did the same thing with the canned food and got him to eat some of that. After that they both started eating and drinking much more regularly. Here is Not on my lap on Sunday.

me with Not

On Sunday afternoon, Barry took me out for a hot date at the grand opening of the new makerspace in Barry's local library. I had told him I wanted to do something to celebrate my new job, and my narrow escape from the previously looming threat of unemployment, and we had tentatively settled upon the idea of getting some soft-serve ice cream from a food truck. But we arrived earlier than we probably should have and had time to kill before the makerspace opened, and the food trucks weren't there yet either. And it was hot! It was definitely a hot date, but not entirely the kind of hot that I was hoping for. And when we wandered around looking for somewhere to eat, all the restaurants that were open at all on Sundays had closed before 1:00.

Finally we discovered that Steve's Pizza was still open, so Barry bought us a small pizza there. Then we went on to the makerspace when it opened at 2:00. It has one laser (much smaller than both of Barry's two lasers), a woodshop with a bunch of other wood-cutting tools, some 3D printers, some metal-soldering devices, a button press, an iron-on design maker, a sewing machine, and some knitting/crocheting classes. Barry had brought a flash drive with him on which he'd designed a product in advance that he wanted to print out on one of the 3D printers, but the makerspace requires people to take classes on how to use each type of equipment before being allowed to use the equipment independently, so he just signed up for the 3D printing class. He also used the button press to make a button advertising the makerspace, and then used the sewing machine to sew a design onto a paper card and matching envelope.

Using the makerspace is free, except that people have to pay for the materials they use there. Users must have a library card, and the costs are charged to their library card account.

There was also a garden outside the makerspace, planted with tomatoes, squash, and strawberries. I may have been somewhat more interested in the garden than in the makerspace. But I can imagine that some of the makerspace might eventually be useful to me someday.

We left the library at 3:00, when the food trucks were being set up, but we found out that the food trucks wouldn't actually start serving until 4:00. We didn't want to wait that long, so instead we went to a grocery store and bought a big tub of "double chocolate" frozen yogurt, a big tub of "orange-vanilla swirl" sherbet, a smaller tub of "peanut butter chocolate chip" "healthy" alternative ice cream, a coconut-flavored non-dairy whipped cream, a "healthy" alternative chocolate sauce, and a jar of maraschino cherries. We brought this pile of loot back to Barry's house and assembled a banana split for each of us (using the three flavors we had bought rather than the traditional chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry), with a cherry on top of each. It was fantastic.

Then we took Boston for a walk to a different grocery store, where Barry bought more celebratory foods - this time for dinner rather than for our pre-dinner dessert. I stayed with Boston in the parking lot while Barry went inside and did the shopping. As soon as we finished walking back home, I put on fluorescent yellow and teal running clothes and went out for a run, leaving Boston and Barry behind this time. (Boston would be able to keep up with me, but I didn't want to have to worry about encountering off-leash dogs - although this is significantly less common in Barry's neighborhood than in mine.) I ran in various loops through Barry's neighborhood for 20 minutes; attempts to retrace my route on MapQuest later suggest that I went about two miles.

I came home just as the last of the daylight was fading away, and took a shower, and then Barry started barbecuing steaks and chicken and also pineapple on his back patio. Barry's neighbors kept setting off early fireworks, though, and Boston is terrified of fireworks, so Boston kept trying to shove her way into Barry's house anytime we opened the door a crack. We did not want her in the house, because she is incontinent and because she was dirty from being in the yard and because she is unlikely to get along well with Barry's cats. So I stationed myself in a chair on the inside of the sliding glass door with a book (To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North, the cartoonist of Dinosaur Comics fame) while Barry was outside with the barbecue, and by coordinating, we were able to hand things through the door to one another while keeping a free hand available to wrangle Boston as needed. We made a good team.

Dinner was amazing! And over dinner, we continued our progress through the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 by starting to watch Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II. Also, Barry made a point of congratulating me several times on my new job during our celebratory dinner, and my need for a sense of celebration was fully and properly sated.

Monday was our designated day for staying in and not doing much. I did some gardening, made another loaf of homemade bread, and also made Barry a sandwich with the sandwich materials I had brought from home. We finished watching Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (Internet connection problems had interrupted us halfway through it on Sunday night) and started watching Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica. Barry made deviled eggs in preparation for the Fourth of July party we were planning to attend the following day, and we ate leftover barbecued amazingness from the day before.

Tuesday was the party! First we stopped in at Barry's parents' house for half an hour and watched an annual hot-dog eating contest with them. Then we went a few blocks away to the house of one of Barry's friends who was throwing a party. The party was not really Fourth of July-themed in anything other than the date it took place. It was really a board-game party, and more specifically, a party for a particular group of friends (including Barry and the host) to play the next couple of installments of their ongoing game of Seafall.

We arrived at the same moment as the car containing all five of the other guests, so we all went to the front door at once. We were greeted by the host cursing and exclaiming that he and his girlfriend were still in their pajamas and had thought they had invited us for four hours later. Uh . . . the Facebook invitation said 10:00 a.m., not 2:00 p.m.? They let us in and quickly changed clothes and scrambled to do the minor grocery shopping and cleanup tasks they had planned to get done before we arrived. The party got started in earnest at about 11:00 a.m. Four of us girlfriends weren't part of the ongoing Seafall legacy game. The host's girlfriend largely vanished and removed herself from the party, but the other three of us - me, my lodger, A, and her co-worker S from the local air force base - gathered at a second table to play board games of our own. (Side note: S also could have become a lodger in my house; when I told A I was scheduled to be laid off at the end of the month, A told me that S was interested in renting another room in my house. It might have been quite financially helpful if I were to be unemployed for a very long time, but I had a feeling I wouldn't be unemployed long enough to suffer any major financial straits, and I plan to continue living in my house myself for a while longer, so I said that I thought having two lodgers at once would make my house feel excessively crowded. To me, anyway! Apparently both of them would have been fine with it. Anyway, it was kind of nice to know I had the option, even though I was also relieved to have the freedom to decline that option.)

Although the host's girlfriend did not join us for board games, she did join us for lunch. Since she hadn't originally planned to join us for that either, the host had gotten it in his head that there were only eight people at the party, rather than nine, and so he only barbecued 8 steaks for lunch at first, rather than 9. Then he discovered his mistake and went back out to barbecue the ninth. He was having a bad day with numbers. It worked out all right, though.

At our table of three, we started off by playing the storytelling game "Once Upon a Time" that Barry bought me in Fort Bragg. I was the only one of us who had played the game before. We played it twice; I won the first game by concluding our collaborative story with my designated sentence, "Although his wound healed, his heart remained broken forever." (The story was about a king who fell in love with a princess and wanted to marry her, but he was caught in a forest fire and unable to escape because of an injury he had received earlier in the story. The king's son heroically rescued the king from the fire, and the princess fell in love with the heroic prince rather than with the king.) S won the second round of "Once Upon a Time," but I don't remember what her ending sentence was. I remember that our collaborative story that time involved a witch queen who had kidnapped the child of a king in a neighboring kingdom, and my designated ending was supposed to be "Her courage had made her rich," but the witch queen's behavior did not lend itself very well to claims of either courage or becoming newly wealthy (she was presumably already wealthy to begin with, being a queen), so I could not gain enough control over the story to direct it toward my ending.

Next we played Five Tribes, which A and S had played before but I hadn't. I found their attempts at explaining the rules to me hopelessly confusing, and no one seemed to want to hand over the rules and just let me read them for myself, so I resigned myself to just trying to learn by observation as we went along. I soon figured it out, and I actually ended up winning the game by a thoroughly decisive margin. I did not like the game, though. I thought the mechanics were boring and stupid. I won it mainly because A and S kept bidding a bunch of money to get to go first in each new round of play, whereas I saved up huge stacks of money just by bidding nothing on every turn except for one single time when I saw an exceptionally good move available and bid quite a lot of money to get the first chance at it. But by simply not spending any money unless I could see a clear, guaranteed profit resulting from my expense, I became vastly wealthier than A and S, and my wealth translated at the end of the game to enough score points that I won the game quite handily.

After that we played Gloom, another storytelling game, one that only A and S had played before. We each got assigned a family of five, with cards describing the five people in the family. Our job was to make our own assigned family members die more miserable deaths than the other two families, by drawing cards describing good and bad events and assigning the bad events to our own assigned family and the good events to the other players' assigned families. I took an early lead by a small margin, but then A and S both ganged up on me and started using all their turns to make my assigned family happy all the time, rather than ever making each other's assigned families happy, and I couldn't fend them both off at once. S kept complaining through much of this game that she thought we were ganging up on her instead and this did cause me to occasionally aim my happiness cards at S rather than at A, and pretty much as a direct result of that, S won this game.

Finally, we played Tokkaido, a game that I had played once before with Barry and his parents. A and S had never played it before. The idea of the game is to compete for who can have the most fun on a vacation in Japan. The primary obstacle to having fun is a shortage of money, and although there are places to earn some money along the way, you can't get a job at those places if someone else has gotten there first and taken the job before you could. I took an early opportunity to earn money that put A at a major disadvantage, because she was particularly in need of money then and had to skip a bunch of fun tourist attractions to find somewhere else to earn money. I'm not as sure how S ended up at any disadvantage, but somehow A and S both finished the game with dramatically fewer points than me.

So in the final count, I won three games that day, and S won two, and A won none at all. (Or at least, that was the final count at the point when I left the party. A and S stayed longer than I did, so hopefully A got a chance to win a game or two at some point.) Before I left, people were joking that I am a board game shark and that being a board game shark is a requirement for dating Barry. Someone asked me whether that was a stated requirement in Barry's OKCupid profile. I said no, and if it had been, I would have assumed I didn't qualify. Someone else said that this is the definition of a shark, that they don't seem like a gaming afficionado but they somehow keep winning even when you didn't expect them to be good at the games.

Barry won the second of the two installments of the ongoing Seafall game that they played that day, and he is now ahead by one point (90 to 89) in the ongoing Seafall campaign. He says he would rather be behind by one point, though, because being behind confers advantages.

Barry and I had agreed in advance that I would leave the party before he did. I left at 5:00 and went back to Barry's house so I could defend Boston from fireworks. Barry stayed until around 8:00 or so, I think, and then went back to his parents' house. He had planned in advance to spend the night at his parents' house and have them drive him home the next morning. Alone at Barry's house, I mostly finished the job of pruning away all the dead brown remains of the spring annuals in Barry's front yard. All my efforts in the past month have left his yard still covered with dry straw, but at least now it's horizontal straw rather than vertical straw, and this makes it easier to see the remaining live green plants that were previously being blocked from view by dead annuals.

I also gave the foster kittens their eye drops and started packing to leave, but then Barry messaged me that his mother was driving him home that night rather than the following morning, so I decided to stick around for an extra half hour or so to see him again. We had some more of those celebratory dessert foods we'd bought at the grocery store two days earlier, and they were fantastic all over again. Then I loaded Boston back into my car and drove her home to Marysville, seeing some fireworks along the way (although not all that many in the middle section of the drive, because not all that many people live in most of the area between Barry's house and mine).

This morning, Barry brought the foster kittens to the animal shelter for a checkup. I was kind of expecting that Not would be put up for adoption immediately, because although he's inactive, he looks very healthy now, visually. I knew Fluffy was not in adoptable shape yet because of her eye, but the vet's diagnosis was much worse than I expected: the vet has scheduled Fluffy to have her eye removed next week. She will be a one-eyed cat forever! Unless her eye unexpectedly recovers somehow within the next week, anyway. We are wishing Fluffy's eye the best possible health outcomes, but apparently the odds are not good for her eye. Anyone within traveling distance of Yolo County, California, want an adorable one-eyed kitten? She is a very high-quality kitten, as fluffy and purry and playful as you could ever wish for. Having only one eye will damage her chances of being adopted. Hopefully she'll be okay. Anyway, she has a week to try for a miraculous recovery, and also her brother Not will remain with her for this week to keep her company.

Tiny, Adorable Foster Kittens

As I mentioned in passing before, Barry recently fostered four tiny, four-week-old foster kittens. The animal shelter did not loan out this batch for very long (they were at Barry's house for less than a week), so we did not even really get around to naming them. We did toss around some potential names, though, and for the sake of having something to remember them by and to distinguish them from other, future foster kittens by, I suppose those will now be their names, from our perspective: Flour, Sugar, Grill, and Smoke. There were two white ones (Flour and Sugar, a boy and a girl), a black girl (Grill), and a grey boy (Smoke). This was the first batch of foster kittens that I helped pick up from the animal shelter myself. Here I am with the two white ones.

And here are all four of them in my lap together.

Now, it should be obvious that one thing you need more of in your life right now is more pictures of tiny, adorable kittens. I am here to provide for your needs.

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Howard Creek Ranch Inn and Two State Parks, a State Natural Preserve, and a State Forest

Barry and I spent June 10-13 at Howard Creek Ranch Inn in Westport, California. We also stopped at Jackson Demonstration State Forest on the way there and back, and while there, we made side trips to Jug Handle State Natural Preserve, MacKerricher State Park, Seaside Beach, and Russian Gulch State Park. And now I'm going to show you pictures of all of it!

First, on our drive there on Saturday, we stopped in Jackson Demonstration State Forest. This is the largest of eight demonstration state forests maintained by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which uses them "for experimentation to determine the economic feasibility of artificial reforestation, and to demonstrate the productive and economic possibilities of good forest practices toward maintaining forest crop land in a productive condition." (Source.) We were trying to follow these directions that I had printed out in advance so we could go hiking on the "Chamberlain Creek Trail and Camellia Trail," which turned out when we got there to have yet a third name, the "Waterfall Grove Trail." I'm not sure why one three-mile trail needs three different names. Anyway, I had neglected to alert Barry to put the specific trailhead turnoff into his cellphone to give us directions to the trailhead rather than just to the forest as a whole, so we ended up having to double back for a few miles before we managed to find the turnoff. Then the directions neglected to mention that we needed to drive the last 5.5 miles on poor-quality dirt road, which was not entirely fun in my two-wheel-drive Nissan Sentra. And then when we finally made it, the sign seemed to indicate a different trail than the one we were looking for!

Waterfall Grove trailhead

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May Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, at Two Houses . . . but Mostly at Barry's House

I'm several days late for May Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but here I am at last. Let's just say I was somewhat delayed by the fact that I set my boyfriend's front yard on fire . . . with hot pink flames made out of flowers. Specifically, mountain garland (Clarkia unguiculata) - a species known for putting on a big show in late spring, much like its cousins whose common name is farewell-to-spring.

Clarkia unguiculata (mountain garland) and Eschscholzia californica (California poppies)

But I will show you more of that later. Right now, three different versions of my gardening self are having an argument about their vastly different gardening skill levels. It is clear to all of them that the me who gardens in Barry's front yard is the most talented gardener, and the me who gardens in Barry's back yard is the least talented gardener, while the me who gardens at my own house is somewhere in between. But they are arguing over the finer details of that. They all have different advantages: Barry's Front Yard Me (BFYM) and Barry's Back Yard Me (BBYM) have an ever-so-slightly milder climate than My House Me (MHM) . . . not so much that you'd really notice, if you're a human, but if you're a plant who spends all day long and all year round outdoors, you might. The two houses are less than 40 miles apart as the crow flies, and they are both in the Sacramento Valley, and they both see similar levels of frost in winter and similar levels of heat in summer. But the summer heat cools off slightly more at nighttime at Barry's house. On the other hand, MHM generally has a somewhat shadier garden than BFYM or BBYM. And then there's the soil. BFYM has several inches of pure compost on top of the native soil and a couple of inches of storebought cedar woodchip mulch on top of that. MHM has basically no compost but an inch or so of fairly dense mulch in most areas, made from a mix of storebought cedar woodchips and the naturally occurring detritus of the garden plants. BBYM has basically no compost and also very little mulch - just a very thin scattering of some sort of black-dyed woodchips and some twigs dropped from nearby redwood trees.

And they are going to hash out the results of their different garden conditions in photographs here. On Dreamwidth, not on LiveJournal, because apparently I have finally managed to write an entry that is simply too long for LiveJournal to handle, and so LiveJournal has refused to post it. New achievement unlocked? Not really an achievement I'd like to repeat, though.