Christmas Gift

A couple of weeks ago we got home late after a games night.

Rufus had gotten tired of waiting for his dinner, and came down to the kitchen to see what the delay was. In our absence, he investigated the empty cans from the previous couple of nights’ feedings.
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That wasn’t the first time he’s spent time in the kitchen and dining room, but it was almost certainly the longest sojourn, and the first in which he didn’t slink around under the furniture trying to avoid notice.

Once he saw us start preparing his food, he returned to his usual haunts upstairs. But apparently he’s reached a new plateau in his general comfort level.

He visited the kitchen and dining room a couple of times over the following week, and then while Maggie and I were exchanging gifts Christmas morning, he strolled downstairs again and took possession of the catnip rug.
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That’s the designated stoner zone: there are catnip toys all over the house, but the bare herb gets distributed on that rug.

Anyway, Rufus hung out on the rug for the better part of an hour before an opportunity arose. Or rather, before I arose.
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A well-cushioned chair, nicely warmed by a biped’s rear end: what’s not to like?

I’m not sure how long he stayed in my chair, because I left the room first, but it was a significant length of time.

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Upstairs is still Rufus’ home turf, but the staircase doesn’t seem quite so long and forbidding as it once did. I forsee a new era of exploration, colonization, and diplomacy of the “swift paw to the top of the head” variety.

Hot Cider

I had a lovely Christmas, thanks, and I hope yours was as pleasant as mine.

We slept late–one of the advantages of not having small children in the house–and waited until the caffeine was ready before we opened gifts. I’d like to be able to say we opened them slowly and with due appreciation, but…We’ve been bludgeoning adulthood into submission for enough years that we’re not about to go grown-up now.

We stayed in our jammies all day, talked to family on the phone, watched one of our favorite Christmas movies*, had a nice dinner, gave the Backyard Bunch gooshy fud instead of the usual Kitty Krunchiez, and largely ignored whatever’s was going on in the outside world.

* It’s got its flaws, but it’s also got some of the most quotable lines ever.

Oh, yeah. We also tried a new spiced cider recipe. Since it was wildly successful, I’ll pass along our modified version. For those of you stuck in colder realms, it’s the perfect drink to accompany watching someone else shovel snow.

Credit where credit is due: the original recipe comes from Christine Gallary at The Kitchn. We’ve merely tweaked it slightly and adjusted it for a smaller crockpot.

Hardware and Ingredients

  • A 3-quart slow cooker
  • A tea infuser, small cheesecloth bag, or other similar device for confining spices
  • 1/2 gallon of apple cider. Not the alcoholic stuff (much as we love that) and not the sparkling stuff either. If you can’t get cider, get juice–preferably unfiltered. The important thing is to check the ingredients. If there’s anything other than apple juice listed, put it back on the shelf.
  • 1 baseball-sized orange. Maybe a little bigger, but don’t get up into anything suitable for softball. And no, you can’t substitute a couple of those little clementines that are so popular this time of year. The ratio of flesh to peel and pith is all wrong. Cut it into quarter-inch slices and discard the ends and any other pieces that don’t have much flesh.
  • 3 cinnamon sticks.
  • 1/2 tablespoon of whole cloves
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
  • A few pieces of crystallized ginger (yes, a very precise measurement), cut into half-inch squares.

Instructions

  1. Pour the cider into the crockpot. Hardest thing you’ll do all day.
  2. Toss in the ginger, orange, and cinnamon. Gently: don’t splash.
  3. Restrain the cloves and peppercorns into a single packet and drop it in.
  4. Put the lid on the cooker, set it on Low, and leave it alone for two hours.
  5. Stir. Make sure to shove the orange slices under the surface of the liquid. They’ll float back up, but it helps distribute the flavor if they’re damp on both surfaces.
  6. Leave it alone for another couple of hours.
  7. Ladle it into thick-walled mugs and enjoy.

Note: You will get bits of orange and ginger in your mug. Don’t sweat it, just drink around them. Or eat them. Your choice. Mopping up the spills after you try to pour the contents of a hot crockpot through a filter into another pot just isn’t worth the effort.

Merry Christmas From a Formerly Nameless Kitten

mc

What, you were expecting a Santa hat? Not in this house! We’re bringing Sachiko* up in the True Faith, after all.

* Yes, it’s true. The Kitten To Be Named Later has been named. Depending on how it’s written, “Sachiko” can mean “child of bliss” or “happiness”. She’s a happy kitten, and–if the Giants continue to play well–should remain a happy cat.

Am I disappointed that she hasn’t chosen to follow the Way of the Mariners? A little. But since she’s a Bay Area native, I understand her desire to cheer for a local team.

I can only speculate about why she chose the Giants over the As. She’s definitely a hands-on sort. Wants to do it all. I suspect that she simply doesn’t approve of the designated hitter rule.

Happy Holidays!

Three hundred sixty-eight days ago, I had my first experience with the joys of having a kidney stone. It took months to be totally rid of the damn rock; by the end, I was paraphrasing Lady Macbeth on a daily basis: “Out, damn’d stone! out, I say!—One; two: why, then
’tis time to do’t.”

Thanks to dietary changes and a healthy dose of luck (sorry), I haven’t experienced a recurrence. Mostly, I don’t miss the sodium, and I’ve handled most of the other recommended changes–including eating less spinach, darn it–without much trouble. Cutting back on caffeine was pretty much a non-starter, though. Hopefully that won’t come back to haunt me–and I’ll continue drinking eight gallons of water a day to maximize my chances.

What? Eight cups? Well, heck, why didn’t you say so sooner? Anyway, don’t take the above as dietary advice to reduce your chances of developing kidney stones of your own. There are different types of stones, and if you eliminated everything associated with one type or another, you would need to become a Breatharian, a course that would have its own medical risks.

But I digress.

We put up our Christmas tree last weekend.

Why yes, it is hot pink. Makes for a nice change from the red and green that so dominates the landscape at this time of year, wouldn’t you say?

Considering how many years we’ve been celebrating the holidays in front of that tree, it’s unquestionably the best value in cheap decoration we’ve ever scored–although if the talking dog skeleton holds out for a few more Halloweens, we may have revisit that conclusion.

But I digress again.

Most of the gifts are wrapped, the cats are sniffing at the packages, trying to figure out which ones are full of catnip, and it’s not raining (yet). There’s a roast in the fridge, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather is cued up, and Maggie has the next couple of days off work. Sounds about right.

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas!

Fair warning for those who skip the baseball posts: this is one.

This is the last of the “Baseball Religious Holidays” posts. It won’t be the last baseball post, but it does complete the annual cycle that began with the Happy New Year post last April.

Merry Christmas a little early (the holiday actually begins tomorrow)!

“Christmas? In February? What’s up with that?” I hear you ask.

Simple: the non-baseball world’s Christmas is derived from ancient festivals celebrating the end of winter. In the modern tradition, it’s also a celebration of gift-giving (read: “opening presents”). Oh yes, there’s also something about honoring a saviour.

Christmas works the same way for those of the True Faith. Observe:

The heathen Christmas begins a few days after the event it nominally commemorates: the solstice, officially marking the end of winter and the return of the sun, occurs on December 22. Christmas begins on the 25th and runs for a bit less than two weeks.

Similarly, baseball’s Christmas, also known as “Spring Training” and marking the end of winter and the return of the players, begins when pitchers and catchers report to their teams’ training sites in Arizona and Florida. Although the Diamondbacks and Dodgers players reported last week*, Spring Training begins tomorrow when the rest of the teams get started and runs for a bit less than two months. (For the record, this year pitchers and catchers arrive on the 12th, the rest of the players are due on the 17th, and pre-season games start on the 27th, give or take a day.)

* Arizona and LA start training early because they’ll open the season early with a pair of games in Australia** on March 22. They’ll then return to the US, finish Spring Training along with the rest of the teams, and be ready for Opening Day on the 31st. (Remember last year when the Astros and Rangers jumped the gun and played their first game the night before Opening Day? This year it’s the Dodgers and Padres doing the made-for-TV nonsense.)

** Australia? WTF? Look, I can understand having a couple of games in Japan from time to time. Japan loves baseball and it’s only reasonable to let them have a close look at the sport’s highest level. But Australia? They’ve got their own damn sport. I don’t see them giving up on Australian Rules Football in favor of baseball any time soon… (Back in its early days when it was desperate for content, ESPN used to show ARF games. For those who haven’t seen one, it’s worth digging around for a streaming broadcast. Take three sports I have no interest in watching (soccer, basketball, and rugby) and mix them together. Add a scoring system similar to American football. Somehow the result is quite entertaining.)

Both Christmases are celebrated by opening gifts. In one you have boxes covered in paper, holding a variety of objects, some of which will delight and some of which will disappoint. In the other you have players covered in uniforms, holding a variety of skills, some of which will delight and some of which will disappoint. In the first, you unwrap the gifts from your family and friends and try them out. By the end of the twelve days, you’ve got a pretty good idea of which ones are worthwhile and which ones should go to Goodwill. In the second, you unwrap the gifts from your GM and upper management and try them out. By the end of the 47 days, you’ve got a pretty good idea of which ones are worthwhile and which ones should be cut. Remind me: which one is baseball?

Then there’s that saviour thing. As I understand it, some non-baseball fans believe that Christmas celebrates the birth of an immensely powerful being who worked miracles, gave unstintingly of himself, and worked tirelessly to ensure that his followers would enter into Heaven.

As we’ve discussed, at the end of every season, the baseball fan looks at his team and tries to identify the one key lack that must be filled for next year’s team to win it all. Christmas, to the baseball fan, celebrates the unveiling of the player who will work miracles with his bat or pitching arm, give unstintingly of himself on the field, and work tirelessly to ensure that his team’s followers will enter into the heaven of a World Series victory.

Merry Christmas to all.

Play ball!

There Are Two Kinds…

There are two types of Christmas gifts. OK, I’ll pause here while you all relieve yourselves of your favorite “there are two types of x” jokes.

Done? Good. Moving on.

On one side we have this:

What is it? It’s a USB powered aquarium, and it’s awesome. Consider that it’s entertaining to watch, demonstrates some pretty impressive engineering, and demonstrates two unrelated areas of physics.

Really? Yup. Let’s break that down.

Two principles of physicsFluid Dynamics: there’s a fan inside that swirls the water, causing the fish to swim around. Consider the possibilities for discussion here: vortices, the interaction of moving bodies, edge effects. Light and Color: those cheery red and yellow fish change color. Well, actually, only the yellow one changes. Turn off the blue LED light, and the yellow fish turns green! (Very Christmasy.) Think of the hours of fun you could have explaining to a child–or a cow-orker–why one fish changes and the other doesn’t. Or why school says that blue + yellow = green, not green + blue = yellow. Or why blue + green = brown for crayons, but yellow for fish.

Impressive engineering – Yeah, seriously. This thing can run on USB or batteries. It feels solidly constructed: I have no worries about it leaking on my desk; the battery and water compartment covers fit securely, but are not so tight that it requires a fight to open them; and it doesn’t wobble or deform in my hand when I pick it up. The water fan and the light are on separate switches, so they can be turned on and off independently. Really, the only strange thing I’ve found in its design is that it requires a somewhat rare A-A USB cable instead of the more common A-B microUSB or miniUSB cable. But the necessary cable is included and is quite long enough to allow significant freedom in placing the aquarium.

Entertaining to watch – Well, I think so, anyway. The fish move largely in calm, counter-clockwise circles. Up, over, down, back, up, over, down, back… It’s quite mesmerizing to the predator part of the brain. I haven’t tried it out on the cats yet, but I’m willing to bet they’ll be just as entertained as I am. Up, over, back, down…

Now, consider that you get all that goodness for less that twenty bucks. (That’s an assumption based on rules of the gift exchange. Hang on a second… OK, yeah, I just did a quick search, and the median price online seems to be around $14.) The price-to-performance ratio on this thing absolutely rules.

Awesome gift, Eric. Nice job.


So that’s one kind of Christmas gift. Then there’s the other.

Those of you with weak hearts–or weak stomachs–may want to skip ahead here. The next chunk of this post includes some fairly graphic and fairly disgusting imagery.

Imagine the pain of being punched in the lower back. Repeatedly. In the same spot. Got it? Now add the pain of a live mouse trying to dig a tunnel out of your stomach. Add nausea, and flip a coin to see if it includes vomiting. Flip another coin for the possibility of diarrhea. Imagine that going on for four hours on a Friday afternoon. It’s going to pretty much kill any chance of clearing your desk before the holiday weekend.

That, my friends, is a kidney stone, and it is the sort of Christmas gift from Mother Nature that proves she’s a mean bitch with a sick sense of humor.

In my case, everything went away after about four hours. I felt OK Friday night and perfectly fine for most of Saturday. Sunday, around 3 in the morning, it all came back and did not go away. This led to a whole slew of exciting events:

  • A call to the 24 hour nurse hotline
  • An ambulence ride to the emergency room. (“This street is blocked by construction. Let’s try the next one over. Nope, that’s no good. What if we go around to the other side? Hey, this one is under construction too!”)
  • A series of tubes connected to my arm (Oh, look! My own personal Internet!)
  • A shot of some morphine derivative. Aah, blessed poppies that give relief from pain.
  • A CAT scan (Ooh, here I go, into the Time Donut. [Actually, given the size of the hole relative to the size of the “bread”, “Time Bagel” might be more appropriate.] And out of the Bagel. And in again. And back out. Hey, it works! The Time Bagel sent me a good ten minutes forward in time!)
  • A seven block walk to the drug store–in my slippers–to fill prescriptions for pain-killer and anti-nausea medications, followed by a 20 minute cab ride home while waiting for the pills to kick in. (Kudos to both the Walgreens pharmacist who filled the prescriptions quickly and the Friendly Cab driver who did not feel obligated to make conversation or crank the radio to eleven.)
  • Arguing with my doctor to get a prescription refill so I would have enough pain pills to last until my appointment.
  • Peeing through a filter to capture the stones when they finally passed.
  • Constipation and gas.

For almost three days, I survived on a diet of pain pills, anti-nausea meds, water, clementine oranges, and herbal tea (not much taste, but at least it didn’t taste like plain water).

When we went to refill the prescriptions, we discussed the possibility of getting me a human-sized Cone o’ Shame to keep me from biting back at the damned stomach mice, but decided against it, on the grounds that I’m not flexible enough to get my teeth anywhere within three feet of my own stomach. Nice thick mittens might not be a bad idea in these circumstances, though.

Wednesday afternoon and evening, I captured several itty-bitty brown specks in the pee-filters. Joy! By dinner time, I felt well enough to have some Seussian Christmas roast beast, though it took a couple of additional days for my appetite to get back to normal.

By Friday morning, when I finally was able to see a doctor, my only remaining symptoms were the constipation and gas, which led to the final thrilling experience of the affair. I got to be a human pop gun! The solid waste backed up in my gut was quite solid indeed. It organized itself in a series of hard pellets, each separated from the next by a pocket of compressed gas. Once things started moving, it turned the bathroom into quite the shooting range. Pop! Tzing! Sploosh! (pause) Pop! Tzing, tzing, crash! Whoops, there goes the light bulb! (pause) Pop! Tzing! You get the idea. Picture a good ten minutes of this scene as all-natural pellets bounce off the porcelain and ricochet around the room trailing a high-pitched “whizzing” noise and a cloud of organically-grown propellent.

Great way to spend the holidays, huh? And I was lucky! I only had about four days of the really awful part (waiting for the stones to pass). It could have been up to four weeks and/or required some form of intervention. Zapping stones with ultrasound or lasers sounds cool, but I’d prefer not to experience either one, thanks. Still less interested in any of the more invasive techniques. If you’re feeling brave, you can check out some of the thrilling possibilities–with pictures, even.

I don’t even get to keep the stones as a trophy: they’ve been sent off to a lab for analysis, so I can look forward to making dietary and lifestyle changes to reduce the odds of recurrence. Not that they would really make great trophies. I did mention that they were itty-bitty. Again, lucky. Kidney stones have been reported as large as golf balls. Picture that. Better yet, don’t picture that.

And hey, statistically speaking, there’s a 5-10% chance that you, the person reading this, will at some point in your life develop kidney stones (though your odds are about three times worse if you’re male than female). “Worse”? “Better”? Make that “three times greater”. Good luck!

Sucky gift, Mother Nature. Lousy job.