that moment when you find your toddler reading Pío Baroja

Eva is fascinated by this book (Pío Baroja, Camino de perfección). I don’t know why. It has one of the most austere covers on the shelf. But she apparently likes it for what’s inside.

¡Viva la generación del ’98!, I guess . . .


My response to a Frontier Communications feedback survey

My experience with Frontier has been that while staff are helpful, they are unable to actually complete the work they’re responsible for. I must assume that this is because of Frontier’s systems, but it could be a lack of training or motivation in the culture of the company.
Last week, I called to ask about the availability of a higher-bandwidth DSL service package.

I was told by the CSR that I could go from 3 mbps to 5 at no cost [Great!] because the 3 mbps package wasn’t offered anymore.  [Waitaminute…]
I asked to open a service ticket to have a tech look at some inside wiring issues (We’ve been paying for IWS for a long time and not using it), and was told that since I’d just ordered an upgrade in bandwidth they couldn’t even open the service ticket until that order was cleared.
Nobody followed up. Worse, two days later our DSL was turned off completely.
A tech came out about five hours after I called, and he was great. He helped clean up some of the install wiring for me.
The tech couldn’t do anything about our lack of DSL, though, because someone at the Frontier end had turned it off instead of upgrading it. Worse, he said there were multiple departments involved in turning it back on, and that we probably wouldn’t have service restored until the next morning.
We’re up to 4mbps download speeds now, which is better than I was expecting, but the number of delays and interruptions we experienced was extremely frustrating. Everyone we talked to was polite, courteous, and even seemed fairly knowledgeable, but it didn’t seem like anyone was actually able to do the work I needed quickly or efficiently.

If I had the option to switch to cable or another DSL provider, rest assured I would do so. Fortunately for Frontier, I live in a rural area and the LTE/microwave towers are just far enough out of range/LOS that they’re not worth switching to. If satellite latency were better, I would switch to that over Frontier DSL.

Survey scores:

Technician helpfulness/professionalism: 10/10

Technician able to explain work: 10/10

Likely to recommend: 1/10



Sadly, based on my experience as a customer-facing technician, all I’ve done is not throw this technician under the bus. If I gave him a bad score he’d get a notice from his supervisor, but there’s nothing the tech could have done differently, so that won’t change anything.

I’m glad this guy won’t suffer for the inefficiencies of his company, but it would be nice if someone actually looked at the “likely to recommend” score and said “hey, I think we could do something about that!”

where the words went

diss.pngWhile the blog has been entering a dormant pocket, the dissertation has been making more and more strides toward completion.

My advisor has now read and provided feedback on all three chapters, and my to-do list in order to finish is now frighteningly short (if difficult). My advisor has requested some more revisions, and then I have the political work of hunting down two more members for my committee and handing over my tender, red-faced, newborn dissertation child for their approval. Also, I need to write an intro and conclusion that tie everything together neatly.

The intro/conclusion seems like a smaller step than it actually is. The dissertation has evolved a lot since the beginning, so coming up with a compelling narrative that makes Chapter 1 make sense alongside Chapter 3 is going to take some work. Just now, I started sorting through some of my very early notes and drafts to find material I was pretty sure I had gathered for the intro. It was like revisiting a home that had been left during an evacuation. You know that you carried all that you really needed out with you, but you go back and see how much was left, how many things undone. You also remember the wrenching emotion of leaving-behind and get a taste again of the fear and dread. Also, that overwhelming sense of lostness at What Will Happen Next. Add to that, in my case, a good dose of postpartum confusion about What Life Looks Like Now and Where Did My Brain Go Anyway and Why Don’t My Old Pants Fit?!—Never Mind; More Chocolate Please.

Looking through my early notes and drafts did not inspire good feelings. I am relieved to see the finish line not too far off, but it feels more like bedraggled survival than accomplishment.

RIP, Daisy

A lot of death has come to the Ranch since we arrived. Nearly a death a week, I think, if you could space them out (and not counting the hundreds or thousands of formerly-living ants).

Yesterday, we lost Daisy (see our bite-sized description here). I will look for pictures to post later. For now I think about Eva’s mantra during Daisy’s frequent licking attacks—”No kisses, Daisy! No kisses, Daisy!”—and am sad.

toddler’s perspective on dog-bathing (July 2017)

The Silence of the Goats, Part II

La Chiva cheated death so many times, it made you wonder if she was secretly a cat.

But before I explain, I have to stop and say something about Don Eladio and Don Margarito, jugadores de damas (players of checkers). Most afternoons during the summer, and sadly fewer during the rest of the year (when Don Margarito helps to shuttle his grandchildren to extracurricular events), Bito and Don Margarito play checkers. They appear to be very evenly matched, although to say so is probably to violate some deep unspoken pact of family loyalty. They play: they win, they lose, they bicker; then they do it all over again the next day.

Bito met Don Margarito a few years ago at a get-together for local avocado growers where Spanish-speakers were hard to find, and Don Margarito was making carnitas. Since then, Don Margarito has been a good friend, accompanying Bito on adventures and misadventures around the Ranch. He was the one who hooked Bito up with the guy who sold him this last crop of goats. I never thought of a sage being a very merry person, but Don Margarito is both merry and—at least when it comes to practical problems at the Rancho Loco—considered a sage.

So it happened that, at the end of April, Don Margarito was called to assess the Chiva. “This goat is in bad shape,” he said. “You should put it out of its misery.” “You’re right. I hate to do it, but I’ll do it tomorrow,” said Bito. Next day, the Chiva disappeared. Dead, Bito thought. But he was wrong. When he found her, she had just given birth to her two baby kids.

A few weeks later, the checkers-players were having the same conversation again, only this time there was no danger that the goat was secretly in labor. “This goat really isn’t doing well,” said Don Margarito. “You should put it out of its misery.” “I’ll most likely kill her in the morning,” said Bito (more or less). But, in the morning, the goat had rallied.

And, when the scene repeated again, the goat rallied again.

Eventually Bito got the message not to mess with this goat.

But someone else was *VERY* intent on messing with that goat. Her horrible, terrible, no good, very bad baby daddy, El Coronel. We’ll start with him in “The Silence of the Goats, Part III.” Stay tuned . . .

Context is everything.

Eva is in a coloring phase. Everything is fair game: coloring books, pads of paper, loose papers, library books, limbs, furniture, walls [for the record, I’m caught up now on wall-art removal—and have inspired in my daughter a new fascination with scrubbing walls, which is…better…?], and—until we saw that numbers were starting to be scribbled out—Bito and Bita’s ancient address book.

You know what I’m talking about: the type of book where people in ancient times used to record the addresses and phone numbers of their friends, family, veterinarians, attorneys, and pool maintenance guys. Books with entries composed of long strings of long distance extensions. Books that don’t have a designated place for “mobile” (and maybe not even for “FAX”). You know, like the ones we used before Skype. Before Google Hangouts. Before WhatsApp.

Okay, maybe you don’t know the one. It’s a thing. Or was.

Eva only got to the numbers on the first page, and all are thankfully still legible. But, as I read through the pages of the book, I observed a more sobering type of scratching out. Name after name of people who are gone now. Numbers for old landlines that don’t ring anymore.

There’s a custom related to address books which may also be going extinct. It’s the weekday-afternoon-calling-up-friends ritual. Maybe only my grandparents do it (but I doubt it). It’s where you systematically call friends and relatives to give them your updates and get theirs (you know, what people used to do before Snapchat). Looking through the address book made me reflect on the [d]evolution of that ritual, the shrinking list of people you can call as time carries more and more away.

That’s what was on my mind a few minutes ago while I listened to someone leave this message on my grandpa’s answering machine:

“Hi, I was just calling to see if you were dead. If you’re dead, don’t worry about calling me back. But if you’re alive, my number is [number].”

It’s pretty much definitely intended to be a joke when you’re 34. But when you’re 80? 85?

The Silence of the Goats, Part I

There was a time, in the semi-distant past, when goats lived at the Ranch. Staying more or less in their enclosure, the goats mostly ate weeds and other things that were approved-for-goat-consumption, and only occasionally escaped to eat my grandma’s flowers. In this way, my sisters and I came to know a little bit about goats and learn the taste of fresh goat’s milk. I’m not sure what else my sisters learned during this time, but what I learned is that goats are largely unpleasant creatures, much cuter as babies than as adults, that male goats are horrible people, and that they truly can climb over anything and demolish anything, too.

The initial goat years ended in a drawn-out drama wherein Bito was the gun-slinging hero, a mountain lion was the villain, and the goats were the bleating victims. Sadly, the drama was more Nature Channel than Hallmark Channel, and the mountain lion won the day.

(There was another, shorter goat episode a few years ago that began when Bito’s younger brother was visiting and ended, I think, when the goats gorged themselves on avocado leaves and died. But I could be wrong about that.)

So it was with some surprise that I heard earlier this year that Bito had acquired a new set of goats—a male and three females. Within a few days of their arrival, there was speculation that at least one of the females was pregnant. As it turns out, the inspiration for the new crop of goats was the organic certification process: since the old herbicides can’t be used in the grove, Bito needed some non-chemical help with weed control.

Sure enough, one of the females was pregnant and gave birth in April, just before we left for Canada. Mama goat (“La Chiva”) had an infection in one of her teats and seemed to be having some more health trouble, so there were some rocky days for her at the beginning. Bito bottle fed to supplement the two kids’ nutrition, and after the first few weeks they were growing well.

E with female kid, just a couple days old

Grandma made a lot of visits to the goat babies, and during our month in Canada we received regular dispatches about the ups and downs of goat life, including a few near-death experiences for La Chiva, who was really having some trouble getting her health back in order. By the time we got back, she was (mostly) out of the woods. Or so we thought…

Air con

Every day for the foreseeable future, the sun will bake this part of the world until the temperature is measured with three digits. (But hey, on this side of the mountains at least it’s a dry heat…)

The house has central air conditioning, fortunately, but being a family of penny-pinchers we tend not to use it. So, it was not until the “extreme heat warning” took effect that we discovered no discernable difference in the air coming out of the vents when the thermostat was switched to “cool.”

A helpful service technician replaced the capacitor in the starting circuit and all is functioning; now we just have to figure who gets to decide how cold to set the thermostat.


A lot of people have asked me what it is like living with my grandpa. The short answer is “good.” My definition of good has for a long time been the kind of “good” that is captured in the idea of smiling through tears. And this experience is no exception.

As a bit of background, we wouldn’t have considered this opportunity in the same way if Dan hadn’t already had the experience of living with his grandparents. He was pretty painfully aware of things that may be difficult, at the same time that he appreciated the once-in-a-lifetime blessings that come only this way. Especially after having lost three of his grandparents and my Bita already just in the years we’ve been married, we know that the years are short, and numbered.

And we do consider this an opportunity. The Ranch is an amazing place to live, and Bito is someone that I want my new little family to get to know—and, hopefully, to know well. Many happy childhood memories were set here, from family get-togethers and weeks spent baking and running errands with Bita to outdoor adventures while we were house-sitting and having friends stay over. My grandparents’ hospitality and generosity to us (and all of our extensions-by-friendship) is one of the defining gifts of my early life and one that made a sweet mark on our courtship and early marriage. Being able to be part of extending that hospitality through the vehicle of this house and ranch is a privilege. (And, on the intensely practical side, it’s a wonderful gift from Bito to let us live here while I finish my PhD and we save some money.)

So, back to the “good.” It is good to dig deeper into my/our relationship with Bito. It is good to see Eva excited to get up [too early] in the morning and run downstairs to say “hey, Boto!” It is good to see them watching Curious George together. It is good to watch her learning to say “buenas noches” and getting detoured from her goodnight tour to watch the Spanish dub of a Discovery Channel special about snakes. It is good to have Bito there to watch her loving on his dogs and begging him to pick her fruit from the trees in the yard. It’s even good to walk in and realize that she’s convinced him to give her one more [enter snack food here] after she knows Mama would’ve said “no more.” It is good to throw his laundry in with ours and know that he is with family. It is GOOD to know the joy of restoration, bringing Bita’s house back to life again.

On the flipside, it is hard—a lot like getting married is hard. It is hard to realize that your doing things a certain way has been infringing on someone else’s preferences. And the reverse, which is (of course) always more noticeable, (of course) always seems harder. It is hard to find the right words in the right language at the right time. It is hard to mediate a relationship between two men who have an awful lot in common (except a widely-functional language). It is hard to match up routines and expectations. It is hard to accept criticism humbly (and sometimes the “why did you do _____ that way?” questions feel like criticism even when they’re not at all). It is hard to have someone there to observe your family dynamic (read: how grouchy Mama is) when it’s 110* outside, the A/C isn’t working, the dishes are piling up, no writing is getting done, the baby is crying, and there’s still an hour’s worth of work to do before dinner. It is hard to fight the dirt every day and to keep the ants at bay (more on the ants later…).

All of that to say: it is hard in the ways that life is hard. The adjustment is probably harder for him than for us.

But it’s been very very worth it.


High Summer is drawing to a close. The windows and fans don’t stay open at night as much anymore, and the fog is thick until late in the morning. (It’s still plenty hot in the afternoon, though.)

We spent last week at lake Tahoe for Emily’s orientation week. There were fewer students this year, but two of the sisters-in-law came along to babysitenjoy the scenery, so it was a really good week.

We’ve finally got our Organic certificate for the avocados and grapefruit, which is great; we’ve also found out about a rebate program for the expenses of the certification process: in our case it’ll cover almost 50% of the cost of federal certification, which is even better!

Los topos (gophers) have either got a lot smarter or nearly all died off. I’ve started re-trapping old holes, since there are very few new holes around.

This means trapping is more effective than I expected, but I know I’ve only caught around a dozen animals; based on the number of holes I was expecting a lot more than that. Maybe it was only two or three families digging a ton of holes, or maybe they’re just moving to places I haven’t seen. Time will tell.

The next big task is going to be cleaning up limbs and leaves. Pelón has a good-size chipper, but an oil leak on the tractor has kept us from doing big jobs. The leak turned out to be an easy fix (a filter on the hydraulic system) so it’s time to start chipping away at the piles…