from the desk of Colin Nicholls

Category: Diary (Page 1 of 38)

RIP Zachary

On the morning of the 16th, Zach did not show up for breakfast. This is not unusual; he likes to wander, and on occasion has turned up as late as lunchtime. However, with Summer in full swing and the current drought conditions, we also know that it is risky for little cats to be out at night.

We could have kept the cats inside at night, but Zach had his routine, and made such a fuss if he couldn’t come and go as he pleased. Outdoor activities were such a big part of his cat identity. So we let him be, reminding him to be alert, and not be a tender morsel for some hungry predator.

We feared the worst when I found his collar and some fur on our front driveway. Not a good sign. Clearly a scuffle had occurred. We walked around the block, talking to any neighbors we met, asking them to keep a look out.

The following day, Lisa decided to check out the field next to the nearby Elementary school. We both went, and there we found him. His luck had run out. It was probably a coyote; neighborhood sightings are becoming commonplace.

We collected him together and wrapped him in piece of hessian, and took him back home and buried him between the orange tree and the cherry plum tree, where all our cats liked to sit, and nap, and watch.

Our little neighborhood trooper is no more. He was friendly and talkative, and didn’t move fast unless he had to. Everyone loved him.

We let him live the life he wanted: He slept all day, gave and received plenty of love, and demanded both food and the right to go out at night. We spoiled him rotten while we could.

He has been a terror to birds and lizards and mice alike, and has now paid his debt to the Food Chain. We, in turn, are paying our own debt in our hearts.

Our drawer is full of treats, that who will eat? Buster doesn’t like ’em

An Understandable Mistake

Okay, so we’re doing some preparation for landscaping work, and I’ve been trying to trace the destination of a rain gutter downspout that just… disappears into the front garden somewhere. It backs up in heavy rain, so clearly there’s a blockage.

I actually want to find the end point and find out why it isn’t draining – although I think I’ve just answered the question: if it terminates in the front garden about a foot below the surface, then all it will take for the drain to stop draining is for the groundwater level to rise to that point.

During the recent drought years, the groundwater level is so low to be non-existent, and the drain does the job fine. But with the recent weeks of Pineapple Express moisture dumping, it’s a problem.

I started digging around, and found the pipe heading out to the front, but it has roots and things twisted around it.

One of the “things” turned out not to be a root, but rather, irrigation control wire.

Complicating the picture slightly, the two smaller pipe ends just to the right of the main run are actually much shallower, they are short lengths that run under the concrete that I’m kneeling on to take the photo. They are supposed to be used as chases to allow cables and suchlike to be threaded under the concrete path. You know, like, say, irrigation valve control wire. However someone in their wisdom did not use the chase for this purpose, and instead just lay the irrigation control wire alongside the main drain pipe. Cleverly disguised as a root. A root, I tell you. Why black plastic cladding? Purple or green would have been much less likely to be mistaken for a root. (OK, well, RED then.)

The water level you see here is about a foot below ground level. It’s not a leak; it’s just ground water. The pipe running from the T-junction to the left actually makes an off-screen right angle upwards, to a clean-out. That’s where I started digging to find out what it connected to.

Best figure out how to fix this severed control wire before the new pavers go down, I think.

I was out there again this afternoon tracing back the business end of the wire and pulling it up so that I could tape it off safely (low voltage but still, potential short) and the ground water level is now out of range. I couldn’t say how far down it’s gone but at the 1.5 foot level it is back to the usual stodgy clay. Now that the wire is taken care of, i can go back to tracing the far end of the drain pipe and see where it stops. It probably just needs a proper clean-out at the end, ending in a gravel pit. Which right now, it probably doesn’t. Who knows? We’ll find out…

I found the outlet! Yes it was blocked.

The root of the problem

It just terminates at a right-angle, coming up to the level of the pavement. I wish it could be redirected straight out to the road, under the pavement.

After Margritte

Diminished 4th chords

I can’t take credit for the post title – that goes to Eldest Brother.

That Hammond solo will have to be postponed

Stupid onions. Stupid non-mindfulness. Stupid knife technique. I’ve sliced many a finger and thumb in the past and each time I say “never again” but clearly my technique has not improved. This was a bad one.

I actually have a picture of the severed tip – complete with sliver of fingernail – which I will not share here. And I have another picture from the hospital where they uncurled my fingers from the clenched fist position, complete with gore, which, again, I will not share here.

I can only say, with renewed commitment, “never again”. Technique+Mindfulness. Also, it’s not a fricken’ horse race. Slow down.

Oregon Eclipse

I was full of plans to write up my memories of these last few days but I was so tired that it just never happened.

This story actually begins two years ago. We wrote to our old friend Mitchell with whom we have had adventures before. We asked if he would like to plan a visit out this way, because “the skies will be interesting around this time”. We looked at the map to decide where we should be in order to experience the total eclipse, and settled on the Oregon Coast, at Depoe Bay. I researched motels and selected the Surfrider Resort, and gave them a call to reserve a couple of rooms for August 2017. My intent was to lock in a rate nice and early. I was probably naive but whatever. They told me that I would have to speak to the manager because their booking app wasn’t able to take bookings that far in advance, but eventually I got it sorted and the details filed away.

Then about a year later I called them again to give them updated credit card details, and to check that the rooms were, in fact, reserved correctly. All was good.

Then about four months ago, they called my cell and said, well, that was all fine and good but their rates had gone up (“astronomically”, ha ha) and was I okay with the new price? No, I wasn’t. Ouch. Apparently they are allowed to do this a certain number of days before the actual booking. So much for the long-term planning, *sigh*. On the positive side, it secured the room, if not the price. I re-negotiated but we went down to one room (two night minimum).

August 19

We drove up to Santa Rosa, parked the car at the airport and caught a tiny plane up to Portland, OR. We collected our rental car – a kind of worse-for-wear Subaru Imprezza, about which I had some doubts, but it was all they had – and drove to meet our old friend Mitchell with whom we have had adventures before. He looked great, having arrived in Seattle from England a few days ago and had made his way down to Portland to meet us.

Lisa and I have been in Portland before and it is a lovely place to walk around, and eat. We debated whether we should spend some time looking around and maybe having dinner there… but finally agreed that, with traffic an unknown factor, it might be best to head out to the coast, picking up supplies on the way.

It was an uneventful drive West on 18 out to the coast, turning South on 101 to get to Depoe Bay, some time before Sunset.

Now called Clarion Inn, the Surfrider Resort is very comfortable and our room was great, plenty of room for three of us.

August 20

With a day in hand, we drove up and down the coast, exploring Siletz Bay; Lincoln City; Captain Dan’s Pirate Pastry, and the Mossy Creek Pottery. For dinner we politely waited our turn at the crowded Tidal Raves Seafood Grill, which was very satisfying.

Tidal Raves Seafood Grill, Depoe Bay

August 21

Fog. We knew it could be an issue. It was here. We fairly quickly reasoned that, given a long day of driving ahead of us, it made very little sense to wait for the fog to possibly clear in time for the morning’s event. It made more sense to get on the road, and pull over at a point conducive to viewing.

The only sensible road out was South on 101 to Newport, then East on 20. The difference in latitude was not great and shouldn’t be an issue. We just needed somewhere to pull over at around 10:30 am, with clear skies.

The Corvallis-Newport Highway goes up and down and around through valleys of fog and high points and we didn’t really have to make a decision because somewhere a ways East of Corvallis we suddenly came across the only place that made sense:

Fantastic sky; good company; and a space to pull into.

(I have not been able to find the exact location on Google Maps but it must be somewhere around Eddyville.) We pulled over into a convenient gap at the side of the road, and set ourselves up.

Slowly the Moon pulled itself across the Sun.

At the moment of beginning of totality, a curious thing happened: As “twilight” fell, the steady darkening suddenly quantized: visibly snapped successfully darker in increments, all in the space of half a second before totality arrived completely. I believe this was the edge of the Sun sinking behind successive mountain ranges on the moon. I have not seen this effect described anywhere before and it was very unexpected.

The Great American Eclipse, Totality at 11:03 am, photo by Lisa Nicholls

I have no decent pictures of totality because I think I lost my mind a bit. I was looking around, trying to take it all in; trying to juggle both my iPad and my camera; and experiencing regret that I had not better prepared myself for this moment, photography-wise. Fortunately Lisa was snapping away, and Mitchell was all business, crouched behind his tripod and filters, and making adjustments.

It paid off. Mitchell’s two images rival any that I’ve seen published since.

Then… wait for it… the Moon pulls away and, again, with a strobe-like succession of flickers the landscape quickly lit up out of twilight.

This whole 2 minute event was the closest I’m likely to get to a religious experience.

Rather than dawdle as the eclipse moved into its latter phase, we quickly packed up the car and pulled out back on the highway to make our way across the State.

From Corvallis, we took 99W South to Eugene, and found a nice place for lunch. I can’t recall the name and we didn’t take any pictures. From there it was East on 58, into the smoke-heavy lower half of Oregon, towards Crater Lake.

I have to give a shout-out to the Subaru Imprezza, which although lacking a bit of pick-up in the top range, was a solid performer with a bottomless gas tank. We could not have asked for a better vehicle for this adventure.

The smoke was getting pretty thick, and the day was wearing on, and we had some concern that the road to Crater Lake might be closed… but it wasn’t. Considering the distance we had to travel, we made good time. We made to the rim at about 6:00 pm.

Even a smokey cloud has a silver lining – the light was kind of magical.

Crater Lake, Oregon, August 2017, photo by Mitchell Rodda

We all took tons of pictures and they were all great but Mitchell’s panorama is up there with the best.

It was definitely worth the detour. We couldn’t stay too long because we had to get down to Klamath Falls and check in to our motel reservation.

We passed Upper Klamath Lake as the Sun, probably tired from all the excitement earlier in the day, sank into the West.

The Sun sets over Upper Kamath Lake (photo: Lisa Nicholls)

It was just after 8:00 pm when we checked in and we found a place nearby that wasn’t closed for a quick dinner.

August 22

After a quick breakfast, we were on the road again with a full tank of gas, ready for a long boring drive down I-5 back to California and our car parked in Santa Rosa. Not entirely uneventful, with Mount Shasta looming out of the fog looking much larger than we expected; and some traffic issues.

For the most part, Northern California was relatively smoke-free, but driving West on 20 into Clearlake we were reminded of fires in this region in previous seasons, with growth coming back amongst the burnt areas.

After some delay dropping the keys back at the Rental Car office at Santa Rosa airport, said farewell to our faithful transport, the Subaru Imprezza, and transferred our stuff to the Audi and drove home.

It’s good to be home. A little rest… a little sight-seeing.

August 23

On the way to Napa, it’s a winery. Who would have thought.

Plum Season

It’s actually slightly early but you have to get them before the birds do. The ornamental plums are ripening nicely and quite good to eat. Stewed Plums are imminent!

Two Bowls

It’s owner-serviceable but only to a point

Miss Silvia‘s steam wand valve had been a bit leaky recently so I thought I’d break it down and replace the washer or whatever it is that needed replacing.

Anyway, I did a bad thing. I managed to strip the thread from the brass whatsit. Clearly I’d forgotten how to disassemble this from the last time I did it, because although I was confident about the process, I must have missed something important. Arghh.

oh the humanity

I ordered a replacement steam wand and valve assembly but until it arrives, it’s plunger coffee for us.

Home-made Shaving Cream

There are recipes out there on the web. I tried one that looked good: Almond Castile liquid soap; olive oil; and coconut oil. Plus some kind of emulsifier.

My goal was to get a product that I could dispense from a pump-bottle, already liquid. I kind of guessed at the relative quantities, until I got something that seemed like the right consistency.

Today I noticed that the product had hardened in the jar. Not quite what I was going for. So I turned it out into a bowl and added more olive oil and Castile soap – just a splash of each – and mixed it in. For some reason, it was easier to get air into the mix than yesterday – maybe the cooling off period is necessary. Anyway, now the result is lighter and softer, and this was still true this evening when I tried it out. It has the consistency of blancmange and it is easy to scoop a teaspoonful out and smear it over the beard area. I tried using the shaving brush to lather up but fingers worked better. The results are promising.

Pro Tip: When preparing home-made shaving cream, do not be tempted to lick your fingers. Not all that smells good is tasty.

I’m experimenting with getting the relative quantities right, for my target consistency. The whole absent-minded finger licking only happened because of the Almond Castile soap.


Over time, it solidifies. A better delivery format is to spoon or pour into a repurposed yogurt container, where it eventually turns into a butter-like consistency. You can then grab a couple of fingers’ worth and smear it over your face. Or, in fact, it makes a nice shampoo / body wash also.

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