Thursday, December 28, 2017


That's Jude, my nephew, transfixed by Rudolph. Adorable as this photo is, he's infitely cuter in person.

Spending the holidays with him - and all of my other neices and nephews before him - is easily one of the best parts of this time year for me. Watching the joy he experienced hearing about Santa's impending arrival and then waking up on Chrismas day to discover that the jolly old fellow brought the very 'marble run' toy that he wanted so badly, I was reminded of my own childhood and how magical this time of year can be.

Naturally as I plodded along through my first half century - ugh - I've come to have a more nuanced view of Christmas. I learned that Christmas wasn't just about getting gifts. Turns out there's a religious backstory to the holiday that tends to get edged out by the consumeristic craze that descends upon much of the world this time of year. I learned that not all the boys and girls in the world were as lucky as I was. I learned that the adults in my life were onto something when they gently planted the seed in my head that sometimes giving is better than receiving.

But one of things that always strikes me about the way we celebrate Christmas nowadays is how many of the same holiday specials that I watched as a child are the same ones that kids like Jude continue to watch today.

Which brings me back to Rudolph.

Though I wasn't afflicted by the same red nose that Rudolph was, I do recall having red hair wasn't such a great thing as a kid. "Carrot top" was the favored taunt back in my day. I tried to explain to the kids in school that my hair was red because I stood on my head a lot and the blood rushed to that lower extremity. Not sure any of them ever bought that explanation. It wasn't until later in my life that they started calling us "gingers".

Speaking of which, if you haven't already been warned, here's how someone defined "gingers" on
Gingers are people who are commonly mistaken as having no soul, but in fact have souls, they are just stolen. Gingers are soul sucking redheads who are slowly sucking the universe's life force, slowly. If you ever see a ginger with blue eyes, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Beware if I ever bat my baby blues at you! You've been warned.

Life's lessons often arive in hindsight. By the time I learned about my ginger super powers, my hair had already begun turning - how should I put this? - frosty.

Watching Rudolph with Jude this year, I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before. It wasn't the sudden realization that his little reindeer friends were jerks. Or that the reindeer coach was a jerk. Or that Rudolph's father was a jerk. Or that even this show's version of Santa was a jerk - an exploitative jerk at that. Nope, all of those insights came to me years ago.

The realization this year didn't strike me while I watched with Jude. Rather, it came when I saw the photo above, after the fact. For the first time, I noticed the copyright date.

If I recall correctly, the Rudolph holiday special first showed a few years before I was born. Since that was - according to the copyright date anyway - way back in 1164 A.D., perhaps I should be forgiven the bits of frosty that I've picked up over the intervening centuries.

And given what I discovered about the Rudolph holiday special this year, in the spirit of the holiday season, I've decided to cut the show's cast of characters some slack. They were highly socially evolved when compared to their contemporaries back in MCLXIV.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Thank You

This is apparently a perilous time to be part of my extended family.

Just before we sat down for our Thanksgiving dinner, my brother in law's mother took a nasty fall. I won't catalogue the numerous injuries. They're too painful just to think about. Being the non-drinker, I volunteered to get her to the emergency room.

From that point on, it was a waiting game while the doctors and nurses worked their wonders. I was struck by their dedication. While other families were celebrating Thanksgiving, they were caring for the sick and injured. They are special people, and I thank them.

Wishing Linda a full and speedy recovery.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Rest in Peace

[ A few words I wrote upon receiving sad news last month... ]

I'm aboard Alaska Airlines flight 3380, returning home from an unexpectly shortened trip to Portland. I was scheduled to return home this weekend, but I received the sad news that Marilyn, my mother-in-law, passed away this afternoon.

The last month has been a roller coaster of emotions. We first suspected something was up with with Marilyn's health at the beginning of July. We headed up to Piedmont to check in with her and see if we were mistaking the symptoms that we had detected over the phone. Sadly that very first trip made it immediately clear that continuing to live her own in her independent living apartment was no longer a viable option for Marilyn.

We spent this last month making alternate arrangements for her care. We consulted various medical professionals. The initial diagnosis was heartbreaking. She would live, but we suddenly faced a future where she would no longer remember who we were. The next diagnosis was crushing. Her condition was terminal.

Looking back, there were blessings over the last month. Topping that list were the unexpected moments of lucidity that we shared with her. We were able to spend precious final days with her. And the medical staff at her retirement home were wonderful.

I do not intend any of the following as any form of self-congratulatory commentary on myself. In the last month, I found myself rising to the occasion in a number of ways. I found myself in the role of caretaker - perhaps for the first time in my life.

I have somehow made it to fifty years old having lived a life largely untouched by death. Aside from the death of my grandparents, I've had the good fortune to not had death visited upon my family.

This last month gave me many opportunities to see a very different side of life. And it has given me a far greater appreciation for the people - doctors, nurses, retirement home staff, etc. - who have made it their life's work to deal with life and death day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

I'll hold countless fond memories of Marilyn, but I know one that will always stay with me. Marilyn, a librarian whose mastery of literature and language dwarfed my own, coined a description of me shortly after we met. She said that I was the most "couth" person that she knew. I'm not sure that I always deserved that description. I suspect that it was more a matter of managing to keep my uncouthness out of her earshot. But she continued describing me that way for eighteen years, and that always encouraged me to be the better person that she saw in me.

Soon we will journey to Southern California to fulfill her wishes: to be buried next to her husband. In the meantime we will be cherishing memories of them both.

Rest in peace, Marilyn & Robert.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Painted Hills

Just got back from a trip to Iceland, Greenland, and France, which can only mean one thing: I'm falling even further behind on posting photos from previous trips.

While I recover from jet lag this weekend, I thought it would be a good time to catch up on at least one trip's worth of photos.

I travelled to Oregon back in July for work. I have a couple customers up in the Portland area that I visit periodically (e.g. Here's a video from a trip a few years ago). I always enjoy the trips to Oregon because they provide the opportunity to see my mom.

This time I finally managed to squeeze in a day trip that I've wanted to take for years. There's a beautiful spot in Central Oregon called The Painted Hills. I first saw photos of it back in 2010, and between my work-related trips, a trip for a wedding, and just-for-fun trips to visit Mom, I've never been able to get to the Painted Hills.

Having travelled more than a million miles in my lifetime, it strikes me as a tad bit ironic that this 400ish mile journey could have been so challenging to undertake. Sometimes it takes longer than expected to get to where you want to be.

But this time I did it - with Mom along for the ride. It was a bit of a time crunch. I flew up on Sunday around noon, and I needed to be at my customer's site the very next day. The drive alone is an eight hour round trip. That plus an hour or so to stop for dinner plus the time at The Painted Hills meant it was going to be a late night.

Before the trip, I asked Mom - an Oregonian for how many years now? - whether the trip was feasible. By our calculations, it was. Just barely.

When I landed at PDX, I quickly made my way to Avis, picked up my rental, and called Mom to see if she was at the meet-up location that we had prearranged. She was, so I headed her way.

Our drive to The Painted Hills (and back) was a pleasant outing. We had hours and hours to talk and catch up.

After some time, we arrived at The Painted Hills.

And the Hills were, indeed, beautiful. Here are a few photos.

Click if you'd like to see a 360° view. The 360° view is even more fun if you view it from a smart phone and click on the gyroscope icon.

And for more photos, I've created a quick video...

The weather was beautiful, the drive was pleasant, the company was enjoyable, and the views were spectacular.

It would have been nice to have more time to spend admiring the view, but the clock was ticking. We hopped back in the car, and started heading back towards Portland. We stopped briefly for dinner in the nearest town, Prineville, and hit the road once again.

In the end, the timing worked out fine. I was back at my hotel by around 11:00 - 11:30. That was plenty early enough to get the necessary amount of shuteye.

A day and a half later, my trip to Oregon was cut short when I received the sad news that my mother-in-law, Marilyn, had passed away. Thankfully work was understanding. We quickly arranged for a co-worker to fly up and take my place. It all happened so fast. I heard the news around noon, and I was back home that very same evening.

In light of the sad events, I was glad to have taken the opportunity to spend time with mom. Life is too darn short. We don't get to keep our loved ones around forever.

Spend time with those you love, and don't miss the opportunity to let them know that you love them.

Friday, March 10, 2017


I was going through some stuff the other day, and came across some trophies. I wasn't exactly the athletic sort as a kid, so I earned my trophies in adulthood.

This trophy is one I earned my first year at VMware.

Obviously that one is work-related.

This next one is one that I'm very proud of. It isn't work related. I received it a year ago today.

Hang on. Let me zoom in on the plaque...

The nephews who awarded this to me are approaching adulthood themselves, so I'll spare them the embarrassment and not identify them publicly.

At the time, they were 8 and 6, but their artistic skills were already developing. The trophy arrived in a box which they decorated:

I was already having a great birthday, but when their box arrived, my birthday catapulted from mere "great" to "grate"!

I'm not sure which nephew did each side of the box, but I have always assumed that this next side was drawn by my other nephew:

I'm in SoCal this weekend, so I'll get a chance to find our which is whose for sure. I plan to place my trophy and its box on their kitchen table and wait to see their reaction (aka wait to see if they even remember it a decade later!).

As you can see from the photo below, they were careful to mark up the box to prevent any unintentional damage to the trophy:

And just in case I got the crazy notion in my head to poke a hole through the other side...

This was one poke-proof box, that's for sure.

They were right. I did find something awesome.

My nieces and nephews are growing up now, but I hope they'll always remember me as "Silly Uncle Brian."

Sunday, February 26, 2017

S.S. Palo Alto

Stumbled upon a few cool videos of the damage to the cement ship this evening. I saw the ship the morning after the stern got upended. The waves that morning were still large and washing over the ship. It was a humbling sight.

I first saw the ship back in the late 80's. I even remember when you could walk on part of it. Since then I've walked RDM hundreds of times. Oddly, I never knew that seal lions hang out on it.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Surfin' Santa Cruz (Aptos actually)

We lost power for three days during the most recent storm. Multiple trees down, power poles toppled, the works. It was a bit of mess. We took the easy way out and simply checked into a hotel. Problem solved.

These guys, on the other hand, made the best of the situation.

Funny to see them doing this down at the beach that we regularly walk.

Well done, guys. Stupid, but well done.

Montreal Street Art

Street art is one of the things that I enjoy seeing all over the world. I enjoy the color and the creativity.

Here are a few examples from a trip to Montreal back in September 2016.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Nisene Marks Hike

Happy New Year!

Didn't quite make it to midnight California time last night. I hit the sack at 7:30 p.m. I'm intentionally slowly adjusting from Chilean time (5 hours ahead of California) to prepare for a trip to Dallas next week.

The weather was pleasant today, so I decided to take a hike in Nisene Marks. In the 30-ish years since I first hiked there - the first time was somewhere around 1988 - my usual M.O. is to drive in, park, and hike from there. In the drier parts of the year, that means driving as far in as the Porter picnic area. In the wetter parts of the year, that means parking somewhere south of the winter gate.

On one occasion, I hiked in from my house. That was an adventure that I don't feel compelled to repeat again any time soon.

Today I hiked in from an entirely new starting point. I parked the Volt at the Community Foundation building, plugged in to charge for free :-) :-) :-), and hiked in on the Aptos Rancho trail. I doubt I would have believed you if you told me thirty years ago that one day I'd be driving around in a car that gets 250+ miles per gallon and that often I'd pay nothing for the electricity that powers it.

Another thing that I wouldn't have imagined back then: In my pocket today there was a super-computer (what we call a smart phone nowadays) that was tracking my every step and providing me a detailed map of where I was at all times.

Before taking this hike, I'd looked at a map of the trail. I looked because I didn't know how the trail was going to handle the fact that it - at some point - was going to cross Aptos Creek. I was hoping to find a bridge, but here's what I found instead.

The creek is about 20 - 25 feet across at this point. As you can see, there is no bridge. Instead, I needed to carefully cross the creek across slippery stones and tree branches. I'm happy to report that this photo is from the "I made it!" side of the creek. I made it across with no mishaps. My footing wasn't so sure on the return trip.

For a 360 degree view of a couple points on the hike, see here and here. If viewing those on something like a iPhone or a tablet, be sure to click the gyroscope icon to really get the right-there-with-you effect.

As I continued to hike in, I was a bit annoyed to see some litter. Most folks respect the park. Occasionally I'll see a scrap of something that someone carelessly discarded, pick it up, and pack it out. But this was no ordinary piece of litter.

I have no idea how this car ended up here (or how anyone would remove it). The trails are far too narrow, and the hills are too hilly for a car to drive in without bottoming out. All I can imagine is that someone happened to have a helicopter, a car they no longer wanted, and a warped desire to perplex folks like me.

Strike that. I have more than just one theory. The other theory involves consumption of a large quantity of beer.

The car has obviously been there for many, many years. In that time untold numbers of people have written various messages on it. Here's my personal favorite:

Well that clears things up.

Fellow park goers, please don't litter.

As I continued hiking, the wet terrain from (what I assume are) recent rains here in Aptos was slick underfoot. It was just the right sort of conditions to bring out my alma mater's mascot, the banana slug. Here he (she?) is in all his beautiful glory.

As I hiked Aptos Rancho trail, I could tell that I was getting closer and closer to the Fire Road (aka. Aptos Creek Road). When I could see the road, I thought of the expression about not being able to see something right before your eyes until it was gone. In this case it wasn't so long that it was gone, but I was struck by how many times I've walked, run, driven past Aptos Rancho trail and never realized how extensive the trails are just off the road.

Ultimately my goal on today's hike was to get to Porter picnic area. That's ordinarily where I would park and start my hike, so ending there would, in effect, piece together today's hike with all the other hikes that I've done in Nisene Marks.

I took a brief break, enjoyed the sounds of the creek, and turned around to head back out of the park.

Aside from one wet misstep getting back across the creek, the return trip was uneventful.

This wasn't a adventurous hike or a particularly eventful one, but it was a peaceful, enjoyable way to start 2017.