Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Landscaping, Part 4: All the Plants

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:44 am, September 1st, 2019

Concluding the epic saga of our landscaping project (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), in April 2019, after several years of figuring out what we wanted to do, and nearly five months after the crew arrived at our house to start work, we finally started putting plants in the ground.

Early on in our planning we made the decision that we wanted at least part of the yard to be landscaped with plants that were native to Los Angeles, since doing so was a (small) way to restore part of the ecosystem and make our yard more attractive to local wildlife. While many native plants have adapted the Southern California climate by evolving to look… “scrappy” might be a charitable description…. there are also a huge variety of natives that are beautiful, have amazing smells, provide some useful fruit, or in other ways make them great options for a yard. Stout Design Build brought in a native plant expert who created the initial planting plan, but when Tom had difficulty in finding some species, Audrey and I began doing our own research on Calscape and eventually made the trek out to the Theodore Payne Foundation nursery to get the species we wanted. I’ve never been much of a plant guy, but this process triggered a bunch of my brain’s happy spots – I love the idea of restoring nature, and solving the puzzle of “what plant would work in this spot with this type of soil, this amount of sun, this amount of water, etc” made the problem-solving parts of this engineer’s cerebral cortex light up. Audrey came home some days to find that I’d figured out that maybe two hundred plants matched what we wanted in a particular spot, and then systematically narrowed it down to about three options that were the best fits. Clearly, I’m not just a geek when it comes to computers.

To this point we’ve probably made five or six treks into the valley to visit Theodore Payne. Initially we made a trip to pick up some plants that Tom hadn’t been able to find at the nurseries he usually uses, and we’ve been going back as new opportunities arose. The original planting plan didn’t include any plants for the stream, so we researched practically every aquatic plant in California before heading to the nursery to buy serpentine night stream orchids, yerba mansa, scarlet columbines, and some fiberoptic grass. A few of the plants that went in initially didn’t survive, so they were replaced by a Jones’ bush mallow, a Julia Phelps lilac and chaparral currants. We swapped some non-native choices in the original plan with island morning glories, and procured some chaparral honeysuckle to cover the walls on the property line. If you’re in Los Angeles, consider giving Theodore Payne a visit – it’s neat learn about all of the different local plants, and I can vouch for the fact that the staff will cheerily put up with a million dumb questions.

Today the landscaping project is officially complete, but we’re continuing to make a few small tweaks here and there. Audrey has been out of town on a project in San Diego, but just as I’ve made the back more native, she has plans to make the front more “alien” when she returns. My days are now spent working with the doors and windows open so that I can hear Holliday Creek bubbling along, while the view is of birds and squirrels who are constantly around to eat whatever they can find and take a bath in the stream. Tom’s plan included two avocado trees and some native California grapes, so we’ve now got bunches of grapes ripening along the wall, and we had a few avocados growing before one of the local animals found them and made guacamole. While many of the plants will take a while to mature, a few have surprised us – an Island mallow that was little more than a six inch tall twig when we planted it is now a sprawling bush that is over four feet tall. Flowers are constantly blooming, and in a few months when rains return I expect the impressive growth we’ve seen so far will be supercharged.

The project was not without its challenges, but where once we had a fairly sterile, thirsty patch of grass, today we have a nice outdoor patio, a gurgling stream, and an array of native plants that attract every bird and butterfly in the neighborhood. A bathroom remodel might have been a more typical starter project for new home owners, but I can say with one hundred percent certainty that the new outdoor space brings us vastly more joy than any backsplash or fancy shower ever could have.

Neosho front yard
The new front yard. I put those chairs together by hand, much like the Amish, except that I had instructions, pre-cut logs, and power tools.
Neosho back yard
Holliday Creek looking west, with Wiechman Falls in the background.
Neosho back yard
Holliday Creek looking east, with our badass new patio in the background.
Roger's Red grapes
California Roger’s Red grapes growing in Scofield Vineyards.

Landscaping, Part 3: Pushing Dirt

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:23 am, August 25th, 2019

After deciding to redo our landscaping and coming up with a design, in early December 2018 the crew from Stout Design Build arrived to start work on our new landscaping. Demo work went fairly quickly – where I had labored for weeks with a mallet and chisel, the team smashed through concrete in hours using a jackhammer. A turf cutter made quick work of our grass, leaving bare dirt where once we’d used inordinate amounts of water keeping the grass alive. Removal of the ficus tree in the back proved more difficult, but after a few days of sadly watching our tree disappear, where once there were branches only sky remained. From that point things began to slow as California experienced one of its rainiest winters in years. We obviously celebrated the dramatic ending to the state’s long drought, but after watching the team struggling valiantly to work in the mud, we understood fully when they told us they’d be staying home on days where the yard was waterlogged. As a result, the initial 4-6 week project timeline quickly turned into a much longer effort.

Following the completion of demolition, and when it was dry enough to work, the team continued with the next phase: installing the hardscape. Being the engineering geek that I am, it was super-exciting when a cement truck pulled up to the house and concrete started flowing into forms that outlined the walkways, new patio, and other elements that had previously existed only in design drawings. For the guys doing the work it was a frenzied scene, with several people struggling to hold the lengthy concrete-dispensing hose and others then rushing in to smooth out the newly-poured mixture. Unfortunately the frenzied pace ended up leading to later issues, as the next rain showed water pooling on the patio area where it was supposed to drain, and to fix it Tom had to sentence the guys to two days of hard labor with a grinder in order to get things back to proper levels.

The next phase of the project was flagstone installation, and after touring the stone yard and picking out pallets that we liked another giant truck, complete with its own forklift, arrived and left several tons of Pennsylvania bluestone in the front yard. There was a bit of drama to this part of the project, but eventually a mason arrived who put our new patio together in two days and patched up some issues in the front walkway, and for the first time we had a finished piece of the yard to give us a taste of what the final project was actually going to look like.

Work continued with all of the other elements in our design: a dump truck arrived and caused thunder to reverberate across the Westside when it dropped a load of boulders into the front yard (after watching the guys then heave each of these boulders to the back yard, I am forever grateful that I’m not a landscaper). Channels were cut into the concrete driveway to capture rainwater, and a french drain was installed to convey that water to the swale. Gutters were reconfigured, walls along the property line were shored up, truck loads of dirt were brought in, and a vast number of other tasks were completed to get the yard ready for planting. One of the last major tasks on the list was installation of the back yard stream, and this one proved a significant hurdle until a team with years of experience in building water features was enlisted to finish the job. After several days of moving boulders, setting up the liner, installing plumbing, and creating various drops and other features along the channel, a stream that is somehow indistinguishable from a natural waterway started flowing through our yard, and we now awake each day to the sound of Holliday Creek gurgling across the property.

By the time the stream was done it was April, and the project had been ongoing for nearly five months, but we were finally ready to start putting plants in the ground. The last entry in this series will cover the creation of Audrey’s front yard “alien” garden, and the back yard featuring California natives plants, Scofield Vineyards, and the Skip & Sally Holliday Willow Grove.

Neosho front yard
The front yard, featuring our awesome new Pennsylvania bluestone walkway.
Neosho back yard
The back yard as it looked for several months. While we were in the “mostly mud” phase the “no shoes in the house rule” was strictly enforced.
Neosho back yard
Holliday Creek is born.

Landscaping, Part 2: Design

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:13 am, August 18th, 2019

Continuing from Part 1, our journey to convert the boring grass landscaping of our home into a wildlife-friendly, low-water environment with more usable space took an eternity for us to figure out how to begin, but the project accelerated greatly in May 2018 when we met with Tom Stout of Stout Design Build, and after getting excited by his initial sketches we hired him in June 2018 to do a full design.

After we struggled to make even the most basic decisions about what our yard should look like, it was humbling to have Tom come over and within five minutes see a drawing start forming that got us excited. Not only did his ideas show a beautiful, functional yard, but he integrated our suggestions while making sure more mundane needs like drainage were being accounted for. At one point during his initial visit I mentioned that I wanted a fountain or some other sort of water feature for the animals, he looked at the drawing he was making, and said the now-fateful words “what about a stream”? Audrey’s eyes opened wider than any human’s eyes should be able to open, and she practically yelled “OH MY GOD I WOULD LOVE A STREAM!”. I was skeptical, but they proceeded at a furious pace to discuss ponds and other features, so it felt like a win when I was finally able to dial things back to “just” a stream. Audrey was practically glowing for the next several months every time she talked about having a stream in the yard, and now that it’s actually flowing I will freely admit that my concerns about turning our yard into the Disneyland Jungle Cruise were unfounded and that Holliday Creek is one of the best decisions we made.

Aside from the stream, plans evolved such that the back yard would be a native plant, wildlife-friendly area, while the front yard would be filled with all sorts of weird plants that Audrey referred to as her “alien garden”. We added a flagstone patio close to the house to create the usable outdoor space we wanted, and new flagstone walkways to provide natural paths through the area. Swales in the front and back were included to allow rainwater to permeate back into the soil instead of draining to the sewers, and drainage was modified to fill the swales, including reconfiguring gutters and adding cuts in our driveway to catch water that would otherwise have flowed across the concrete and into the street. We sadly agreed to remove the giant ficus in our back yard – it was an amazing tree that filled the sky and had twisting branches that I climbed and Audrey hung lanterns from, but it was clearly intent on eating our property, with its roots tilting the wall on the property line and most likely turning the foundations of the house into Swiss cheese. Audrey added a small seating area for the front that doubled as the home for the coffin on Halloween (Tom noted that this was his first plan that required a place for a coffin), and other changes included new landscape lighting, drip irrigation, work to shore up a wall, a cement foundation for a new shed, etc.

By November of 2018 the project was ready to start, so I began some demolition work prior to the arrival of Tom’s team. While we could have contracted his team to handle the full demo, we were still experiencing post-traumatic stress from the project price estimate and wanted to find some ways to reduce costs, and I was more than happy to have a reason to smash things after long days sitting in front of the computer. One of the previous owners of our house had a love affair with brick, so we had a brick patio that had been mangled by the ficus tree that needed to come out, numerous brick walkways, and a brick porch, in addition to a decrepit shed and a termite-eaten trellis that I attacked with vigor. Each day I would spend 8-11 hours in front of the computer, then end the day with a mallet and chisel, annoying the neighbors as I loudly chipped bricks out of the mortar. In the end we sold or gave away hundreds of bricks that were still usable, and the rest filled several dumpsters that were hauled away by Culver City sanitation.

Finally, with plans drawn up and after several weeks of brick-smashing, in December 2018 the crew arrived, and the next journal entry in this series will cover what ended up being more than five months of muddy work that completely transformed our outside space.

Neosho back yard
Progress photo showing the demo of the shed, trellis and brick patio using nothing other than a mallet, a chisel, and my now broken back.
Neosho front yard
One of the previous owners LOVED bricks; we sold or gave away hundreds of them, and filled several dumpsters with the rest. This pile is just a tiny portion of what we got rid of.

Landscaping, Part 1: Where to Begin

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:09 pm, August 14th, 2019

It’s been quiet on the journal lately, but in an effort to record major life events so that I can remember them once I start going senile I’m going to publish a few entries before the year ends.

Obviously a lot has happened in 2019, but one of the highlights has been our project to redo the landscaping at our house. Unlike most homeowners whose first big project would be a bathroom or kitchen remodel, several years ago Audrey and I decided that we wanted a friendlier outdoor space that didn’t require tons of California’s scarce water supply for irrigation. However, we’re still relatively new to this whole homeownership thing, and we were utterly lost as to where we should begin.

One of our first forays into figuring out what our new landscaping should be was attending a workshop on “turf removal” where we actually went to someone’s house and were given instructions on how to assist them in removing their grass. Any benefits the owners might have gotten from the free labor were likely erased by having amateurs doing the work; I was told to dig a trench around the edge of the yard and promptly put a shovel through a buried irrigation line, and while others were less destructive with their incompetence, mistakes aplenty were made. As the workshop proceeded we learned how to use a turf cutter to remove grass, assisted in digging a new swale for rainwater capture, and introduced mulch and humate into the dirt to promote better soil biology. Unfortunately, while we left more knowledgeable about the process of removing turf, and also with the important insight that we didn’t want amateurs doing the work at our house, we were no closer to figuring out what we actually wanted our yard to look like.

Further efforts at figuring out our future yard design included joining the annual Theodore Payne Foundation Native Plant Garden Tour. This local event is sponsored by an organization that promotes landscaping with native plants and operates an impressive nursery & educational center in the Valley. The tour let us see how other people on the Westside had created native plant gardens, and also gave us the chance to talk to several different landscapers responsible for the designs. In many cases these yards felt like rocky deserts or disorganized tangles of weeds, but some of them captured the feeling of being in nature that we were hoping for, while still providing the functional outdoor space we wanted. We got contact info from one landscaper we liked, and booked an appointment for him to pay us a visit and make some suggestions. Sadly, after discussing our vision for the yard he proceeded to mostly ignore our requests and spent the bulk of his visit doing calculations to determine how deep he would need to dig swales to capture the rainwater from our roof, and we ended the day without any better idea of how to begin our project.

For the next few months I occasionally researched local landscapers online, but none seemed to match what we wanted. Some focused entirely on plants and didn’t seem like they could integrate a patio or other non-plant elements into the design. Some were contractors whose projects all seemed to be sterile creations of stone and concrete with a tiny bit of greenery thrown in as afterthoughts. Finally I stumbled on Stout Design Build, and felt like maybe his combination of landscaping and contracting experience matched what we were looking for. We scheduled a consultation, and shortly thereafter Tom Stout was patrolling our backyard, notepad in hand, sketching out ideas as we described what we wanted our yard to become.

The story of our landscaping project is going to spill into several posts, so I’ll provide a spoiler now: things didn’t go perfectly, but we’re very, very happy with the end result. The designs Tom sketched out in that first visit got us incredibly excited, and by the time he left it was tough to see our yard as anything other than what he had drawn on his notepad. We knew we wanted native plants (at least in the back) that would be attractive to birds, insects, and the other critters that roam our neighborhood, but we also wanted functional outdoor space. Tom’s designs gave us those things, so after overcoming our shock at the cost estimates we signed a contract and began demolition of our existing yard.

Neosho front yard
Our boring front yard with its thirsty grass. Mjolnir, the mighty hammer I used to demo the brick, is visible in front of the bucket.
Neosho back yard
The original grass backyard. The giant pile of brick and concrete was created as I removed a patio that was probably level at one point, but that the ficus had turned into a twisted battleground of uneven stones.

Super Bloom 2019

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:43 pm, April 30th, 2019

Three weeks ago I needed to drive to Las Vegas to meet my brother, who was starting a road trip across the country and wanted to spend a day together in Sin City. I figured that this trip was the perfect excuse to take a day off of work, allowing me to see this year’s Super Bloom while avoiding the “poppy apocalypse” created by weekend crowds. I expected the flowers at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve to be nice, but to say they exceeded expectations would be a gross understatement.

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
Landscape by Dr. Seuss, Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
“The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your entire life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.”
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
The orange flowers and the yellow flowers were best friends.
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
It was nearly impossible to take a photo that didn’t include at least a dozen poppies.

The Sound of Music

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:01 pm, July 15th, 2018

While there hasn’t been a ton of journal-worthy excitement lately (obviously), the past month was notable for a number of incredible musical events.

When I was a kid, Paul Simon’s Graceland album was one of the very first albums I remember thinking was my own personal musical discovery – not something I bought because it was on the radio or because everyone else was listening to it, but that I owned and listened to on repeat because it was music that appealed to me. When it was announced that this year’s tour was Paul Simon’s farewell tour I snagged two tickets, and on May 23 Audrey and I sat down to say goodbye to a singer who had shaped my taste in music since I was a kid. At 76 years of age he still had plenty of energy, and the program covered 50 years of music in a way that reminded you of how much of an influence he’s had on our culture. When he came out for the final encore with a single spotlight and an acoustic guitar to play “Sounds of Silence”, it was one of those rare goosebump-inducing moments with the realization that that guy is singing that song and you are lucky enough to be there and hear it. All in all a very special night.

Six weeks later we trekked up to one of our favorite venues, the Mountain Winery in the hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. You can’t go wrong with a pre-show dinner in a winery, a 2400 seat venue with views of the Bay, and a stage set in front of a historic winery cellar. The first of the two shows we saw was the Indigo Girls, one of the few groups where Audrey’s musical tastes and my own overlap. There’s something special about seeing singer-songwriters in a small venue – the energy in the crowd is different, and the feeling takes you back to singalongs around the fire at summer camp – and this show did not disappoint, with audience members occasionally yelling out requests, and the ladies on stage more often than not going “yeah, let’s do that” and then launching into the requested song. Despite Emily apparently having a bit of a cold that caused her to lose a few notes, this was another very memorable evening.

Night two at the Mountain Winery featured Steve Martin and Martin Short, which the pre-show marquis jokingly advertised as “See them before they’re dead”. We’d seen Steve Martin’s musical act with Edie Brickell and the Steep Canyon Rangers twice before, but this was more of a comedy show, with a couple of musical interludes. Our seats were probably within a hundred feet of the stage, so obviously it was amazing to see a couple of comedy legends in person, but as good as the comedy was, I think the music Steve Martin is creating is even better – a performance by the Steep Canyon Rangers brought the house down, and Steve Martin on banjo is a sight to behold.

These shows were all a reminder of how lucky I am to be living a life filled with incredible experiences – many days pass by and are quickly forgotten, but seeing Paul Simon in the Hollywood Bowl, or Steve Martin under the stars in a winery, are those rare special occasions that get etched into the memory banks for all time.

Paul Simon at the Hollywood Bowl
Saying goodbye to Paul Simon at the Hollywood Bowl.
Audrey, me and the Indigo Girls at the Mountain Winery
Audrey, me and the Indigo Girls at the Mountain Winery. Oddly, in a venue that seats 2400, our seats for the Indigo girls were in the same row and section, and were in fact immediately adjacent to, our seats the following night for Steve Martin.

Long Overdue Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:50 pm, March 18th, 2018

It’s been a long time since there was a recap entry, so here’s a quick overview of the events since November:

  • Due to work I ended up skipping the annual Man Trip over the Christmas break, and instead just made a two day rush up to the Bay Area to enjoy the holiday with Ma, Pa, and Younger Holliday. As always mom cooked a tremendous dinner, we got to go for a couple of walks wearing dad’s goofy hats, and it was nice to be home be with family for a bit.
  • Following the New Year Audrey and I headed north to Alaska for the Northern Lights trip that has previously been chronicled in this journal. I had decided not to use vacation for the trip since the weather was likely to keep us indoors, and sadly the ongoing project that caused me to forgo the 2017 Man Trip followed me to Alaska – it has been three years since the job required an all-nighter, but there were two all-nighters required while in Alaska; the universe may owe me some time off.
  • Continuing a theme, there have been three work trips to San Antonio so far in 2018, although luckily they have been uneventful (i.e. no hurricanes).
  • In non-work news, Aaron came to LA two weeks ago and stayed with us for a night. There was much sushi, a walk around the Venice canals, and fun with his new toy – a drone that apparently doesn’t like all of the airspace restrictions around my house due to LAX and the Santa Monica airport.
  • Finally, in home news we haven’t done any major projects aside from some tree-trimming, but we now support a small zoo each morning as 4-6 squirrels, a few dozen sparrows and finches, several badass hummingbirds, and a murder of crows stop by for daily brunch.

November Recap

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 7:57 pm, December 5th, 2017

In an effort to make sure I have a record of events so that it’s possible to relive good times when I eventually become senile, here’s a recap of November:

  • Given my engineering background I am not so savvy when it comes to the arts, but Audrey and her friends are doing their best to get me up to speed. Just before Thanksgiving Audrey and her band played a set at Trip in Santa Monica, and Jocelyn opened for them with a rare live show; I know talented people.
  • Following the night of much music I took a few vacation days prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, joining Aaron at his new place in Truckee where we threw hatchets at a pumpkin (we’ve clearly matured greatly over the years). Following that visit I made a detour to Muir Woods before picking up Audrey at the airport and heading to Ma & Pa’s for Thanksgiving. The annual family gathering saw much delicious food consumed, much laughter, and a display of amazing skills in playing Uno.
  • The month ended with Audrey’s birthday, which she celebrated with her tradition of roller skating and a visit to the library, after which I took her out for a fancy steak dinner before we joined her choir friends for celebratory beverages.
Barred owl in Muir Woods
Barred owl posing for tourists in Muir Woods.
Muir Woods Redwoods
Muir Woods Redwoods and a cloudy sky.

Hatchet throwing 101 #killthepumpkin #manactivities #hatchets

A post shared by Aaron Holliday (@bigholliday) on

30 Days in the Hole

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:29 pm, October 30th, 2017

2017 is not shaping up as a great year for hitting the three-journal-entries-a-month goal, either because not a lot is happening or because I’m lazier than normal; it’s probably both. Anyhow, here’s a recap of the past month:

  • October started with a visit from Ma & Pa. They had just returned from one of those cruises where someone comes aboard with a horrible virus and turns the boat into a vomitorium, and they weren’t yet fully recovered, so activities were kept to a minimum. Dad had wanted to see the Spaceship Endeavour since it is awesome, and afterwards we took my mom to Casa Sanchez to celebrate her birthday since you can’t go wrong with a kickass mariachi show.
  • In home news, I put up a mealworm feeder to see what birds it might attract, and it turns out that the answer is “crows”. While they may not be exotic, crows have tons of personality, and they have clearly decided that the new feeder is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the avian world. We now have anywhere from 3-12 crows in the yard each morning, and we’re slowly training them to be less scared of us, although for such smart birds they’re either poor learners or else we’re bad teachers.
  • Finally, last week I made the month’s only work trip to San Antonio, returning for the first time since the hurricane. Luckily Mother Nature decided not to send any natural disasters my way this time, and insomnia was the only battle I had to fight – the fact that the client greeted me in the morning with “what happened?” is probably a sign that I need to start considering sleeping aids.

I’ll do my best to get a couple of additional entries up in the coming days – at a minimum Halloween is tomorrow, so there will be stories to share from this year’s incarnation of Scare the Children.

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:19 pm, September 17th, 2017

Due to some changes on my current project, I recently had to fly to San Antonio on back-to-back weeks. During the first trip I lost my license but was still able to fly after a THOROUGH pat-down, and on the second trip Hurricane Harvey showed up and attempted to wipe Texas off of the map.

When I flew to Texas on Sunday Harvey was down near Mexico, and had dissipated to the point where it was no longer a recognizable storm; no one outside of a few meteorologists had any clue that it was anything worth keeping an eye on. As late as Monday there was still no storm on the horizon, but Tuesday morning there were some reports on the news that a tropical storm might be headed to Texas.

By Tuesday afternoon things started looking more dire, and the airlines began offering the option to switch to an earlier flight for free in order to allow people to escape while the airport was still in operation. The storm track showed a strengthening storm heading directly at San Antonio, and by Wednesday, not only was the storm supposed to strengthen to hurricane status, but it was then projected to stall over San Antonio for three days. Facing the prospect of a hurricane and three days of flooding, I switched to a Thursday flight and made an early escape from Texas.

Of course everyone knows what then happened – the storm track changed slightly, and Harvey instead stalled over Houston, causing widespread damage to Houston while having minimal impact on San Antonio. On a positive note, the company I’m currently working with immediately sent 15 vehicles, including two mobile kitchens, up to Houston, and the e-commerce team’s first task on Monday was to set up a donation page – during a time of much cynicism about corporate America, HEB is clearly an organization with its heart in the right place.

It’s not clear when they’ll next need me back in Texas, but given the experience from the last two trips I’ll prepare for the journey by taping my identification to my arm, and with sufficient emergency supplies in my luggage to weather whatever disaster Mother Nature might decide to send.

Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:37 pm, September 2nd, 2017

I had to make back-to-back work trips to San Antonio recently, and while normally those trips are fairly routine events, these last two both involved a fair amount of drama. Here’s the recap from the first trip…

Audrey has a phobia about packing – any time she travels she gets into a panic thinking that she might forget something. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my theory is that you should try to remember everything, but there are only a tiny number of things that you absolutely can’t forget, and as long as you have those things you’re going to be fine: money, identification, and clean underwear. Even with such a short list (and if we’re being honest, forgetting underwear isn’t a dealbreaker), on one of my most recent trips to San Antonio I blew it but was saved by TSA.

I registered for TSA Pre a while back, and it is awesome – I spend almost no time waiting in security lines now – but the one minor downside is that I often don’t have time to get out my license and boarding pass before I’m standing in front of an impatient TSA agent. On this particular trip, to ensure that I would be ready I got my license out of my wallet while in the Lyft to the airport, but on entering the terminal realized that it was no longer in my pocket where I’d placed it. I retraced my steps to the curb, and then called the Lyft driver only to be told that he didn’t think it was in his car and that he had another passenger so he wasn’t going to come back to the terminal. I then talked to airport security, who told me that no one had turned in a license but that I could still fly as long as I had a credit card or something with my name on it.

I got in the TSA line, and after reaching the officer at the front of the line sheepishly said that I had lost my license because apparently I haven’t figured out how to use pants pockets properly. The officer smiled, called in another officer to ask me a few questions, and then told me I would get a patdown where the agent would use the back of his hand to search “certain areas”. After a VERY thorough patdown they then checked all of my carryons for bomb juice, and then sent me on my way; apparently a search of the family jewels using the back of the officer’s hand is as good as photo ID. The whole thing took no more than five minutes, everyone was amazingly friendly to the dumb guy who lost his license, and instead of having to go home and miss my flight I had coffee at 30,000 feet. The process repeated itself on the return trip, and again I was able to board my flight on time.

TSA gets bashed a lot, in some cases rightfully so, but in this case I did a dumb thing and they bailed me out, and did so with professionalism. Too often in this world we get angry when things go wrong but take it for granted when things go right, so in a case where things went right I offer my sincere gratitude to the TSA folks.

July 2017

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 7:52 pm, August 14th, 2017

So I’m obviously waaaaay behind on journal entries. In an effort to begin catching up, here’s the recap for July:

  • In past years Audrey and I have enjoyed fireworks over the Queen Mary or found other interesting ways of celebrating Independence Day, but this year we decided to just stay home. However, when the skies started lighting up around us the temptation to enjoy the scene was too great. With trees blocking the view from the yard, we ended up on the roof, likely causing some concern among our neighbors, but nonetheless providing a pleasant view of the evening’s festivities.
  • Audrey’s work with Indivisible continued with the “Persistence picnic” in mid-July, an event set up to get people together in the park and provide organizations five minutes (each) to speak. Dozens of groups showed up with positive messages and ways for people to make a difference in everything from human rights to voting rights to community issues, and at the end of the day a lot of pessimism about the state of the world seemed to have actually transformed into optimism.
  • In work news, I spent a week working in San Antonio, came back to LA for a week, then went to Spokane for the annual “see what your normally working-remotely co-workers look like in person” week. In addition to a team barbecue and a few other social events, we all headed across the state border to Idaho for zip-lining, and it turns out that two of the three senior partners are not fans of heights. Watching one of the two, who is otherwise fearless, go dead quiet on a rickety rope bridge, and then seeing the other, who won’t back down from any technical challenge, literally whimper as he jumped off a platform onto a 400 foot high wire cable, was a humanizing look at my normally unflappable superiors. In the end everyone seemed to have a great time, I was grateful for a chance to be in the trees, and Stuart swore that he’d make sure future events stayed closer to the earth.
Commerce Architects Ziplining in Idaho
Some of the team was more enthusiastic than others about hanging hundreds of feet above the forest.
Ziplining in Idaho
I wasn’t initially very excited about zip-lining, but it turns out that spending the day flying through the forest is far nicer than staring at a laptop.

June 2017

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:27 pm, June 30th, 2017

June has been a slow month, but here’s a quick recap:

  • After the first round of updates to bring the journal into the mobile age I’ve done a significant amount of additional re-work to make the site fully mobile-friendly. If you’re reading this journal entry on a phone, you’re welcome, and if you’re reading it in a browser and don’t notice any difference, well, if it ain’t broke…
  • June had only one work trip to San Antonio, where temperatures have now jumped up to the “crispy” level. On a positive note, HEB has moved the e-commerce group to new offices, so instead of working in a dark and scary basement we’re now on the seventh floor of a building with plenty of windows from which to watch Southern Texas roast in the heat.
  • The Cavs got stomped by the Warriors in the NBA Finals, but that still meant that a Cleveland team was playing for a championship – after years of growing up with Indians teams that inspired the movie Major League, and a Browns team that annually found creative ways to avoid playing in the Super Bowl, having a Cavs team playing in the NBA Championship every year is more than any Cleveland-native ever could have dreamed of.
  • In homeownership news, proving that ten minutes on Youtube can turn anyone into Bob Vila, I hooked up some new landscape lighting without the slightest bit of electrocution.
  • Finally, in local wildlife news, the attic has miraculously remained rat-free for several months now, while our newest backyard visitors include a family of crows whose favorite pastime is gathering outside of the window and loudly complaining whenever I forget to leave some mealworms out for them.

May Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:26 pm, May 30th, 2017

Another month, another recap of that month…

  • In house news, after floors and walls were ripped apart, our home improvements for 2017 are now (probably) complete. The month started with installation of new windows and doors, an event that provided the opportunity to spend a day working in a house with massive holes in all of the walls were doors and windows once lived. The end result of all of that chaos is well worth it – the house is quiet, the drafts have stopped, you no longer get sunburned sitting near the glass, and the dog in the yard behind us is now almost hard to hear. The month ended with new bedroom carpets, because once you’ve shelled out the money for windows, carpet seems cheap by comparison.
  • In Audrey news, we made an excursion across the LA basin to Chino Hills a week ago to pick up a cabinet she wanted, and on the way home somehow ended up barefoot while touring the grounds of an amazing Hindu Temple that we had seen from the highway – LA is capable of an infinite number of surprises. Later in the month her new band – either called “Soulful Rick” or “Funk Shui”, depending on which band member you ask – was playing its first show at the Venice Art Walk, but since I was going to miss the show due to work travel I got to sit in on rehearsal; I feel strongly that the insightful tips I offered (“play good”, “dress cool”) are what made their show so successful.
  • In family news, my dad’s side of the family all decided to get together and bring the Holliday craziness to San Antonio for a few days, and I managed to align my work schedule so that I could hang out with two parents, two aunts, and a pair of uncles for three nights. While I spent my days working in a dark basement within the depths of the HEB headquarters they went out and explored San Antonio, but we then got together each evening to watch my mom yell, bang on tables, and otherwise lose her mind during the Cavs vs Celtics playoff series.
  • Finally, in rodent news, there hasn’t been a rat in the attic for four weeks, although it is my understanding that 2-3 years must pass without any sign of rodents for an area to be officially declared rat-free.
Window Replacement in Progress
Something is missing. The eight hours it took to rip out all of our windows and doors and replace them with non-antiques was not my most productive work-from-home day.

Victory

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:48 pm, May 1st, 2017

At 1:48 AM last night, after months of regular visits, the master escape artist and king of all rats was finally caught. I was awoken around 2:30 AM by sounds from above, sleepily got out of bed, got the ladder out of the garage, climbed up to the attic, and finally came eye-to-eye with my nemesis. I brought the cage down to the kitchen, fed him some birdseed as a goodwill offering towards a respected adversary, and then proceeded to spend twenty minutes telling a rodent that he’d been a worthy opponent for these many months.

Since deciding to rid the attic of visitors I’ve emptied three cans of fill foam sealing gaps in the eaves, I’ve gotten a million scratches fashioning vent covers out of chicken wire, I’ve crawled through fiberglass insulation into claustrophobic corners of the attic looking for unseen gaps, and I’ve spent enough time running around on our roof that the neighbors have stopped bothering to ask what the hell I’m doing. Yesterday I made yet another trip to Home Depot to purchase foam, filling the last area I could think might possibly have a crack in it with an entire bottle of the caustic stuff, and coincidentally or not it was the final shot fired in our epic battle. I’ve obviously learned that my opponent is both cunning and numerous, so even though my tormenter of several months has been vanquished, the Ratcam will remain active in the attic for a few more weeks in case his followers come looking for their leader.

After driving him to the Ballona Wetlands Rat Sanctuary at 3AM last night, it was with a measure of sadness that I watched him scurry off into the gloomy darkness, bidding farewell to my cunning and relentless adversary. I truly hope that he’ll yet live a long life, happily tormenting the owners of the large homes on the bluff above the wetlands as he makes his nightly rounds.

The captured enemy
At long last, his reign of terror has ended.
Protection from fiberglass
After an ill-fated trip into the attic that saw me emerge covered in itchy fiberglass, I purchased special protection to allow for a safer return to the enemy’s stronghold.