New neighbors, Part 3: Refugee cats versus our own — brokering a peace

Once I began feeding tom-kittens Jack and Justin to usher them through their rapid adolescent growth spurt, it entailed something else as well. They would need to be integrated into our own brood of cats to prevent fighting with our two toms, which could potentially maim any one of them.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Note: I have changed the names of the two neighbor cats in this post, and the preceding one, to provide anonymity for our neighbors out of respect for privacy. For the same reason I have not included any photos. I think it’s unlikely anyone in our neighborhood will read these stories, but you never know.

Roaming for food, seeking haven

As far as I could tell, Justin and Jack were fed at their place next door twice a day. Presumably they were fed in the morning right before or after being let out of the garage for the day, and again when being put inside again at night. On the other hand, perhaps they also had access to food ad libitum from a feeder overnight, although they were so ravenous when showing up at our place each morning, I doubted it. Or, alternatively, perhaps they didn’t much care for the food they were given.

I didn’t know any of this for sure, and could have been wrong. It was my best guess, based on the clues I could discern while keeping at arm’s length and not prying.

What did seem to be pretty clear, though, is that the two were put outside all day to fend for themselves. And when you do that with a cat, you can be sure they are going to try to line up other sources of food for themselves with sympathetic neighbors.

They will also try to secure secluded quiet spots and hidey-holes near preferred food sources for napping. They will scout out perches to serve as lookout posts or for keeping an eye and ear out for telltale signs food may be on its way. If they get caring attention from their benefactors as part of the bargain, so much the better.

Our own cats, with more frequent access to food, rarely wandered more than a half-block away, sometimes perhaps a block. Jack and Justin, though, had been spotted ranging as far away as two or three blocks from home, based on reports and photos posted by others in our neighborhood group online, as well as sightings by a friend of mine. Of course, part of this roving around could be attributed to the fact they were not neutered, but food is always a factor.

Read moreNew neighbors, Part 3: Refugee cats versus our own — brokering a peace

New neighbors, Part 2: Refugee cats at our door

When two hungry, rapidly growing, unneutered tom-kittens unexpectedly arrived on the scene — with a brood of our own cats to care for already — deciding how to deal with them wasn’t easy. Would I be overstepping my bounds to help them out myself? Or should I leave it up to owners who didn’t understand the Tao of Cats?
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Note: I have changed the names of the two neighbor cats in this post, and the post to follow, to provide anonymity for our neighbors out of respect for privacy. For the same reason I have not included any photos. I think it’s unlikely anyone in our neighborhood will read these stories, but you never know.

So where were we with the story of our next-door neighbors who moved in a couple of years ago, as we were wrapping up Act 1 of the tale? In a nutshell, the primary theme was: Nice people, but completely unaware of how the high level of daily, hours-long noise the family squalled out into the soundscape affected those around them. Particularly the constant whooping, hollering, and shrieking emitted by their five energetic, pre- and post-adolescent children.

Before moving on to the next chapter here about the neighbors and their refugee cats, though, there’s an interesting loose end to tie up that unexpectedly capped off the previous chain of events some time after I made the original post.

The conclusion of the initial installment of the story found my wife and me hunkering down, resigned to putting up with the ongoing noise for the time being, while contemplating a potential next move, but not eager to make one because of the potential confrontation or ill will it might generate. Because most of the noise comes during the warmer months, and particularly the summer when the neighbors’ backyard pool is open and in use, we got a long-awaited respite once the family closed it down in the fall of the first year they moved in.

For perhaps four months or so after that until springtime of the second year, we were able to enjoy some peace and quiet. Not complete, mind you, but with the noise level much reduced. With their five kids in school during the day in the colder months, and temperatures often too wintry afterward in the small slice of daylight left to play outside for long when they returned home, there was simply not as much opportunity to wreak havoc on the airwaves.

Read moreNew neighbors, Part 2: Refugee cats at our door

A mouse in my pocket

The pocket that held the mouse whose luck turned around.
Once in a while there is the chance to save a mouse from the carnage that goes along with owning cats who like to hunt. What difference does it make?

As much as I love our cats, one of the tradeoffs is dealing with the other animals they kill. Periodically, my wife or I will open the front door to find lying on our concrete porch a dead bird or mouse, or leftover mangled rabbit parts, lifeless before us.

My wife cannot face such scenes, and calls me in to take care of the mess if I haven’t yet come across it myself. Otherwise I will try to handle the cleanup of any blood or entrails, and dispose of the body, before she has a chance to see it, perhaps giving her a brief report later — if even that isn’t too much for her to hear.

While I’m not freaked out by the small, dead bodies and don’t mind the task itself, still, it always brings at least some pangs of regret or sadness.

Last year I remember finding a beautiful yellow finch at the foot of the short wooden staircase outside our kitchen door that opens into the attached garage, which is accessible via cat door and serves as another location where the cats leave their kills. Holding the finch in my hands, its eyes unseeing, but body and breast both still warm and supple, an emptiness arose inside and a lump came to my throat. Only moments ago it had to have been full of life. At the same time that you know cats are only doing what’s natural, your heart sinks to see such a beautiful, feathered and fellow creature — up close and personal, but gone.

Read moreA mouse in my pocket

New neighbors: the end of a long, quiet season

Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Our new next-door neighbors moved in this past February, and we had introduced ourselves to each other and begun on good terms. But a few weeks later, I was regretting an outburst I had indulged in a moment of anger and frustration. An outburst that might have undermined the still-newly-fledged goodwill between us.

There had been ungodly noise coming from their backyard, a terrible screeching that continued longer and louder than I thought permissible for anyone civilized enough to be aware of the need for consideration of their neighbors. I assumed the noise must be coming from their five kids who at the moment were outside, hollering and shrieking as they played. Or perhaps it might be coming from some noisemaking children’s toy or device newly on the market that some money-is-our-god capitalist had struck gold with, now set to invade the already loud-as-hell American soundscape nationwide.

The kids had been very noisy on an ongoing basis almost from the beginning, which I tried to tolerate for a time. But this went considerably beyond previous intrusions: the straw that broke the camel’s back. Anger rising within me at the violation, my emotions began to boil over. I yelled over the tall, stockade-style wooden fence that hid the neighbors’ yard from view — as forcefully as I could without damaging my delicate vocal cords — “Hey! Hey! Can you pipe it down over there!?” No response.

The ungodly screeching continued. So I repeated my combined query and command, “Hey! Heyyy! Can you pipe it down over there!?” Whereupon I heard back from an adult male voice, “No!”

Read moreNew neighbors: the end of a long, quiet season

Crossroads ahead: renaming blog to Hermit Spirit. Here’s what’s up.

The best kind of change might be one that surprises you.

Over the last few months, I felt changes looming that I could not quite put my finger on. At loose ends on a few different fronts, first I found myself casting about for something to write on the blog here, but nothing presented itself.

Then, after an almost chance event — reading a rather off-the-beaten-path article on a blog about spirituality and meditation, a foundation stone that had once been important to me but had gone mostly dormant for many years — I realized it was time, I wanted, needed, to refocus my approach to life. I felt moved to revive and take up something again from the past that had fallen away, and once again move forward with it.

It was an impulse I had pushed down amid the incessant demands to make ends meet in today’s ever-onrushing world. Not always voluntarily, but something I had felt was necessary and had gotten used to, and perhaps even thought was a sign of the no-nonsense pragmatism needed to get along in life. Only now that approach was no longer working for me, as it had for such a long time. Now the impulse was returning, and it had not taken that much of a tripwire to do it.

In the past I had done some sitting meditation practice from time to time, but now, juggling more responsibilities and activities than I would prefer despite my attempts to place limits (the story of modern life, right?), I decided to try combining meditation with my evening walks.

Though I had been running several mornings a week, by the time evening rolled around, my body was often in need of some additional physical exertion, if light, to relax from the rigors or stresses of the day. So, I would go out for a leisurely walk around the neighborhood alone to unwind. Otherwise I could not always sleep well.

And… not initially too hopeful at first, I found the new approach to meditation worked. It wasn’t long before I began feeling more in tune with myself spiritually again, and was able to then pick up the inquiry I had left off with years before.

Read moreCrossroads ahead: renaming blog to Hermit Spirit. Here’s what’s up.

Making a new friend: the old, neglected running track

A locked-up track in the far corner of a public middle school’s grounds, going to waste. A fence-climbing 60-year-old runner who doesn’t realize his age. A long-overdue interval workout waiting to be performed, in need of just such an overlooked venue. Result: An affair between man and 400-meter oval.

It is winter in early February here on the windy Great Plains, and the last several weeks have been fierce, at least for running. Temperatures have turned unseasonably cold for long stretches, sprinkled with only a few warmer days to squeeze in key workouts — those either faster or longer.

To add to the difficulty, because of unfortunate coincidences recently, nearly two months have elapsed since my last track interval workout. Two consecutive respiratory colds of two weeks each, something that had never happened to me before, along with the harsh and unpredictable weather, have meant that for an entire month I have done only easy shorter or mid-distance runs for workouts while dealing with the sniffles, sneezing, congestion, and coughing.

Something that surprises most people is that continuing to run through respiratory sickness actually makes me feel better in most cases and weather things with less trouble. Still, beyond an easy pace and middling distance, it’s best to hold plenty in reserve and not risk overdoing during such periods.

A few times, energy level and lungs permitting, I’ve thrown in some 4 x 100m strides (that is, four very fast repeats of 100 meters each, just shy of a sprint) or 4 x 150m hill repeats here and there to try and keep the fires of speedier pace stoked a bit, but it hasn’t been much. Not enough to maintain the fitness level and more honed “edge” I seek, and that makes the training process as rewarding and enjoyable as it can and should be.

Read moreMaking a new friend: the old, neglected running track

Picnic of champions: A reunion of out-of-shape athletic has-beens

An opportunity to connect with former university track and cross-country teammates from long ago does not go quite as hoped.
Names and a few identifying details have been changed out of respect for anonymity and personal privacy.

A white envelope

The envelope arrived in the mail unexpectedly one day this past summer. White and of regular correspondence size, with a computer-printed appearance of the type that suggested a mass-mailing, it appeared at first to be just another piece of junk mail.

With the flick of an eye, I glanced cursorily at the return name and address, which in part bore the acronym of my university alma mater. Probably another request to donate funds I did not have, I supposed. A plea from university boosters appealing to fellow former attendees now presumed to be economically prosperous.

A further glance, however, showed this normally on-target snap-judgment to be in error. I saw that the return address held the name of the man who had been coach of the university cross-country team for which I had competed my freshman year. On the line directly underneath his name were the words “XYU Track and Field Reunion.” And on the line beneath that, “Such-and-Such Place Assisted Living.”

This suggested something more worthy. While I had not cared that much for the coach, the lines on the envelope provided the telltale synopsis: An accomplished man now more frail, winding down his final years of life. Many former athletes whom he had coached, also aging, who had not seen him, or each other, for decades. A chance to get together, pay tribute, and catch up and relive old times with former teammates. And, perhaps, an opportunity to rekindle previous acquaintances, and see where things might lead.

Read morePicnic of champions: A reunion of out-of-shape athletic has-beens

Work has begun on the FontCompass website

Earlier this year, in mid to late January, I finally bit the bullet: I decided to begin work on the long-haul endeavor of turning my private FontCompass universal typeface classification system into a website. Since then, most of my spare time has been devoted to it. Not that I have had nearly as much extra time as I would like. (Does anybody, these days?)

FontCompass began life a number of years ago. Initially it was a project I began putting together to organize my own font library just to speed my graphic design work, and I took the first steps sometime around 2005 or 2006. I’ve written up the basic idea here, but essentially the project was to serve two purposes:

  • To quickly identify typefaces used in customer logos for which they could not furnish me the original artwork, to enable speedily rebuilding them (assuming the fonts needed were present in my library); and
  • To locate typefaces with just the right “look and feel” I wanted for a design project. Since I was trained primarily as a typographer early in my career — and am to some degree a layout artist but not an illustrator or artistically trained graphic designer, which limits my “arsenal” — injecting some typographic allure is a key aspect of my approach to design. Without that, I don’t have a whole lot to offer that’s unique, so FontCompass helped tremendously.

After a year and a half of spare-time work, I had completed the task of classifying all the fonts in my own library, and the creation and buildout of the FontCompass classification scheme itself was also essentially complete. Mostly I used the system for my custom car tags business, Leeward Productions, rebuilding customer logos and designing tags. But it was readily apparent that FontCompass could also provide considerable value to other designers, as well as advertising agencies, if it could somehow be made available to them.

Read moreWork has begun on the FontCompass website

Invasion of the hobby joggers, Part 2

On the comeback trail in my late fifties after over two decades of running primarily for fitness, I discovered that the phenomenon of “hobby joggers” had significantly changed the road-racing scene. It was good that more people had found running, but couldn’t they have done so without crashing the party?
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2

When bigger is a bummer

Last fall, I was scratching my head after years away from competition, trying to find a road-running race where I would have decent room to run without literally getting tripped up. Sometimes race-event publicity and sign-up websites would proudly report the size of the event and how many participants finished the previous year’s race. Presumably they felt that this demonstration their race was a cool, super-duper “happening thing” would be a draw.

Most, however, did not mention the number, likely because they just didn’t think to do so, of course. I also wondered, though, if perhaps a few of the race directors or sponsors of these races might not want to broadcast how large their events had become for fear of appearing they had simply become too big, unwieldy, and crowded.

Because with too many entrants in a road race, logistics suffer unless the event is very well-managed: Insufficient, inconvenient, or distant parking. Delays picking up one’s registration packet and race number before the start. Lines at the toilets due to a lack of Port-A-Johns (and perhaps having to go find a tree quite some way off to pee behind). Faster runners getting stuck behind self-important but slower runners who have crowded their way to the front of the starting line where they don’t belong. And so forth.

Here’s the ironic thing. The races that come with the most troubles are exactly the ones that cost the most and are loaded down with the most crap: The useless participation medals just for finishing. The doughy, white-bread crowds pulled in by such trinkets. The unneeded water stations in short races like 5Ks. The gaudy carnival atmosphere with local radio personalities or other clowns polluting the soundscape with jangling, overamplified noise and pushing other foofaraw on everyone.

Read moreInvasion of the hobby joggers, Part 2

Invasion of the hobby joggers, Part 1

This past fall I got my feet wet running a few local road races again after many years away. In the process, I had to deal for the first time with the incursion of so-called hobby joggers that has affected the road-racing scene nationwide since the time I last competed. Here is my report.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2

It is one of my first 5K races in almost 25 years, and I am now not much more than a quarter of a mile past the one-mile mark on a beautiful course that runs along the largest river in our state. It is an absolutely perfect fall morning for a race: 57 degrees, crisp air, a cheerful sun, and little to no wind or humidity. Cool enough to not overheat, but not so cool that my muscles might tighten up competing in the brief split-side shorts and T-shirt I am wearing.

At 59 years old, I am still feeling my way back from the long absence from racing. This current race effort is purposely more intense than my first couple of testing-the-waters forays the previous month, and I am beginning to feel and remember what a real competitive attempt is like again.

Flirting with the limit of my current fitness, I am pushing hard but consciously holding back a bit to avoid going over the edge so I don’t crash and burn. And also because I’m still not quite sure where that edge really is, or exactly what it feels like — or used to feel like — after such a long time away.

I don’t want to risk running on the “red line” just yet. I’m getting closer to that day, but it can wait till next spring. After the two earlier fall races run well shy of my capability, this one is a time trial to wrap things up for the season and assess my true fitness level so I can determine a few key paces to target in training this winter. So while I’m enjoying grappling with the challenge, I don’t want to spoil things by potentially overreaching and nosing over into a painfully drawn-out tailspin for the latter half of the race.

A first encounter with the species

Not far ahead of me is a younger, tallish, somewhat overweight (at least for a runner), probably early-thirty-something man who is laboring heavily. It is a level of fatigue he should not be experiencing until the very last half-mile of the race, had he been pacing himself properly. He appeared in my sights a couple of hundred yards back, and I have slowly been closing in on him. But now, crossing over a bridge spanning the river on the route, with every stride the gap is visibly diminishing.

Read moreInvasion of the hobby joggers, Part 1

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