5/30/2023 Update:
Jaeger and Calvin and now both testing positive for COVID. So, we gave isolation a shot but clearly didn’t do it quick enough. I guess that goes under lessons learned.

Of the houses we’ve owned, our current one is one of my favorites (probably a toss-up with our Gunbarrel house). However, there’s one feature that has always baffled us. On the ground floor of our house there is a 4th bedroom with an en suite bathroom1. For some reason, this en suite bathroom has an exterior door that takes you to the side of the house. It’s not near the garage or laundry room and isn’t particularly near to where one would put a hot tub. Till this weekend, we could never figure out what you’d use the door for.

Partital view of the bathroom from the bedroom. There is an exterior glass door in the bothroom with a shade covering the window.

Unfortunately, this weekend Julian and I contracted COVID for the first time since the pandemic started. Jaeger and Calvin were both testing negative so we decided that Julian and I should try to isolate. After some thought, we concluded the ground floor bedroom was our best option. It’s primarily Jaeger’s office but doubles as our exercise and guest bedroom. We have a sleeper sofa and the room is big enough we could bring in Julian’s mattress.

Current bedroom setup. The bed part of the sofa has been setup. To the left, on the floor, is Julian's mattress which he is sitting on with his back to the camera. At the foot of the sofa bed is an office desk with two  monitors.  On the opposite bed from the camera is a white dresser with plants sitting on top.

We moved one of our air purifiers right next to the interior door 2 and are keeping the interior door closed. Julian and I enter and exit the room exclusively via the exterior door. I am still going into the main part of the house, primarily the kitchen, but for limited amounts of time and fully masked. We’re taking all our meals outside. The sky has been pretty gray but surprisingly warm.

Outside patio.  There is a square outdoor dining table with two chairs. Julian is in one with his back to us.  Several feet away is a green card table with another two chairs. Jaeger is sitting at this table with his back to us reading his phone. Julian is eating pizza and on that table is also a mug, a book, and a Kleenex box. Underneath the table is a trashcan. On the green card table is another mug.

One of the things this experience is emphasizing to me is how much we underutilized our outdoor spaces. I like interior design so I’ve thought a lot about how various spaces in the house are used and what we can do to optimize their utility. However, I still haven’t figured out how to encourage use of our outdoor spaces. I think if I came up with a plan I could keep an eye out on Craigslist for good furniture. I just haven’t come up with a plan yet.

Overall, we have a pretty nice setup and Julian is loving getting unlimited screen time. Rio seems to be the most unhappy about the whole situation. We discovered when my parents came over that she doesn’t like strangers at all. She mostly stayed upstairs for the brief time they were here and even when she did venture downstairs, she’d run away the instant she saw either of them. After they left, she had one normal night and then Julian and I moved downstairs. She clearly did not approve and spent a significant amount of the night meowing at our door. While the rest of us eat outside, Rio sits by the sliding glass door and mournfully watches us.

Rio, our black cat, sitting on top of a white bookcase filled with cookbooks and surrounded by plants.

I had a really bad cold about a month ago, probably brought home by Julian, which caused me to miss almost a week of work so I’m tired of being sick. However, so far I’m doing pretty well. I’m on Paxlovid and have the weird metallic taste side effect but none of the others3. Yesterday I wasn’t feeling great but still had enough energy to read a couple of books. Today my physical energy is a bit lower than normal, and I have a fair amount of coughing and runny nose, but I think my brain is back to functioning. At the moment, I think I’ll be working tomorrow.

One of the advantages of remote work is, as long as I’m feeling ok, I can work while sick without infecting anyone else. Today Jaeger and I swapped our office setup, with the exception of the monitors and desks, so we’re ready for tomorrow. I have four meetings tomorrow, which isn’t ideal with a kid in the same room, but I expect Minecraft will keep Julian suitably entertained. I’ll also have a great view.

Small three-tiered water fountain in front of a hedge surronded by outdoor plants including a very young persimmon tree and some California poppies.

A little to my surprise, our precautions appear to have paid off, at least so far4. Neither Jaeger nor Calvin have any COVID symptoms and Jaeger just tested negative again today.

  1. According to the permits, this bed/bath is one year newer than the rest of the house.
  2. We own four Winix 5300-2 Air Purifier purchased back in 2019 for wildfire season and I have never regretted their purchase. Normally, we have them running in auto mode but right now all of them are running at full blast in addition to having windows open during the warmer parts of the day.
  3. It turns out a piece of dark chocolate helps mask it.
  4. As a typical teenager, Calvin mainly lives in his room so probably had the least amount of exposure. However, Jaeger slept right next to me the night before I tested positive.

Hot Chocolate Tasting

My favorite winter activity is to sit in front of the fire with a book and a cup of hot chocolate. Which hot chocolate I choose depends a bit on my mood. However, several weeks ago I decided I should taste all the hot chocolate I had in the house and take notes about which I liked best. Calvin enthusiastically signed up to this idea and Julian seemed uncertain but intrigued. Jaeger clearly couldn’t figure out the big fuss but started the tasting with us.

I printed up little cards where everyone could take notes about how many stars they gave each hot chocolate and any comments. We ended up with eight different kinds of hot chocolate which, in retrospect, was too many. Each tasting was about 1/4 cup. Jaeger gave up after four but the rest of us persevered through the full eight.

Our results (out of 5 stars)1:

Hot Chocolate Kiesa Calvis Julian Average
Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix 4.00 4.75 5.00 4.58
Hershey’s Hot Chocolate Recipe 4.50 4.50 2.50 3.83
Nestle Chocolatey Memories Hot Cocoa Mix 4.00 3.25 3.50 3.48
Abuelta Authentic Mexican Chocolate Drink Mix 4.00 3.75 2.00 3.25
Evil Recipe Hot Chocolate 4.50 5.00 0.00 3.17
Starbucks Hot Cocoa Double Chocolate 4.50 4.00 0.00 2.83
LaMonarca Bakery Chocolate Mexicano 3.50 2.50 1.50 2.50
Guittard Grand Cacao Sweet Ground Chocolate 5.00 3.50 -1.00 2.50

Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
This is a very safe hot chocolate that everyone enjoyed. Up until our tasting, I thought it was my favorite. However, I usually drink it with a cinnamon stick and for the tasting I had it plain. When it’s completely plain I found it a little boring.

Hershey’s Recipe Hot Chocolate
This is a recipe in the 1984 Hershey’s Chocolate Treasury cookbook. It’s made with 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate, 2 tbs hot water, 1/4 cup sugar, dash of salt, 2 cups warm milk, and 1/4 tsp vanilla.

Nestle Chocolatey Memories Hot Cocoa Mix
These are individual hot chocolate packets that I got for camping several years ago. I was a bit surprised how well it ended up rated. It’s probably the cheapest hot chocolate on the list.

Abuelta Authentic Mexican Chocolate Drink Mix
This is the hot chocolate I usually serve for breakfast. Many years ago my high school Spanish teacher brought in hot chocolate as a special treat. The teacher was bemused by how much our class loved it. This hot chocolate kind of reminds me of that, though it’s not quite as good as my memories. (I’m pretty sure my teacher made hers from scratch.)

Evil Recipe Hot Chocolate
This is Calvin’s favorite hot chocolate. To make it, you take a liquid measuring cup and pour in chocolate chips to the 1/4-1/3 cup marker. Then, add milk to the 1 cup line. Microwave for about 1:30 and then stir till it’s all mixed together. It’s extremely rich.

Starbucks Hot Cocoa Double Chocolate
This one also comes in individual packets. However, it doesn’t work as well for camping as it really requires milk to make it taste good. That said, with milk, it’s a decent, fairly dark, hot chocolate.

La Monarca Bakery Chocolate Mexicano
I bought this hot chocolate when I was looking for an upscale version of the Abuelta brand. We all agreed the flavor was great. However, it was very gritty. My hypothesis is it has a great flavor because of the cinnamon, which perhaps is not as finely ground as we prefer.

Guittard Grand Cacao Sweet Ground Chocolate
When by itself, this was my favorite hot chocolate. However, Julian’s -1 rating pulled this all the way down to the bottom of our list. It looks like I can safely hoard it for myself without anyone else complaining.

Sample comment cards:
Evil Recipe Hot Chocolate. 5 stars filled in. Reviewer: Calvis the Bold Comments: -rich -thick-excellent -evil (amazingly so)

Guirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix. 5 stars filled in. Reviewer: Julian Comments: 5 for taste 5 for coldness. Written on the left side in pencil it says 'best'.

Guittard Grand Cacao Sweet Ground Chocolate. 5 stars filled in. Reviewer: Gem Comments: Dark Good Fairly Rich

  1. Jaeger left comments but no ratings.

Thoughts on Remote Work

I have a long history of working from home in various ways. At my first library I worked from home for seven years. My next two libraries weren’t as work from home friendly but I was usually able to do it once a week1. I’ve been in my current fully remote position for two years.

I have been disgruntled for years over how few employers consider fully remote workers to be a viable option. There are clearly some positions that are more compatible with fully remote work than others. There are also some people who prefer being fully remote more than others. One of the few silver linings of COVID was that many employers had to figure out how to make remote work feasible and their employees managed to do good work even with all the complications that the pandemic brought2. I am very annoyed with companies who are now trying to bring their people back to work in-person when it’s not for actual work purposes. In my view, neither “strengthening our community and sense of connection” nor compensating for managers who can’t manage remotely, are sufficient reasons to require in-person work. These issues can be dealt with in other ways.

Now that I think about it, many of the benefits of remote work compensate for a society setup to make having kids hard for two working parents3. This is a problem that I feel many top executives do not have either because they have a spouse that stays home or they have an army of support workers for their home.

Once we had kids, having both Jaeger and I work was never the easiest option for our family. However, I desperately need to work. If I don’t have interesting problems to solve, my mental health rapidly deteriorates. I assume Jaeger is similar. At the very least, he does not want to stay home full time with the kids either. Remote work helps bridge the capacity gap between working outside the house and being a parent.

In San Francisco I was working 40 hours a week and commuting down to Mountain View Monday-Thursday. On my commuting days I had no free time. I’d wake up and leave the house by 6:30am and would return around 6:00pm. I’d feed the kids, get them ready for bed, and then immediately go to bed completely exhausted. I had a shorter commute in Seattle, and it was better, but I still didn’t have much buffer if something went wrong at work or home.

Many daycare hours are limited and are barely open long enough to both pickup and drop off kids within an eight hour work day. They also require driving, rather than taking mass transit when it’s available, because available daycare slots and job locations never seem to match. Several of our preschools had a large number of holidays when care wasn’t available. In San Francisco, we dealt with this by having an au pair, who is limited to 45 hours of work a week, and supplementing with preschool. Due to cost, and other factors, this is not an option available to many people. Even with the support of an au pair, I had a panic attack in the Millbrae BART station one day when I was reviewing the preschool calendar and realized they were going to be closed the entire month of July4.

Working remotely allows for much more flexibility around childcare options. When working remotely the only commute time I need to factor in is the time to get to the daycare/preschool. Holidays aren’t as big of a deal because even with tiny kids I could usually get in a significant amount of work5. When the kids get sick, I don’t have a mad scramble to find alternative care or take the day off and, it turns out, kids get sick a lot. So far this school year we’ve had one or both of the kids home sick for a total of 11 school days (no COVID, just regular colds). Some of this was probably delayed exposure due to everyone being more careful during the early COVID years. However, I distinctly remember Julian being regularly sick when he started preschool.

Schools are another institution that work best when there is a stay at home parent. One of the reasons Calvin went to private school in Colorado, even when I was only working 20 hours a week, was because our public school’s kindergarten hours were incompatible with complimentary childcare options. Even once you hit first grade, the school day usually ends between 2-3pm. Some schools offer after school programs and some don’t. Those that do rarely guarantee you get a spot when you enroll in the school. It’s very hard to find care for kids to fill the gap between the end of the school day and the end of the work day.

Working remotely allows me to pickup the kids from school and then continue working for the rest of the day. Depending on the age of the kid, you may still need extra care but it opens up a lot more options.

Speaking of more options, having two fully remote parents is amazing. For the first time since we’ve had kids I feel we’re actually close to a 50/50 split in kid/house work. Most days I drop the kids off at school and Jaeger picks them up. I no longer have to make the choice of starting early, skipping lunch, and/or working late to fit both my child and work obligations in the same day6. I just work a normal work day and it’s amazing.

I was so disappointed when Apple and other tech companies started walking back their remote work options. Yes, in many ways tech workers are incredibly privileged. However, I strongly believe that having more permanent remote workers would increase the overall diversity of tech companies. In addition, it might provide more relief for the partners of those tech workers. I really appreciated the Thoughts on Office-Bound Work some Apple employees put together.

So far I’ve focused on the benefits I get from remote work as a mother. I mentioned them first because they are by far the most important for me. However, remote work also offers other perks which include:

  • I like people but I also find them exhausting. After a day of interacting with people I need several hours, or more, to recover.
  • I have more control over the temperature at home. While working at Mountain View the thermastat in my work area was broken for several months. It was regularly in the lower 60s (17C) in summer. I had a space heater, wore a down coat, and had fingerless gloves. During my 15 minute breaks I’d go outside and try to warm up.
  • Open floor plans are the norm these days but I would not work well in them. Due to some incidents in middle school, I do best when I have my back to the wall. (This is not just true at work, in restaurants I also try to pick the chair that doesn’t allow people to sneak up behind me.) The typical advice when needing to concentrate in an open floor plan is to wear noise canceling headphones but that would mean I would have even less ability to hear people coming up behind me.
  • Related to above, my job involves many Zoom meetings (often 4-5 a day) with people all over the state. This would not be fun for a desk/cube neighbor.
  • More flexibility for everything. When I worked at Mountain View I had to leave at a specific time either to catch my train or to avoid traffic (if I drove). I couldn’t keep working even if I was in the middle of an interesting/important problem. This last week I was in the middle of something and kept working on it, off and on between dinner and other stuff, till around 9pm. Mind you, I rarely work that late under normal circumstances, but I appreciate how easy it is when I want/need to.

Since having kids, my quality of life has been drastically better in the jobs where I am a fully remote worker. Remote work isn’t the best option for everyone but I believe it should be an option for those that can do their jobs without going into the office.

  1. My third library did move almost everyone to fully remote work when COVID arrived and stayed that way until I left but it was clear that administration was not comfortable with this.
  2. Working fully remote from home during a pandemic is nothing like it normally is. Until COVID, anytime I worked from home my kid(s) were either in daycare/school or being watched by an au pair. I did not interact with them at all during my normally scheduled paid work time. I’m still astonished that anyone with little kids managed to accomplish anything during the pandemic.
  3. Note, my viewpoint is that of a mother with kids and a very good family income. However, the benefits of remote work are not limited to issues that affect mothers/families. See Remote Work Boosts Employees With Disabilities, Research Shows for another perspective.
  4. It looks like the subject of my email to Jaeger after that was “Morning Unhappiness” where I list possible alternatives including “change jobs”. This, ironically, is what I ended up doing. At the time, I did not consciously factor the July childcare break when accepting the Seattle job but the stress of figuring out childcare in San Francisco was regularly overwhelming.
  5. Yes, this usually involved giving the kids lots of screen time but a few days a month aren’t going to kill them.
  6. True, when we had au pairs they did the pickup/dropoff of the kids but you don’t magically get all that time back. Having an au pair (or nanny) means you have the overhead associated with that to deal with instead.

Reading in 2022

This year I read 97 books which is slightly more than last year. My reading still ended up on the fluffy end of things. However, I did manage to read most of the Hugo nominees this year and I even have a head start on books to nominate for next year.

I continue to read a mix of physical, ebook, and audiobooks. However, I read fewer ebooks this year than last. Last year, I thought that I wasn’t able to find physical books I wanted to read because of the library’s smaller size, relative to the other systems I’ve borrowed from. However, they might have been buying less than usual due to pandemic reasons. I’ve had a lot more success in 2022 requesting books I want to read from the library. I’ve also been more proactive about requesting they buy specific books I want to read and the library has, for the most part, bought the books I request1. I have also been spending a lot of money at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Enough, apparently, that when I went to pick up one of my recent purchases and told the staff member my name she said, “Oh, you’re the one that orders a lot of books.2.”

This year, only 32% of the books I read were in audio format. I’ve slowly started listening to podcasts again, including Marketplace, which is taking up some of my potential audiobook time.

I read a lot of books and most of them were good. However, these were my favorites:

Next year I’m not going to aim for more than 97 books. However, I think I’m going to try a reading goal, though I haven’t decided on the specifics yet. Whatever I decide, I’ll probably look for a relatively short goal of 5-10 books. I want something that can gently push me to try new books without stalling my reading.

  1. I think they’ve declined to buy my suggestion only once and in that case I wasn’t able to find a traditional review to point them to.
  2. I’ve been preordering more than usual this year which is why they’re coming in as orders rather than me just picking them off the shelf.

Houses and Mortgages

Within the last 18 years I have owned 5 houses in three different states1. Watching mortgage rates increase so dramatically got me to thinking about our past mortgages.

We bought our first house because I couldn’t find an apartment I liked. At the time, we lived in Louisville in a 2-bedroom apartment that had an efficient layout and was an easy distance from almost everything except my new job which was an hour away in good traffic. We looked at a map and determined that Longmont would be a better base location, still relatively close to Boulder but also 20 minutes closer to my library. However, all the apartments I looked at wasted a lot of the square footage on hallways instead of living space.

Somewhat on a whim, I started looking to see if we could buy a house instead of rent. This being 2004, before the housing crash, the answer was yes even though I had been working for less than a year, Jaeger’s company was financially shaky2, and we had no down payment. We were also considerably more naive than now. I don’t remember if we were “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved”, probably the former, but in any case, we started looking at houses. It took a while to find a house we liked and the buyer agreed to our offer. This was back in the dark ages when only some of the houses had online photos and those you had to get through a broker’s special website. However, eventually we found a very nice 3-bedroom house that had a tiny yard but backed up to a green area that kept our house from immediately backing up to the house behind us. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the house also required the least amount of maintenance of any house since. Fortunately for us given we had no extra cash to spare.

We found the house but had no down payment so needed to figure out how to buy it. I remember sitting in the mortgage broker’s office, the first and last time I ever did that in person, and him trying to convince me we should get a 3-year ARM. I do not like uncertainty and didn’t want an ARM but I don’t recall being given the option of a fixed rate mortgage. I countered with a 7-year ARM, which is what I thought we had agreed on. However, this was back in the day before home buyers automatically saw documents prior to signing. When we got to the signing, which in Colorado involves the buyers and sellers being together in the same room, the escrow officer asked if we had seen our loan docs ahead of time and we said no. She looked at us in moderate consternation and proceeded to quickly summarize everything. It was at this point I learned that we didn’t have a 7-year ARM, we had a 5-year ARM. It turned out that we also applied for a home equity line of credit which took care of our 20% down payment3. I was a bit perturbed but the signing felt like it was too late to back out so we signed4.

In any case, we did buy the house and it was really exceptional to have our own home that allowed me to make changes whenever I wanted. We got our first house bills and the main mortgage amount seemed right but the second mortgage payment seemed way too small for the amount of money we had borrowed. I got out our loan docs and read through them carefully. With dawning horror I finally realized that our home equity line of credit was a 10-year, interest-only loan, that never paid down the principal amount and the interest rate adjusted monthly. Fortunately, I’m good at math. I created an amortization chart to estimate how much extra we’d need to pay each month to pay the loan off in 10 years. Almost every month the interest rate on the second mortgage increased. It started at an introductory rate of 4.00% and after 6 months jumped to 7.00% and after a year was about 8.50%. At about the one-year mark I finally investigated other options and we refinanced it into a 5-year home equity loan at 8.299% which we paid off several years early. We eventually refinanced our original ARM, with a five-year rate of 6.125%, to a 15-year fixed rate mortgage with a rate of 4.25% (though we did pay points for it).

After Calvin was born my boss agreed to let me work from home instead of commuting to Greeley every day. When Calvin was about three, Jaeger convinced me that we should move closer to his job, since I no longer had any commute. I didn’t really want to leave our first house, it met all my needs and was feasible to pay off within a relatively short amount of time. However, I had to admit that the commute wasn’t fair. Thus, we listed our house for sale and started looking closer to Jaeger’s work.

However, this was in 2012 and the housing bubble had definitely burst. While housing had recovered a bit, I knew our house wouldn’t be easy to sell. While we had a realtor helping us, I also read several excellent books about selling houses: Seven Steps to Sold, How to Sell a House Fast in a Slow Real Estate Market, and Home Staging that Works5. The home staging book, in particular, made a significant impression on me. We didn’t hire a professional stager but I did follow the staging recommendations scrupulously. While showing our house to potential buyers, we were also looking at houses in the Boulder area.

Eventually, we found a house we liked and put an offer in on it, even though we didn’t have a seller for our old house yet. Fortunately, a couple did put in an offer on our house that we chose to accept. We sold the house for about 7% less than what we had bought it for. However, the low housing prices probably benefited us in the long run as Boulder houses were also cheaper to buy. We had a slightly better idea what we were doing with our second house. Among other things, we had a down payment from paying down the principal on our first house, and we saw the loan docs ahead of time. This time we got a 5-year ARM with an interest rate of 2.75%. I still didn’t love having an ARM but at that time the fixed interest rates were significantly higher and running the various amortization charts it was obvious that the ARM was a better option.

The Boulder house turned out to be one of my favorite houses. However, when Jaeger got laid off and then offered a job at Google in San Francisco, we sold our house and moved again. With our second house we got really lucky and sold it for 42% more than we had bought it. This is the only reason we were able to buy a house in San Francisco. Yes, Jaeger’s stock helped but we still wouldn’t have had the down payment without the sale from our Boulder house6. We rented in San Francisco for almost a year before deciding to buy.

In many ways, house hunting in San Francisco was more fun than anywhere else because of how ubiquitous the open houses were. I spent many fun weekends walking from house to house without having to go to the trouble of making an appointment ahead of time. Also, San Francisco has some truly weird houses. I still remember the basement that obviously had been an illegal apartment and they made it legal by pulling out the walls but leaving the floor footprint so you could see how the rooms use to be laid out. Eventually, we found a house that met both our needs and our budget. That house we bought with a 7-year ARM with an interest rate of 3.5%. We weren’t sure how long we planned to stay in San Francisco which is why we went with the ARM option again.

San Francisco wasn’t working for me, for various reasons, and I got offered a great job up in Seattle so we moved up there. We owned our San Francisco house less than 2 years so I wasn’t entirely sure we would break even. However, we lucked out and sold it for 16% more than we bought it for. In retrospect, I think the buyer might have overpaid because we’ve been keeping an eye on the house and it didn’t appreciate much when it was sold 3 years later.

In Seattle, we lived in a temporary rental for several months which, in retrospect, I think was a mistake because there was too much pressure to buy a house quickly. Though, there weren’t a lot of longer term rentals that would fit our family’s needs. Jaeger and I also had trouble agreeing on a house but we eventually found a house that was good enough. We got another 7-year ARM, at 4.125%, because we felt there was a decent chance we’d leave Seattle in 5 years. This was the first house we owned that required major repairs. The roof started leaking even before we moved in7. However, this was the house where I really learned that I like quirky better than shiny. Even with it’s flaws, I liked it better than our San Francisco house. Also, the house came with an insane number of roses in the front which, at first, overwhelmed me but I now miss.

Seattle wasn’t working for Jaeger, for various reasons, so we decided to move back down to California. We made this decision about a month prior to the pandemic starting but I wanted to stick around till I had worked a full two years at that library. By the time we were ready to sell, it was the summer of 2020. Not the best time to sell, even though I believe the market picked up later. This was another house we sold for loss, about 8% less than we bought it. However, we lost more money because the new roof was a significant expense and we had also spent money on the master bath8.

Exactly where to move to in California was a matter of debate. I didn’t want to deal with the stress of living in a large city on top of my disappointment in leaving my Seattle job. Jaeger found a rental in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was glorious and provided exactly the life I wanted for my kids. However, it was a bit too remote for Jaeger. So, when we started looking to buy again, we ended up gravitating towards a house closer to Santa Cruz.

At this point we were still in the middle of the pandemic except housing had picked up significantly, even in most cities. This was the oddest house buying experience I’ve had. Competition was probably fiercer than what we had previously experienced in Seattle and San Francisco. Twice we found houses which were no longer available by the weekend. Once we went on a house tour where the buyer’s agent insisted on joining us due to COVID reasons, I guess to keep our germs from touching the owner’s property, and spent the whole tour with a drooping mask crowding us in a clearly unsafe manner. Fortunately, that house didn’t speak to us so we didn’t have to deal with that agent again.

One weekend I needed to get out of the house so I drove down to check out a City of Santa Cruz park with redwoods. It was a lovely trail and reminded me a lot of wandering around the woods when I was growing up, though with significantly fewer blackberry brambles to get scratched by. The park happened to be relatively near a house for sale so I left my car at the park and walked up the hill to the house, just to see the outside. The outside didn’t offend me and I really liked the idea of being close enough to walk to real trees9. The inside pictures looked decent so we scheduled time to see the house.

The house was large and quirky, so it met many of our requirements. We put in an offer but were outbid. I was disappointed but really didn’t want to pay more than I felt the house was worth and so moved on. That is, until our realtor contacted us about a week later asking if we were still interested. It turns out the other buyers were getting cold feet and/or were asking for more concessions than the seller wanted to give so we got the house after all. This was when interest rates were still at historic lows and so we bought this house with a 30-year fixed mortgage and an interest rate of 3.25%. I really like this house and hope we are finally done moving and can stay here for a long time, especially given our low fixed interest rate.

Looking back, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky when it comes to buying houses. Our first house buying experience could have ended very badly if we hadn’t understood the terms of the loans or if we were just unlucky and lost our jobs early on before we’d built up any significant savings. However, it didn’t end badly and is one of the reasons we can buy nice houses in California. For our most recent house, if we bought now, we’d probably be paying an additional 40% a month in housing costs, mainly due to the interest rate increase10.

Again, we’re really lucky.

  1. If we include rentals, I have lived in 9 homes in 18 years.
  2. This was in the era where Jaeger was occasionally given paychecks that he was asked not to cash till several days in the future.
  3. On the upside, this also kept us from paying mortgage insurance. Though, I’ve wondered since how our broker managed that. It doesn’t make sense to me that you can get out of mortgage insurance just by adding more debt.
  4. These days I would have definitely backed out but these days I would have insisted on seeing the docs ahead of time anyway.
  5. Note, I love these books but they are quite old at this point and some of the information is dated.
  6. This is one reason I feel really bad for tech people who started in California. Yes, they have good salaries but it’s still really hard to save enough for the insane housing prices we have out here.
  7. Don’t buy a flat roof in the northwest even if the view is great. I knew better but I was so desperate to agree on a house at that point that I compromised where I shouldn’t have. Also, the inspector had pointed out potential roof problems, we just didn’t realize it was actively leaking as we bought in summer.
  8. Though, much of that labor was provided by Jaeger.
  9. A tree is not real unless it’s thick enough you can’t put your arms around it.
  10. This is assuming a 30-year jumbo mortgage with a rate of 5.625%, which is probably on the low side, and looking at Zillow’s Zestimate range and choosing the lowest number given we are in a cooling housing market.

Using Mastodon

I first heard about Mastodon in 2017. Yanthor was also intrigued and he got me to take the next step and actually join, a Mastodon instance. I stayed on Octodon for a bit but had more people talking about books so I eventually migrated to that instance because I found the local timeline more interesting. I don’t post a lot, particularly compared to others, but I’ve been a regular user since November 2017 and I have seen many people come and go over the years.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m slowly edging away from my account there. However, I don’t use my account in the same way I used my Twitter account. I do post life updates on but what I really love to talk about in that space is books, usually science fiction or fantasy. After some thinking, I’ve decided to use my old Octodon account as a general Twitter replacement.

If you are interested, there are a couple of different ways you can see what I’m posting on my Octodon account:

  1. The easiest option is to just go to my public timeline whenever you think about it. This is probably the easiest approach.
  2. If you want to get slightly fancier, you can also get an RSS feed of my local timeline. This is probably not a good option unless you already use an RSS reader for other things.
  3. If you want to be extra special fancy, you can get your own Mastodon account.

Mastodon options for posting toots.

General Mastodon
If you’ve never been on a Mastodon instance before, I imagine there’s a lot of terms in my prior paragraphs that doesn’t make sense. A Brief Mastodon Guide for Social Media Worriers is a good introduction for beginners. However, below is a summary of some of the details I think are pertinent.

Unlike Twitter, there is no one Mastodon. Instead, there are lots of Instances which know how to talk to each other. Many people explain this as being similar to email. Gmail users can email Yahoo users who can email Outlook users. However, unlike email, the community and culture of specific Mastodon instance can vary widely and is often based on specific shared interest. For example, tends to be a place for techie librarians/information professionals while people post a lot of art. Most of these instances have some sort of rules they require accounts to follow, for example here are’s rules.

If you use a Mastodon instance similar to how you use Twitter, your instance doesn’t matter as much as long as you stick to your instance’s rules. However, one fun thing Mastodon has is local timelines. Timeline icon.This is where you can go and see what everyone else is publicly talking about on your instance. This is also why it’s particularly fun to find an instance centered around topics you find interesting. However, it’s pretty easy to move instances so it’s fine to start with a larger one like until you find a more interesting one1. It’s much easier to move instances than it is to change email addresses.

Content Warnings
Mastodon etiquette will vary from instance to instance. However, it’s generally considered good manners to use content warnings when you suspect someone may be bothered or annoyed by a topic. Common topics to content warn include things like politics, traumatic events, graphic pictures, mental health, etc. However, the specifics do depend a little bit on your instance and the other people you follow. For example, food is often content warned on my instance and often they’ll explicitly content warn if it’s non-veg. If you go look at your local timeline, you can often get a feel for what people content warn and what they don’t.
Content warning icon.
You can also use content warnings to discuss spoilers which allows people to enjoy book/movie discussions without accidentally learning major plot points ahead of time.

Post privacy options: Public, Unlisted, Followers only, Mentioned people only.
I also use content warnings when I’m talking about things that don’t really fall into the general interests of my instance (such as parenting or kids). However, I just realized that’s probably not the right way to do it. I probably should have also been using the “unlisted” feature where my followers can see what I’m talking about but it doesn’t appear in the local timeline. I’ve been using Mastodon for five years and am still learning new things.

While I use content warnings heavily at, I’m planning to use them much less frequently with my Octodon account. Instead, I’m going to try keeping my posts primarily unlisted so they don’t ambush people in the local timeline. My thought is that keeping things without content warnings will probably be easier for the family member who just wants to see updates without a lot of clicking. This is an experiment so we’ll see how it goes.

Alt Text
The other thing that is strongly encouraged is to provide alt text for any images you post. There are a fair number of users that use screen readers and they really appreciate alt text being added. Here’s a good guide on entering helpful alt text.

Mastodon App
When using a desktop, it’s really easy to load and use Mastodon in a browser window. Personally, I suggest enabling the “advanced web interface” view. However, there are various apps available for use on mobile devices. Since my transition back to Android, I’ve been using the “official” Mastodon app. Which, it turns out has quite a few limitations. I just started using Tusky which lets me post unlisted and also allows me to easily see the local timeline.

Mastodon doesn’t allow searching on your posts unless you hashtag them. If you want to be found by people with common interests, hashtag your posts. If you don’t want to be found, don’t hashtag topics. When Elon Musk first threatened to buy Twitter we had a lot of new users. I did an introduction post and listed my general interests. All of a sudden, my timeline got much busier than I wanted. This time, I’m keeping quiet and not hashtagging anything. I’ll probably start hashtagging more once things get quieter again.

If you end up sticking around, and can afford it, make a small contribution to help support your instance. Most instances have a way to give money, such as a Patreon account.

Mastodon is made up of flawed humans
Some people come to Mastodon expecting utopia. However, Mastodon is far from perfect and it has many of the same problems that Twitter does. Unfortunately, people get harassed on Mastodon instances just like they do at Twitter. However, your instance has more control over what it allows through and so moderation is sometimes better on Mastodon (and sometimes worse). Like Twitter, you will also have very well meaning people who just don’t think before they say something hurtful. Or, a mob of users may gang up on someone because of a innocently meant remark.

That said, I generally find Mastodon to be a more pleasant experience than Twitter. If I’m tired of hearing about election news, I can easily scroll past it because people are content warning it. If I don’t have the energy to handle someone else’s bad day, I don’t click into their content warned post. If I need something good in my life, I go search for #catsofmastodon or #florespondence2. It’s not a perfect place but I still enjoy using it.

Additional Reading

  1. Because of the Twitter drama a lot of the smaller Mastodon instances are currently overwhelmed. As a result, quite a few of them have chosen to stop allowing new users or have switched to only allowing new users to join if they have an invite from a current user. However, they often open back up once things calm down again.
  2. If nothing appears when you click, it’s possible the server is currently overloaded. Again, this will even out when most people go back to Twitter.


This last August I started dreaming about cats. They would randomly show up in my dreams and just hang out, purring. Then I would wake up and be sad not to have a purring cat next to me.

It’s been over a year since Willow died. She’d been with us for almost sixteen years and had lived in every house we’ve ever owned. It was both sad and weird to not have her around. For quite a while it felt a bit overwhelming to think about getting another cat. However, once I started dreaming about them I figured it was time.

I talked to Jaeger about getting a new cat and he was fine with the idea. I was thinking about looking for a bonded pair, so the cats could keep each other entertained. However, Jaeger leaned toward one cat. Regardless of the cat numbers, I didn’t want to do anything hasty. Every so often I’d go online to look at the cats available at the nearby animal shelters and wait for inspiration to strike. I had some basic criteria: I wanted a cat who was cuddly, a good purrer, and didn’t hate children1. However, I looked at the lists of cats and couldn’t figure out what would cause me to choose one over another.

Last Friday I was getting ready to take the kids to school when I noticed a cat outside our front door. I decided to go out and see if the cat would let me pet it. It did but, as I was petting it, I noticed how thin it was and how matted its fur was. The cat looked like she was in pretty poor shape so I took her inside, so she wouldn’t wander off, with plans to post on Nextdoor and/or take her someplace to see if she was microchipped. She looked kind of rundown but had beautiful markings. A very handsome cat. Also, she was obviously use to people and was very friendly.

It turns out she was a neighbor’s cat. Jaeger had seen her once before, though she seemed in better condition at that point. My hypothesis was she must have been sick which is why she looked like a stray. The neighbor who responded wasn’t actually the cat’s owner so I didn’t get the full story. However, the neighbor did say that the cat is allowed to roam oatside. Based on that, I didn’t feel like I could keep her trapped in our house. So, I let the cat out and she happily trotted off back down the cul-de-sac and clearly looked like she was headed home. I haven’t seen her since. We fed her while she was here. In retrospect, she didn’t eat an excessive amount, just some of the wet food. In any case, I assume if she actually was hungry she would have come back for more food later and she hasn’t.

I was a bit disappointed because I thought maybe the universe was sending me a cat and that turned out not to be the case. However, it did emphasize that I really wanted a cat. I took a look at the animal shelter pictures again and came across a cat named Waylon2. Waylon was around one year old and described as very affectionate, loves snuggling, and purrs enthusiastically. Also, he was an orange cat. Nimrod3, my very first cat as a kid, was an orange cat and he’s the standard I judge all other cats against. He was very vocal and had a wonder purr4. I decided it was a sign and talked Jaeger into going down to the animal shelter with me on Saturday.

Saturday afternoon we loaded the kids into the car and headed off to the animal shelter. When we got there, they asked us what traits we wanted in a cat and then took us around pointing out some cats who might meet our criteria. We came up with a list of five cats and then went back to the desk where they looked them up and gave us some brief information about each of them. One of them we excluded based on past history as it seemed like she became stressed around children. That left us with four cats that seemed like good candidates.

The first cat we visited was named Evanescence. She was just over one but had already had a litter of kittens5. She had caught Jaeger’s eye because she was enthusiastically trying to interact with us when she was in her cage. However, in the visiting room she mostly ignored us, running back and forth between the two glass doors. It seemed she wasn’t interested in us as much as getting out and exploring things. Understandable, but it didn’t give us enough information to know if she’d be a good fit.

While we were waiting for our next cat, one of the volunteers asked if we wanted to hold the cat she was holding. We said sure. On the upside, the cat sniffed Julian’s hand and didn’t instantly recoil. However, she wasn’t quite what we were looking for so they took her back. Unfortunately, she had a cold so we all had to tromp into the bathrooms and wash our hands before we could see the next cat.

The next cat was named Motherboard and I’m fairly certain she ended up on our list because Jaeger liked the name6. Motherboard seemed pretty promising. She was affectionate and seemed to like Julian a great deal. However, I still wanted to see the others.

The next cat we visited with was Rio. She won me over pretty quickly with her very loud purr. She was also the only cat who was interested enough in Jaeger to actually jump up into his lap7. After visiting her, I was fairly certain she was going to be our choice. However, we hadn’t visited with Waylon yet, the cat that enticed me into the shelter to begin with.

When we visited with Waylon it quickly became apparent he was not the right cat for us. It’s true he was cuddly but more in a “please hide me from the world” sort of way. The volunteer handed him to me and he jammed himself into my arm and tried to ignore that the rest of the world existed. If we didn’t have kids I still might have considered him. However, we felt that even fairly well-behaved kids would probably be too overwhelming for him.

After seeing all the cats, Rio was the clear winner for our family.

Black cat standing with upright tale.

We brought Rio home and I let her out in our master bathroom. I had closed all the master bedroom doors but had left the door between the bedroom and bathroom open. She sniffed around the bathroom for a few minutes but once she got into our bedroom she headed straight under the couch and refused to come out. She stayed there all afternoon. I finally managed to coax her out around 11pm after the kids had gone to bed and the house had quieted down significantly. However, once she was out, she seemed fairly comfortable. Unfortunately, I noticed that the bottom of her left eye was swollen and she was sneezing a lot. This wasn’t too surprising, as quite a few cats at the shelter had colds, but the shelter hadn’t tagged her as a sick cat.

I went to bed around midnight and she quickly followed me into bed. I learned that she really liked burrowing under the covers. I had heard of cats sleeping under covers before but my cats never had so it was a novel experience for me. She is a fairly well mannered sleeping partner, at least for a cat. She kept up a nice purr but didn’t do any meowing during the night. She also didn’t insist we stay awake and entertain her by raking her claws across my face (Cat5 would do this).

Black cat peaking out from under a duvet.

Given Rio had slept with us all night, I thought she would be more comfortable on Sunday. However, as soon as we got up she disappeared under the sofa again. My original plans for the day included cleaning the master bathroom. However, I decided that many smells might make Rio even more nervous so decided to skip until next weekend. I spent a good portion of the afternoon sitting on the sofa hoping she’d come out but she stayed firmly underneath.

Jaeger had gone to a concert and Calvin went to a Renaissance fair with a friend so it was just Julian and I. After supper, we watched Netflix’s “Inside the Mind of a Cat” which we both found pretty interesting. Among other things, it talked about how cats like to be treated so I’m hoping Julian picked up some useful dos and don’ts.

After I put Julian to bed, I went back to our bedroom and Rio came out and sat on my lap until my bedtime. I went to bed and she happily followed me like the previous night.

Today, I got out of bed at my normal time but Jaeger and Rio continued to sleep. After I came back from dropping Julian off, I went to our room but couldn’t find Rio. I started wondering if she had escaped out of our bedroom. However, I eventually found her under the duvet. It turns out what I thought was a wrinkle was actually Rio. Her eye still looks bad to me so I called Willow’s old vet to see if I could get an appointment for today. However, the vet was out sick and they weren’t accepting any new animals. I called a couple of other places and none of them were accepting new pets. I was starting to panic when I finally found a place accepting new patients. They had me fill out a form and will contact me to schedule an appointment “within 48 hours”. Not as fast as I would prefer but at least it’s better than nothing.

Rio seemed much more comfortable in our bedroom today than previous days. She wandered around a fair bit, included a brief visit to my office. She spent the majority of the day under our bed. However, she seemed more relaxed than the previous day.
Black cat sitting in sunlight on purple armchair.

Now that it’s evening Rio is once again out. She’s currently sitting on Jaeger’s lap. Though, she did spend a bit of time chasing the laser pointer. So far I can verify she’s a very cuddly cat and has a great purr. Given she mainly has emerged in the evening, we have yet to see if she’ll get along with Julian. I’m crossing my fingers. Regardless, she seems a good fit for Jaeger and I.

Black cat in front of box.

  1. Cat5 and Willow both predated our kids and never completely forgave us for having human children. Our children and our cats coexisted by keeping a respectful distance from each other.
  2. I keep accidentally calling him Waymo
  3. When we named him, we had more familiarity with biblical references than popular culture. He’s named after the great hunter in the Bible. We didn’t intend to give him a derogatory name.
  4. He also was a very good hunter. My parents had a mole problem prior to his arrival but Nimrod took care of it. He also attacked an opossum, at least once, that was as big as he was
  5. A distressing number of one-year-old females had already given birth.
  6. When the shelter gets a mom and kittens they try to name the cats according to a theme. However, the shelter was running out of good names and had resorted to somewhat bizarre names such as Ketchup and Mustard.
  7. Most of the visiting rooms only had 2 chairs so Calvin and Jaeger sat in the chairs and Julian and I sat on the ground. This meant that Julian and I tended to get more interaction with the cats.

Office Upgrade

We have been living in our current house for over a year. I think it’s on its way to being my favorite house. This is a relief as we’re hoping not to move again for at least another decade. I started with a solid layout plan prior to moving in. However, the longer we live in this house, the better feel we have for our needs. As such, we’ve been making incremental changes.

My office is one area that’s been going through regular small adjustments. The major components of my preliminary SketchUp plan mostly worked.
Sunroom layout. Desk on right side in front of windows. Seating area on left side with purple chair and end table. The room is long but relatively narrow so I chopped it up into two areas: an office area and a seating area.

We never got the plant stand I was originally envisioning but I’m not sure it really would have fit well anyway. We do have a coffee tree, curry leaf plant, and mint plant in the sunroom. While the three plants live in my office, Jaeger takes care of all of them. I kill plants but Jaeger clearly has a green thumb. He keeps acquiring more plants and they all seem to love him.

View of the sunroom office from the bedroom door. Can see old desk and chair as far well sitting area.

Sunroom with old desk.

I wanted blinds for the windows but the people I talked to said the skylight frame wasn’t deep enough. So I went for regular curtains for the vertical windows and foam core board, as needed, for the skylights.

I also ended up adding a tall, but narrow, bookcase next to the hallway door that contains office supplies and my romance books.

View of the sunroom office from the far corner. Can see old desk and chair as well as bookcase and hall doorway.

Sunroom with old desk and bookcase.

However, the most expensive upgrade I made just a couple of weeks ago. I finally bought an Uplift desk, similar to Jaeger’s and a desk treadmill.

We’ve recently switched up our evening schedule to include Julian in family TV time. Up to this point, I’d finish the dishes and then try to go for a walk or use my old treadmill prior to watching TV with Jaeger and Calvin at 8:00pm. However, to include Julian, we needed to move TV time to 7:00pm. I was having a really hard time trying motivating myself to do any level of exercise after watching TV. I do usually go for a walk during lunch but that doesn’t always work for my schedule and, in any case, it’s not a particularly long walk. Of course, there’s the option of getting up earlier but I’ve really been enjoying not having to get up till 7:00am.

In any case, I started mulling the conundrum around in my head trying to think of solutions. Back in 2013 I bought a cheap treadmill and used existing materials in my house to create a treadmill desk. This worked surprising well and, as an even bigger surprise, the treadmill still works and has survived five moves. It’s not in the best of condition but it still works. However, it’s currently in the downstairs bedroom, which Jaeger uses as an office, and wouldn’t easily fit in my office. I didn’t want to trade offices with Jaeger and I believe the feeling is mutual. So, I figured I’d see what’s available on Craigsilst. Craigslist did have desk treadmills for sale. Though, they felt kind of expensive for Craigslist. On a whim, I looked on Amazon to see what an official desk treadmill cost and was surprised by how cheap they were. Back in 2013, you couldn’t get a treadmill desk for under $1,000. To be fair, I think the good ones still cost over $1,000. However, I wanted to prototype the idea before spending a lot of money on it.

That said, a desk treadmill also requires an adjustable desk because I didn’t want to end up with two desk areas again. I’ve become too attached to having two large external monitors. I was less hesitant to spend money on an adjustable desk. Jaeger has had his Uplift desk for over a year and still likes it. I really like the memory options to automatically raise and lower the desk to predefined heights. So, once I figured out exactly what options I wanted, the desk was pretty easy to order.

The treadmill took more thought. There’s now quite a few cheap desk treadmills available but all of them had a decent number of reviews complaining that the treadmill broke in less than a year. After waffling for a bit, I decided that this treadmill was good enough.

Both the treadmill and the desk arrived fairly quickly. The treadmill didn’t require any setup which was lovely1. The desk took a lot longer but it wasn’t hard, just a little tedious.

So far, both the desk and the treadmill are working out great. I store the treadmill under my bed when I’m not using it. First thing in the morning I’ll pull out the treadmill and walk on it for an hour or two, depending on my meeting schedule. The fastest the treadmill will go in the desk treadmill configuration is 2.5 mph. I’d like it to go a little faster but it’s adequate to create a light sweat. At a minimum, I’m burning more calories than sitting at the desk. To my surprise, I can actually work while walking. I originally thought I’d mainly use it when reading email or other documents. However, it turns out I can also comfortable type while walking. Ten minutes before my first meeting, or after 2 hours if my morning is miraculously meeting free, I stop walking and store the treadmill back under the bed. It’s a minor pain to move it every day but I like having it completely out of the way when I’m sitting at the desk.

Sunroom office with desk lowered to sitting height. Desk chair is in front of desk.

New desk in sitting position.

Sunroom office with desk raised to use with treadmill. Treadmill is in front of desk with chair off to the side.

New desk in treadmill position.

So far I’ve only used the desk once to stand, but not walk. That was an after lunch meeting where I figured standing might help me stay awake. Though, I think I fidget too much when standing.

At the moment, this looks like it’s going to be a nice long-term solution. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do if/when this treadmill breaks. Now that I’ve confirmed the concept is working for me, I’d be willing to pay more for a better quality treadmill. However, from what I’ve seen, the more expensive treadmills are also longer. They may not fit with my current office configuration, which I could change but would rather not, and they’re also heavier so may be hard to store out of the way. Hopefully, this treadmill will end up with an unexpectedly long life, similar to my first treadmill, so I won’t have to figure it out for a long time.

  1. I’ve put together and taken apart my old treadmill numerous times and it’s always a huge pain and I always end up with mysterious left over screws.

Oven Repair

I’ve always dreamed of having a double oven. Granted, most of the time one oven is perfectly fine. However, every so often it’s really convenient to have the ability to either bake more things at the same time or to bake multiple things at different temperatures. Thus, I was really excited when we bought this house to finally have two ovens. One is a wall oven that is part of a microwave/warming drawer/oven combo and the other oven is part of a range.

After some experimenting, I determined that I preferred using the wall oven most of the time. The wall oven’s temperature was more consistent and it’s also nice to not have to bend when pulling things out of the oven. So, except when I needed a second oven, I used the range’s oven primarily for storage of my cast iron cookware.

For Jaeger’s 2021 birthday I baked a cake in the wall oven and it turned out beautifully. Then, immediately afterward, I put the Garbanzo Pot Pie into the oven and, 30 minutes later, discovered my oven no longer baked. Not fun but I really appreciate it waited to die till after the cake had finished.

Unfortunately, the wall oven is a Thermador and I discovered there weren’t any Thermador technicians on this side of the mountain. I did find someone over in San Jose willing to come out but he was booked out till late October. Fortunately, we had the range oven so this was mildly annoying but not especially inconvenient1.

The oven repair person came out at the end of October and told me that the element was fine which meant that the control board was probably dead. Unfortunately, Thermador doesn’t make the control board for this model anymore. So, my best bet was to pull out the control board and send it to a company that specializes in fixing oven circuit boards. I asked for a recommendation and he told me to just Google for it and something would pop up. This didn’t inspire a lot of confidence as many things pop up on the internet when one searches for random things, including scams. I did do some initial searching and confirmed that this was a thing that people do. However, it seemed like a lot of work and we did still have one working oven.

Jaeger and I alternate major holidays with our families. This year is Thanksgiving with the Logans. After some discussion, everyone decided to meet at our house. Given Thanksgiving is one of the times when having a double oven would be particularly useful, I started thinking about trying to get ours fixed. Except, I didn’t get around to doing anything about it until the microwave died.

The microwave is integrated into the oven system. Originally, it was a Thermador microwave but at some point it had been replaced with an LG microwave. One day Jaeger was microwaving something in the microwave and there was a loud pop. We don’t know exactly what happened but after that the microwave no longer heated anything. Unhelpfully, it would go through all the motions without providing any error message.

Unlike the oven, we did not have a backup microwave. To make things worse, our counter space is limited and doesn’t have room for a counter microwave. Jaeger poked around and discovered that the trim around the microwave came off and he could pull the microwave out without an excessive amount of effort.

Given both the microwave and oven were no longer working, I contemplated just buying a new wall oven. However, wall ovens, at least fancy ones like we have, don’t appear to come in standard sizes. I also learned that the equivalent Thermador oven, now a “triple oven“, would cost around $10,000. I could switch to a different brand but I couldn’t find one that looked like it would fit the current space in our wall. There are companies that will take a wall oven and customize the wall niche so it fits the new oven. However, I couldn’t imagine that would end up particularly cheap either.

We decided to fix the immediate problem, no microwave, and continue to procrastinate on the oven. Then I learned that the space provided for the microwave is a bit small by today’s standards. None of the official built-in microwaves I found were the right size. Eventually, I discovered there was an equivalent LG microwave to our old one that, while technically a countertop model, had a trim kit option to convert it to a built-in. I didn’t love the buttons2. However, at this point it was obvious it was our only option.

We got the microwave oven and confirmed it fit. However, the old microwave had metal pieces screwed, and duck taped, on in order to make it fit the Thermador space. We’d need to transfer the metal to the new microwave before we could install it back into the oven system. I started taking pictures of how the metal fit together, so I’d be able to recreate it on the new microwave. However, after I finished taking pictures I decided that since we already had part of the oven system taken apart, I should at least evaluate the difficulty of dealing with the control board.

I found a website, that claimed to be able to rebuild boards for our oven model. However, their website said that if we had a low heat problem, we should send in the relay board also. I sighed, and found a video on extracting the relay board. This video was for a double oven but the process is essentially the same except all four anchor screws are in the single oven and I blessedly also only had one relay board to extract.

Closeup of brightly colored wires plugged into circuit board.At first, I was hoping I could just take off the front panel and get everything from there. However, it quickly became apparently I was going to need to pull the entire oven system out about a foot in order to get to the top screws. For me, my essential tools were my camera phone, needle nosed pliers, and a step ladder. I turned off the two oven circuit breakers, took many pictures to document everything as thoroughly as possible, and started pulling all the wires out of the boards. It was quite a project and ended up taking longer than I expected. However, at length, I had both the control and relay boards disconnected from the oven.
Labeled plastic bags with screws.

As required, I prepaid for the service, hoping desperately it wasn’t a scam, and then mailed the company the oven boards. It arrived at their facility on September 26 and they shipped it off on September 27. It arrived back at our house on Saturday, October 1. While it was nice to have back, it also meant I needed to find time to try install the boards back into the oven.

New microwave sitting in mircowave slot with extension cord hanging out.

Here is how we used the microwave while waiting for the oven boards to come back.

Oven system pulled out about a foot from the wall.

Pulling the oven away from the wall to access the top.

Loose wires haphazardly arranged on top of the oven frame.Sunday afternoon, when I should have been cleaning, I decided to tackle the oven. It turns out that putting the wires back on is substantially easier than taking them off. It wasn’t nearly as painful as I expected. For the most part, I had taken enough pictures for me to recreate where the wires went. However, I wasn’t quite detailed enough in some of the early pictures so I also ended up looking at the oven circuit diagram to double check a few of the wire placements.

Relay circuit board with many colorful wires.I installed the relay board, then the control board, and finished by connecting up the control panel. Then I pushed the oven back into its hole, though I didn’t screw it back in. I pulled out the kitchen fire extinguisher, double checked it was rated for electrical fires, and then flipped the circuit breaker back on. Nothing exploded! The oven clock started to placidly blink. Definitely a good sign. I tested a couple of features that had been working previously, such as the timer and oven light and then, with some nervousness, set it to bake at 350 degrees. This oven usually takes around 10 minutes to preheat so I hovered and watched. Once it finished preheating I opened the door and it felt about right. Though, I suspected that this approach is as fraught as parents trying to gauge if a kid has a temperature by using the hand on forehead method.

Microwave on floor with metal pieces duck taped to the top.I screwed in the oven to the wall and then started putting the support metal pieces onto the new microwave. To my surprise and relief, it mostly fit and only needed duck tape in the same places the previous microwave had needed it. Once its metal appendages were attached, Jaeger helped slide the microwave back into the oven slot and we snapped the decorative trim around it. Everything now looked normal again.

While I was fairly certain the oven was heating up correctly, I wanted to confirm. I decided to try baking King Arthur Flour’s Chocolate Breakfast Muffin as I make it a fair amount and I know it’s a reliable recipe. Once the batter was made, I dropped it into the muffin cups and put it into the preheated oven. I got the muffins out to test at 22 minutes and thought it wasn’t quite done so put it in for another three. In retrospect, it probably was done at the 22 minute mark as they ended up a tad on the dry side. However, the recipe did verify the oven was baking as expected!

The new microwave cost around $240. The control and relay board repair cost around $340. Not cheap but much better than what a complete replacement would cost. I’m really happy to have my wall oven working again.

Microwave, warming drawer, and oven all put back together.

A working oven and microwave!

  1. Though, one thing I absolutely hate about the range is, in order to preheat faster, it turns the broiler on. This messes up how I do sweet rolls which involves making them the night before, putting them in the fridge overnight, and then in the morning putting them in a cold oven which then gradually heats up to its normal baking temperature. The first time I made sweet rolls after switching ovens I ended up with blackened bread.
  2. Among other things, it only has a +30 second button and no quick 1 or 2 minute buttons.

Armored Phone: Part 2

Monday started with my alarm not waking me up. Fortunately, my alarms almost never wake me up because I hate alarms and always try to wake up before they go off. However, this time I had not cancelled the alarm because I wanted to confirm it was working. It was not. I decided it was probably some quirk with the Do Not Disturb mode. I set the Wake Up time to 2 minutes before I normally set the alarm under the theory that even if it doesn’t audibly sound immediately, once it went out of Do Not Disturb mode I would probably hear the alarm. Then I moved on with my day.

Except, I next noticed that my 7:55 alarm hadn’t gone off. I live by my alarms. My 7:55 alarm makes sure that I deliver Calvin and Julian to school on time. I start each work day by reviewing the meetings on my calendar and setting a 2 min alarm for each meeting1. I set alarms for Calvin’s late afternoon coding class and Julian’s swim class and every other thing that I need to make sure I attend on time. When I got back from dropping of the kids I tested the alarm and it seemed fine so I decided that it was probably a one-time quirk and set my meeting alarms for the day. Unfortunately, it was not a quirk and I almost missed my first meeting of the day without my reminder alarm.

At lunch time, I poked around at the various settings and thought I fixed things. At least my alarms worked for the rest of the day.

Supper brought new complications. The audiobook which I had started Sunday was no longer in the Libby app. I thought that was weird as I knew I hadn’t returned it. I’m a late adopter to Libby, having stuck with the original Overdrive app for years, and only switched to Libby when they officially announced end of life. It seems a little buggier to me than the Overdrive app was. For example, sometimes when I try to listen to an allegedly already downloaded audiobook, it just spins until I give up and switch to a podcast instead. This had started prior to changing to Android so I gave the early check-in problem a 50/50 chance of being due to an Android glitch. I wrote a note to the library about the problem, and also contacted Overdrive support directly, and then checked the book out a second time2.

My wakeup alarm once again failed. I did a little more searching which is where I first ran across rumors of battery optimization being to blame. Except, I thought I had already turned off any battery optimization. That is “Battery Saver” and “Battery Manager” were off.

I decided to download a different clock app and see if I had any better luck with it. I eventually settled on Talking Alarm Clock Beyond. After downloading and opening it up, the first thing the app told me to do was to go into the “Battery optimization” part of settings, which is not under the Battery menu, and make sure the app isn’t optimized. Turns out it was, which might have been why the prior Clock app didn’t work. I appreciated the app warned about this problem but I was also irritated that Android made it so intuitive to find. In my testing, it appeared that alarms were working.

I decided to screencast each time I opened up the Libby app. I specifically wanted to make sure the early return problem wasn’t being caused by Android Auto. I listened to the audiobook at lunch time with no issues. When I went to pick up Julian from school, my audiobook also existed in my account, though we listened to a different audiobook on the way home. Then supper time came. I started the screencast, opened the Libby app, and discovered my book was gone again. I sighed, appended the screencast files to my Overdrive ticket, and checked out the audiobook a third time.

Tuesday evening, with hopes that the alarm clock problem was solved. I emailed Unihertz tech support about the problem I had with starred contacts not coming through when Do Not Disturb was on.

My wakeup alarm did not go off. On the upside, Unihertz support had responded with some suggestions of some settings to check for the Do Not Disturb issue. I glanced at it and decided I’d explore it more in the evening.

I was hoping the alarm issue was just a wakeup alarm and the other alarms would work. Alas, no. At this point I was seriously considered bailing and just using the phone as a replacement for my bedtime phone and getting another iPhone SE as my primary phone.

During lunch I pulled up the instructions on what to check for Do Not Disturb and discovered yet another setting that can keep apps from working in the background: App blocker, under Intelligent assistance. When I turned that off, all sorts of notifications that I had been missing, but were a lower priority than my alarms, started working. This included my work’s authentication app. The authentication app not popping up had been slightly annoying but since I always knew when I sent a push, I had just been working around it by opening up the app ahead of time. In any case, App blocker was to blame.

Back on the Libby front, my audiobook disappeared sometime prior to me starting supper. This time I sighed, gave up, and did not check it out a 4th time.

That evening I turned of Battery optimization and App blocking for everything. However, starred contacts still couldn’t get through Do Not Disturb. I created a screencast for Unihertz support of every setting as well as a demo of the Do Not Disturb issue and emailed it off.

My alarm went off!! Starred contacts not being able to message me was annoying. However, my alarms not reliably working would have been a deal breaker.

In less fun news, Unihertz had escalated my ticket and a developer had responded essentially saying that the Do Not Disturb problem is an Android 11 bug, they weren’t going to release Android 12 for the phone, and they recommend I not use Do Not Disturb. I responded by pointing out that, as far as I could tell, the Android 11 bug had been fixed by Google back in 2020 and I was hoping even if they weren’t going to release Android 12, they could at least incorporate the Do Not Disturb patch into an update for the phone.

I also got a response back from Overdrive saying the reason the title kept auto returning is that it wasn’t suppose to be on the library’s website to begin with. Annoying, as I was multiple hours in at that point, but at least it wasn’t a phone bug.

By this point, I had gotten the phone into a usable condition for me. It still has some quirks but they’re ones I can live with and being able to use one phone for everything is really nice. I also really love the size. I thought I’d get annoyed by how thick it is but so far that hasn’t been a problem at all. However, it’s not a phone I can recommend to anyone else. The amount of tinkering I had to do for basic functionality is appalling.

  1. Yes, I realize using the calendar notifications in the usual method to do that. However, calendar notifications aren’t noisy enough for me if I’m deeply involved in troubleshooting something.
  2. Books randomly returning themselves is a problem because often the library will lose access after around 15 checkouts and have to “buy” the book again. If this was a bug happening to a lot of patrons, it’s a problem the library needs to report so Overdrive can fix it quickly.