Category Archives: Castle Willett

I’ve Been Working On The Railroad

Along with the neuvo faux Tannenbaum and accouterments, this year features the premiere of our under-the-tree railroad line.

No one was more surprised than I was when it actually moved, stayed (more or less) on the tracks, and went (more or less) around the tree as designed.

I’m gonna need me one of those corduroy engineer’s hats and overalls!



Filed under Castle Willett, Christmas Lights, Photography

Yes And No – December 8th


I am still checking the toilet for visitors every time I lift the lid.


He hasn’t come back.

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What To Take, What To Abandon

(We’re still fine – the winds of last night caused some serious problems up in northern Ventura County [35-50 miles away] and tonight the winds have kicked up down in San Diego County [80-90 miles away] but things near us seem a bit more calm. Still many schools closed for the rest of the week, still some scratchy eyes and sore throats from smoke, but that’s the worst of it. For us. For now. Things can change in an instant.)

Back in the day I used to love playing a computer simulation game called Outpost. The Earth’s going to be destroyed, you can put together one ship to go elsewhere and build a colony, and so on. Sort of like Sim City with a bit of Armageddon thrown in for kicks.

You started the game by figuring out what you want to take. It’s all a juggling act limited by mass and physics. Lots of people? Great, but you only get to take enough food and water for a month. A couple years’ food and water? Great, but you only get to take a dozen people. More seeds or more machinery? A full nuclear power plant, or a windmill (plus a lot of food and people) and hope you find a planet with wind? A set of weather and communication satellites? Or take your chances with ignorance and whatever comes over the horizon, just like the good old days?

Last night was a bit like that.

Scenario One: You wake up at 02:34 AM with the fire department pounding on your door and the sky orange, smoky, and making it almost impossible to breathe. You have thirty seconds to get out with your life. You take…

Without preparation, you pull on clothes, take your car keys, wallet or purse, phone, maybe a briefcase that might have an iPad or other valuables in it, and you hope to get out with your car and your life.

If you’re playing the game, you do all of that and you grab that “red” box that you put by the front door with the credit cards, passports, birth certificates, death certificates, spare cash, and a few days of your medications.

Scenario Two: Same, except you have five minutes

Without preparation, you run around like a lunatic and get to safety, only to spend the rest of your life second guessing yourself, wondering why you left this and that to burn to the ground while you took clothes you hardly ever wear, a television that you could have replaced in five minutes for $300 at WalMart, and a generic set of pots and pans.

If you’re playing the game, you have a list and you’ve double checked where items on the list are and verified that they’re ready to grab and go. (If the fires are a bit closer and more likely to move in your direction, you probably have everything on the “five-minute list” in the hallway by the front door, right next to the “red” box. If the fires are really threatening, you probably put it all in the car now, just to be safe in case five minutes turns into thirty seconds.)

Also, if you have pets, plan for them. Do you have carriers for them, or leashes? Food? Water? Treats? Toys? Meds?

This is where the juggling starts. You can play these scenarios all night long. What’s on the “five minute” list? What slips to the “fifteen minute” list? What do you jam into the van if you have an hour? Two hours?

For me, five minutes gives time (with proper preparation) for the wedding photos, jewelry, computers, photos, suitcases of clothing (if they’re pre-packed), family movies and video.

Fifteen minutes lets me start grabbing the unique and irreplaceable items, as well as the simply expensive. Signed books. The good wedding china and silver. Paintings. Sports memorabilia.

Once that’s done, depending on time and space (sound familiar? do I need to bring a backup lander or hospital?), once I’ve secured all of the one-of-a-kind items that simply can’t be replaced at any cost, then it’s time to start prioritizing what to take that can be replaced but would be expensive or difficult to replace.

Play the game now. Do it in your head. Take notes. Play it in slow motion with no actual life-and-death emergency staring at you right outside the door. Run through it again and see what you missed. Re-weigh your priorities. Walk around and see again what you might have missed. Then make those five minute, fifteen minute, and one hour lists and put them someplace where you can grab them in thirty seconds.

It doesn’t matter where you live, there is something out there that’s gonna bite you in the ass one of these days. Fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, mudslide, volcano, tsunami, Republicans – something’s coming that you’re going to have to run for your life from.

Be ready.

Clock’s ticking…

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Filed under Castle Willett, Disasters

Nuevo Faux Tannenbaum

For those of you not illiterate in three separate languages, we got a new artificial Christmas tree this year. Today was the day to put it up!

Yes, we need to get that ornament at the very top a bit more straight as seen from this side.

From this side it looks much better.

What did you do with your weekend?


Filed under Castle Willett, Christmas Lights, Photography

Hanging Christmas Lights 101

Actually it wasn’t 101 – barely made it into the low 90°s on Saturday! Gotta love that SoCal weather!

Spreading racks of lights across the lawn – which do we run out of first? Lights, power outlets, or daylight?

Ladders in position – it’s critical to take the high ground early!

Bins of more lights, with power cords starting to get laid out.

The first sets of “big” lights along the western gutters go up first.

Getting power from where it is to where it has to be takes hours at the beginning, but after 25+ years, I’ve learned a few tricks.

Those are NEVER going to work if that doesn’t get plugged in somewhere!

A different view of Hissy. What? You want me to be hanging on to the ladder and/or tree instead of taking pictures?

The big, long, ugly, orange extension cords are a necessary evil – but we wrap them in garlands to make it a bit more palatable.

I love those sunbeams cutting through the palm tree!

This is how you get all of your power cords strung and about 60% of your lights up in one day with just two people.

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The Return Of FredZilla

“…once I flushed, I just kept flushing. And running the tub. And flushing the other toilets. I wanted enough volume going down that sewer pipe to keep FredZilla headed toward the LA River and Pacific Ocean at a significant fraction of the speed of light.”


Yeah, great plan. Except of course for it being based on complete ignorance of the situation.

In retrospect, it probably went far more like this:

FredZilla got caught in the sewer system by accident. He fell into one of the vents or clean-out ports or something. Then he started starving.

Trying to get out any way he could, he found an exit. Into our toilet.

When I flushed him back down, I sent him right back into his prison. There’s no way I put in enough water or pressure to send him more than a dozen or so feet down the pipe before he was able to crawl out. At which point he’s still starving and stuck.

Tonight he showed up in the toilet in the other bathroom attached to that sewer line.

He’s getting smarter – at least this time he tried to hide up under the rim!

To her credit, The Long-Suffering Wife did not scream nearly as loudly as I did earlier in the week. In fact, I don’t think she screamed at all! All I got was, “He’s back!”

So he was.

Being what I hope is a bit more knowledgeable about the situation (while recognizing the odds that I might still be 100% clueless and wrong) I decided to not try to flush away the problem this time. I got a container to put him in, some salad tongs, and tried to capture FredZilla.

Piece of cake.

Really. I was expecting all sorts of struggle and commotion – got none of it. I just reached in, grabbed him (gently), picked him up, and dropped him down into the plastic bin.

Part of it might have been the cold water and not particularly warm porcelain environment. Out on the sidewalk in the sun, these little dudes skitter around at about Warp Five. Here in the bin, the only thing that made me think he wasn’t dead was the tongue flicking in and out. Or it could have been a lack of food in the sewer. Or both. Or neither. (It should be blatantly obvious that I’m making wild ass guesses and making shit up as I go along here!)

But, as with some of the other lizards in the yard, he’s got some beautiful markings.

I took him out in the back yard to the bushes next to the hot tub. There’s lots of dead leaves and pine needles there, similar to under the bushes in front where most of the rest of them live. He should have a decent chance of making it there.

Live long and prosper, FredZilla! Just, please, do it outside, not in our sewer system.

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Filed under Castle Willett, Critters, Photography

Early Morning Adrenaline

The alarm clock rings. I rise, still better than half asleep, stagger into the bathroom to start the day the same way that most of us start it. I lift the lid and seat on the toilet…

I’ve mentioned from time to time that we have something of a menagerie her in our little slice of Heaven along the Rama-lama-ding-dong River in the heart of suburban Los Angeles, right?

I’ve shared pictures. Rabbits. Raccoons. Hawks. Owls. Lizards. Coyotes. Praying mantis. Peacocks.

Sometimes the critters want to share spaces with us. The rabbits are under the house sometimes. The raccoons are on the roof almost every night. The lizards live in the bushes all around the house.

The cute little lizards. The “Freds.” Mini-Fred. Micro-Fred. Clinger-Fred. Mega-Fred. Plain old Fred. In the bushes. On the sidewalk. Sunning on rocks.

Some are tiny:

Some are less tiny:

Some are pretty decent sized:

And now there’s the demon fucking monster from hell that I found lounging in the toilet this morning when I lifted the lid while half asleep:

There were a number of interesting lessons learned from this encounter.

  1. Fight or flight: Put me down solidly on #TeamFLIGHT!! You know how in the cartoons a character runs through a door and leaves a clean outline of their silhouette as they go through? I was just about there.
  2. Castrato: If you were expecting a deep, bass, manly warrior man’s voice saying, “Oh, look, there’s a demon monster in the loo!” you can forget it. I was screaming like a little girl at a pitch designed to only be heard by dogs. Jimmy Somerville would love to be able to hit the notes I was using.
  3. Final words: Surprisingly, nothing my mother would object to, at least at first. I guess it’s the final irony of my Catholic school upbringing, but “JESUS CHRIST!!” was all I had to offer. I’m assuming it was Him I heard laughing.
  4. Second reaction: Not surprisingly, after my adrenal gland had been squeezed dry of every molecule and my heart rate got back down into triple digits, my next reaction was to grab my phone and camera to go take pictures of the scary monster.
  5. Resolution: The monster was dealt with by…flushing the toilet, of course. I didn’t know if it would work, but it seemed a good first try. FredZilla flopped and swam for about two seconds and then was gone.
  6. Our water bill: Will no doubt be astronomical this month because once I flushed, I just kept flushing. And running the tub. And flushing the other toilets. I wanted enough volume going down that sewer pipe to keep FredZilla headed toward the LA River and Pacific Ocean at a significant fraction of the speed of light.

In closing, I would remind everyone that incidents such as this are extremely rare. (It says so, right there on the internet!) Despite my first thoughts, a little thinking about the problem convinces me that FredZilla doesn’t live down in the sewers. There’s nothing else down there for him to eat, and there’s really, REALLY not enough of whatever might be edible down there to allow him to grow this large. There’s just not a sufficient ecosystem.

In doing a bit of research it seems that he almost certainly got into the sewer system by accident, probably by either falling down into one of the clean-out traps that they put in when they completely rebuilt our sewer lines last year (remind me to check and make sure the caps on those traps are all on tightly) or falling down into one of the sewer roof vents (a slightly more common source of problems). Either way, once into the sewers, one of the only ways out is to climb back up through a toilet.

On the other hand, if it’s all right with everyone else, I’ll be turning on the lights and doing a precautionary lift of the lid to check for visitors every time I use the facilities for, say, the next couple of days? Weeks? Years? Lifetimes?


Filed under Castle Willett, Critters, Photography