Friday, February 26, 2010

Smart Car, Stupid Driver

I saw that heading on a photo of a Smart Car parked several feet away from a curb in Albany, NY. I thought of the phrase again after doing some more reading about our new purchase. You doubtlessly remember that I took the car to a Mercedes-Benz dealership for an oil change, because the car was built by, designed by, financed by Mercedes-Benz, or at least passed by a Mercedes... probably several... thousand.

Anyway, upon further review I have learned that the engine of our little Smart Car is actually a Mitsubishi 3B2. I can only imagine the rollicking time the mechanics at Mercede-Benz of Spokane (in Liberty Lake) must have had working on my little darling. They probably laughed so hard that Mobil 1 came out of their noses. Their hoity toity, condescending, snooty snoot noses. But I am not upset. After all, as Evan pointed out, their sign did say We service all makes and models, and I'm pretty sure that includes Smart/Mitsubishis with clueless owners.

And one more thing.... I have learned that part of the lure of Mercedes-Benz ownership is signaling to all the world that you have so much money that you can afford the frequent, unscheduled maintenance that these German wonders of technology require. So we're actually pretty comfortable knowing that our engine is a Mitsubishi, even if the car around it was built in France in partnership with a Swiss watchmaker. It probably has a really good clock.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Door to Door Sales

I've always detested door to door salespeople. I have a "my home is my castle" attitude, and though I don't have a mote, I wish I did. I don't like having people come to my door to push religion (last week), sell investments (Monday), or lawn care (today). But perhaps my mood is changing....

After I told the Living Water Lawn Care guy "No thanks" this morning, he commented favorably on the old bike I have locked up on the porch. I told him I was getting rid of it, and invited him to make an offer. He said he didn't want to offend me, and then said if he made an offer it would be $50. I told him I'd accept.

I'm not sure it's a done deal. The salesman had other homeowners to pester, though he did write down my name and number. If I manage to sell the bike this way I'm gonna bring some more stuff out onto the porch. I wonder if the Jehovah's Witnesses need a Minolta digital camera?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Daily Rant

Evan got a little upset with me yesterday. He said it's hard to listen to my rants. Imagine that.

I had just read an article about Virgin Airlines charging $80 for aisle seats. Even though consumer attitudes toward the air travel industry are extremely low, the airlines keep finding new ways to inconvenience and infuriate travelers. When asked about their charge for aisle seats, a Virgin spokesperson replied that it was not a departure from industry standards. Further, they explained, customers are used to paying extra for amenities at ball parks and theaters, so why should they grouse about paying extra on an airplane.

We have been considering changing from the family cell phone plan we've had. In the course of considering options we noted that the plans we were interested in had attractive pricing... until you started factoring in all of the "extras" that weren't included in the basic plan. Sally got so frustrated that she simply stopped looking.

My rant tied together the Virgin Airlines story and the recent TV ad for Subways that features the continual repetition of the word "ANY" as a part of their $5 footlong promotion. Slipped into the ad, inconspicuously, is the word "regular". So ANY footlong is $5. ANY, ANY, ANY, ANY regular footlong is $5. That limits the field quite a bit, but then, by the time you've made your way to Subways for the deal you probably won't leave just because of your careless misreading of their ad.

I decried the patent dishonesty of such advertising, and Evan countered that he has grown up with it, and has no expectation that an ad should be honest. And therein lies the rub.

As reported in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, a recent survey of teen ethics by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics found that 30% of 30,000 teens admitted to stealing from a store the past year, 64% said they' d cheated on a test, and 36% admitted plagiarism. The scores on these biennial surveys are in steady decline. Some blame the internet, or the indiscretion of public figures like Tiger Woods, or high visibility scams like ENRON or Bernie Madoff.

I wonder if we haven't all become numb to the daily, continual lying and cheating inherent in commercial capitalism. I don't fault Evan for having no expectation that an ad should be honest, but I do wonder about the price we pay when living in the midst of a society with such low expectations.

In my growing up, I often heard the phrase, "two wrongs don't make a right." I was not able to convince my parents that ethical and moral standards did not apply to me simply on the basis of my being able to find others in the crowd who didn't share my parents' values. Looking back, I now realize that, instead of intoning "everyone else is doing it" I should have made my case by citing the more professional sounding Industry Standards.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


The Creek at Qualchan Golf Course in Spokane opened yesterday. This early season opening is a far cry from the last two years, when snow piles predominated into April. For much of my life the approach of golf season was a central focus. Each year my brothers and I would retell the story of the year we played in February, chipping ice from atop the holes before we putted. Golf was for us what seed catalogs and garden planning was for Sally, a harbinger of Spring.

I'm still as eager for Spring's arrival as ever, though more for the chance to ride my bicycle than anything else. Yes, of course, a bike can be ridden all winter. There is protective gear designed to keep out the wet and cold, and even studded tires for traction on ice and snow. You can also play golf in the snow. It just isn't much fun. I'm looking forward to the days when I can work up a sweat from my riding exertions, rather than the fact that I'm encased in multiple layers of clothing and a waterproof shell.

As for golf? I haven't hardly played at all the last two seasons. I hurt my right shoulder the summer before last, and then spent my time remodeling the kitchen a year ago. I've gotten out of the habit.

I also have developed an issue with golf. As I've become increasingly serious about reconciling my beliefs and actions, the nature (or lack thereof) of golf courses has become an obstacle to my enjoyment. The Creek at Qualchan is a beautiful, emerald oasis. But its weed free, deep green aura is the result of heavy fertilizer and pesticide application, as well as an extent of irrigation that I simply can't abide. I've begun to associate golf courses with Dolly Parton. Like Dolly, the beauty of a golf course has an original basis in nature, but you'd never guess that now. Nature's original blessings have been all but obscured beneath multiple levels of artificial enhancement. Golf courses have become a caricature of nature, rather than its epitome.

I'm not saying I won't play a round of golf or two this year if the opportunity presents itself. I also enjoy Dolly Parton's voice and under appreciated musical genius. But golf is no longer the focus of my existence as it once was. Watching the South Hill's trees and gardens come alive from the seat of a bike? I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Oil Change

I could never afford a Mercedes-Benz. Even when I worked at the Whatcom Humane Society and we had a raffle for a really old Mercedes, I couldn’t afford the raffle tickets. It seems that Mercedes ownership will forever be beyond my reach. Thus I bought a Smart car. Mercedes-Benz designed it, I think. Either that or it was designed by a guy who used to drive a Mercedes-Benz, or played a Mercedes owner on TV. Anyway, the Smart car equals about one fourth of a Mercedes, both is cost and in dimension.

In my first conversation with someone from the Smart Center in Seattle, I asked about service. I was told that it only requires an oil change every 10,000 miles, or once a year. Given that we bought a 2008 model, I began to wonder about the status of the engine oil. The car had less than a thousand miles on it, but had been put in service in 2008. I called the Smart Center and was told that we should change the oil.

Where to get an oil change….

I wanted to be Smart about this, so despite the fact that there are a gadzillion places that will do an oil change within a stone’s throw of our house, I chose to drive to Liberty Lake to the Mercedes-Benz dealer. After all, Mercedes-Benz designed it. Either that or it was designed by a guy who used to drive a Mercedes-Benz, or played a Mercedes owner on TV.

Evan rode along with me this morning. He came along to mock me, apparently feeling that my usual degree of second guessing bordering on self-loathing was not adequate. As I checked in, Evan pointed to the sign above the tastefully appointed desk: We service all makes and models. Yes, they do. Even Smart cars.

The coffee here is served in stainless steel carafes in the spacious, airy waiting area. I am reveling in the air of quiet confidence in this setting that accompanies owning a Mercedes-Benz, or at least bringing any make or model here for an oil change. I feel so Smart.

My bill is how much?!!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


The February 11th issue of Newsweek Magazine featured an article entitled "Harvard's Crisis of Faith", by Lisa Miller. The article recounted a debate over whether Harvard undergraduates should be required to take a religion course. The requirement would have been within a group of courses under the heading, Reason and Faith. Harvard evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker remarked that requiring students to study Reason and Faith was equivalent to requiring them to study Astronomy and Astrology.

I tend to agree with Professor Pinker. We find ourselves in a time when religion has become so ubiquitous that it is held up alongside reason as a valid way of knowing, and yet also at a time when violence and strife based on religious viewpoints threatens the future. It's time to confess that religion is purely subjective. You have a right to yours, if you choose, but please restrain yourself from making "you" statements that imply we should share common ground.

In recent days I also read of a Islamic fatwa forbidding Muslims from going through full body scanners at airports because of the Quran's teachings on modesty. The article didn't detail anything else faithful Muslims might learn from the Quran in regard to air travel.

In a parallel vein, the Roman Catholic Bishops have now taken a position that patients in a persistent vegetative state cannot have feeding tubes removed. In the process they stated that Catholics can still file advance directives about their medical care as long as such directives, like "living wills", do not contradict Catholic teachings. The Bishops' directive is binding on Catholic medical institutions like Spokane Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Enough already. Way more than enough. In my own study of theology it was made clear that human sinfulness is such that humans simply cannot trust themselves with power. It seems we will always find a way to turn power to hurtful uses. I don't remember my professors talking much about the potential for abuse of the power of religion itself, but I think the subject deserves some study. Perhaps the faith-filled profs at Harvard who are so keen on requiring every student to take a religion class could take that on.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Presidents Day

Well, even if they don't do much else, the Presidents got us a holiday, eh? We took advantage of the day and had a waffle brunch before Sally got started potting the new blueberries. We have 8 bushes that we are going to plant by the deck near the kitchen door. She then potted several thousand ( OK, about four score and ten) apricot pits we saved from the family trees last summer. Given the survival rate we experienced in the past, we might get a few seedlings out of her efforts.

I did some plant work as well, removing the Passion vines, fuchsia, amaryllis, and lemon tree from the table in the dining room. I hung the vines outside to harden them a bit, and placed the others on a table inside the sliding door in the music room.

Evan and Sally worked on some materials for the apartment Evan and Angie are hoping to lease, and we got those faxed to Omaha. Finally, we got in a nice walk, culminating in picking some over-wintered carrots that Neighbor Ron told us to help ourselves to. In a few minutes we're all going to ride our bikes to the store to buy a few things to complement the fajitas I'm making for supper.

So, I hope you had a Happy Presidents Day. Perhaps President Obama has not accomplished all we hoped, but then, did you really think we would change the entire culture in one election? And besides, at least he isn't accomplishing the same things that his predecessor (He Who Shall Not Be Named) managed to inflict on the nation and world in his two terms. Let keep hoping, and keep working, for a better tomorrow.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Top Grün

Sally and I first saw Smart cars in the Netherlands in 2007, and they made quite an impression. The streets in Amsterdam are really very narrow, making small cars a necessity. We expected that, but were amazed at the variety of makes and models we saw. Our favorite was the Smart car. Sally took my picture beside one in the Amsterdam airport.

In the past few weeks our thoughts have again turned to the Smart car. Evan is taking his Civic to Omaha, and so Sally and I were slated to be down to one car. We've thought about various options for a commuter car, including neighborhood electrics and the hybrids, but everything we've considered has been either somewhat impractical or too expensive.

Then, a couple weeks ago, Sally started talking about Smart cars again. We did a bit of research and some on-line searches, finding a number of new and "pre-owned" vehicles in our price range. All this culminated in our purchase, yesterday, of a 2008 Smart Passion Coupe (Happy Valentine's Day, Sal! How's that for "Passion"?).

Sally, Evan and I drove our Smart car back to Spokane last night, and then took turns coming up with excuses to drive it today. Since it is barely a two-seater, we had to alternate who got to go, and who got to drive. On one trip Sally and I were waiting at a stop sign when a Prius drove by. The driver practically did an "Exorcist" style, 360 degree rubber neck staring at us. I loved it! Here she had spent $20,000 plus for a green car, and got one which runs cleanly, but uses all kinds of resources in the construction of its battery, which has to be disposed of eventually....

The German designed Smart is built in a green factory, uses recycled materials in its construction, and is said to be about 95% recyclable in toto.

I'm glad so many people are buying Priuses instead of Dodge Ram Mega cab duallies. And I'm glad we've got our little Smart car. It's nice to compete in the arena of minimal impact, isn't it?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dirt Sledding

During Evan's junior year in high school we made the trek south from Mount Vernon, WA to Forest Grove, OR to visit Pacific University. We liked what we knew about Pacific, namely that it was a smaller, liberal arts school with a strong science program. We also liked the financial incentive offered to children of UCC ministers which made the endeavor feasible. We had even been to Pacific, though that was back in 1990 when Evan was only four years old. He had changed somewhat over the intervening years, and we imagined Pacific might have as well.

Coming through the Tualatin Valley on Oregon highway 47 and US 26, we turned off onto a road that felt like the back entrance to Forest Grove. In truth, most roads into Forest Grove feel like the back entrance, but that's another story. As we drew near town we passed a home where several children and an adult or two were amusing themselves by sliding down the dirt slope in front of their house on a plastic toboggan. It was, for Evan, a wonderful first impression of Forest Grove.

Dirt sledding has its advantages. You don't need to wear cumbersome winter clothing, and your feet don't get cold. Walking back up the slope is a breeze in contrast to struggling to mount a snow and ice covered hill.

Perhaps that dirt sledding venue was the inspiration behind having the Winter Olympics in Vancouver this year. I'm guessing the US Team will do pretty well, as long as they had the good sense to fill the roster with athletes from the Tualatin Valley. The only concern we might have is, what if it actually snows?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cincinnati Chili

We've made two batches of Cincinnati Chili over the past two weeks, the first for us, and the second for the chili cook-off at Sally's office. For the uninitiated, Cincinnati Chili is a unique dish featuring ground beef, onion, tomato sauce, and spices served over thin spaghetti noodles and topped with some combination of cheese, kidney beans, and chopped onions (recipe available upon request).

We came across a wonderful method for preparing this tasty food experience watching America's Test Kitchens/Cook's Country on PBS. Having grown up with a Steak and Shake version of this chili, I was immediately interested. We tried it and loved it. Then came our mistake....

We told Sally's nephew, who grew up just north of Cincinnati, that we had made Cincinnati Chili. The next 10 minutes featured an uncomfortable interrogation about our methodology punctuated by a variety of dismissive gestures. The meaning was clear: How could we even think we had prepared Cincinnati Chili when we aren't from Cincinnati? How dare we!

I know that we aren't the only ones subject to such derision, and that it isn't only people from north of Cincinnati that are neurotic about food. For example, we recently did an on-line search for recipes for Bubble and Squeak. What we found was an incredible variety of ingredients and methods, each put forth as the only true, authentic version of Bubble and Squeak. I was reminded of Garrison Keillor's references to the Chatterbox Cafe, where the food tastes like homemade, provided that was how you were brought up.

I am also reminded of the old story of the man who loved oatmeal, but complained to his bride that hers didn't taste like that which his mom used to make. The dutiful young woman tried everything she could think of, but her oatmeal never made the grade. One morning, she burned the oatmeal rather badly. Feeling somewhat
scorched herself by her husband's criticism, she served him the oatmeal anyway.

"That's it!" he exclaimed. "This tastes just like Mom's!"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recycling Day

I always regard garbage and recycling day with a mix of wonderment and dread. The wonderment comes from being able to have the debris and detritus of modern existence whisked away with almost no effort at all on my part. The cart has wheels, and the truck has an automated lift which makes the entire process seem clean and easy. Sanitation indeed.

The dread? I worry about my stuff being rejected by the recycling guy. There are rules governing what can and cannot be recycled, and the recycling guy goes through our bin item by item, sorting the glass from the plastic, the aluminum from the tin, the corrugated cardboard from the newsprint. He is also on the lookout for noncomplying plastic products and pasteboard. When he finds such products, instead of turning the bin upside down on the sidewalk, he leaves it upright with the offending items left inside. This is a Wednesday Scarlet Letter, an unwashable damn-ed spot in plain view of all my neighbors. The sign of a bad recycler.

Sometimes I peek out the front door as the recycling process is carried out, but not often. The recycling guy has a sixth sense about being watched. His penetrating stare pierces the frosted glass and wood of my front door hideout. He knows I'm there, my presence making him even more surly than usual.

You think I'm making this up? Remember, just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

This whole recycling guy problem is the direct result of giving people the power to decide. When George W. Bush called himself "the Decider", he was assuming the authority of his high office. He was not elected to be the "Facilitator in Chief". Actually, he wasn't elected at all, but that's another subject.

Anyway, when you grant a person the right to decide for themselves, you grant them personhood along with power. This process may be used for the greater good, as in Paulo Freire's work with the peasants of Peru, in community organizing, or in allowing people more control over their own medical treatment. Or, giving people the right to decide might result in them becoming intoxicated by power, lording it over others in a sadistic display that screams, "I am now a person, and you are not!"

And that's why I dread recycling day.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Sally finished pruning the fruit trees yesterday. She started last weekend with the apricot trees, and then finished the plum, cherry, pear and apple trees this weekend. Sally is always eager for Spring, and lives out the hope that gardeners and orchardists around the world embrace. Whether flipping through seed catalogs, starting bedding plants in a south window, or pruning the trees and bushes, getting into the process in February seems a good way to hurry the change of seasons along.

Sally said she wanted to get the pruning done before getting dormant spray applied, but I suspected other motives. She was recovering from surgery last year and had to rely on my efforts, albeit under her watchful eye. This year she didn't even ask for my help or counsel. She was pruning, by golly, so there!

The trees survived my pruning last year, as they have survived the efforts of others in years past, some doubtlessly more skilled than others. The truth of the matter is, we can make a tree more productive by skillful pruning, and we can certainly change its aesthetics, but its life, especially this time of year, is centered elsewhere. The roots are where the action is. Prune as you will, the roots will feed growth that will soon erase the signs of your activity. Of course, if we cut too much and too deep, we'll kill the tree, right? Maybe not.

Two seasons ago, after three years' consideration, we decided to cut down the Winter Banana apple tree. As a tree lover I found the decision difficult. The loss of any tree seems profound, and yet in this case it felt like euthanasia rather than senseless destruction. The tree was old and tired. It's fruit, never the best, was greatly enjoyed by earwigs and fly larvae, but not so much by us. Rather than continued efforts to do tree life support by the application of more and more potent chemical sprays, we cut it down. In its place we planted a Montmorency Cherry tree.

So the old apple tree was gone, right? Sure, except that its roots are still where they always were, producing sprouts and suckers that spread through the yard to as great an extent as the old tree's shadow. Prune as you will, even cut down the tree, the life is deeper still, and abides.

There's a lesson here of course, but finding the words to convey that lesson is difficult. Perhaps its enough to leave the story as it is, and to let each reader draw their own conclusion. But whatever you or I might conclude, make no mistake about it, the life abides.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Yeast Waffles

Waffles. You gotta love 'em. No, I'm not talking about people running for public office or saying they'll end the war and achieve health care reform. I mean real waffles.

Sally and I decided more than a year ago that a new waffle iron was in store for us. We had struggled with her old one for years, and had pretty much given up. Our new WaringPro waffle iron is like the ones in hotels that offer complimentary breakfast where you rotate the iron while the waffle is cooking.

We thought we'd really accomplished something when we discovered recipes for using Amish Friendship batter to make waffles. I mean, what else can you do with that batter? We've already baked every kind of sweet bread known to humanity, and gotten tired of it. Anyway, we made waffles with our starter/batter, and did so for most of a year before leaving for New Zealand. We put our starter in the freezer while we were gone, but it didn't make it. For the first time in months, we couldn't start anything. We tried making our own starter, but after an encouraging, bubble-filled few days, things went flat again. Alas.

Then we got the idea of purchasing fresh, cake yeast. We looked in stores, including the new co-op, to no avail. Then, walking by Great Harvest Bakery, we thought to ask if they could sell us some yeast. Absolutely! For just $3.50, Sally was given a brick-sized block of yeast, enough to make bread or waffles for the Super Bowl... not a Super Bowl party, the one in Miami.

We cut the block into squares, froze most of it (it should keep for up to 2 months that way), and kept 2 ounces fresh. We looked up recipes for yeast waffles, and waited for the weekend to arrive.

Last night we mixed up the batter, incorporating our fresh yeast (recipe available upon request). We covered it and refrigerated it overnight, and then made waffles this morning.

YUM! Get that Amish batter out of here! We've experienced Waffle Nirvana!

I love unstructured Saturday mornings, with the newspaper, a pot of coffee, and the taste and aroma of yeast waffles. Life is good.

Friday, February 5, 2010


A guy passed by our house on a Segway yesterday afternoon. I've seen them before, though usually downtown. To have someone come by the house on one was strange, and almost surreal. Like the perpetual child I am, I called for Sally to drop what she was doing and come to the door to see. She was, characteristically, initially unenthused in reaction to my giddiness. But even Sally was taken by how the Segway booked it up the hill to our east. It glided silently up the street, seeming to float without effort, while the rider stood, stoic, proud, like a 19th century portrait of a Lakota chief on his horse.

I have previously commented on the concept of "traveling without moving", a key concept in the Dune novels of Frank Herbert. The phrase came to mind as I watched that Segway. The rider was traveling without moving. Statuesque.

As I thought about the Segway, I remembered automobile commercials from days gone by which showed people moving down the highway in an invisible car. I imagined all of us, sitting quietly as we speed along the Interstate, traveling without moving. We could exchange this image with one of an invisible aircraft filled with people, flying through the air while napping, reading, conversing, or sipping a cup of coffee. Traveling without moving.

Yesterday also marked the sale, for 104.3 million dollars, of Alberto Giacometti's sculpture "L'homme qui marche 1" (Walking Man 1). This life-sized piece features an elongated human figure, seemingly walking, yet perpetually rooted to it's base. Traveling without moving? I think not. I think the record bid for this piece stems from the fact that it supersedes the limits of traveling without moving by seeming to embody motion while never moving a whit. "Not-traveling without moving while looking like you're moving." It's a 104 million dollar representation of freeze tag.

The Segway, it seems to me, is but one more (non)step on the human evolutionary path toward a version of progress which features absolute immobility. As Bryan Bowers sings of the ultimate destiny of humanity: "Where'er we finally go, one thing I truly know: We'll find some way to go there sitting down."

Where am I going with this? No where. Being highly evolved myself, I'm just sitting here thinking. Just sitting here, rotating on Earth's axis at 1,674.4 kilometers/hour (at the equator), revolving around the sun at 29.79 kilometers/second. Just sitting here. Traveling without moving.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fire Prevention

It was a mistake in the name of safety. Arriving at the church last evening, Board members were alarmed to see a fire burning in the back yard. In truth, it was a lovely fire in one of those portable fire pits, but there was no one basking in the fire's warmth on a cold damp night. There was no one to be seen at all.

There had been a rumor that some homeless man had taken up residence in the area. Perhaps he was the fire starter. Perhaps startled by the arrival of car after car of Board members, he had left the scene, and the fire, in a hurry. All that remained was the lovely fire, sitting perilously near to a wooden gazebo on the church lawn.

Others had already begun emptying plastic wastebaskets by the time I arrived, intending to use them as makeshift water buckets to douse the blaze. There was some brief discussion about the best place to get water. The janitor's closet was the choice, and was shown to be a good choice one when the door was opened, revealing not only the utility sink but also some actual plastic buckets with handles. The buckets were quickly filled, and I carried two of them out back and, under the watchful eyes of two members of the management team, doused the blaze.

"We ought to wet that pile of wood also, in case he comes back." Done.

We turned our attention to our meeting, a bit puzzled by the fire and its origin. A few minutes later the puzzle was solved. One of the regular support groups at the church had planned an activity. To signify desired changes in their lives, they wanted to make lists of those things they wished to leave behind, and... burn them... in the fire pit out back.

As a preacher, I can but imagine how I might use this tale to illustrate how difficult change is. We strive to let go of our old, destructive habits, but there are others, well-intentioned, no doubt, who are continually dousing the flames of change, pulling us back into our old ways.

And then wetting down the woodpile as well.

Perhaps a bad habit I could work on is my tendency to run around trying to put out fires, the literal and the figurative, for everyone else. I'd break away from my past, if only I had some way of symbolizing the change. Oh well....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day

Apparently we're in for six more weeks of winter -- at least that's the word that comes to us from the disciples of Punxsutawney Phil, the nation's best known rodent weather forecaster. In scanning the news this morning, I was reminded that there are many denominations of rodent forecaster disciples, including the ardent followers of Staten Island Chuck, Octorara Orphie (Quarryville, PA), and Sammi II (Monroe County, PA). Pennsylvania is the hotbed of groundhog faith, with 17 Grundsau Lodges (Pennsylvania Dutch for groundhog) comprising some 5,000 adherents.

Of course, there is no evidence that any of these sciurid oracles are any more accurate than long range weather forecaster Randy Mann, but then, you know that isn't important. Believers don't like to be bothered with evidence and the like. It's faith that truly matters.

I wonder if there are any Pennsylvania prophesies about the Woodchuck to Come, the One who will be able to ponder His shadow and determine if humans are contributing to climate change? Maybe if we could get climatology out of the shadow of science and into the clear light of devotion someone would believe in it.

Until then, we'd better be putting our wraps on. Punxsutawney Phil says we're in for six more weeks of winter. Six weeks... that would take us just about to the Vernal Equinox....

I believe!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Experts with Clipboards

Did you ever have that experience -- the one where you went to the doctor for some little issue like a scratchy throat, and then the doc starts looking at your chart and notes that you haven't done your colorectal screening, or your PSA test, and you end up in a tiny little gown with your rear hanging out? Did you ever have that experience?

I never have, thankfully. But I did take my 1998 Forrester in for an oil change today. The next thing I knew the service manager, Larry, was standing beside me wearing a white lab coat and holding a clipboard with papers on it. He had the furrowed brow which signifies that either you're about to don a backless gown or relinquish your wallet. I suppose I was lucky -- he went for my wallet.

We hadn't done our 120,000 mile scheduled maintenance! OMG! How could we have let that one slip by? But I am a sucker for authority figures in lab coats with clipboards, so I couldn't just admit that automobile maintenance isn't that important to me. I signed the authorization form and caught a ride home on the dealer's shuttle van.

Sally was the one who had the honor of picking up the car and paying the bill. It was $629.67, but then, that included the oil change I originally came in for. Sally was a bit perturbed when Larry told her that the car was in great shape, and that it needed very little work. We paid $629.67 (less the oil change) to learn that everything was fine, which was what I thought before Larry sidled up to me in the first place.

Oh well. As I said to Sally, when somebody receives the results of their PSA test, their colorectal screening, their MRI or CAT scan and is told that everything is OK after all, they don't usually grouse too much about the bill. I suppose we should keep everything in perspective and count our blessings, including the blessings we paid $629.67 (less the oil change) to discover.