Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Fall of the Empire

Isaac Asimov's Foundation books rank as my favorite science fiction series. They also make me wonder about time travel and extra-terrestrial visitation. I am continually amazed at what Asimov wrote in the late 1940's. Incredible.

Anyway, Foundation came to mind today as Sally and I talked about the multiple experiences of ineptitude and carelessness we have witnessed during the course of our move. That conversation was prompted by our standing in the Comcast office waiting to return the extra modem and connectivity kit shipped to us. We then returned home to await the exchange of our trash container, which took more than two weeks to obtain, was initially delivered to the wrong address, and then came in the wrong size. I can't begin to summarize the amazing promises and excuses I have heard from the customer service people at Waste Management.

There have been other instances - too many to recount. People don't listen, don't care, or are out of their depth. The private sector has proven worse than the public. Non-profits have done the best, by far.

The Foundation connection? A theme in the original Foundation story is that the great Galactic Empire is falling. The evidence is in the decline of infrastructure, but even moreso, in the inability or unwillingness of anyone to recognize or address the problem. That's often how I feel about our world. It's broken, and we possess neither the willingness or the ability to change it.

As the sign at the Portland Occupy camp expressed it: Everything is fine... Keep shopping.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


As I wrote yesterday, we were faced with a minor plumbing malfunction on Tuesday evening. The toilet, a very nice European style dual flush, would not refill after flushing. The refill tube flow was reduced to a trickle, and sometimes stopped completely. We were able to use the toilet, but had to refill the tank each time with a kitchen pot. Though this might not be the most daunting plumbing challenge, we have but one bathroom, and the mere thought of an interruption in its availability seemed cataclysmic.

Having some time on my hands while awaiting a Fedex delivery, I researched toilet tank valves. Once my package was signed for I struck off in search of home improvement products. I started at Costco because Home Depot doesn't have gelato. I picked up a hand-held shower attachment along with some cat food. On my way to the check out I also came across an end cap of bamboo drawer organizers. Oooooh! Organizers!

I was in Costco longer than intended (what a surprise!), and so had to hurry toward town to pick up Sally. On the way I stopped at the neighborhood hardware store near our new house. After all my research I wanted to peruse their toilet tank valve section and consider my options. They had one choice. I bought it.

I'll spare you most of the details. However, one important step was verifying that we had good water pressure from the supply line. I closed the valve, disconnected the line from the toilet, aimed it into the aforementioned kitchen pot and slowly opened the valve. We had adequate water pressure. After I towelled off and mopped the floor I continued my repair work.

It is now the morning after. The toilet has been flushed several times, and has refilled quickly and efficiently. The shower head has been changed, and the new, hand-held wand awaits. I know better than to consider myself a plumber - even an amateur one - but I managed this repair remarkably well. Surely nothing else will break or malfunction at this point.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Meaning of Life

I really enjoy deep, philosophical speculation about the meaning of life and the nature of existence. Unfortunately, I am finding that taking the time to engage in such processes is a luxury I cannot afford of late.

Yesterday featured yet another (failed) attempt to acquire recycling, composting and trash containers from Waste Management. I am beginning to suspect that Portland encourages cutting back on waste by refusing to provide containers for its collection.

Sally, Erin and I also made the pilgrimmage to DMV to get driver's licenses yesterday. We had carefully compiled the necessary documentation, studied our manuals, and acquired the requisite cash. Unfortunately, I failed to note that I needed to produce documentation of my social security number. A US passport is simply not adequate identification in Oregon. (Note: the law requiring evidence of a social security number has been changed, and will not be in effect after January 1. Not much solace for me yesterday, however). We all passed our knowledge tests, vision tests, and photo tests, and now have temporary Oregon permits. Huzzah!

We took Juni to the vet at 5 and were relieved of our fears for her life and $169.90. She has a clostridium flare-up which is treatable with antibiotics and fancy food.

Finally, I'm pleased to announce that the toilet malfunctioned last night. Pleased because it didn't happen while all the kids were here, and pleased because of all the plumbing problems within the realm of possibility, the failure of the tank supply valve is among the least serious.

So keep looking for the silver lining, maintain a sense of humor, be nice to strangers and even nicer to those closest to you, get rid of stuff you don't need, stop buying it in the first place, work for justice and peace.

Oh, and use high efficiency laundry detergent in the new washer.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

End of the Beginning

Monday was the last day of our holiday/moving break. We had a lovely breakfast at Besaw's in NW Portland courtesy of Megan and AJ, and walked by St. Honore French bakery after. The Killgore's packed up and left for the Tri-Cities while Sally, Erin and I prepared for a jaunt in search of new elements for our Jenn-Air range. We found the pricey part we needed and took a long route home, including a short beer at the Horse Brass Pub on Belmont.

Erin fixed pasta dinner for dinner and Sal made a salad. We talked about getting our Oregon driver's licenses Tuesday and turned in early in preparation for Sally's return to work. I have phone duty today, including finding a vet for Juni and following up on our eternal efforts to obtain a garbage container from Waste Mangement.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Oh what fun it is to ride...

Our Christmas Day was pretty low key. We started with a brilliant red sunrise and a family breakfast. Megan and AJ have been spending most of the holiday with AJ's family in Longview (we got most of their time for Thanksgiving) but were here for the morning. We had buttermilk waffles, maple sausage from New Seasons, and eggs. It was the first time for us to really use our stove, which did fine.

As AJ and Megan packed up, Sal, Erin and I put on our riding gear. We decided not to let a bit of rain and the threat of more deter us from a bike ride. We wanted to experience Sally's commute route once. Besides, I wanted to push my odometer past 1,000 for the year, and needed 9 miles to do it. We had a perfectly lovely ride down to the Lloyd Center where Sal's office is located. We rode most of the way along Klickitat, a "Neighborhood Greenway" set up for bike commuting. It is a residential street that has the stop signs turned in its favor. It also has gentle speed bumps to discourage auto traffic. Quite nice. It rained a bit a couple of times, but not very hard. All and all it was a very nice ride, and a bit of a Christmas gift to have the opportunity.

We unpacked a few boxes later in the afternoon, and then cooked our second meal in. Two in one day! We had salmon with a garlic/orange/Riesling/balsamic sauce I conjured, risotto, broccoli, and a sweet potato salad recipe Sally got from her sister, Mary Jo's food blog.

We finished the day with Masterpiece Theater, some Christmas pudding and a nip of Scotch. Merry Christmas indeed!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Redecorating with a Sawzall

Our new washer and dryer were delivered this morning. We didn't know we needed new appliances when we bought the house, but there you go. The biggest question in our minds was getting the appliances into the basement, as two doors en route measured exactly 27 inches, which is exactly what the machines measured.

The delivery guys were concerned about scratching our door frame, but I assured them we were not concerned. Both machines made it through the top door and down the steps into the basement. The dryer made it into the laundry room. The washer wouldn't go. They tried three times. No go.

I told the guys to give me a minute and asked Sally where she had seen the Sawzall. Within five minutes we had completed "remodeling" the laundry room door, and the washer was in. I asked the delivery guy if he'd ever had a customer cut out a door frame in the course of a delivery before. He hadn't.

I did a large load of towels this afternoon. I am excited and relieved to be back in the laundry business. I also will be doing some additional remodeling to make amends for my earlier effort.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Whole Foods

Sometime between midnight and 5 this morning we lost the glass bottles in our recycling bin and gained a grocery cart from Whole Foods. Erin thought the person who left it thought it would get lost in the pile of cardboard and paper we had out by the street. I thought we won an award for making really neat, compact piles.

I called Whole Foods and thanked them for the complimentary grocery cart. I asked if all new residents get one. They were amused. Sal and I tossed the cart into the Subaru and drove it to the store, about 25 blocks from here.

I'm guessing the nice gentleman who left the cart and took our bottles returned the glass at Safeway for the deposit. I'd rather he do that than sit at an intersection with a cardboard sign. Come to think of it though, there may have been cardboard missing from our pile....

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Longest Night

We are living in Portland, finally, and are glad to have arrived. Everything has gone OK if the curves thrown our way are disregarded. Some days we are better at disregarding than others.

Last night we observed the Solstice by sitting in our hot tub (one of the appliances that DOES work here) with daughter Erin, sipping a pomegranate ale and then an oatmeal stout. Nice.... All relaxed and drowsy we finally headed upstairs for bed about midnight.

I was awakened by our lab mix at 3:30. She seemed desperate, though never barked. I went downstairs and let her out, noticing that the house did not smell good. I turned on the lights downstairs but saw nothing. As I went back up to bed the odor was worse. I turned on the lights, awakening both Sally and Erin, and discovered that Juni had redecorated our entire upstairs carpet in the colors of accident. Everywhere. It looked like abstract art. I don't know much about art, but...

We were about out of Spot Shot carpet cleaner because the moving company wouldn't transport aerosals. This is presumably so they would have room for the open pint jar of used lawnmower oil that the packed in a box that was subsequently turned upside down so the contents would spread to no fewer than a dozen other boxes.

So at 3:30 I drove down to Safeway, hoping it was open, in order to buy two more cans of carpet treatment. What a treat.

It was a different kind of Solstice. We all came out of it a bit bleary and in fine spirits, if a bit stained and worn. That's kinda the way the move has gone. None the less, we are healthy, happy, and totally swamped by the boxes of stuff that are an indictment of our previous failure to avoid the perils of materialism. We'll do better this time. Promise.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the verge....

We have reached our last day in the Zip House, and are on the verge of taking possession of the Wee House. We hope to obtain access sometime tomorrow, and expect the moving van on Saturday. Sunday will bring a bed from Standard TV and Appliance Outlet and the opportunity to move things over from Vancouver. It feels monumental.

I have never had the experience of living across town from a house I was going to live in, but with someone else residing there. We've been in it and near it, but it belongs to someone else. I'm interested in the psychic alchemy that will allow us to imagine it as ours. I think a smudge stick and incantations will be involved. And beer. And time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


As of about 11:00 this morning we are the owners of two houses, and are living in a third. Sally called and let me know that the title papers we signed yesterday had been filed, making our ownership of the Wee House official. With that news I flew into action (doing anything other than sitting still seems pretty active to me anymore) and contacted utilities to set up our accounts. Even that detail is significant and represents a change, as Portland only has garbage pick-up every other week, but does have curbside composting. I learned that the previous owner has but a 20 gallon garbage container for two weeks. We thought we were doing well with our 32 gallon once a week in Spokane.

After giving the dogs an outing at the off-leash park I drove to the Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center, bought a day pass for MAX, and rode down to meet Sally at the Lloyd Center. We walked through the mall to Broadway and east to McMenamins on 15th. We had a leisurely beer and light dinner, then walked back to MAX, heading west, on our way to see the Zoolights.

We learned about the Zoolights on Saturday from seeing the traffic backup on highway 26 and getting the scoop from Sal's colleagues at the Holiday gathering. Further investigation yielded information about the 2nd Tuesday discount... Our Zoolight tickets were $4 each, and then discounted a further $1.50 each for taking the MAX. Sweet!

The lines only got unbearably long as we were leaving, the lights were lovely, and MAX got us back to the car by 7:15. It was a fun evening, and a harbinger of our new, hip urbanite lifestyle. By the time we got home the dogs scarcely recognized us.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Given that we have neither television nor internet (other than my cellular iPad), evenings in the Zip House have tended to be quiet and short. Sally leaves for work at 5:45 in the morning, so an early bedtime is welcome. Still, the minutes between sundown and bedtime can drag, and so we have taken to renting movies from Redbox.

All in all we've done pretty well. We enjoyed Thor, Captain America, The Conspirator, and the new True Grit. Each was more than worth the $1.30 we paid for them. Perhaps that explains our overconfidence....

On Wednesday evening we rented Your Highness. I figured that with Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel it couldn't be too bad. I figured wrong. It was an adolescent male or stoner movie that was probably more fun to make than it was to watch. A least I hope so.

Last night's selection was Atlas Shrugged, Part 1. It is really something that there will eventually be a Part 2. The movie was indeed based on Ayn Rand's book, which was both it's curse and saving grace. Ayn Rand was a strange person with views that might roughly coincide with the Koch brothers or Fox network business anchors. As such I had trouble watching it. Still, I retired for the evening thinking about it. If that is what a film is supposed to do, then our $1.30 was well-spent (though don't take that as an endorsement). It was clearly worth $1.29 more than Your Highness.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Getting a break

We haven't felt as if we have gotten too many breaks in this relocation process (sniff), but got one today. When informed of our change of schedule in getting access to the Wee House the trucking company head offered to deliver our goods on Saturday without weekend surcharge ($4000). The relocation overlords agreed, and so we will get our goods on Saturday. That is preferable to spending the weekend cleaning or painting, as has been suggested, as all of our tools, painting and cleaning supplies are already in the warehouse in Boise. I hate to buy stuff I already own. We'll do some cleaning with the things we kept out, but nothing monumental. Besides, the sellers have been there 37 years without pets, as the gentleman is severely allergic. I'm guessing the house will be cleaner on Friday evening than it will ever be again.

The closing has been moved up to Monday, so by Monday at noon we will own two houses and be leasing a third. This downsizing thing is tricky. I told Sally yesterday that my goal is to feel a bit settled by our anniversary on March 2. I think that is reasonable, if we work at it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

One More Curve

Everytime we think we've got things under control, we get thrown a little curve ball. I called our realtor last night to ask about the scheduling of our closing, and in passing asked about access to the house on the day we take possession. Stacey said the usual possession time is 5pm. Too bad that we have scheduled the movers for that day, and that they don't work weekends. Thus we will have possession of an empty house for the weekend without opportunity to unpack and settle in. A minor inconvenience in the long run, but irritating nonetheless.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Off Leash

I confess to having made a number of derogatory cracks about our "Zip House" in Vancouver. In truth we are quite comfortable, and the house is very nice. The worst feature of our living here is that we're on our way elsewhere. The Zip House is thus a stop along the way, and viewed somewhat as an obstacle rather than the path to fulfillment.

One of the best features of the house is it's location relative to stores, restaurants and other amenities. We've never been so close to Costco (though we have no inclination to engage in bulk buying at this juncture), and have many grocery stores to choose from, including New Seasons, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Chuck's Produce and Safeway. Aong the other amenities is the Pacific Park off-leash dog area. And therein lies the tail.

Juni and Cayenne are well on the way to becoming regulars at Pacific Park. They join the throngs of dogs wagging and greeting, peeing and playing. The park is lovely, large, and well maintained. There is a wide, cinder path perhaps a quarter mile in length surrounding a large green area for ball playing and the like. There are trees along one side, making it feel like a walk in the woods. Juni and Cayenne have fit right in. There are very few displays of dominance or rough play. It's as if everyone realizes what a privilege and pleasure it is to be off leash.

I wish people from other communities could see this park, and how well it works. I'm impressed. More importantly, Juni and Cayenne are.

Monday, December 5, 2011

December Sunshine

Sally and I enjoyed a lovely Saturday jaunt to the coast. The fog lifted as we drove west, and the temperature was in the high 40's. All in all a perfect day to walk along the beach, watch the breakers, and to soak up some December sunshine.

Everything continues to move forward toward closing and possession of what we lovingly term the Wee House. Today Sally contracted for concrete repair in Spokane, and I formally asked to lower the listing price again. It will be a relief to have it behind us.

The dogs, meanwhile, are really enjoying our move. There is an off leash area just a mile or two from the Zip House, and we have made regular visits. That, in addition to their joining us on our coastal jaunt, have made them tired but happy dogs.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Settling in, temporarily

We had a lovely Thanksgiving with all three kids, Megan's husband AJ and Evan's fiance Angie. Highlights included the Thanksgiving buffet at McMenamins Kennedy School, a coffee excursion to Clive Coffee, two trips to Powell's City of Books, beers at the Green Dragon, a dinner at Toji Korean Grill, the Muddy Rudder Pub in Sellwood, coffee at Motivasi and Ristretto Roasters, pastries from St. Honore. We talked, but usually with our mouths full.

After everyone left Sal and I did some cathartic laundry and settled in to life as usual, at least for the next two weeks. We are scheduled to close on the Wee House on the 13th, with possession on the 16th. A walk-through on Saturday confirmed our recollections and suspicions: It is really small. Once we have our stuff we will continue the process, begun in Spokane, of letting go of many of our accumulated assets. It's just stuff, I know, but the letting go is still difficult.

We are doing well. Sally has begun riding Max to work. I have taken the dogs to a lovely off-leash area a couple times. Even the cat got a chance to briefly explore the great outdoors. I'll write again soon. Until then, may your Advent and Holiday Season be lovely and meaningful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lovely (rainy) Day

Yesterday was lovely, which is saying something given the steady rain and gusty winds. I spent the day running errands, and then took the dogs for a soggy walk. At 3 I picked up Sally at work and we joined some of her colleagues for a Thanksgiving brew at one of the zillion McMenamin's pubs in the area (North Broadway). Lovely!

Sally and I headed home via Ristretto Roasters, split some leftover pizza, and did some sink laundry. It really was a nice day. Of course, my enthusiasm is fueled by the awareness that the kids will be arriving sometime today. Huzzah!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Waiting in Vancouver

I wrote a blog post yesterday, the first in a month. Then, as a perfect illustration of our circumstances, I didn't get to a free wifi venue to post it. So it sits on my MacBook, and I am relegated to posting using the iPad.

Yesterday was Sally's first day of work in Portland. All went well for her. After work we opened an account at a credit union, completing one more step in the process of relocation.

We are really doing fine, and yet I find myself agitated and impatient. I want to start receiving mail again. I want wifi. I want more than two pairs of jeans, and convenient laundry services. While I'm at it, I want the house in Spokane to sell. All in good time.

The kids are coming for Thanksgiving, which we are really looking forward to. We visited Corvallis on Sunday, which was also very nice... Just a shade under two hours from our Zip House in Vancouver. We assume it will be a little less than that once we're in Portland.

So Sal is working, and I'm waiting. Perhaps I can get creative and use the time well. We shall see.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Oh boy! A new, simple solution to incredibly complex problems. Republican Presidential hopeful Herman Cain demonstrated his knack for pizza pricing with this "simple, clear, fair" revenue suggestion. Nine percent income tax, nine percent sales tax, and nine percent corporate tax.

Of course, what this amounts to is a huge tax cut for most businesses and wealthy taxpayers, and a huge increase for middle class and lower income taxpayers. What could be more fair?

We always need to remember that figures don't lie, but that liars do figure. If everyone in your company receive the same percentage raise year after year, the income disparity among the staff will become extreme... sorta like the income disparity in the U.S. Giving everyone the same percentage sounds fair, but is inherently unfair. If one child is starving to death and another is sated, splitting an apple (or a pizza) between them is not fair. Of course, the GOP would say that the best idea is to reward the healthier child by giving him/her the entire apple, so as not to encourage hunger as a food gathering strategy.

There is an African proverb: "Tell me mother, which of your children do you love the most?"
"The one who is sick until he is well; the one who is away until she is home; the one in danger until he is safe."

We need such wisdom and compassion in our public policy, not additional simplistic rhetoric.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nitrile Exam Gloves

There was a time in my life when all my associations with nitrile exam gloves were negative. No need to go further with that line of conversation.

My opinion of nitrile gloves has changed. For example, my experience this morning renews my appreciation for these lightweight wonders. My hands are really sore from the last two days' remodeling efforts. I have splinters, scrapes, and dry irritated skin from cleaning products I used, multiple washings, and my day applying thinset mortar for the tile operation. By this morning my hands had had it. So, I slathered on a couple lotion products and put on a pair of nitrile gloves. Normally the greasy feeling would bother me. This morning it was true relief.

Then the fun began. Attempting typical day-to-day activities with gloves on is very interesting. On the positive side, folding laundry and feeding the dogs were quite pleasant. Surprisingly, flossing was easier than expected, AND I feel as if I've been to the dental hygienist. Even tyuppinbg on the computer is faiurly easy.

On the other hand (!) there were some activities that were really difficult. Buttons, for example. I now understand why surgical scrubs come without buttons or snaps. Can you imagine your doc entering the operating room with their hand elastically connected to their fly? I can now. No wonder 501 jeans are not part of their surgical garb.

Anyway, the morning has happened as usual, and my hands feel better. Now, about that rough skin on my heels... I wonder if they make nitrile socks?

Saturday, October 8, 2011


We've lived in this house for more than seven years. For most of that time we considered remodeling the bathrooms. Today, finally, we tore out the flooring in my bathroom in preparation for putting down tile. We anticipate getting it done in the next couple days. Seven years we waited, then hurried to get it done real fast. Signature move for a procrastinator.

In truth we kept thinking about replacing all the fixtures, some of the fixtures, moving walls... We suffered from paralysis of analysis. Now, not having the luxury of time, we just tore into it, literally.

Remind me someday to tell you my thoughts on taking out a toilet.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.

I suppose it tells you something that I was awake at that hour, trying to remember the tracks on the Simon and Garfunkle album of the same name. What is it about the middle of the night? I'm haunted by demons born of my anxiety. I imagine everything that can possibly go wrong, and believe me, I have quite an imagination.Three or four hours later things don't seem so bleak, though our circumstances haven't changed at all. That's the way of it.

Some weeks back I tried to explain to Sally that though I was anxious about the possibility of moving to Portland, all of my anxieties were related to the weeks and months of transition, rather than the ultimate wisdom of her seeking the new position. There are simply so many variables, so many of which are beyond our control. For example, why can't we get top dollar for our house in Spokane, AND a bargain price for a lovely new home in Portland. Is that asking too much?


It's growing light out. I'm feeling optimistic. We can do this!

But I remain haunted by the reminder and certain return of Wednesday morning 3 A.M.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Medicating the Cat

So the cat was not aware how deeply concerned I was about his health. It was the day for his monthly, oral flea medication. After feeding him I knew the medication would not upset his little cat tummy, and so I placed the pill in a pill popper, knelt down beside the old boy, and began the simple process of inserting the pill into the cat's gullet.

It was some time later that I began to consider the meaning of life, and whether cat's actually have nine of such. By that time the pill had gone into and out of the cat's mouth several times. On the bright side, it was becoming both slick and smaller, and thus, I assume, easier to swallow.

I was getting a cramp, and my glasses had flown off, but I wasn't giving up. Once more into the breach! I held his mouth closed for nearly a minute and finally sensed he had swallowed. Triumph! The cat walked away none the worse for wear, and I finally struggled to my feet... and stepped on my glasses.

I'm unsure how many lives my glasses have. Fewer than nine, I fear.


So the news that we will, indeed, be moving to Portland in the weeks ahead has begun sinking in. After Sally received word on Friday I jumped on my bike and rode downtown to be with her. The ride felt great, even though I kept thinking about it as a swan song.

We didn't have trouble eating on Friday evening, although Cayenne, our 13 year-old shepherd-retriever did. In my case the alcohol helped. By Saturday morning my appetite had departed as well. Perhaps it's already headed west on I-84.

Oh sure, we're excited and all. As we've said, this is a tremendous opportunity for Sally and a crowning achievement for a woman who postponed her career ambitions, choosing to stay home with her kids until they were all well established in school. Still, her crowning achievement means we're picking up and moving. It's that reality that has my digestive system all akimbo.

On Saturday evening I played music at a gathering on behalf of the City Council bids of Richard Rush and Joy Jones. I was invited to "make the ask" at the close of the evening on their behalf. The fact that this event fell so close to the day as the news of our impending relocation was poignant. It reminded me of other relocations where I went from being someone of note in a community to relative obscurity. That Portland is a big place makes it feel as if I will never make my mark again.

I sorta hate admitting how much I like being known and engaged, but there you are. Maybe the honest admission will soothe the butterflies inhabiting my middle. If not, I suppose I could attempt to drown them. Again.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Day 46 - Portland It Is!

Yesterday was Day 45 for us. Sally said it was already 46. Her patience was shot. Yesterday morning Sal received word that she had been selected as the Environmental Engineer for the West National Technology Support Center. Her start date in Portland is November 20.

The news triggered shortness of breath and heart palpitations for both of us. I'm very proud of her, and excited for her new challenge. The good news also means we are moving in six weeks.

In a very effective motivational presentation, Janet Ott, a consultant in Bellingham, decried our cultural obsession with safety and security. For example, every morning as Sally leaves for work the next to last thing I say is, "Be careful." Janet Ott urged us to create an ethic of expanding our boundaries and pushing our limits: "If you don't feel like you're about to wet your pants when the opening whistle blows, maybe you aren't playing in a big enough game."

This new position for Sally and our impending move feels like a big enough game.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 44

Fifty or so days ago (who's counting?) Sally submitted her resume and associated materials for a new position with her agency. The announcement stated that the position would be filled 45 days from the application deadline of August 16th. That works out to September 30th, and makes today Day 44.

Sally was aware of this possible position two years ago. It is both a job and a location that would suit her well. Should she be selected, we would be relocating to Portland, Oregon. Thus our life and our future seems to hang in the balance. Are we moving? Are we staying? Who knows? After all, it is only Day 44.

It's good that we were busy this summer, which kept our minds and hands occupied while we awaited this moment. There was painfully little information provided us by the HR center in Fort Worth. Several weeks after the closing date we finally learned that Sally had made the panel of qualified applicants. A couple weeks later we heard that her references were being contacted. Now we wait, checking her email regularly (which would reveal a negative outcome) and waiting for the phone to ring. It is excruciating.

In the midst of this process we have come to the conclusion that we will be very excited if Sally gets the Portland job, and totally relieved if she doesn't. We have a good life in Spokane, and aren't chomping at the bit to leave. Still, being chosen for the new position would represent a crowning achievement for a woman who entered professional life in her 40's after being a stay at home mom for so long.

So we wait. I often say that the future is exploding into possibility with every decision and action in every present moment. That is true for EVERY moment, and yet some moments seem weightier than others. Whatever the ultimate outcome, I know we will look back on Day 45 as being a watershed moment for us and for our family. On Day 44 we simply don't know which side of the watershed we're on.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Enough Religion

There was a Facebook post this week that bothered me, beyond my usual Facebook-discomfort-level. It was about an article in the Christian Century by Lillian Daniel pointed at people who call themselves "spiritual but not religious". Following the comment line took me to other articles in which "progressive" Christian authors took atheists to task.

My discomfort, first of all, is that these authors think they know enough about atheists or non church attenders to chide them. I guess it's OK for non-judgmental liberals to be judgmental, as long as their criticism is aimed to their left.

Specifically, Rev. Daniel charged that non attenders were making up their religion. When a commentator asked if that were not true of the devout as well, Rev. Daniel replied, "My religion is not made up. It comes directly from the Son of God."

OK then. As I responded to another religion-based Facebook inquiry about our knowledge of God recently, "My Invisible Friend is real. Yours isn't."

Atheists, non-theistics, humanists and their ilk cannot discredit religion, and don't need to. The faithful generally discredit it themselves. If so-called progressives want to defend the rationality of their faith they should turn their ire toward the irrational among their number, and they are legion. Telling me that your Invisible Friend says that my non-theistic position is irrational would be laughable if you weren't so serious. And the seriousness of religionistas is what scares me much more than the rational arguments of atheists.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quite a week...

I noticed that it has been a week since I last posted anything here. It isn't that there is nothing to post about, you see, but rather the opposite. We've been busy.

Last week I worked on cleaning and sorting, which was overdue. Then, caught up in the adrenaline of it all, I decided to finish the sill between the kitchen and the living room. I'm not sure how a project that has lain dormant for two years becomes a priority, but there you are. On Wednesday I installed the oak planks. On Thursday, with Sally's assistance, the trim and moldings were added. I topped it all with two coats of polyurethane and called it good.

Friday featured clearing up the mess from this project and some general cleaning. When Sally got home from work we switched our attention to getting packed for the Megan and AJ Wedding Weekend in the Tri-Cities. Evan and Angie flew in Friday night and we all headed southwest to Richland.

I have performed quite a few weddings myself, but was privileged to be the father of the bride for the first time. What a joy! Everything went quite well. We made new friends and caught up with some long-time ones. We returned Sunday evening and got Evan and Angie back on a plane to Omaha yesterday mornng at 6:30.

The remainder of the day yesterday comprised laundry punctuated by naps and bites of the cherry pie Sally baked on Thursday. Morning came earlier than usual today, and I've spent most of the day reading. With Megan and AJ's wedding behind us I realize that the summer is at an end. With the arrival of the Equinox I'll take the opportunity to look back, and then forward. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reforest Spokane

Today is the last day to vote for the Lands Council project, "Reforest Spokane Day", in a national contest sponsored by Tom's of Maine. I've been voting every day, in accordance with the rules, and have encouraged others to do so. At the same time I've had the feeling that this effort is treating the symptom, rather than getting at the root of the problem (sorry).

The first thing the Lands Council might do, in cooperation with the city arborist, is work to educate citizens and homeowners before they
deforest Spokane. Each time a tree falls in a neighborhood in town the tree service companies swarm about like so many flies, canvassing the neighborhood to offer their opinions and services for other dangerous trees. This opportunistic exploitation needs to stop.

A couple years back a tree fell a block or two from us, hitting the house next door. We learned from an arborist that the tree that fell was located in a low area where runoff water accumulated, both weakening the tree and limiting its grip on the soil. Eventually the roots just pulled up. Within hours the tree service crews were everywhere in the neighborhood, and the sound of chainsaws filled the air as people gave in to their fears.

Our neighbor offered to pay to have our beautiful, large Ponderosa Pine removed, stating his fear that it would fall on his house, and his discomfort with the sap that was getting on his wife's car. We contacted an arborist who told us the tree was indeed healthy and a wonderful specimen. It will remain in place as long as we own the house. Our neighbor is unhappy. Sap on the car! Oh, the humanity!

Let's reforest Spokane with Ponderosa Pines. While they are growing, let's educate residents of our fair city about the inestimable worth of the trees they already have.

Monday, September 12, 2011


It's been a while since I blogged about bicycling. To tell you the truth, biking isn't so much recreation for us as it is transportation. We wish it were simply regarded that way more often. I noted some new, flattering "bicycle fashions" for women were being touted at a Spokefest booth yesterday. You know, I generally don't feel a need to change into performance clothes before driving the Subaru. I wish the same were true of bikes.

Anyway, Sally and I rode in Spokefest yesterday, taking the "Classic River Route" of 21 miles through Riverside Park. It was cool to set off with 1,900 other riders, and I liked having some of the roads and intersections cleared for our passage.

Our no-nose bike saddles were a major success. Sally's is a Comfort Saddle from the UK, and mine is a Nexride noseless saddle. The point is to reduce pressure on what we delicately refer to as soft tissues. The seats were a total success. We rode not only the Spokefest route yesterday, but also the 11 miles down and up South Hill before and after. Our legs were tired, but our "soft tissues" were neither sore nor numb. It's amazing that such saddles have not caught on more quickly. Change is difficult. Here we are after the ride. Note the seats, and the satisfied smiles!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Follow Your Nose

At 3:47 this morning I was startled from sleep by the stench of a skunk. I sprang out of bed, closed the bedroom windows and commanded the dogs to stay inside.

It didn't take long to figure out that the smell was not emanating from outside the house. Juni, our little Lab, had been sprayed again. I say again because this happens a couple times a year. It isn't that she isn't smart enough to avoid the encounters. Her eyesight is failing, resulting in her running right into trouble again and again. We'd remove the dog door and keep her inside all night, but her eyesight isn't the only part of her functioning that is failing.

So the stink wasn't outside. That changed everything. We threw all the windows open and used our favorite product, tecnu, to clean the dog as best we could at that hour.

Since I was awake anyway I just started my day early with a review of the news online. The dominant story was the GOP presidential candidates' debate. The parallel that occurs to me is not that these candidates are funky (true though that may be) but that the fashion of our day is to project the problems of our nation outside. It's immigrants. It's Islamic terrorism. It's European-style socialized medicine. It's a President from Kenya.

Truth is that our problems are not mostly external. Pogo had it right in 1970: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

We cherish our unsustainable lifestyles based on a growth centered economic model that is leading us to ruin. It's increasingly clear that a cataclysm is in our future. The big questions are when, how bad, and can we do anything to ameliorate the worst of its effects.

In this context denial is an understandable human impulse. Close the windows. Squint your eyes. Deny the science. 98% of climate scientists does not constitute a consensus. Carbon dioxide is a harmless gas.

Denial is an understandable human impulse, but it makes a poor leadership quality.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Burning Oil

Sally and I began our Anchorage adventure with breakfast at the Snow City Cafe, a wonderful little eatery downtown. With items like reindeer sausage and salmon benedict you know you're in Alaska. One feature of the restaurant was the pecan sticky bun, which we split between us. It looked great! But there was a slight problem.

I took a piece from the edge, while Sally cut her first bite closer to the center and put it in her mouth, only to realize (too late) that temperature of the caramel sauce was somewhere between magma and plasma. She blistered the roof of her mouth and had trouble eating for a couple days. We think that after the roll was baked the hot sauce was poured over it.

I couldn't help but think of the analogy with another type of burning oil. It sure is nice to have petroleum to fuel economic growth, the freedom to drive our vehicles whenever and wherever we choose, or to fly to Anchorage. But spills in the Prince William Sound, the Gulf of Mexico and in Montana are part of the blistering price we pay for the privilege.

Now we're in the process of locating another pipeline through the nation's heartland, right over the Ogallala Aquifer. New access to oil! Sweet!

I'm really afraid we'll end up getting burned again.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

She was only joking...

Michele Bachmann recently stated that the Virginia earthquake and Hurricane Irene were God's efforts to get Washington DC's attention. Once word got out, her campaign staff, wanting to make sure she wasn't labelled a wacko like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, or Rick Perry, quickly stated that she had been joking. I've noticed that about conservative Christians. They're always joking around about God's wrath. Like Harold Camping, for example, who recently pulled our collective leg by predicting the Rapture on April 21st/October 21st. Ha ha. What a kidder!

Anyway, I think Michele Bachmann might have been on to something with her tongue-in-cheek statement of faith. Perhaps God WAS trying to get Washington DC's attention. But what message was the DIVINE trying to communicate? Interpreting the DIVINE WILL has always been tricky. Michele Bachmann obviously thinks the HOLY ONE is a bulwark against government deficits. After all, HE did say "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." Wait. That was Benjamin Franklin....

How are we to know exactly what God's message to Washington DC was? It might have been the hyper-patriotic, xenophobic, quasi-racist message of the Tea Party. On the other hand, it might turn out that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is also the God of Abraham, Martin and John (from the 1968 peace song). Perhaps Michele Bachmann and her right-wing Republican ilk who brought the government to a standstill in an effort to end funding for the poor, oppressed and downtrodden while maintaining the war(s) in the Middle East and tax breaks for the wealthy were the targets of God's imperfect aim (rain befalling the just and the unjust alike). If the Right was the target, God might need to try again.

"Let's see, WE have tried earth and wind.... How about fire next?
Earth, Wind and Fire!
Wait. People might think I'M sending a message about a band."

Oh well.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Greed II

I posted earlier about the $3 per month fee our bank is initiating for debit card use. In the last couple days I've noticed an advertisement for the bank announcing a program to help people learn to save. Here's how it works - every time you use your debit card they will transfer one dollar from your checking to your savings account.

The ad doesn't mention that when you use that debit card, the first three dollars are transferred from your checking account to theirs.

I visited my bank yesterday and told them I thought this was despicable. They put me in touch with an assistant manager who upgraded our account so we wouldn't have to pay the fee. They are still despicable, of course, but at least we're being treated well (unlike anyone who doesn't have enough money to qualify for an upgrade and will still be charged to use their own money.) Thank goodness for that!

We're closing our account.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Opium of the People

I'm not in quite the same place as Marx in regard to religion as an opiate. At least not today. He saw religion as an escape hatch for the oppressed. It allowed people an illusion of happiness elsewhere in exchange for any hope of happiness in their lives. As such it was a tool for the extension of oppression.

My sense today is that, like opiates, religion may have its uses, especially when carefully prescribed and controlled. Made generally available to the masses as an over-the-counter remedy is something all together different. How can we prevent misapplication and abuse? How might we deter religion being applied inappropriately, or boiled down and mixed with powder of patriotism to yield something really dangerous, like Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Empty Nesters

Being an empty's different. Take for example yesterday evening, when Sally and I were driving back from a visit with Megan and AJ in the Tri-Cities. Driving into our neighborhood on a short detour, we passed an establishment at 38th and Grand we hadn't seen before. "The Hop Shop!" exclaimed Sally.

Tonight we rode our bikes to the aforementioned establishment and enjoyed a pint apiece. It wasn't long ago that we were most taken by elementary schools and parks where the kids could play.

"The Hop Shop!"

As I said, being an empty nester is different.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Prove it!

At an early age my younger brother displayed both his intellectual brilliance and his unparalleled ability to get my goat by employing a particularly irritating tactic in arguments. Just at a point when I thought I might be winning an argument, he would stick out his chin and say, "Prove it!"

Of course there was no authority I could cite that he would accept as proof. The dictionary and encyclopedia were as easily discarded as were my own points. "How do you know they are right? Prove it!"

This came back to me in recent days as Texas Gov. Rick Perry stated that human caused climate change was just a theory that had not yet been proved, and then cited the long discredited "climategate" episode as further evidence that there is considerable debate within the scientific community about the issue. Horse hockey.

In taking this stand (Prove it!), Perry joins Rep. Bachmann, who states that CO2 is merely a harmless gas, and other GOP candidates who discount both human caused climate change and evolution as mere, unproven theories.

What they really mean to say is that human caused climate change will require our culture to change to an unprecedented scale, and that they have no clue where to start in that process. So, rather than admitting their own inadequacy they discount the need for action. "Prove it!"

We often refer to the process of denying danger and the accompanying fear as "whistling past the graveyard." The level of discourse on science demonstrated by Gov. Perry is more like, "If you clap your hands Tinkerbell will come back to life!"

And no, I can't prove that there are not such things as fairies or that clapping is not an effective means of restoring their glow. Perhaps I should call this my platform and run for office myself.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

This Puts Me At Ease....

I was really concerned about catching the flu from my toilet until I read this label...


I just received notice that our bank will begin charging us $3 per month for the privilege of using our debit card for purchases. I thought the whole idea of debit cards was to reduce the reliance on having to process checks....

This parallels the practice of airlines charging for checked baggage, which has resulted in more and more people trying to bring their sea chest with them as a carry-on. To combat the resulting boarding gridlock I especially enjoyed Frontier Airlines offering early boarding to people who didn't have carry-ons that required use of the overhead bins. It was entertaining watching the urban cowboy couple dragging huge cases trudge into that line. They were going to put those crates under the seat in front of them? Right.

In the end it's not about anyone's convenience at all. It's unmitigated greed on the part of these banks and companies and individuals seeking their own benefit at everyone else's cost. As long as we continue to live within the upside down culture that insists that greed and self-serving behavior are virtuous and serve the greater good all we will face these challenges.

Monday, August 15, 2011

In Defense of Michele Bachmann - Arrgh!

I really detest being in the position of having to defend someone I really detest. Really.

This week's Newsweek magazine features a front cover photo of Minnesota Congresswoman and Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. The photo was a lighting test shot that the Bachmann people were told would not be used. It makes her look crazy. The headline is "Queen of Rage", a phrase that neither appears in the text of the article nor is supported by it.

Then, this weekend, an extremely unflattering photo of Rep. Bachmann began circulating on social networking sites. In this case she was attempting to bite into a large corn dog, not an unusual activity for a candidate at the Iowa Sate Fair.

In taking the particular approach of these photos, the Left is showing that liberals have not escaped the misogynistic tendencies we like to ascribe to the Right. Ask Hilary Clinton about the challenges of women as serious candidates for office.

Michele Bachmann's ideas might be described as crazy, as might her Tea Party followers. Those who vote for her might be nuts. I would say exactly the same about Gov. Perry, who might be a greater threat to the nation's future than Rep. Bachmann, precisely because it is more acceptable for a male candidate to be bonkers and yet be taken seriously.

Come on, folks. I'm neither prudish nor lacking of a sense of humor. But can't we take a more serious and substantive tack in critically considering the issues facing the nation and the world?


On Saturday Sally, Megan, A.J. and I saw the DaVinci exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture here in Spokane. It featured reproductions of a number of paintings, and scale model and full-sized iterations of the tools and war machines featured in his drawings.

We enjoyed the exhibit very much. I was especially taken with the ways in which my life parallels that of this Renaissance master: Leonardo's effectiveness was limited by his chronic procrastination and his obsessive desire to try new methods and approaches. I also can write backwards left-handed, though not in Italian.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

That man....

Please understand that this post is written for me, not for you. Sometimes it helps to put things in writing....

I visited my family in Indiana earlier this week. I had a great visit with my brother Tom, and then drove to Terre Haute where my brother, Dick, and his wife Donna care for my mother. First of all, bless 'em for their efforts. It takes special people to care for others when their health or life circumstances become challenging. My mom is 92 and in good health for a 92-year-old. Unfortunately her dementia has resulted in the disappearance of the person I knew as my mother.

My Mom's disappearance was not immediately obvious. She is a consummate faker, able to seem like she knows what's going on and to respond appropriately. She was thus delighted to see me, though she couldn't say my name. I showed her pictures of the house and family, and explained who everyone was. She really enjoyed the photos of the flowers and blooming trees from our yard. Later that evening she asked if I were tired and needed to go to bed. Given the 3-hour time difference, I wasn't, but she clearly was. Eventually I went out to the car to get my bags. While I was gone, Mom asked Donna if she could get ready for bed "before that man comes back in here".

Being referred to as "that man" is not hurtful, but it does bring my Mom's condition into sharp relief. Much of who she was is gone. What remains is a shell that deserves care and love, but cannot reciprocate. She can feign gratitude, but then, I know she's faking.

Earlier in the week Sally and I were exploring Louisville, Kentucky. We came across a church that I know was familiar to Mom and Dad. I wished I could give them a call so they could remind me of it's significance in their life. But that story is gone, lost to both memory and significance. I am aware of my mortality, at least intellectually so. But when time smacks us so squarely in the forehead it is still a bit of a shock.

So "that man" left to return to his life and immediate family. I am tempted to attempt recording everything I know, believe and have experienced so that time cannot bring me to a similar end. But that is merely so much vanity. Instead I shall heed the advice of the Preacher and enjoy my life - each precious moment - as the fleeting gift it is. Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die. Even should we not die, we may recall none of it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Illicit Relationships

There's a nice article in the Spokesman-Review today about my friends Jim and Andrea (Andy) CastroLang, and how their relationship began within the context of the Roman Catholic Church. They met when Jim was a priest and Andy a lay worker. Their relationship was clearly inappropriate within the context of the Church, which eventually led them to their affiliation with the United Church of Christ, where two people in love who desire to be married can also practice ministry.

As I read about Jim and Andy I wondered how many ministerial marriages began under circumstances that the church, then or now, regarded as illicit. My relationship with Sally was a clear violation that could've cost me my ministerial career before it began. That fact has led to my restraint in conversations about ministerial boundaries. I don't approve of predatory behavior among clergy or other professionals, but it seems that a bit of humility and forgiveness is always appropriate, no matter what insurance companies or the most (self)righteous among us say.

Of course the current fight in the larger culture isn't about priests marrying, or student ministers marrying members of the church they serve. It's about extending the right to marry to same sex couples. The critics contend their opposition is in defense of heterosexual marriage. Horse hockey. They also resort to sacred writ to bolster their arguments. Oh goodie. I always find myself moved by arguments wherein one religious group or another cite eternal law dictated by their Invisible Friend as justification for the oppression du jour.

This would be funnier if real people weren't so devastated by the discrimination, and if the groups that hold out for such oppression weren't so eager to extend their narrow views to public policy. Let me end by just saying that if you can read about Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his support from the American Family Association and not see the parallels with Sharia law, then you need to consider cutting back on your medication.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Debt-Deal Burger

Sally asked me to come up with an idea for supper last night. That was on my mind as I read about the efforts to achieve an agreement on raising the national debt ceiling. In the end I decided we could have Garden burger patty melts.

I sauteed some sweet onions in a large pan where I also browned the Garden burgers. This is a great, low-fat meal, right?

I then placed the patties on sliced artisan bread, topped them with the onions and a couple nice slices of Irish cheese. Then I grilled the whole thing. Low-fat burger, high-fat cheese? Well, it was a compromise, I admit.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sticking to Principles

I consider myself to be a highly principled person. I also understand that living with other being requires some degree of give and take. Total lack of flexibility on one's part requires that the other always be the one that compromises, and thus unprincipled.

Of course, if you're a principled Republican dealing with unprincipled Democrats you needn't ever negotiate. Go ahead and sign pre-election pledges that make sure you'll never have to engage in any form of compromise. Compromise is for unprincipled scum, like Democrats.

As I was saying, I think of myself as being principled. This came out again in Washington DC when I attempted to use an ATM at a restaurant across from our hotel. I requested $100, and the ATM dispensed but $20, along with a note stating it was out of cash but that I was being charged $2.15 for the transaction anyway. That $2.15 was on top of the $2 that AAA charges every time I use my travel card. Thus my $20 withdrawal cost me $4.15!

Being highly principled, I was not about to accept such treatment. I asked for the manager of the restaurant and explained in great detail what had happened. I finished with a flourish, "Four dollars and 15 cents is an unacceptable price for withdrawing twenty dollars!" The manager was sympathetic: "I could reimburse you out of my own pocket." Being highly principled, I couldn't allow her to remedy the situation at her expense. Then she played the trump card...

"Would you like a cookie?"

Oh, those soft yet crispy oatmeal cookies we'd been enjoying! My resolve melted like butter on a summer sidewalk. "Sure, I'll take a cookie!" I left the restaurant $4.15 poorer, enjoying the richness of a fresh, oatmeal and rum raisin cookie.

Note to President Obama: Try baking some cookies before your next conversation with Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans. They are a highly principled lot, I know. But then, so was I.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Back Northwest

Sally and I just returned from 9 days in Washington, DC. The timing of the trip was not our decision, as Sally was attending the national gathering of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. I had always heard that DC was pretty hot in the summer. Yep, it was. The heatwave that gripped much of the country last week was in full force in DC. Triple digit temperatures combined with high humidity to produce heat indexes in the range of 115 degrees. Sweltering.

Still we enjoyed ourselves. Though we didn't do some things we might otherwise have attempted, such as bike riding or longer urban hikes, we got around quite a bit, carefully planning our outdoor activities to end before 10am. It was a successful strategy.

We returned to Spokane thankful that dry heat just isn't as debilitating as all that humidity. It was 91 for our jaunt home via buses 60 and 43, but seemed quite pleasant.

For a quick visual review of our trip, I posted some photos on facebook. The album can be accessed by clicking here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Soccer - Women's World Cup

I just watched a Sunday sports event so riveting that Sally (!) even watched and got excited. The U.S. and Brazil, two tournament favorites, matched up in the quarterfinal. The first 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time merely featured an own-goal by Brazil, a controversial foul and red card on the U.S., a penalty kick save by U.S. goalie Hope Solo that was disallowed for some imaginary violation and re-awarded, and a second goal by Brazil following a missed offside call.

Thus the U.S. played 55 minutes short one player, trailing much of that time. It seemed the game was destined to be remembered as one the refs gave away. And then....

And to think I could have been in church this morning.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Second Look at Stewardship

I've always been at odds with church fundraising philosophies. In the past few years church stewardship resources have taken the position, expressed one way or another, that they are "encouraging generosity." Reading between the lines, I understand them to say that their members are not being generous enough toward the church. I have yet to hear a church admit that it should be more generous to causes or people beyond it's own institutional needs.

I like to think that I am already a generous person. Indeed, I am capable of amazing acts of generosity. I am, however, somewhat discerning about the causes I support. For example, just cause you say you need my money seems a poor reason for me to fork it over.

If churches really wanted to bring out my generosity they should spend some time realigning their financial priorities toward saving the planet, changing the world, and challenging injustice rather than buying new furniture, or developing programs aimed at guilting me into being more generous.

On my commute to the church over the past two years I regularly drove by one or two individuals standing at the corner of 5th and Walnut with a cardboard sign stating their need. The individuals were representatives of a small group of regulars who took turns and shared signs. I know there are organizations in Spokane that provide services for the homeless (though admittedly they don't serve Coors Light) so I didn't contribute.

Perhaps those panhandlers should have offered drive-by educational sessions encouraging generosity. Right before distributing pledge forms....

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Slavemakers III - A Clarification

A comment from my smarter younger brother prompts me to say a further word or two about corporations. Given my professional experience in not-for-profit organizations, both religious and secular, it might be surmised that I maintain a more positive assessment of such ventures. Nay, not so. Whereas for profit corporations make no bones about existing for the profit of their stockholders, nonprofits craft lofty mission statements that easily distract the uninformed into believing that they exist to serve higher purposes. The naked truth is that the overriding purpose of all organizations, including nonprofits, is to continue their own existence, mission be damned.

If churches just had access to more resources they would be able to... do much more of the little to which they already aspire. Witness the Crystal Cathedral. Churches spend the vast majority of their resources on staff and facilities. Vast. Given more money, they expand staff and facilities. Liberal religious groups generally act as if this is not true of them, but that is only because they are inept at attracting the numbers of members and dollars that more conservative groups leverage.

My brother's comment to the effect that corporations simply reflect the sorry human condition raises a significant question for me. Who is responsible for, or even responsive to, the question of the greater good? Corporations in the U.S. and the world do exactly what they say they will do, which is maximize the profit of their shareholders. They utilize their power and resources in the public sphere in that pursuit. Rather than blaming the corporations, I should ask why we allow any group that is not committed to the greater good to exercise such influence. And what is the greater good? And who the hell are we?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why Politics is at Loggerheads

In the late 1970's a gubernatorial candidate in Wyoming blamed that state's high single-car accident rate on speed limits being set too low. In the mind of this candidate, drivers were on the look out for police rather than watching the road. The solution proposed was raising or abolishing speed limits. It seemed simple enough. Too many single car crashes? Then drive faster.

I was reminded of this story this week in the wake of the tragic death of a motorcycle rider in Onondaga, New York, killed when he went over the handlebars of his bike, hitting his head on the pavement. The biker, Philip A. Contos, was participating in a ride to protest helmet laws. While many noted the irony, one commentator noted that had their been no helmet laws to protest, the protest ride would not have been needed and Mr. Contos would still be alive.


One need not follow the news too closely to see other examples of tortured logic in public discourse. For example, if the Federal deficit is indeed the greatest threat facing us in the future (which it is given that human caused climate change doesn't exist), then we should clearly take an absolute stand against seeking increased Federal revenues. Perhaps Mr. Contos was not the only one who's been riding around without a helmet.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Slavemakers II

OK, so you think my last post was a bit over the top regarding corporations? Here's some more grist for the mill....

We have reached the point where universities are not so much engaged in the business of education as they are in the endless quest for grant funding in support of research. Our society doesn't provide adequate funding for higher education, requiring professors and departments to spend a significant portion of their time and energy pursuing grants. Where do grants come from? The public sector used to be the major player in this regard, though that role is decreasing as concern about deficits and refusal to hike taxes hold sway on Capitol Hill. So what gets funded? Whatever the major grantors wish. Who are the major granting bodies?

Here's a fun example: Writer Michael Pollan documents the establishment of a major research effort at the University of California-Davis investigating the significant presence of antioxidants in chocolate. The grant is funded by the Hersheys Corporation.

* * * * * * *

It isn't bad enough that corporations are defined to be "persons" in our political process. The money contributed by corporations is now deemed to be speech. Thus there can be no limit on what corporations spend making the case for their issues or candidates. This fact, hand in hand with corporate lobbying and the revolving door between government and the private sector.... Are you paying attention?

* * * * * * *

Budget deficits, no new taxes and the desire to privatize financial support for nonprofits means that funding for efforts to serve the poor and oppressed in our society must come from the corporations that most benefit from the status quo. Note the incursion of commercials on "Public" television. A little charity is OK now and then, but any organization that advocates systemic change or attempts to talk about the root causes of social ills in society?

* * * * * * *

We don't really need healthcare reform in the U.S., and especially not a single payer system. The market can handle this just fine. For example, don't you love the way the market handles the development and promotion of pharmaceuticals? Ask your doctor how they feel about patients pressuring them to prescribe drugs for conditions they don't exhibit. Ask your doctor how much support they receive from Big Pharma in the form of gifts and benefits as they are working their way through medical school and beyond. Go ahead, ask your doctor, if you can get in to see one.

* * * * * * *

My kids tried to get me interested in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, set in a world where the federal government had ceded most of its power to private corporations and entrepreneurs. It no longer seems like fiction. David Korten wrote an evocative book with the eye-catching title, When Corporations Rule the World. I now wonder what he meant by using the word "When".

Let's keep on shopping, serving, and defending our benevolent keepers. Let's proudly wear their logos on our hats and t-shirts, and enjoy the game or the concert in the beautiful venues to which they have been granted naming rights. Corporations are truly benevolent, after all, providing us with salaries, job security, health benefits and pensions we can depend on, right? And they provide economic benefit to the community and protect the environment, right? After all, they live here too, right? Right?

Monday, July 4, 2011


There's an interesting article on the BBC Nature website about a species of ant in the northeastern U.S. that differentiates between other ant species that come into its nest. When most ants enter their nest, the trespassing individual is simply carried back out. However, the article noted that an enemy species known as "Slavemakers" was vigorously attacked. You can read the article Here.

I was most taken with the "Slavemakers", a term applied to several species of ants. Though the specifics of their strategy vary, each kidnaps the pupae or replaces the queen of another species and enslaves the others to be their workers. This strategy is what makes them such a powerful enemy... one to be fought at all cost.

It occurs to me that corporations apply the slavemaking strategy within the context of human community. Through ubiquitous advertising they enslave us to products and lifestyles requiring us to serve their biding in all aspects of our lives. Through lobbying they have convinced us to grant them "personhood" in law, earning them the rights of individuals without commensurate responsibility. We are so blinded to their tactics that we invite them into our homes through television and internet advertising so they can influence our young.

In the end, we owe all we have to the corporation. We work our whole lives seeking to achieve the lifestyle they dangle before our eyes, and trying to pay the resulting debt. We vote and speak our loyalty to them for the privilege. The entire western world has become a company store, and our souls are in their hands. It seems nothing short of the destruction of the Earth will stop them, though that prospect is no longer outrageous.

We could learn a lot from ant species like the Temnothorax longispinosus. We need to learn to recognize the enemy. Never give up. Never surrender.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Basketball Savant

A year ago I drove 2100 miles over mountains and prairies, through snow storms, in order to watch my beloved Butler Bulldogs play in the Final Four. As I said countless times before, during and after that trip, "It was an opportunity of a lifetime!" After all, how often would you expect a tiny, liberal arts school to go to the NCAA basketball championship? Then came the 2011 tournament:

Butler 60, Old Dominion University 58
Butler 71, Pittsburgh 70
Butler 61, Wisconsin 54
Butler 74, Florida 71 (OT)
Butler 70, Virginia Commonwealth 62

So it is, friends, that Butler will play Connecticut on Monday evening for the NCAA Basketball Championship. I'm amazed! Astounded! Happy! Proud!

Once more against the odds? GO DAWGS!!!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Opening Day

Yes, today was the opening day of bicycling season. I've been looking at my Kona Dew Plus sitting on the stationary trainer in the basement, thinking about getting it ready to ride. Today, after church, I made my move. I took off the training tire, mounted the road tire, remounted the road tire after figuring out it was on backwards, and cleaned and oiled my chain. Sal and I rode to the bank, cycling shop (chain oil), drugstore, and grocery. It was great to be out there!

Ride on!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mister at the door

Thanks to Evan's coaching I am now able to embed videos in my blog. Enjoy this touching short feature with Mr. Cat asking to be let in the house...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Better decisions?

I saw an article on stating that people who need to urinate actually make better decisions. It's something about the part of the brain that engages in impulse control. The article, which you can read Here states that you might want to drink a big glass of water before making that investment decision.

It all sounded reasonable to me, so I had a couple beers to jump start the process. I'm not really sure it's helping.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time Off

I'm off this week, and perhaps it's a bit overdue. I don't have any particular plans for the week... we talked about going skiing on Monday but did chores around the house instead. I sat around most of the day yesterday and am engaging in the same (in)activity today. My accomplishments thus far today include bringing in the recycling bin AND the garbage can, taking some dry cleaning down the street, and calling the Subaru dealer to schedule an oil change.

It's somewhat of a mystery to me that I don't seem to have any mid-range gears. When working I'm engaged almost non-stop. When not working I don't easily shift my energy and focus to domestic duties. Well, I suppose that it might be a little early to make that judgement, as I've only had two days alone thus far. Perhaps the consideration of what to do during my inactivity illustrates well that I've been at it a bit long, and am having some trouble relaxing and doing nothing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Defining Moment

On Friday afternoon in the kitchen I experienced some chest pain... nothing terribly serious, but enough to get my attention. My immediate response was to take something, so I went to the refrigerator, opened a container Sally had filled with thinly sliced Irish cheese, and popped a slice into my mouth.

Now you may not think this a rational response. What good would cheese do were I having some type of heart emergency? No good, but I would die with a really pleasant taste in my mouth.

I have no death wish, mind you. But it does occur to me that, if I thought I was about to leave this plane of existence I would not be carefully counting Weight Watcher points. I'd be eating cheese.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25

I got to watch the Super Bowl. That might not seem like a big deal to most people, but most people don't work in the church. My viewing of the NFL playoffs was spotty this year as there were meetings scheduled against them week after week. I nearly faced the same problem with the Super Bowl, as a family requested a private memorial service this afternoon. Yes, I could have declined, but I found it difficult to explain to a grieving family that I couldn't help them because I needed to watch television.

It turned out well. The dearly departed was a Packer fan, so the family offered to move the service time to 2:30 so we'd be done before kick off. I did miss Christina Aguilera botching the National Anthem, but that was about all. In retrospect, conducting a funeral is more tolerable than watching the over-hyped pregame show anyway.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Flight Plans

The plan was for me to fly to Portland early this morning, spend the day at the District Assembly meeting, and fly back tonight. I got to the airport at 5:10am to discover that my flight was delayed until 9. Given that I was already going to be too late for the opening events of the meeting, the delayed flight was going to result in my getting to Portland just in time for lunch and a workshop. After thinking about it for an hour I decided to punt. I told the ticket agent that I was going home and they gave me a full refund! Nice. So, I have a day instead of an event. It's an acceptable trade, though I was looking forward to seeing my colleagues again.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


As a boy I remember playing golf in early February. OK, it wasn't every year and we had to chip the ice off of the holes to putt, but we DID play golf. Ever since then I've viewed February's arrival as a harbinger of Spring. That view was reinforced three seasons ago when Sally and I first rode our bikes to the grocery store in February. Again, there was ice to deal with and it was hardly balmy, but we rode.

Sally and I rode the bike trainer in the basement yesterday afternoon. The temperature outside was in the low 20's, with a fall into single digits forecasted. But that was last month, when it was still January. It's February now. Although inclement weather will undoubtedly appear, we are gaining nearly three minutes of sunlight per day and winter has passed its zenith. Optimism reigns!

Perhaps I am unduly affected by the news that Megan and AJ are planning a September wedding. They seem very happy, which makes me happy as well. With their nuptials in the offing and Evan and Angie's to follow in June, we shall be in a celebratory mood for months to come! Huzzah!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Really Slick. Really.

Sal and I were taking it easy this morning - we'd thought about going skiing but decided against it - running an errand or two and planning on breakfast out. Just as we were leaving the house it started raining very lightly. Not normally a problem. This morning, however, the temperature was 27 degrees. When the mist hit the street, it lightly and evenly coated it with ice. We drove VERY slowly, and still slipped and slid around.

Within minutes the roads became nearly impassable. We were at Hogan's Diner by then, and nearly slid into a parked car. We parked the Smart car and watched in terror as a large pickup truck slowly skated right alongside and by us, all four wheels locked. We went into the diner and got online, only to learn that this surprise ice storm was wreaking havoc all over town. The county sheriff was asking everyone to stay off the road. We saw scads of people driving through the parking lot as if they were late for their own funerals. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

I experienced ice like this in Indiana growing up, and in other parts of the midwest later on. The difference here is how hilly everything is (something you notice when biking or when ice coats the world) and how stupid the drivers are. Are really hate to think that Spokane drivers are less intelligent than Indiana drivers. However, this morning out, and slowly home again without incident, gives me pause.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK Holiday

I was sorry to hear that Steve Jobs has had to take another medical leave from Apple. I'm wondering if there's any truth to the rumor that he announced the decision by twittering "iSick".

The weather in Spokane has turned downright balmy. It was a record 51 yesterday, and close to that today. Most of the snow has melted, and the roads have dried, laying bare the studded-tire-carved pavement beneath. We've enjoyed a day off, but tomorrow will return to what I will henceforth term, "The Rut Race".

Sally has coped with her cabin fever by engaging in a series of projects of which I am the grateful beneficiary, as long as she doesn't ask for any assistance. So far today she has put a couple more coats of finish on Dad's rocking chair, prepared Machaca beef in the slow cooker, and baked a bread pudding. She had another project or two in mind. Amazing.

On the other hand, THIS is my idea of a major project.

There. Finished.