Friday, December 31, 2010

Backyard Chickens

Anyone here raise backyard chickens? Mrs Elliott wants to know more about what's involved, how much work it is, what they need to survive our cold season. Toss off a comment if you've some experience in this area.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Green and Yellow Food Suggestions for BCS Party?

"What about green and yellow food?" Mrs Elliott asked.

In case you haven't heard, No. 1 Auburn and No. 2 Oregon will be battling it out at the BCS championship game on January 10 in Glendale, AZ. We have some friends coming over to our house to watch it.

It's an interesting problem.

Things must be themed, of course, but other than pizza with yellow cheese and pesto sauce or yellow corn chips with green salsa I came up with nothing. Cupcakes? You can get cupcakes in any color you want, but the idea of green and yellow cupcakes with beer or after victory cigars seems ghastly.

So I'm crowdsourcing the question to my vast and respected readership. Ideas? Leave a comment.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Rain Stays Mainly on the Chain

When Mrs Elliott were driving up the Oregon coast last summer we happened across a ticky-boo shop selling many fanciful and useless things for the house. We were drawn to a frivolous rain chain, a portion of which is shown here:
Teapot and teacups rain chain
I hung it from the end of the gutter outside the living room window. It's been fun to watch when it rains, water splashing and gurgling down the chain.

This morning when I woke up, I saw this:
Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Nice Place to Stay Along the Route?

Every year, Mrs Elliott and I drive down to the Sacramento area to visit family for the holidays. This year it's for the Christmas one, next year it will be for the the Thanksgiving one. We alternate.

While our destination is not so far away that we could not do the drive in one day, we prefer to take two. No sense getting tired and pressing hard out of desperation and ending up like one of those cars that pepper the winter landscape alongside the highways around here, turned-turtle after drifting right off the road and into the shrubbery.

Driving during daylight provides endless hours of scenery-seeing. This we find better than spending hours staring down the snowflake-filled tunnel created by the car's headlights in the dark. We also bring a book or two on CD to keep the part of the brain that likes stories active (Mrs Elliott has heard all my knock-knock jokes and just sighs and stares out the window when I unholster a few).

We got this trip mainly sorted out except for lodging. This is turning into a problem.

Every year we have the same discussion about where to stay midway. And so far we haven't found a place we like.

I'm asking for suggestions.

Fig. 2 Crappy brick-in-a-parking-lot corporate Motel 6-like place.
We'd like to find a non-corporate place that is cozy, quaint, and quiet. NOT a crappy brick-in-a-parking-lot Motel 6 or one of its wretched cousins. And I'm not so sure about bed and breakfast places, either.

My last two experiences were not encouraging.

Like that tiny but expensive room we stayed in in Astoria this summer. It was located at the top of a fearsomely steep flight of stairs. The mattress, the bedding, the pillows and the room smelled bad. The bathroom was a modern design -- for 1890. At some point antique goes past "quaint" and moves directly into "decrepit" territory and I reckon that loo passed its sell-by date in the mid-'50s.

We stayed in a BnB near Klamath Falls after last year's Thanksgiving. It was more comfortable, but the poor owner had just learned that his hospitalized wife's health condition was far worse than anticipated, so his mood was somewhat dampened. The mood of the proprietor sets the tone of the place. If the owner is cheerful and fun, the stay can be quite enjoyable. If the owner is morose or has a hook for a hand and habitually lurks within earshot all the time, the place can be a little less fun.

A stay at a bed and breakfast is a crap shoot, my friend. An expensive one. A young Anthony Perkins might show you to your room.

So the quest continues.

In Klamath there seems to be nothing but crappy brick-in-a-parking-lot corporate Motel 6-like places.

A place near Weed the Stewart Mineral Springs Retreat looks intriguing. I'd like to hear from anyone who has stayed there.

Of course we don't need to stay on Highway 97, we could swerve over to I-5 and try Ashland, but the places there seem to be either crappy brick-in-a-parking-lot corporate Motel 6-like places or twee precious wee bed and breakfasts.

We stayed one night at the Railroad Park Resort in Dunsmuir.  It was . . . interesting. Dunsmuir is wanting in restaurant options.

Redding doesn't seem to have any place worth pushing through Shasta to get to. There's a Black Bear Diner off I-5 south of Redding that we somehow ended up in both going south and heading north last year. It was mediocre both times.

So, Dear Reader, if you personally know of a nice inn or hotel midway-ish between Bend and Sacramento, please leave a comment.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hunkered and Battened

Our first snowfall of the season. Big puffy cotton balls of snow, in Johnson and Johnson size. The beds in the garden where we planted new perennials this year have been mulched to protect the plant's tootsies. All the bulbs -- the double narcissi, the tulips and muscari, numerous Asiatic hybrid as well as naturalizing lilies, random scilla and bluebelled hyacinthoides -- are nestled in the ground. The lawn has been clipped short and fed a bit so it will awaken refreshed and energetic come spring. The three new aspens went into the ground while dormant, slumbering; they will be surprised and pleased to wake up surrounded by such rich compost as I've given them.

The irrigation system has been blown out, and the garden hoses coiled away.

The little garden shed received a small electric heater this year, to protect our garden sprayers from freezing, the  nozzles, valves, and plungers from shattering. A few families of mice may find shelter in that warm space. They are welcome to overwinter but will need to move out in early spring. Humans and wild rodents do not share the same space comfortably or safely.

Speaking of little critters, our hot tub is finally up and running and it appears that a skunk has decided to set up camp under the tub's supporting deck. It's warmer under there than under some tree or in a hole. Skunks are not aggressive, not terribly interested in humans; it takes a bit of riling to get one to release the dreaded stink.

So I figure that if the skunk leaves us well enough alone, he or she is welcome to the underside of the deck. We aren't using it anyway.

We have nearly five cords of wood stacked alongside the house, under a stout Harbor Freight tarpaulin lashed securely so the winds don't carry it away. A kerosene heater and oil lanterns stand by in case power or gas fail.  

Chez Elliott is ready for another winter. Looks like a good night to hop in the tub.

Big Strong Mens

"You gotta problem with a rock?"

Two burly men were standing at the front door talking to Mrs Elliott. I had put a call out yesterday see if anyone I knew could help hoist a small boulder out of a hole destined to be the new home for an aspen tree. These two guys showed up. One was chewing a cigar butt that looked like a plug of wet black leather.

"Oh, thank you for coming over. My husband says the rock is very heavy and he can't budge it."

While Mrs Elliott led them around to the side of the house, I put on my shoes. Caught up a few moments later.

"Dat's it?" said one, pushing his hat back on his head with a fingertip. He glanced at his partner.

"I dunno," said the other. He stared at the boulder and scratched at his stubbled neck with a finger the size of a plantain. "Maybe we should get Petey to help."

Good thing they brought a third guy, I thought. I hope they can lift it. 

The first nodded. "I'll get him." 

He returned in a few moments with a boy.

"This is my son, Pete. He's a good kid. Goes to Mountain View."

The boy looked kind of small, but who knows? Kid could be a wrestler maybe. 

"Pete, can you get that rock out of that hole?"

The lad looked at the stone, shrugged, bent over, reached in and plucked it out like it was a feather pillow.

I was nonplussed. "Wow. Pete -- how'd you do that? You lift weights or something?"

The two men guffawed. His father pulled his cigar stub out of his mouth with two fingers. "Dance major."

The boy looked at his feet. 

Mrs Elliott started to giggle. I protested, "Well, I didn't want to . . . to hurt my metal knee."

She laughed harder. The two men smiled. "C'mon, Petey, let's get you home."

I had to go back into the house and lay down for a while.

[Mrs Elliott writes to say, 
That's not the way it happened. It was more like...
Two studly men came to the door and I excitedly took them around the house explaining all the while that Mr. Elliott couldn't lift this heavy rock out of the hole. The taller of the two studly men said, "What -- this puny thing?" and lifted it out and threw it like it was a pebble.  At which point, I laughed hysterically telling them that "Mr. Elliott thought it was so heavy it would take a few crowbars and pulleys to lift it." At which point I went over and tried to lift it myself, having just come from the gym. Once again realized..."we're old people." ]

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Aspens, Two Out of Three

There's not a great view out the kitchen side window. Our neighbor's house is only about 25 feet away, and presents a fairly featureless expanse of gray siding. This would also be the view we get from the hot tub.

Trees would be nice, we figured. The east side of our property has a bunch of aspens, and they are quite lovely. Maples are prettier, but don't grow as quickly, and we need height as the kitchen is on the second floor.

When I was at Moonfire and Sun Garden Center on 27th picking up bulb food last weekend I saw they had 7-1/2 gallon aspens for $25. I inquired about planting the things.

"You need a hole about 2-1/2 feet in diameter, and 10 inches deep," the garden center lady said. "Then fill around the root ball with a 50-50 mixture of compost and native soil."

I figured I could do that, but before purchasing any trees, I wanted to see if holes of that size could be dug where we wanted to plant the trees. Judging from the number of boulders protruding from the ground, my guess was that what we have over there was a mess of rock with a thin skin of dirt.

And that's what I found. Each of the three holes presented an unusual challenge. One had to be moved half a foot to clear a large stone roughly the size of a 130hp Evinrude outboard engine. The second hole had a boulder right in the middle of it, but it was budgeable with the shovel. I feared that I would break the shovel's handle, so I set that obstacle aside until I had something more substantial to address it with. The third hole also had a boulder in the middle but it wasn't quite so tall, and since aspens don't have taproots, I figured the tree would be able to work out an agreeable relationship with its stony neighbor.

Encouraged, I proposed to Mrs Elliott that we go ahead and buy three aspens and she agreed.

We swung by Harbor Freight where I purchased a damn big ol' iron pry bar to use on the budgeable boulder. Across the steet was JoAnne's, and I got a spool of black thread so I could continue on yesterday's the sewing project. Over at Moonfire, we loaded three aspens into the van along with some compost.

The pry bar made short work of the boulder in the second hole.  Feeling the power conferred by leverage, I decided to see what could be done about the boulder in the bottom of the third hole. The shovel never moved it, but the pry bar shifted it easily. And mainly horizontally. Got one end lifted up, but pulling the stone up out of the hole is another story. That boulder turned out to be the size of two sacks of potatoes, and considerably heavier. It's far too heavy for me to haul up and out.

So there it sits, protruding out of the hole, sullenly mocking me

"C'mon," it seems to be saying. "Do your best. It's my passive weight against your back. What have you got to lose?"

Not much. A disc, maybe.

In the olden days when farmers cleared fields by hand, I reckon they had equipment for this. Lash a strap around it and have the mule pull it out. Or erect a tripod of sturdy timbers over the hole and raise it with a block and tackle.

I own neither block and tackle nor a mule, and it does it not seem economical to purchase either.

My plan, then, is to find a strapping young man or two to clear that hole.

So this is where things stand: I have two of the aspens in the ground, and the third is waiting for clearance to land. My back is a little tired and the hot tub is casting seductive glances my way. Come hither, it says, I will soothe your aches.

I believe I will avail myself to its tender ministrations.

Jack Mans Up

Mrs Elliott brought over a klatsch of her ladyfriends yesterday. Before you knew it, there were four sewing machines chattering away. You see, we were all making [GIFT ITEMS].

Yes, all of us.

For in a moment of fondness for my wife, I agreed last week to join in and make one of these [GIFT ITEMS] as a Xmas gift for [SOMEONE I KNOW].

(The gift is meant to be a surprise and there's no telling who reads this blog, so I must be circumspect about the details.)

I put on my man pants, and joined in. Thar I wuz: cutting, ironing, basting and hemming with the rest.

I used my trusty Regent "Super Deluxe" tailor-type sewing machine; no fancy computer controlled lady's appliance with 57 stitch variations, not for me. No sir, mine's a man's machine: simple, clean, strong enough to sew canvas, and boasting two (2) stitches: forward and backward. It did a job every bit as nice as their fancy $1,000 Husqvurna/Vikings and Berninas.

It was pleasant work, fun, even. In a Da Vinci Code-esque move, I embedded the first few numbers of the Fibonacci series in the design, a nerdy detail which [RECIPIENT] will enjoy knowing.

Despite not having sewn anything since school (where she received a "D" on her assignment to sew a gym bag), Mrs Elliott's [GIFT ITEM] is looking great. She did break two needles, though. Woman needs supervision.

The "sound track" was somewhat reminiscent of the song, "Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little" in The Music Man.

"Who wants tea?" Mrs Elliott sang out at one point. The women responded with enthusiasm.

How about who wants a beer? I thought. Alcohol combines well with motor-driven needles.

There wasn't enough time to finish our projects, and we ran out of thread, too. But when completed, the [ITEM] will look quite handsome and I know [RECIPIENT] will love it. So it was well worth it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

To the Tea Partiers

And a special message for the "loose confederation" of "non-affiliated" tea party types:
When you see Republican leaders in the House fucking up and doing the very things you crapped your costume pantaloons over---and they will---you must stay true to your "party-neutral" mission and declare war on them the same way you declared war on those nasty Democrats.  Because don't forget: by your own admission you're not Republican...or Democrat...or anything "organized."  You say so yourself every five minutes. So when Republicans start pumping out juicy slabs of pork to their districts willy nilly, and add to the deficit, and raise the debt ceiling, and ignore your agenda and, yes, when THEY START TREADING ON must hold rallies against them and call them what you called Democrats: tyrants and traitors and Hitlers and Maos and Stalins who want to drop-kick your grandma onto an ice floe (if you can find one these days).
And if you don't judge the New Improved House by the same standards you judged the Old Tyrannical House, then you wallowers-in-hypocrisy will have two options: either drop the charade and start calling yourselves plain old (and getting older by the day) lockstep Republicans again...or shut the hell up.
( )
I am SO looking forward to seeing which way those idiots flop.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Something else to hate. 

Mark 11:12-14 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

An Introspective Day

Bulbs and corms. A few months ago at the Drake Park farmer's market I spied a little table set up by the Central Oregon Master Gardener Association (COMGA). They were handing out order forms for flower bulbs suitable for Central Oregon. Knowing that Mrs Elliott has a fondness for flowers of all sorts, and especially longs for flora at the end of winter, I took that form home and studied it and ordered more bulbs than I can reasonably afford. Some deer-resistant, making them suitable for our front yard, and others to plant in our fenced back yard.

COMGA had the bulbs ready for pickup this morning at the Environmental Center on 16 NW Kansas. I was handed a big bulging shopping bag of bulbs.

I know nothing about planting bulbs, corms, rizomes, or tubers. But COMGA's Nancy Glick gave a great presentation on garden planning and how to properly plant the little guys. I learned that within each bulb is a tiny flower, a stem, and itteh bitteh leaves, all ready to go.

I watched as much of the presentation as I could until a gastric distress, brought on by way too much yerba maté (courtesy of Santiago, the proprietor of downtown's Top Leaf Maté shop who generously gifted me, over my protestations, an enormous cup of maté), caused such an internal commotion that I had no choice but to bail out before Nancy finished and head home as quickly as possible for some serious treatment in the form of Immodium.

I could not have stayed much longer anyway, because the memorial for my employee, Bob Hunt, was at noon at the Black Horse Saloon. Bob, as some will recall, was my technician of more than two years. He was killed earlier this month when he and his daughter, Chelsea, were struck while crossing the Bend parkway at the insanely stupid crosswalk across the parkway that ODOT thought was an acceptably swell idea.

There were at least 50 people at the memorial. Bob was a Christian and used to attend Sunday morning services at the saloon given by preacher Bob (another Bob). Bob Hunt greatly respected preacher Bob. Preacher Bob, white shoulder-length hair and beard, clad in black leathers, who also works as the bouncer, described Bob Hunt as a straightforward man whose faith was honest and trusting.

Many of Bob's family and friends were moved to speak, as was I. His older daughter Serena and her best friend sang Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," a song Bob often listened to in the shop while working. Against a backdrop of slides and videos from Bob's youth and adulthood, a fiddle player played a tune that Bob enjoyed playing on his fiddle during service. There was emotion, there was crying. Leaning against the stage was a rough hand-shaped wooden grave marker in the form of a Celtic cross with Bob's name, his date of birth, and date of death carved into it.

I'm feeling emotional right now, writing about this.

My son, Jim, accompanied me to the memorial. He hadn't expected to do so, but came over just before I left the house and I invited him. He was riding an old Honda motorcycle he bought for a song. From the '70s, something like 150 cc -- not a hog.

On the way to the memorial he told me that he had just taken the motorcycle training course at COCC so he could get his endorsement.

Now, when Jim was a kid, he never gave school any mind. Even with all the assistance that the California school system could offer in the form of an Individual Education Program and "helicopter" parents, he barely managed to graduate from high school.

Kind of like his old man.

But the motorcycle course was unique: unlike the pre-processed and dehydrated crap that the school tried to teach him, knowing how to safely ride a motorcycle was something he was genuinely interested in. So for the first time in his 22 years, he participated in class and listened to the course information, studied the material, and took his tests - convinced that he was going to fail, like he had so many times in the past.

In the riding part of the test, students who lost more than 21 points could not pass. He lost three. In the written part of the test, he got a 93.

He is proud of his success. And I'm proud of him. He's not a dumb kid, his school grades were not a reflection of his intelligence, just a reflection of his interest level. Take this success, I told him, as a sign that you can succeed in the classroom if ever you find something you consider important.

In other words, you could go back to school and do very well -- if you really want to.

The motivation has to come from him. Endogenously, not exogenously. He has never been a boy that cared about what others expected, nor one to take much in the way of advice. Jim, out of a strong sense of what seems to be the right way, always does it his own way.

While driving home after the memorial, I thanked him for accompanying me.

"I'm glad I went," he said. "I didn't know so many people knew Bob."

This is a small community, I said. People get to know you. And the longer you stay in a small community, the more likely it is that you will attend memorials for people you know. Someday, you'll attend one for me.

"Aw, Dad, I don't want to think about that."

"Better that way than the opposite. A parent should not outlive his children."

I considered the truth of that while watching him put on his helmet, safety glasses and gloves, and start his motorcycle.

At some point, all a parent can do is watch, and hope.

The lovely and caring Mrs Elliott will be returning tomorrow evening. I miss her.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In No Particular Order


In "The End Of The Parking Meter" (Slate magazine), T that we can thank Oklahoma City for being the first city ever to install a parking meter. Rising parking enforcement problems prompted the introduction of the highly-functional and highly-despised device. 75 years ago.

This bit caught my eye: "[...] a survey found that at any given time, 80 percent of the city's spots were occupied by employees of downtown businesses—the very same businesses complaining that lack of parking was driving away shoppers."

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, Bendites?

But parking meters drive away customer, too. Vanderbilt writes that,
Eugene, Oregon, recently removed parking meters and will go back to chalk-based enforcement, echoing that old refrain that parking meters drive away business; the city's parking manager observed, "we are counting on downtown businesses to police their own, as employee parking on street will make or break the program." Good luck with that.
(I am not sure about the construction of that first sentence. The semicolon bothers me -- it doesn't provide a sufficiently smooth transition between the two clauses, more of a speed bump, actually. There's probably nothing that can be done about it.)

Anyway, Jack says parking meters never class up a street and that Bend should just keep on doing what it's been doing, however inefficient it is. Think of it as a jobs program for Diamond Parking if you have to. The curbside version of privatized prisons. Like hiring Xe Services (né "Blackwater") to do your dirty work. Whatever.

More Vague Slogans, No Hard Answers!

Mrs Elliott will be out of town for a few days, baby-sitting her grandchildren so her son and daughter-in-law can enjoy an anniversary trip to the Sandwich (or "Hawaiian" as they are called these days) islands . Watching the weather forecast on Z-21 Monday she became frustrated. "Every time I leave town, the weather is gorgeous. Just look at this prediction for Vacaville," she pointed at her laptop's screen. "Rain. This sucks."

She is certain that all the beautiful leaves will have fallen off the trees by the time she returns.

"Don't leave town so often," I suggested.

She gave me the irritated look devoted grandmothers reserve for those who don't understand grandmotherly love for little grand-urchins.

West side has no traffic lights. Not a single one, near as I can determine. I called the city and learned that the passing of the controversial West Side Traffic Signal and Cowboy Hats (Remember the Pueblo!) Act* in 1998 led to an unexpected spurt of traffic roundabout growth and wannabe buckaroo ticketing on the west side.

"It's a misdemeanor for grown men to wear cowboy hats in public or for anyone to install a traffic light over there," said a city factotum, adding that "The west side is the best side. Go Ducks."

I'm not certain how to feel about this. On the one hand, it makes the west side looser feeling, less regimented. Groovier. On the other hand . . . hell, there is no other hand. Traffic signals suck. Go Ducks.

I began a new food plan three weeks ago. This, to knock a few pounds off from my hefty self. I am working with nutritionist Gina Bailey who is managing my meal plan. I've dropped 7-1/2 lbs of unattractive fat and have added 1-1/2 lbs of lean macho man muscle mass, a net loss of 6 lbs. That's 2 lbs per week. She has me eating five or six small meals per day, each with no more than 240 calories. By eating frequently enough to avoid low blood sugar I've not been hungry in the least.

The new house going up on the lot behind us has much of its noisy work completed, but the racket is not yet over because the city is tearing up the undeveloped dirt-and-stone road in front of that new house to install sewage and/or storm drains. Although this is the only house so far on the roadway, the city is either obliged, or figures it makes sense, to send guys with big, heavy, hydraulics-laden yellow-painted machines to just fucking rip a ditch right down the middle of the road, and in that ditch install pipes and pre-formed concrete chambers with turrets at the top that have round openings the exact size of manhole covers.

It's noisy work. Sounds of roaring diesels, backup beepers, and the thud-thud-thud of big boulders being broken into smaller ones.

But the guys building the house and the guys working for the city have carefully avoided making noise before 7 a.m.

I appreciate that.

Back in the Old Country we had a noisy neighbor, a pre-school located right below our bedroom window. They were zoned "provisional" and had to be careful not to annoy the neighbors in the early morning, but it was difficult for them to muffle the sound of screaming children and loud parents saying good-bye to their kids as they dropped them off.

We understood the school's problems, they were sympathetic to our irritation; they did what they could, and we tried not to be too dickish.

* "NUISANCES SUBJECT TO ABATEMENT", Bend Code Title XIII, Chapter 13.20.002 "Unattractive Nuisances". Look it up.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New York Times says Nice Things about Oxford Hotel

In case you missed it. Or care.

Northwest Hotels Go Eco-Plus

Also mentioned: the Heathman Hotel and the Gaia Shasta Hotel, in Portland and Anderson, Calif., respectively. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mowing the Lawn, Mowing the Lawn

When I was a kid, the old man would point me to the push mower and order me to mow the lawns. I don't think we had more than 500 square feet of lawn in the front and back of our house, but from behind that cast-iron unpowered reel mower, it felt like 5,000.

That thing was a miserable design. Heavy. And like as not, the wheels would just slide on the grass without spinning the blades. Using it wrecked my whole day. As I pushed and yanked and hauled that damn thing around the yard, I cursed and sweated and rued the day I was born.

Later, we owned a gasoline-powered reel type mower, which weighed about 100 pounds, and then a gasoline-powered rotary mower which packed up with cuttings after trimming about six feet of lawn and had to be turned on its side and scraped out by hand; and later we had an electric rotary mower. It was was light and quiet, but I spent more time wrestling the cord out of its path than actually cutting grass. It, too, required constant cleaning out. All in all, we just owned crappy lawn mowers.

This didn't bother the old man, because he wasn't mowing the lawns. But out under the hot Napa sun, I vowed I would never, ever mow a lawn again.

When we got older, my folks cut back on the grass lawns and planted dichondra, which requires little maintenance. And since then, I managed to avoid mowing lawns either by craftily living in places with no lawns, or hiring mow, blow, and go guys to handle the job. 

Okay, fast-forward to now. This house here in Bend has about 1,400 square feet of lawn, and every week or two in spring and summer, someone comes by and mows it. They scatter fertilizer every so often. Seems to work well enough, I guess.

But Mrs Elliott cares a lot about how the it looks and often declares that she wishes it was prettier.

So I've been thinking about how to achieve a proper House Beautiful look, but on a budget. Mowing, feeding, weeding, de-thatching, and aerating are all important. (Though I owned houses with lawns since about 1990, I never heard of de-thatching. Lawns in the Old Country don't need it, I guess.)

A couple weeks ago I read an article about preparing a lawn for winter in this foreign country. It said,
Gradually lower the mowing height of your mower to eliminate the young growth that is most vulnerable to dry out after the first winter winds come through. This will help reduce the appearance of a brown lawn. Be sure to do this in several steps to avoid suddenly removing all the green leaf tissue and damaging the turf.
I knew we could not afford to have our lawn-mowing guy come by every few days to lower the turf, so I figured that I'd have to do it myself.

After careful consideration and thoughtful planning, I determined that the first step was to acquire a lawn mower. But what kind?

I frankly despise the racket caused by internal-combustion engine mowers, and they pollute -- a lot. Electric mowers are a lot quieter and have zero emissions. The choices are corded or cordless. I've already done enough lawn mower cord-wrangling to last a man a lifetime, and the rechargeable electric cordless ones are quite expensive.

The last technology standing was manual reel-type push mowers. Like what the old man made me use.

Buoyed by a completely unfounded faith that mowers, like all nearly all yard and household appliances (save the electric can opener, for some reason) have improved significantly over the 47 years since I last touched one, I did my research, read the consumer reviews and settled on a highly-regarded mower that retails for about $120. I ordered it online and it arrived earlier this week. After assembling it, a task that took about 20 minutes, I took it out for a test drive on the little 300 square feet front lawn.

Wow. What an improvement. Compared to the steam age beast that my old man had, this mower was nimble, easy to push, and clipped the grass neatly (reel mower cut the grass, rotary mowers shred it). Mowing the front lawn was so easy that I went ahead and tackled the big lawn in the back yard.

The mower made short work of that, too.

One of Mrs Elliott's employees, a young man in his 20's, watching me mow the lawn through the window, said that at first he thought I was using a little push fertilizer spreader. Wasn't quite sure what I was doing.

"Mowing the lawn," I said. "That's how we do it, old-school."

Today I took another pass at the lawns, with the blades a bit lower. And followed that with a push-type fertilizer spreader filled with Scott's Turf Builder (Fall blend), because that same article said,
In late fall, give your lawn a final fertilization. Inactive during winter, your lawn won’t use the fertilizers immediately. Much like mammals bulking up for the cold, your lawn will store these nutrients in its root system and take full advantage of them at the first signs of spring.
(I wonder if the author had me in mind when he wrote about mammals "bulking up" for the winter.)

Now, I'm not sure when "late fall" is around here. No one seems to be sure. Ma Nature is mighty unpredictable in these parts. But, by gum, I'm doing what I can so Mrs Elliott will be happier with her lawn.

De-thatching and aerating equipment is expensive so I'll pay someone to do that. But I'm tempted to just do all the lawn feeding and the mowing myself next year.

Memorial Service Planned for Robert Hunt

Bob Hunt was killed last Saturday when he and his 14 year-old daughter, Chelsea, were struck by an automobile while crossing the Bend parkway on their bicycles. Chelsea only received minor injuries.

A memorial service for Bob is planned at the Black Horse Saloon on October 23 (next Saturday) at noon.

Chelsea's friends have set up a bank account to help Chelsea in the absence of her father, and to raise funds to go toward getting the damn city to close that deathtrap crosswalk. Story here. Donations can be made to the Chelsea Hunt Fund at any branch of the Bank of the Cascades.

Bob is missed by everyone here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

One Degree of Separation, the Chess Version

Couple days ago I mentioned how people in a small community are more closely connected than it might seem.

Here's another example: that chess hustler I wrote about back in March? He and I are still playing chess. We get together downtown at The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar on Minnesota at 2 on Wednesdays where he routinely fleeces me. (He says I'm getting better, all I know is I'm still losing.)

And most here know of Doitchin Krasev AKA "Jason Evers," former member of the state organ OLCC. He is presently behind bars following charges of identity theft and making false statements to the government.

Well, the weekly meeting of the Downtown Bend Chess and Marching Society might have picked up a  new player. Fellow came by and introduced himself. Says he's be back next week to play. I'll let him play my instructor, I'll play the proprietor of the shop. I reckon I can take her if she spots me a castle and is distracted by serving customers. Gives me time to think and maybe move a piece or two when her back is turned.

Anyway, Krasev, it turns out, is quite the chess player. And even behind bars he is currently playing a game, via snail-mail, with the new player.

I don't know Krasev, but it looks like I now know someone who knows Krasev.

Any chess players out there? C'mon by. We're easy pickin's. And maybe someone knows someone who knows someone who knows Kevin Bacon.

Anti-anxiety Remedies Effective

It's been a rough couple of days. The unexpected death of a key employee, the very likely possibility that I'm essentially out of business without his help. I'm worried, sure, my brain is a bit fuzzed-out right now, and it's chugging away to sort out the issues that I need to deal with to wind down the operation which, let's face it, has barely been profitable for some time now.

It's expected that I should be stressed out, and I do feel the stress. I'm not getting a lot of sleep. Waking up around 4 am, staring at the ceiling. After a brief trip to the bathroom, I'm climbing back into bed and reading for a couple hours. Mrs Elliott sleeps silently next to me, getting the rest of the Good.

But I don't feel that great big knot of anxiety in my solar plexus that normally grips me even on days with little to worry about.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Name on the News may be Someone You Know

Bend's population is tiny compared with that of the old country, SoCal, where Mrs Elliott and I hail from. There's something like 80,000 people in the city here, plus of minus. Compare that with the mass of people in the L.A./San Diego areas and Bend's got something like less than 1% the number of people.

So in Bend, if there's someone mentioned in a news story, there's a far greater chance that it's someone you know than if you lived among then anonymous tens of millions in the old country.

This can be fun: "Oh look, dear, that's so-and-so on TV!"

It can also mean that if something bad happens to someone, that someone may be an acquaintance.

I had an experience with that this weekend.

I was in the south end of Bend on Saturday and got stuck in the traffic jam caused by the road closure on the northbound side of the Parkway. I spent about 20 minutes inching forward until I got to the front of the jam, and took the exit the cops were directing us to. I could not tell what the cause of the closure was, an accident I presumed.

Later that day I heard or read somewhere that there had been an accident involving a car and some cyclists.

On Monday morning, Bob Hunt, my employee, was late getting to work. I was in the driveway when a car pulled up and a woman got out. "Do you live at this address?"

I told her I did and asked her if I could help her.

"Bob Hunt work for you? I'm his ex-wire. He's dead. He was killed Saturday on his bike on the Parkway. He was trying to cross the street and someone hit him."

I'm still trying to deal with the news. The Bulletin and KTVZ covered the story on Saturday. I don't get the paper nor subscribe online, and I don't watch KTVZ's Saturday news or I would have already known. I had to look up the story on KTVZ's website (

I didn't sleep well last night. I'm still dealing with emotions that have not yet expressed themselves. I have to restructure my business because Bob really knew his stuff, had an impressive skill set, understood the products we work on, and did impeccable work. It took him over two years to reach his level of proficiency. We got along well, he was always pleasant, and professional. I depended on him.

As did his teenage daughter, whom he loved and cared for. She wasn't badly injured in the accident. Physically, that is. Whatever I'm feeling, she has to be feeling 100 times over.

It's one thing to read of the death of an anonymous person among millions: one doesn't really expect that one will know the person, so the stories tend to be arm's-length accounts of suffering. I'm coming to the realization that when one lives in a far smaller community, what happens to the people in the news is far more likely to be interconnected to our own lives.


With Bob gone, I'm probably going to wind down my business, which has been marginally profitable, at best, since the fall of 2008. I have obligations to existing clients I need to fulfil, but once those have been handled, I reckon I'll shutter the operation and go work for Mrs Elliott.

(Note: My original post was full of typos. Not a lot of sleep. I cleaned up the more egregious ones, several probably still remain.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Update from the Anxiety Front

I believe I have previously mentioned that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), something I share in common with about 6.8 million Americans.

While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy seems to be the most effective way of dealing with GAD, I've been there, done that (BTDT). Nada. Medications like antidepressants, serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines are often tried, but they are not very effective and have unwanted side-effects (also BTDT). Meditation is sometimes suggested, and I've BTDT, too: it has little effect soothing my anxiety (but see below); sometimes the underlying cause of anxiety may be biologic (out-of-balance neurotransmitters is presently the leading hypothesis) and one might as well try to meditate away liver disease -- even the Dalai Lama, one of the world's Olympic champions in the field of meditation, is under the care of a doctor for his various physical ailments (he turned 75 years old in July). I've tried exercise (bicycling), which is good for me in many ways, but as anxiolytic therapy, it doesn't make a noticeable difference.

Back in August, my anxiety was exhausting me. I was tired of living with it (read my post here) and decided to attack it directly.

Things have improved markedly. This is an update on that.

I gave up coffee. I miss the taste of coffee but do not regret how coffee jacks my anxiety. It ain't the caffeine, it's something else in coffee because even decafe triggers the anxiety. Green tea and yerba maté are now my friends.

I enlisted the aid of a naturopath (Wendy Weintrob, Glow) who had me provide saliva and urine samples which were sent to a lab for analysis of neurotransmitter levels. I was sceptical about this, having been taught that large molecules like neurotransmitters cannot cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB), but a recent study has shown that neurotransmitters can cross the BBB from the central nervous system into our blood where they are excreted in our urine.

She found elevated levels of cortisol, an adrenal hormone, the stress hormone, and elevated levels of just about every neurotransmitter except DOPAC and epinephrine. Elevated cortisol, the "stress" hormone, is Not A Good Thing: constant stress is associated with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.

(This is bleeding edge stuff: there are no definitive clinical trials that demonstrate the dysregulation of
these neurotransmitters as causative factors of anxiety -- we're working in the land of speculation.)

With this information, she started me on a 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5-HTP) supplement which supports the neurotransmitter GABA, and clinical studies have suggested that increased levels of GABA are associated with lowering anxiety. At the same time, she suggested that I take rhodiola, a supplement derived from the Rhodiola rosea plant, and which has been demonstrated to relieve stress-induced fatigue as well as the symptoms of depression.

Between the rhodiola, the 5-HTP, and giving up coffee, my anxiety has plummeted. Before I started this therapy, my general "background" level of anxiety was a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. Now it's about a 3. Sometimes a 2.

My insomnia has been reduced, as well, by the addition of rhodiola and 5-HTP.

Placebo? I don't know and I don't care. The psychological and somatic improvements have been dramatic and undeniable.

Last weekend I ran out of the 5-HTP, the GABA-reinforcement supplement. I could have called to get more immediately, but since I was going to see Weintrob on Thursday, decided to just let it go and see if I noticed any change in my overall level of anxiety.

And did I ever. On Wednesday morning, a simple telephone call from a client inquiring about a technical issue spiked my anxiety up to a level that I hadn't felt since I began these therapies. It reminded me of how goddamn unpleasant living with GAD is.

I made arrangements to pick up a new bottle of the 5-HTP supplement later in the day. But in the meantime, I was miserable. "Why don't you meditate?" suggested Mrs Elliott. I explained that I've tried meditation in the past to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, with little effect. But I was so uncomfortable that I decided to give it a try again.

So around lunchtime, I sat for 30 minutes and afterward, no anxiety.

Why did it help this time, but not the countless number of times I tried it previously? I don't know. I meditate differently now. I used to try to meditate in the "empty your mind" style associated with Zen buddhism. It's a tough row to hoe. A few years ago I was introduced to Dzogchen, a "nondualistic" form of Buddhist meditation (my reader will be interested to know that it's essentially the same as Mahamudra meditation). Once shown how, it's easy-peasy to do, easy as falling off a log, and effortless to maintain.

What can I say? It worked.

I'm on a tear, now. So, apparently, is science. Yesterday I read a new peer-reviewed metastudy in Nutrition Journal which examined the efficacy of herbal supplements and amino acids in the treatment of anxiety (summary here, paper here) in which they reviewed data,
[...] associated with a number of treatments, including St. John's Wort, S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM-e), B vitamins, inositol, choline, kava, omega-3 fatty acids/fish extracts, valerian, lavender, melatonin, passionflower, skullcap, hops, lemon balm, black cohosh, ginkgo biloba, extracts of Magnolia and Phellondendron bark, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), theanine, tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP).

They found, "[...] mixed results -- while passionflower or kava and L-lysine and L-arginine appeared to be effective, St John's Wort and magnesium supplements were not."

I can't take kava, it's not only rough on the liver, but is contraindicated in people who are taking cholesterol-reducing statin medications. But I betcha I can get some of that passionflower, and the amino acids L-lysine and L-arginine at Nature's.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Ugliest Day of the Month

(Editor's note: I've been reading Duncan's blog for some times now. Much of his blogging is about running Pegasus Books: the daily minutiae of operating a small specialty retail store in downtown Bend.

Well, I don't see why Dunc should have all the fun in the "here's how I do something which is important and takes up a lot of my time but probably isn't very interesting to anybody but a few" category, so herewith is my contribution to the genre.)

I am too lazy by far to pay bills when they come in. If I did, I'd have to set up a dedicated "bill paying station" in the house because many of the bills are split between me, Mrs Elliott, my business, and Mrs Elliott's business. Utilities. mainly; and the mortgage which gets split into quarters: our two businesses each use and pay rent on one-quarter of the house, and Mrs Elliott and I split the other half.

And even if I did have a space for taking care of the bills when they come in, I know I'd get behind. In fact, that's exactly what happened and led me to my present system of paying once a month.

So I have trained all my vendors and the utilities, etc., to expect their checks a few days after the first of the month. Their billing cycles do not rule me!

This is how Jack does it:
  1. When bills come in, they get tossed into a wire basket. 
  2. On the last day of the month, I take over the dining room table with the bills and the bill-paying supplies (file folders, paper clips, envelopes for those cheap bastards that don't provide remittance envelopes, pen, steam-driven calculator, and laptop computer). 
  3. I don my green eyeshade and sleeve garters and get to work. 
  4. I lay out six wire trays: To Be Paid, Me Pay, My Company Pays, Mrs Elliott Pays, My Paid, My Company Paid. I also have a seventh "Bank Crap" basket for bank statement and deposit slips.
  5. The bills are sorted into two categories: Me Pay, My Company Pays, Mrs Elliott Pays.
  6. As I mentioned, some of the bills are shared expenses. Those I plug into a spreadsheet which calculates our shares based on usage. I note these shares on the statements, Usually something like this:
    Me: $25.04
    My Company: $38.54
    Mrs Elliott: $25.04
    Mrs Elliott's Company: $38.54
    Some bills are split two ways, some three, some four. It depends.
  7. Now my way is clear: Starting with my personal, i.e., non business, side of things, I pay my shares. This is mainly done electronically, using my bank's e-payment system. Mrs Elliott insists on a paper check for the mortgage, so I write one, and paper-clip it to the bill. 
  8. As the personal portion of each bill is paid, I either stamp it "Paid" and place it into the "My Paid" basket, or place it into the "My Company Pays" basket or the "Mrs Elliott Pays" basket, depending on whether they need more payments added.
  9. I do my personal bookkeeping with Quicken, so as I do my e-payments, I enter them into Quicken's check register. 
  10. Once the "Me Pay" basket is empty, I see how far in the red I've driven my personal checking account and light up QuickBooks, which I use for my company bookkeeping, and write out a check large enough to cover the payments plus a few shekels for pin money to be deposited into my personal checking account. 
  11. Addressing the "My Company Pays" bills, I enter those payments into QuickBooks, until the basket is empty. This usually results in anywhere between 15 to 30 checks queued to print in Quickbooks.
  12. After stoking the boiler on my ancient coal-fired Okidata check printer, I run off all the checks. Those are then either stuffed into envelopes to be mailed or clipped onto the bills that Mrs Elliott pays a portion of, and placed into the "Mrs Elliott Pays" basket for her to sort out. 
  13. As I pay, the statements are separated from the envelopes and payment slips, stamped "Paid" and placed into the "My Company Paid" basket. 
  14. The sealed envelopes are stamped and placed in the proper receptacle to wait for a uniformed representative of the United States Postal Service to pick up and deliver to the addressees -- and for just forty-four cents.
  15. The paid "My Paid" statements are sorted into a large accordion file folder that is divided by months of the year and labelled "Personal Bills, 2010,"  Ditto with the "My Company Paid" statements, into a "Company Bills, 2010" accordion folder.
  16. Then the "Bank Crap" basket is sorted into two separate "Personal" and "Business" bank crap stacks and filed into smaller accordion files.
All that remains is to clean up the shrapnel and detritus: pencils, pens, Post-It notes, orphaned envelopes and scraps of paper; stack my wire baskets, clear all that stuff off the dining room table, and carry the "Mrs Elliott Pays" basket downstairs and place it on her desk for her to complete.

The whole process takes three to four hours.

Because our bill-paying is necessarily complicated by having two people and two businesses, I don't trust myself to do it well if I do it piecemeal, but by batching it and doing everything on one day a month I have a fighting chance to do it right.

As the sun sets, I morosely consider the mingy amount of money left in my business checking account. It's usually negative these days. But work in the pipeline will bring it back into the black, so sometimes I have to just hold onto vendor checks until there's money's in the account to pay them.

This is not Jack's idea of a good time. It is the ugliest day of the month.

There. I promise not to write about this ever, ever, ever again.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cheered Me Right Up

I had an appointment yesterday afternoon to have a body fat analysis -- Jack has a few pounds to drop and has started to see a nutritionist.

To prepare for the test, I not only needed to fast for four hours and drink copious amounts of water, but to avoid all caffeine. I figured that since I was no longer drinking coffee, just yerba maté and tea, skipping caffeine for the day would be easy.

I figured wrong.

By the time I checked in to get the analysis, I was cranky and tired, cold and headachy.

At 4 o' clock, the testing was done and the numbers were encouraging: I have enough fat to keep a deep-fried butter on a stick booth at a Texas county fair in business for a week.

And we have a plan, which starts with two weeks of "sugar control": for two weeks I will cut all forms of sugar -- anything my liver processes into glycogen -- out of my diet.

This includes alcohol.

Starting Sunday, because I'm no fool: this weekend's events are social in nature (a charity event, Oktoberfest, and the Bend Roots Revival) and like many people, Jack needs a little lubrication to get into the swing of things.

And, according to my social calender, right after the nutritionist I was meeting some friends over at Boneyard Beer for tasters, to be followed by a farewell party at Cascade Lakes Brewing Company's lodge.

So after a fortifying shot of maté from Top Leaf Mate downtown, a bit of baguette from Lone Pine Coffee, and a bit of cheese I cadged from The Wine Shop and Tasting bar, I was considerably cheered up.

I rode my bicycle over to the brewery at 37 NW Lake Place, kinda near that little tacqueria on Hill Street.

Boneyard is a small outfit. I reckon they have less than 1,200 square feet of space, and 99% of the equipment is used, tinkered together from old bits and pieces from other breweries. The shop is clean, though -- as I was parking my bicycle I smelled the disinfectant they were using to clean the shop floor.

Tony Lawrence, Boneyard Beer's brewmaster explains something. Click on picture to see the full scene. 
A steady stream of customers filled the retail side of things, carrying empty growlers to be filled.

We were given generous 6 ounce tastes of their four ales, plus a "Dirty Girl": a blend of their cherry wheat "Girl Beer" and Black 13, their dark ale; and the nickel tour of the brewery.

I've previously had Boneyard's pale ale, Bona Fide, at Brother Jon's, and liked it. Yesterday's sample, though, wasn't as nice as I recalled. "This one is elusive," explained Tony Lawrence, Boneyard's brewmaster. "We switched suppliers for some of our ingredients and now . . . " he paused to take a sip from his tasting glass, ". . . something's not quite right. We're working on it."

The IPA was excellent. Complex, citrusy, with a long finish.

I asked about plans for canning. Canning is better than bottling for a few reasons: the beer is not exposed to light when in a can so it stays fresher; aluminum, as the number one recyclable material, is greener; and finally, cans are lighter, reducing shipping costs.

But canning equipment is expensive, so many small breweries hire mobile canning companies with the gear on a truck. Boneyard is not interested in that because "You don't know whether the guy is doing a good job or not."

So they are saving their pennies for a mini canning line, a bit of kit that costs about $25,000. "We don't use bank financing, so everything has to be paid for out of pocket."

That's the way to do it. Once you are beholden to the bank, you have to keep them happy. You can grow more quickly, but servicing a big loan makes risk-taking dangerous. And in any creative venture, taking risks is when the interesting stuff happens.

It was getting late and I had that other appointment on my social calender, so I had to go.

Mrs Elliott picked me up and we drove over to Cascade Lakes Brewing Company to say good-bye to a friend who is moving to Portland to go to school. As before, the lodge's décor and service underwhelmed me.

My thanks to the crew at Boneyard for taking time out of their production schedule to make us feel welcome. I owned a medium-sized manufacturing company for 20 years in a previous life, and I know how uninspiring it is to give Yet Another Dog And Pony Show to visitors, but Lawrence was gracious and kept it interesting.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Weather You Can Count On

I learned about the Bend September 25th Meteorological Anomaly last night.

Bend has had fine weather on September 25 for at least the last 30 years. 

So I'm going on record to predict good weather for next weekend.

Here's what I'm basing this on: Mrs Elliott is on the fund-raising committee for KPOV's Bend Roots Revival (it will be the Best Bend Roots Revival Ever: a four-day event with 100 acts, a new venue with seven stages).

The event is next weekend. They always pick this weekend for the Revival because it has good weather.

Why? Well, during last night's meeting she heard from two people who had children born in Bend on September 25, neither of whom have ever experienced anything but fine weather for their birthday parties.

One of the kids is 30 years old now.

Now, I don't know whether this statistical outlier is due to some atmospheric quirk following the fall equinox, or whether it's just a case of a flipped coin coming up heads 30 times in a row.

Of the two theories, Jack suspects the latter, which means that there's a 50-50 chance that it will come up tails on the 31st flip, but he prefers the former. It's more fun that way.

Encouraged by this bit of information, I plan to dress for good weather. I will have a sweater in the car, just in case, of course.

Also this weekend:
  • NeighborImpact is having their 1st Annual Harvest Moon Fare, on Friday evening at St. Charles Medical Center. This is a fundraising event for this organization which has been in Bend since 1985,  helping people with programs like energy assistance, Head Start, child care resources, rent assistance, and other basic needs.  I consider them the backbone of the local nonprofits. 25 bucks, you can buy the tickets online with PayPal or at the Ticket Mill. If you see me there, say howdy.

  • And, lest we forget, the Weiner Dog Races!!!! Best Downtown Bend Event Ever! at the Bend Fall Festival
The weather will be fine. Enjoy the weekend.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Loss I Grieve For

I just realized that it's been decades since a scary story has had the power to frighten me. When I was a kid, ghost stories and tales about monsters used to scare me. H.P. Lovecraft's odd tales of eldritch beings, classic ghost stories like The Turn of the Screw, or something brilliant like Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House gave me the willies. Totally.

I'd lay in bed, goosebumpled, eyes bugging out, turning the pages with dread, afraid to breathe, until the old man, roused from his slumber after two whiskeys and a six-pack of Hamms, got up, turned off The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, shuffled down the hallway and rapped on my bedroom door to tell me to turn out the light on his way to the Parental Bedroom.

Scary stories leave me unmoved now.

I miss the feeling.

Nothing good can come of this.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

KOHD News to Return; KTVZ's Children of the Corn

Children of the Corn
Village of the Damned
I dunno if KTVZ's NewsChannel 21 has anything to fear from this, but KOHD is re-starting their 6pm and 11pm TV news shows after being off the year for . . . what? nearly two years now?

Mrs Elliott and I always enjoyed KOHD news, Bend's high school TV news broadcast.

The kids were always so earnest.

But when KOHD dropped their evening news, we resignedly switched over to KTVZ's Children of the Corn Village of the Damned News. We find the appearance of the in-studio "talent" to be very unsettling. With the brights turned up to bleach out their teeth and the whites of their eyes, they present a positively eerie look. Those women must be wearing a pound of makeup apiece. Their hair is so . . . smooth.

The overall effect is something not really human, more like fembots.

The big networks manage to make the likes of Katie Couric and (my personal hero) Christiane Amanpour look like real people. (Barbara Walters, now, that's a different story. The soft focus gets softer each year. I expect that in a year or two she will be a voice emanating from a cloud of steam.)

I reckon that KTVZ could cut it out if they wanted to and make their talent look real, too. But someone there apparently thinks it looks just swell, so I suppose that if I don't like it, I should start my own news show.

But at least we can switch back to KOHD now.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Donate to Dave

I was getting a haircut this afternoon at the Bond Street Barber Shop when I noticed a prominent placard on the wall requesting for donations for Dave. I don't know who Dave is, but donations go toward getting him a wheelchair, which he needs. As someone who has been wheelchair-bound a couple times, I know how totally impossible it would be to go about even basic tasks without one.

Bond Street Barber Shop. 841 Bond Street. Between Franklin and Minnesota.

Toss some bucks into the bottle.

Beer, Wine, Football

I heard today that Bend is soon to be home to an 11th micro-brewery. Or maybe it's going to be a nano-brewery. Pretty soon we'll have pico-breweries: one bottle at a time.

I hope they do more than just IPA's -- I'm plain tired of over-hopped IPA's.

Pursuant to beers that are not completely overpowered by hops, I had Boneyard Beer's Bona Fide Pale Ale at Brother Jon's a few weeks ago. Went back a second time to have more. I liked it. Those kids seem to be doing a nice job, and I have been remiss: I have not yet visited their facility. I hope to rectify that next week.

This week's The Source has a nice writeup about Tonya Cornett, the brewmaster at Bend Brewing Company who was "...the 2008 World Beer Cup Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year – the first woman to ever take the title." I've often enjoyed the nicely-balanced offerings that she creates. I wrote about her lovely dry stout last St. Patrick's day (hope she does it again). I think she knows her business when it comes to brewing. She's cute, too.

And finally, on the wine and football axis, I learned that one of my favorite downtown destinations, The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar, is planning to show Monday Night Football. If you're not on their mailing list, drop a note to

Massive New Mailbox

Our street is a busy one, with a lot of foot and automobile traffic to and from COCC. Mailboxes do not thrive here. There have been quite a number of mailboxes fallen in the line of duty to "mailbox baseball," and we've had mail pilfered from our box on more than one occasion. Once, a whole slew of vendor checks were stolen, and my vendors were understandably upset that they didn't get paid. I had to replace all of them.

The charities that Mrs Elliott works with are often hand-to-mouth operations, and having a proceeds check stolen would not be good for their meager cash flow.

So today we had a USPS-approved locking mailbox installed. The thing is large -- so large, in fact, that one could post two small children at a time ... if doing so were legal and the post office supplied suitable delivery boxes with air holes, etc.

The box is also sturdy. Anyone wanting to play mailbox baseball with this thing had better have some strong wrists.

A proper mailbox

Brother Jon's Football Betting Pool

I saw a notice at Brother Jon's (Galveston Ave.) that they have football pools.

A great way to add some excitement to the games, and pick up some walking-around money, I figure.

Problem is, I know little about football, and less about betting pools.

I lay awake in bed last night (my naturopath and I are trying various supplements to see if I can achieve deeper sleep) and while staring at the clock tick from 3:21 to 3:22 to 3:23 . . . you get the picture . . . I began to form an idea.

It's in rough form only, a nascent concept. I only have the outline.

I'm going to need to form a syndicate. The front man will be an unassuming  bumbling newbie. There's a guy in town I know who can do that. The less he knows, the better. Behind him, in the shadows will be fellows who know what they're doing: someone to put up the money, preferably nicknamed "Pockets"; and someone who knows their onions, "The Professor," or just "perfessor"; we'll need spies on the teams, and someone with dirt on some of the pivotal players or a critical coach; a few runners, "Squeaky," and "Mutt"; and a sad-faced defrocked accountant (bowtied astigmat wtih sleeve garters) we call "Numbers." As in, "Get Numbers on the phone." A smoke-filled boiler room with tout boards and five-line desk telephones. Whiskey, too. There has to be whiskey.

If done right, we could net enough from this pool to land at least $8 for everyone. Before expenses.

This surely has to work. Doesn't it?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Crappy Tools

There's this pair of scissors in our kitchen junk drawer. I use them pretty frequently to open human-proof packaging, like plastic wrappers and blister packaging.

Every time I use the scissors, I notice how amazingly crappy they are. Suitable for cutting nothing tougher than thin-sliced cheese, they may as well be children's scissors,

Cursing, I twist them and tug with them and eventually manage to gnaw through whatever I'm trying to open.

I hold them in my hand and look at them, and think, "What idiot in what store's purchasing department picked up a sample, tried them, and decided they were perfectly acceptable." And ordered ten thousand.

Then I put them back into the junk drawer.

Lord, I am just not that smart.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We're Back from Our Tour

Mrs Elliott and I returned yesterday afternoon from our trip to Oregon's coast and points northwest in Mellow Yellow, our 1984 VW Westfalia camper van.

We had a very very nice time. This is the story.

On Thursday we drove from Bend, Ore., down to Newport, along back roads, and landed at South Beach State Park, where we camped overnight. This campground, like California state parks, has sites jammed right next to each other in sardine fashion. They had available sites on Thursday only. The weekend was booked.

(Since the state campgrounds were fully-booked after Labor Day weekend, Jack can only conclude that a lot of people apparently like to camp mashed next to others, with manicured lawns on which  to walk their little yappy dogs, and neighbors right outside the windows of their 52-foot motor lodges.)

We reserved the most secluded camp site we could find in that Hooverville and trundled back into town to the Fred Meyers for dinner foods and a bottle of wine, a nice Chianti Classico -- Freddie's always has a pretty good selection.

Back in camp, we popped the top on our little 1984 VW camper van, Mellow Yellow, and set up for overnighting. A can of veggie chili for me, soup for the missus.
Plump banana slug. "Eew," said Mrs Elliott.

In the morning, we set our sights on walking out to the beach, but got distracted by a hillock near our camp with winding trails and rainforest foliage. And banana slugs. I've not seen a banana slug since I lived in San Francisco in the very early '70s. We never made it to the shoreline.

We puttered around Newport. I tried to find an wireless access point downtown to check my emails. The first place we went into, a twee coffee shop, was unsuitable, having not one, but two, squalling infants inside. Unsuitable.

But down the street we found a restaurant with access and I parked myself outside with my little computer while Mrs Elliott visited some of the little tickety-boo gift shops and children's clothing stores.

Newport's historic waterfront area is very kitschy -- I believe the salt water taffy shops outnumbered the tourists.

I noticed that the air felt -- gritty. Beachfront towns look bleached-out, pale -- the sun is diffused through that thick layer of salty, dusty marine air. My skin felt grimy.

After lunch, I began to agitate to move on, up the coast, and Mrs Elliott assented though I'm certain she could have spent all that day shopping and exploring.

Central Oregon's coastline is beautiful, the weather was beautiful, even the orchestra was beautiful. [citation?]

But as we drove along, this being a Friday afternoon, we noticed that all campgrounds, such as Cape Lookout State Park, as well as all the motels and inns had NO VACANCY signs posted. BTW, Cape Lookout, which had been recommended to Jack as a nice place to stay, was like South Bay: sites jammed next to each other, no seclusion, your view is the slab-sided RV in the site next door.

I began to worry we'd not find a place to overnight.

We pulled into Pacific City, a very beachy town which lacks some of the rugged charm of its neighbors to the south and north, but makes up for it by possessing a beautiful sandy beach, giving it a SoCal beach feeling. An uncrowded SoCal beach. Not that such exist any more.

There we happened across the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, which looked bland and corporate but proved to be friendly, charming, and comfortable. Being the only lodging in town other than a charmless private RV "camping" facility, it would not be easy to overlook.

Everyone in town was friendly. Everyone directed our attention to a group of time-share condos nearby. Everyone, even the inn's maintenance guy who was putting epoxy and copper caps atop the wood bollards in front of the inn, thought we should give some consideration to plunking down nearly $50,000 on a timeshare that we could use for three weeks a year, forever. I wondered aloud to Mrs Elliott whether the citizens bought the timeshares out of bankruptcy and now the whole town was on the hook for them.

Across the street was the Pelican Pub and Brewery (note that their website promotes the timeshares!) where we had dinner, and the light from the sun setting over the ocean filled the restaurant with brightness and warmth.
View of Haystack Rock from room
at Pacific City

After dinner, we watched the sun set into the ocean from the deck outside our room, hoping for a green flash, but the atmospheric conditions were not right. In the dusk, Haystack Rock, a sliver of a setting crescent moon, and the planet Venus lined up perfectly, pointing to the spot where the sun had set.

Right across the highway, between us and the shore, was the brewpub's parking lot. A flat, sandy parking lot, an extension of the beach. When we went to bed I noted a couple cars and a VW camper van parked in the lot.

As Saturday morning dawned with clear skies, I looked out our room window. The sun was behind the inn, bathing the beach and Haystack Rock out in the sea with pink light. It looked like a classic beach scene.

And the camper van and cars were still there. We could have camped on the beach, for free.

Next time.

We motored up the coast without hurry, stopping along the way to view the sights. The weather was perfect.
Yaquina Head lighthouse?
Mrs Elliott has a new camera.
She likes to take funny pictures.

We stopped in Manzanita, a town with not a few tickety-boo shops. We bought a rain chain to hang from the end of the rain gutter above our deck. It should look nice.

I had it in my head that the Oregon/Tennessee game was starting at 1, but the fellows in Manzanita's only sports bar assured us that the game wasn't starting until 4. Eastern time vs Pacific time, I reckon.

It relaxed me considerably to know that I had three more hours before I needed to find a sports bar.
A more traditional pose. 

Mrs Elliott begged to visit the Tillamook cheese factory. Which we did.
Jack holds round of cheese Mrs Elliott purchased
from Tillamook cheese factory tour.
Note the enthusiasm. 

In Cannon Beach I saw the full realization of beach-town yuppie tickety-boo shopping. There are more twee shops selling twee stuff to white women than I've ever seen in one place. Even Carmel, winner six years running of California's Most Yuppified Tourist Trap has nothing on Cannon Beach in the Mostest Cutest Shops Ever! category (2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009).

The drive up the coast was, on the whole, spectacular, and the weather was flawless. As we neared the northern end of Oregon's coast, the scenery became less postcard-pretty, the towns more utilitarian.

We arrived at Fort Stevens State Park, near Astoria on Saturday afternoon and found CAMPGROUND FULL with sites crammed even closer together than down south. We had been intending to scout the place to identify a site to reserve for a future trip up into Washington, but saw nothing tolerable in that place.

(I challenge anyone to find higher population density anywhere outside a tenement or Hong Kong than found in an Oregon state park campground in summer.)

So we drove into Astoria. It was game time and I needed to find a friendly pub, and we needed to find a room. I had a hard time finding a sports bar or pub with the game on. One large place was dark, with some kind of gambling machines set up. Such places are never cheerful -- gambling addicts are never in a good frame of mind.

But with the help of a young man who was waiting for friends to give him a lift back to his town of Gearhart, we were directed to the Wet Dog Saloon, aptly-named, I am told, because Astoria averages about 66 inches of rain annually and all dogs, presumably, are wet. I found a table near the TV -- the game was on delay due to lightning -- ordered a sampler of the beers, and Mrs Elliott found a soft chair near the window in the sunlight and began Googling and phoning around to find a room.

She looked pretty with the sunlight lighting her hair from behind.

The town was very close to full. Even the Holiday and Shilo Inns were full. But Mrs Elliott was able to land a small room -- very small, it turned out -- in a bed and breakfast on Exchange and 11th. How small was the room? The queen size bed about filled it, with just enough gap around to slide by. The bathroom was in the hall.

I don't usually care for bed and breakfasts. It can can fun, sometimes, but I always feel like I'm in someone else's house -- Grandma's, judging by the decor -- and don't feel at home.

The bed was lumpy, with the head lower than the foot, and the room smelled sour.

We did manage to drowse a bit in the morning, and, being late risers, were seated at a table separate from the rest of the guests.

Mrs Elliott is under doctor's orders to not eat anything made from wheat, so she was served a rather tasty-looking eggs and potatoes skillet breakfast. I was served what everyone else was eating: some kind of fluffy french toast confection with frosting and berries. It was really really sweet. Diabetes on a plate. My fillings ache just thinking about it. I don't normally order cake for breakfast, but in a B&B, you take what they serve, and take it cheerfully, for to do otherwise at a table of strangers is just dickish.

The day was overcast, gloomy. "Marine layer," said the hostess. "It will burn off later today."

We only intended to spend the one night in the B&B. It was pricey and not that comfortable. Being a Sunday, we reckoned that we'd have better luck finding a more comfortable and affordable room in town. Leaving our luggage in the van, we strolled east, through the Saturday outdoor market, then to the Maritime and Heritage Museums. I wanted to visit the former, Mrs Elliott, the latter.

The Columbia River's maritime history is one of hundreds of ships and lives lost. The displays of the terrible coast and treacherous sandbars at the mouth of the river, and the tales of the ships dashed against the rocks or torn apart by the seas when stuck in the sand was moving to me.

We drove across the Astoria-Megler bridge to Cape Dissapointment State Park in Washington. It was all kind of drizzly and wet, and the park didn't provide views of anything special -- just shrubbery and other campers. We had been hoping it would make for a nice place to overnight on next year's trip up the Olympic Peninsula, but I wasn't too impressed.

Mrs Elliott, as I have previously written, likes to tell that the movie The Goonies was filmed in Astoria. When she learned that she could view "the Goonies house," well, she just needed to do that.

What a dope.
All told, though, Mrs Elliott was unimpressed by Astoria. She'd been hoping for some kind of touristy town, a la California's Victorian village of Ferndale, but Astoria ain't like that. I liked its lack of cutesyness, its reassuring workingman's solidity. But the weather wasn't breaking, the marine layer was persisting, and we decided that we'd give the place just one more night before working our way back home.

Rather than spend another $150 for a room too small to swing a cat in, even a small cat, without dashing the poor creatures brains out on a wall or porcelain knick-knack, we grabbed a $90 room at the Crest Motel, just outside town, and after a final dinner on Astoria's waterfront, retired for the night.

Early on Monday morning we were driving east on Highway 30, detouring to explore back roads areas that Eric Tollander described and sketched in his Backroads of Oregon.
Portland & Western Railroad tracks and
view of Columbia River near Clifton, Ore.
"PNWR's tracks lie entirely within Oregon,
extending from Astoria to Portland along the
Columbia River, from Portland to Eugene
 through the Willamette Valley, and along
several spurs through the Northern Oregon
Coast Range." (wikipedia)

Over an indifferent breakfast in a Clatskapie cafe (Mrs Elliott requested eggs over medium, they were very runny; I requested that my potatoes be well done ["burn 'em," I said], but they were barely cooked), I proposed that we go as far east as we could to get out of the marine layer for our last night. I suggested that we drive east on I-84 to The Dalles, then hook a right to Maupin, and camp along the mighty Deschutes.

So that's what we decided to do.

Continuing our back roads way to Portland, we found a sandy beach along a levee fronting the Columbia, where overnighting is legal and free. We also toured Souvie Island, and heard there was free camping on its popular beaches, as well.

So I think we have next year's Olympic Peninsula overnighting options figured out.

In Portland, we stopped at the Bullseye Glass Company. Mrs Elliott does fused glass and this is the local supply mecca for glass artists.

While she was inside I sat in the open side door of  Mellow Yellow reading Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum. I enjoy tales of exploration when camping.

I was approached by a woman who asked about our camper. She was also waiting for her husband to finish his shopping for glass in the same place. She pointed out their '85 VW "Weekender" camper van a few feet away.

She said they've always loved VW campers, having had a '64 for many, many years and only recently sold it to get the Vanagon version. It felt, she said, very modern compared with the early "splittie" version, what with having some real brakes and other amenities.

After leaving Portland, we hurried along I-84, and at 5:30 pm, we reached The Dalles, where I sighed in relief that we were off the interstate and back on rural roads.

Camping along the Deschutes. Photo taken in the
morning just before departure. 
This far east, it had turned out to be a very warm afternoon; we drove south on highway 197 through golden wheat fields, through Dufur -- of the famous Threshing Bee -- then dropped down to Maupin, drove across the river, turned left, and within minutes found a camp site along the Deschutes. The sun was just setting, the rocks were warm, and a warm breeze was blowing up-canyon.

We were set up by dark, and by the light of two kerosene lanterns watched lightning flashes just below the hills to the south. When we returned to Bend we learned that there had been quite an electrical storm that night!

After Mrs Elliott retired, I sat outside in the dark, smoking a fine cigar. A deep roaring sound, louder even than the river, began to be heard on my right. Looking for the source of this sound, I saw the bright headlamps of a southbound freight train illuminate the canyon walls. The Union Pacific and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroads run along the western side of the river and for me, watching that train, with four locomotives at the front and four in the middle, work its way upriver, wheel flanges squealing against the rails, was the perfect ending to the last perfect night of a very pleasant and leisurely trip.
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