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.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Update: Astoria

Mrs Elliott and I have arrived in Astoria, it's sunny, not so warm, being a bit breezy, but we're at the Wet Dog Saloon, watching a lightning delay. 6-0 Tennessee. Possibly forever.

Finding lodging hereabouts, even after Labor Day, is difficult.

The coast is booked up. The state campgrounds, like Ft. Stevens, Ecola, and the like, are full. Cheek by jowl full. I dislike state campgrounds. California's are over-developed, manicured, crowded, and completely lack seclusion. Your view is into the neighbor's RV windows.

I was disappointed to find that Oregon's state parks are the same.

But they are enormously popular, given how many hundreds of people willingly pack themselves into them.

Mrs Elliot is calling around, looking for lodging while I work my way through a sampler of the pub's beers.

Even crap places like the Shilo Inn and the Holiday Express are full.

It has been a flawlessly beautiful day. All in all, the northern Oregon coast is everything I hoped it would be. Spectacularly beautiful, with clean little towns, and nice places to stay. Our anniversary falls, on design, on New Year's Eve, and staying someplace like Newport in winter tempts us.

Cannon Beach looks to be a woman's paradise: shops, shops, shops.

I have been told that it is warm and sunny in Bend. For this trip along the coast I advised Mrs Elliott to pack for cold and wet (i.e., no cotton). She was a bit dismayed that she brought no clothing for warm and dry. "Prepare for the worst," I said, "expect the best." Bit of smug know-it-all, in case you have not noticed.

She tends to lighten her suitcase as she travels. Not intentionally, but dependably. Hats, scarves, cell phone chargers are often left behind. It appears that she left her greatcoat behind in Pacific City.

The TV people* tell me that the game will start in five minutes.

(Mrs Elliott just found a bed and breakfast in Astoria with a great location and affordable price -- she's really good at things like that.)

Whoops, there's more to write but the game has started and I gotta watch. Apologies for typos.

* Close Encounters of the Third Kind:

They're here.

Who's here, dear?

The TV people.

Transvestites in my house? No way!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy Hump Day, and See Ya on the Flipside!

With a copy of Eric Tollander's Back Roads of Oregon and a detailed Oregon road map in hand,  Mrs Elliott and I will be departing tomorrow on our trip to the coast and up to Astoria.

Earlier this year:

"We didn't get to have a fun summer last year," said Mrs Elliott, referring to the 2009 Summer of Healing when I was convalescing from my ankle surgery. Housebound we were.

So this spring, we blocked out time on the calender for camping and exploring trips.

And we're sticking to our plans, by gum, even if the weather is a bit damper and cooler than we hoped for. We'll camp if the opportunity and conditions are good, we'll find drier warmer lodging if they aren't.

Either way, it looks to be scenic.

Mrs Elliott wants to explore all the towns, all the gift shops, while I hope to have a sufficiently leisurely trip that I have time to look at more than asphalt.

And there's a Ducks game on Saturday. Need to get docked before the game starts.

We've been reaching out for suggestions for restaurants and places to overnight. I heard from one fellow that a certain winery on the coast doesn't mind if folk overnight in their parking lot in VW Vanagon camper vans. But we're not likely to need that. And Jack got a recommendation today for the Cannery Pier Hotel where one can "[e]xperience the majesty of the mighty Columbia River from the comfort of your hotel room."

Which sounds pretty nice.

We were told that there is an inviting RV park on a jetty there, but the sea lions will keep one up all night with their bellowing and general hubbub.

However it goes, it should be memorable.

So see ya all next week!

While we're out of town, Mrs Elliott's elves will be running the business out of the house/shop, and she'll need to check in frequently. I might be able to post an update from the road.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Summer No Longer Troubles

Summer in SoCal is that hot period starting somewhere in mid-July and ending in January. Sometime during January it gets cold, but I remember our wedding on December 31 in Escondido, as hot. A sweaty, hot Christmas day is no time to eat massive amounts of traditional holiday food. There is no good time to eat fruitcake.

Once summer is over, mid-January, as I say, it gets colder, rain can happen, and overcast is frequent.

From Jeremiah Johnson:
Would you happen to know what month of the year it is?
No, l truly wouldn't. l'm sorry, pilgrim. March. Maybe, April. March maybe. l don't believe April. Winter's a long time going? Stays long this high. March is a green, muddy month down below. Some folks like it. Farmers mostly.
March is wet, April's a nice month. Things green up. For a few weeks, the weather is brilliant. By early June the heat has returned, the hills are browning. Then the marine layer moves in along the coast and lays down like a wet dog for a while. Two months, three this year, I hear. Can't see the sun, ever.

After that, the heat begins again broken only by the furnace-like Santa Ana winds.

I am reminded of how summer felt in SoCal by what I consider to be the best line of the day:
Fall is my favorite time of the year if only because it frees me from this oppressive heat which makes me feel like death and smell like old balls.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Weekend of IT Support

While Mrs Elliott is down in SoCal visiting family -- her dad had a post pop out after what should have been a routine colonoscopy -- I've been busy.

  1. Yesterday afternoon, the phone system for Mrs Elliott's business went down. So thar I was, minding my own business at Brother Jon's on Galveston, watching the Ducks mash New Mexico and halfway through a savory pint of Boneyard Brewery's Bonafide Pale Ale when she called to say that the phone network company was sending out a field technician to troubleshoot the thing. I met the guy here and he had determined that the problem was not the network, but the hardware -- the PBX box. I called the vendor, who is in Springfield, and was surprised that she answered, it being a three-day weekend and all that. She suggested that the problem might be the power supply. I removed the cover (a wood box which has Mrs Elliott's collection of brooms, mops, Swifters, and every other damn floor-cleaning gadget that county fair pitchmen have sold her over the years hanging on its face with hooks), fetched a voltmeter up from the shop and found that the supply, which is meant to be delivering -55V and +5V, was delivering -55V and +1.5V.

    Well, there's your problem, as they say.

    Of course there are no replacement parts for this Samsung PBX system anywhere in Bend. The earliest we could get one through normal channels would be Wednesday, and Mrs Elliott can't have her phone system off the air on Tuesday without a lot of upset clients. So she is paying one of her employees to drive over to Springfield, today, this Sunday, to pick up a replacement power supply and bring it back. He's due around 7pm this evening. With luck, it will fix the problem.

  2. Her desktop computer, an aging Dell with numerous glitches, twitches, not a little spasticity, and a malevolent habit of freezing just before she presses "Save," finally tried her patience one time too many so we bought a reasonably powerful quad-core machine from Best Buy to replace it. A few days ago I installed her applications, anti-virus, and networked the thing, but had to wait until she was not using it for several hours to transfer her user files. With her out of town, this weekend was my chance. I transferred the databases, fonts [at least 15,000], Quickbooks company files, check-printing software [which is a nightmare in itself], email and browser profiles, and every other text document, Illustrator document, spreadsheet file which I reasonably thought she uses on a daily basis to the new machine. The old machine is now moved to a back corner on her desk where it will stay online for a few months until we are satisfied that everything she needs has been copied over.

    I still have to install the automated backup scripts on her new machine. The old machine, like everything else in her office, is a Windows XP box, but this one is running Windows 7 (a very nice operating system, btw) and W7 keeps things in different places than XP does, so I'll need to modify the scripts, which I wrote as DOS-level batch files, using XXCOPY as the engine. It will take some tinkering to get it right. These back up to a 1Tb network-accessible file server that lives in a closet.

    Not sure what to do with the old computer. It's flaky and underpowered by even minimal standards today.

  3. Upstairs, in the living room, I installed Netflix and Hulu on her old Wii game console so we can watch movies and TV shows on the big screen. This required getting a disk for Netflix, and downloading and installing server software from Hulu, but they are running. The picture quality isn't as good as Bend Broadband channels, but these services have large libraries of free programs. We are hopeful that there will be something to watch when we want something to watch. Can't find old episodes of The Three Stooges, Frazier or Leave It To Beaver, but I'm sure we'll find good stuff.

  4. AND, I finally moved my old computer out of the living room into a spare bedroom. I pretty much stopped using it when not in the office in favor of this little netbook with Ubuntu/Linux on it. The old machine needs to stay hooked up because the Hulu server software is running on it. I tried to install the software on this machine, but it appears that WINE (which tries run Windows software under Linux) is not skilled enough to run the Hulu server. In fact, it would not even install. Also, I use it for photo work (Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Qimage, for you photographers). The Linux world lags well behind Macs and Windows in the image-processing department.

    Having that computer out of the living room is bound to make her happy. 
Computer geekery. Make no mistake about it. I'm not proud of it, but Mrs Elliott thinks I'm real smart. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Won't be Here for the Great Rotary Duck Race

No, it's not anatidaephobia, the fear that you are being watched by a duck, which will keep us from watching The 21st Annual Great Rotary Duck Race (sponsored by Mid Oregon Credit Union).

We bought ducks already, and we'd watch the race for sure if we were going to be in town. But we'll be on a vacation, driving up the coast to Astoria.

Why Astoria?


Mrs Elliott likes to tell a story. It seems that gypsum, the white stuff used in drywall, is mined out in the Mojave desert, and whenever she and one of her many former husbands (she's buried so many) drove past the area, he'd point out this fact. "Over there is where they mine gypsum," he'd say.

He'd say that every time, apparently.

Being bored out of her gourd as any sane person would be after a few hours of driving across the damn sunblasted Mojave desert with its stunted, burned-looking plants and stunted, burned-looking settlements, she found pleasure in toying with him.

She'd ask, "What's gypsum?"

Unaware that he'd had this conversation before, he'd step right into the trap and  launch into a discourse about the mining and use of gypsum.

Sitting in the passenger seat, she'd silently giggle. (Women toy with men the way cats toy with mice, amirightmen?)

I bring this up because Astoria is Mrs Elliott's gypsum mine.

Whenever she mentions Astoria, she likes to say that The Goonies was filmed there. She went there many years ago when her younger son was a kid. And she wants to go again.

I don't mind, it's a camping trip and an opportunity to see a part of Oregon I've not seen before. Astoria seems as good a destination as any.

And besides -- The Goonies was filmed there.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Maté is not as Interesting as Coffee

I was downtown yesterday afternoon, in The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar, sipping a very nice chianti from Jack's Glass when Santiago, the energetic owner of Top Leaf Maté, located next door, popped in to catch up on a tennis game showing on the widescreen TV.

(I have no idea who was playing. There were people leaping about, that's all I know.)

I mentioned to him that I'd recently given up drinking coffee because coffee, even decaf, causes feelings of anxiety while other caffeinated beverages do not. 

He had an explanation: coffee's anxiety-causing mechanism is not due to its caffeine, but due to its acidity, which causes jittery stomach discomfort. 

There certainly is a somatic component to anxiety: a gnawing feeling of emptiness and discomfort in the gut, giving plausibility to his claim. 

But I have a couple problems with the explanation. 

First, when I was a coffee drinker, jolts of dread would wake me in the middle of the night to worry, at length and uselessly, about things over which I have no control. The jolts came with cold sweats and a racing mind, but none of that hollow gut feeling. And since I very seldom drink coffee after 4 in the afternoon, there would not be any coffee in my stomach.

Second, what about other acidic beverages, like orange juice? Jack loves the tart juice of a freshly-squeezed orange, and suffers no ill effects after a big glass. 

But there is no question in my mind that something present in both full-caffeine and de-caffeine coffee that is responsible for my anxiety. Just what it is, remains a puzzle.

So I've been drinking tea and feeling miles better. I've trained the staff at Townsend's Tea House to prepare matcha green tea the way I like it: very concentrated and served in a small cup. 

And somehow I came home last night with a Top Leaf Maté window sticker and half kilogram bag of maté.

I made a strong cup of it last evening. Like tea, it's calming, like tea, it doesn't seem to trigger anxiety, and like tea, it's not as interesting to drink as good coffee. 

To me, tea and maté simply lack the richness and complexity of coffee. You can tart up either beverage with flavorings, the way soccer moms at Starbucks conceal the coffee in their drinks under milk and flavorings, but that ain't how Jack rolls. When Jack drank whisky, he drank it neat. When Jack smoked a pipe, he smoked English, not aromatic (flavored), blends. When Jack orders a pizza, it's usually a simple pizza Margherita. 

So as much as I love the smell and taste of a good cup of strong coffee (just a teaspoon of milk, please), it's just not worth the tsuris

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

As The Seasons Turn

It's been a while since I've posted anything. Maybe it's giving up on coffee, which seems to have reduced my overall background anxiety level; maybe it's because I've started to see a naturopath and she's started me on some supplements which target stress; or maybe it's also the approach of fall signaled by the shortening days, something Jack notices in the morning when he gets up (Jack tends to get up early like a lot of old guys). There's a going-inward feeling to fall that calms me.

Whatever the reasons are, I've been feeling a calming in my mood and an increase in energy. I like it. But haven't been driven to write anything.

I read this morning in the Bike Around Bend blog that the League of American Bicyclists (former name: League of American Wheelmen -- I guess "wheelpeople" was adjudged too clumsy, but I like the archaic term "wheelmen" better) has upgraded Bend from "Bronze" to "Silver" category. As the blog says,
The League ranks cities across the U.S. for their bike friendliness based on five criteria: engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement, evaluation and planning. For 2010, Bend has been designated as a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC). That’s an improvement from our initial Bronze designation.
People are often surprised when I tell them that I don't consider San Diego to be particularly bicycle-friendly. I think that the popular images of riding along the coastline suggests that a turn inland will provide an equally nice riding experience.

It ain't so. The automobile has always been the heart of SoCal's transportation experience, with pedestrians coming second and cyclists behind them. Riding around the area it's easy to see that the engineers seldom give any thought to bicyclists: intersections are unsafe, bike lanes vanish abruptly, tossing cyclists out into the typically hurried traffic, and motorists seldom give much consideration to the safety of the two-wheeled citizens sharing the pavement with them. There are many places where there you can't get there from here without riding in fast, dense traffic.

It was interesting to see that the only town in San Diego county that even made the list is Oceanside, a ratty little* coastal community just off the Pendleton Marine base, which came in at the Bronze level.

The full list is here.

* "Little" in SoCal terms. Oceanside has over 100,000 residents but if you didn't see the "Welcome to Oceanside" signs you'd never know you had crossed from one city into another. The cities abut each other where they are close, sprawl endlessly when there is room to sprawl.
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