Sunday, October 31, 2010

GOD HATES FIGS

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

RANDOM ITEMS FROM THE CLUTTER 

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.



Vote DUDLEY
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.

================================
Footnotes
* "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
http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/travel/17headsup.html

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 (http://www.ktvz.com/news/25340569/detail.html).

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.
 
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